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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

15 Comments

  1. Gnaeus
    December 2, 2011 @ 3:10 am

    "The Fendahl is something we haven't really seen before: a monster that is, in a literal sense, history itself."

    Isn't the Fendahl really just an inversion of the Time Lords? It is, after all, just s much a manifestation of the Whiggish Interpretation as the Time Lords are.

    "This is just grotesque in its cultural imperialism. But more to the point, it just undermines and sandbags the entire story."

    This is, however, also rather typical of amateur cultural historians who fancy themselves as Wiccans. It's part of a spectrum that usually traces quite literally everything (tarot cards, the Fastii, Whirling Dervishes, the Rule of St Benedict) to Ancient Egypt, frequently by finding abstruse links between similar-ish looking passages in texts which are, in time, often at least 1,000 years apart, to say nothing of their geographical distance. I suspect this is largely the sort of thought which lies beneath the "Kemetic" branch of neo-paganism.

    I suppose my point is: the attitude on display here is all that you say, but it does rather come with the cultural baggage of the time, both popularly and academically (and at this point, we're still not quite shot of the influence of people like Frazer and the ridiculous notion that all cultures and religions are more-or-less the same thing… hell, we're not shot of it popularly even now, and if you want proof of the level that equivalentism had penetrated, just pick an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation at random and watch until the 20-30 minute mark, when Picard will make his Paternalistic Speech of the Episode.)

    Reply

  2. Mike K.
    December 2, 2011 @ 4:14 am

    "Williams is still trying to make traditional Doctor Who without upsetting people…"

    I just finished watching this story for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and I thought that the Doctor's retrieval of the gun so that Stael could shoot himself was quite disturbing. The only thing I've seen to match it was Hartnell's Doctor apparently deciding to kill the caveman who was slowing him down way back in the first story.

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  3. Tom Watts
    December 2, 2011 @ 4:37 am

    It is a rip off of Quatermass and the Pit, but so much more entertaining. It has the humour, charm and silliness that any incarnation of Quatermass has lacked. I find Kneale's writing as dry as dust, whereas, while Boucher may be lifting all Kneale's ideas, he has so much more fun with them. That's a huge tick in the credit box as far as I'm concerned.

    Isn't the Fendahl, Death itself, "Woman"? The scientists are investigating the origins of man. Why do women have legs, after all? You know that vile joke? – So they don't leave a trail of slime everywhere they go. And hence the closing joke about Cantharides, which is surely Holmes. It's a line like the flippant dismissal at the end of a Donne poem: "If all fail, 'tis but applying wormseed to the tail", "hope not for mind in women; at their best, sweetness and wit, they are but mummy, possessed", etc. Donne and Holmes, united in jibing cynicism! "Mankind has been used!", Fendelman realises in horror. Of course a lot of guys feel the same way. And salt/sperm is not an exclusively European cultural equivalence.

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  4. Tom Watts
    December 2, 2011 @ 5:15 am

    Just to clarify, I cannot think of a Doctor Who story that makes use of so many woman-hating woman-fearing themes and ideas. Its racist equivalent is surely Talons, and while I'm perfectly tolerant myself of lurid comedy-racism, I'm not surprised you gave that story quite a hard time. But Fendahl, you seem comparatively easy on. I'm not sure why. The ultimate evil is alternately a giant slug and a blank-eyed goddess. It's vanquished, or at least stalled, by firing salt from a gun. What's not to hate, witty dialogue aside?

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  5. Elizabeth Sandifer
    December 2, 2011 @ 5:46 am

    To be honest, I didn't notice the anti-feminist themes here. I'm not quite sure I'm convinced of them on your account, though it's certainly plausible. Mainly I find myself tripping over how much of this is actually in this story and how much of it is latent in the western occult tradition (which has its own host of horrifically anti-feminist aspects). And while I can get drawn out on the evolving role of the sacred feminine and the virgin/whore complex… mainly this story doesn't give me enough to do anything interesting with it beyond observe the problem.

    How about I make it up during Kinda or Snakedance, where you have virgin/whore complexes mixed with giant snakes. Pink snakes.

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  6. BerserkRL
    December 2, 2011 @ 5:48 am

    "an Enlightenment liberalism master narrative about establishing what all of humanity is like"

    I continue to think this is a myth. Real-world Enlightenment liberalism was far more about undermining such narratives than about establishing them.

