Retro ‘Doctor Who’ Reviews – Vol. 4.7
The Image of Fendahl
The story begins with a groups of scientists – Adam Colby, Max Steel, Thea Ransome and Dr. Fendelman – conducting experiments on a human skull that had been found in Kenya. What makes the human skull unusual is that all readings indicate that it’s more than 12 million years old, vastly pre-dating human existence. Other anomalies are discovered, such as a pentacle shape being formed by the interlocking bone plates on the top of the skull. When Fendelman attempts to create an image of the skull’s owner it unleashes an invisible force that kills a nearby hiker.
All this activity catches the attention of The Doctor and Leela who arrive on Earth to put a stop to it. The Doctor fears that the presence of this energy will create a continuum implosion (a common issue, it would seem). Along the way they meet a old woman who posses psychic powers who helps guide their attempts to put a stop to the Fendahleen. The Fendahleen is a creature from his planet’s mythology that feeds on life energy and was believed destroyed, but instead has lain dormant on Earth. Dr. Fendelham has created a cult around resurrecting the Fendahleen in the hopes it will grant him power.
Whilst the cast are in good form and the story is solid there’s little to distinguish this from the typical adventure. Everything is as entertaining as ever but given the build-up the Fendahleen does not stand out as a particularly menacing villain. It would’ve been more interesting to hear more about the mythology surrounding the creature and how it fits in to Time Lord lore. Still, the Doctor offering the skull a jelly baby is a fantastic moment.
The Sun Makers
When the TARDIS arrives on Pluto the Doctor was expecting the usual desolate planet. Instead, to his confusion, he finds an extensive human population working in factories while a dozen small suns sit in orbit. The Doctor, Leela and K9 land on the rooftops just in time to prevent a worker from committing suicide, being unable to pay the massive taxes demanded of them. They learn from the worker that the company that created the suns to keep the human race alive keeps mankind enslaved by keeping them indebted to the company.
The Doctor and Leela accompany the worker, Cordo, underground to meet with a resistance leader named Mandrel. They find that Mantrel and his followers are an untrustworthy group of thugs and thieves who hold Leela to ransom. While trying to gather the funds needed to free her the Doctor winds up being captured by the company. Through a series events the Doctor attempts to spur the resistance to begin a revolution against the company, which is being controlled by the Collector. The Collector is later revealed to be a member of an alien race who struck a deal to save the human race in exchange for their enslavement.
The factories of Pluto make for a unique setting for Doctor Who, giving a fun and retro feel to this adventure. With Leela and Mantrel leading a revolution there’s plenty of action to be found towards the latter part of the story and the sight of the workers taking to rooftops to enjoy the sun that has been denied to them is plenty uplifting. The subtext is more text than sub- but it doesn’t take away from the strength of the story. The scene in which the Doctor is trapped in a torture chamber while he tries to muddle is way out is a fun one, but the biggest laugh is saved for his games of chess against K9 which bookmark the episodes. Not an exceptional serial but a solid one.
Whilst zipping about space and time Leela alerts the Doctor to the fact that the TARDIS has come to a complete stop. It turns about that they’ve reached the edge of the universe and, surprisingly, they’re not the only ones there. Another ship piloted by Minyans is also present, fulfilling a thousand of years old quest to save their people. This complicates matters a bit for the Doctor as the Minyans are a race who were contacted by the Time Lords many generations ago, and the came to view the Time Lords as gods. Eventually the involvement of the Time Lords caused trouble among the population and they left, vowing never to interfere with another race again. The abandonment of their people by their gods understandably unhappy, and this view is expressed by some of the Minyans.
The Time Lord’s did leave the Minyan’s some of their technology such as a ray that changes a person’s demeanour and the ability to regenerate (albeit not with a regeneration chamber). They’ve been on a quest to recover the ‘race bank’ of their people, sent into space when a civil war caused by the Time Lord’s departure tore their planet apart. This quest has seen them regenerate themselves more than a thousand times before reaching the edge of the universe. The Doctor, Leela and K9 arrive on their ship just as they pass through a nebula that causes rocks to build around the ship turning it in to a small planet. a fate that has also befallen the ship they were pursuing. On this ship the ‘Seers’ who take their orders from two computers have enslaved the descendants of the people who originally crewed it.
Needless to say this story has quite a bit happening and the tight script juggles everything nicely. Being a four-episode arc nothing gets dragged out longer than it has to. The time travellers meet quite a few different characters and there’s entertaining interaction between them all. The backstory to the Time Lords and the impact that they’ve had on the universe is always welcome. Even though the Seers look like they’re wearing second rate gimp suits it’s one of the best the Tom Baker years has offered up so far.