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  7. BerserkRL
    December 2, 2011 @ 5:54 am

    I would add that almost everything ascribed by popular stereotypes to the Enlightenment is actually characteristic of medieval thought; and almost everything ascribed by popular stereotypes to the postmodern critique of the Enlightenment is actually characteristic of the Enlightenment.

    Reply

  8. William Whyte
    December 2, 2011 @ 12:46 pm

    "The Fendahl is something we haven't really seen before: a monster that is, in a literal sense, history itself."

    I think this is charitable to the story: as you note, we've seen something very very like the Fendahl in The Daemons, Pyramids of Mars, and Masque of Mandragora, at least in terms of the action of the story; what makes it distinctive is things that we're told not shown, which diminishes the impact. So it's very much something that we've seen before, but with different words.

    I think your estimation of its weaknesses perhaps overweights the extent to which it's actually weak and underweights the extent to which it suffers because we've seen it all before. As Mike K noted, Stael shooting himself is very effective; when I saw it on first broadcast, I was deeply affected by the fact that at some point Thea just gets completely absorbed by the Fendahl and doesn't even get to protest or say goodbye — the first death of a major character to go so unremarked since the start of the colour era. It could be that if it had been swapped with Pyramids of Mars their reputations would be swapped too (or maybe not — everyone gives a little more when they're in period costume).

    "[I]t would take a genius to find a way forward out of all of this. Good thing Doctor Who still has one of those around."

    You're not going to go liking The Sunmakers, are you? Bad though Power of Kroll is, The Sunmakers is Holmes Mark I's Two Doctors for me: lazy, unpleasant, laughing at the wrong things. I await Monday with interest.

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  9. Alex Wilcock
    December 5, 2011 @ 7:03 am

    A little late, I know (ill and not online), but I have to disagree with you – surprise – that “Nobody loves it. Nobody hates it.” You’ve already had some hate in your comments above; now it’s time for some love. I’ve always loved it, and I’m not the only one, though I know I’m rare in seeing it as far and away the best story in what’s admittedly Tom’s weakest season (though not, for me, of the ’70s, with at least two of Pertwee’s much weaker). And far from having run out of ideas, I’ve written before how Image of the Fendahl has been strikingly influential on Doctor Who since 2005, and even on both of the spin-off series.

    My reasoning, as you might say, for disagreeing with you is simple enough: I don’t think it’s “trying to avoid ruffling any feathers”, nor “largely defanged” (with one notable exception, which – curiously – doesn’t involve violence). I’m not really sure what your evidence for this is, save behind-the-scenes knowledge: to me, it seems much grimmer and more scary than Horror of Fang Rock (which did indeed hide its bodies, in a visible reaction to Whitehouse; it seems to me that’s done here more to avoid blowing sight of the monster until the end of Part Three).

    Your one significant example of people trying to tone things down is in the Doctor aiding Stael in his suicide, but that, I think, involves a number of mistaken assumptions. Yes, it’s true that they decided that was too disturbing and tried to tone it down… But would it have been done significantly differently under Hinchcliffe? I suspect not. You’ve just watched them all; you know that he was not, in fact, Sam Peckinpah, nor even Roger Corman. Subjectively, when I was a boy and watched the whole of Tom as they were first transmitted, I found Fendahl scarier than all but a couple of Hinchcliffes – it was the final story that seriously frightened me – and I’ll come to some of the possible reasons why. Objectively, though, Hinchcliffe himself has said both at the time and since that there were several points at which he, as producer, asked either scriptwriters or directors to tone things down because they were too disturbing to go out. So this wasn’t a new phenomenon – Whitehouse was simply wrong to paint the former team as irresponsible monster who’d throw the worst horrors imaginable at children’s tea-time. The best-documented of these was a scene he ordered cut from The Ark In Space… In which Noah asks the Doctor and Vira to kill him (you can see it; it’s when he suddenly cuts from telling them about the Wirrn to casting his gun at their feet). So, here’s a blatant comparison: under Hinchcliffe, the producer refused even to let someone asking the Doctor to aid him in suicide go out; under Williams, er, the Doctor actually does aid someone in suicide. And it’s clearly the morality of the hero’s participation in this that caused the high-level arguments, but still let the scene through – Image of the Fendahl is distinctly the second of a run of four stories in a row in which characters explicitly either plan or attempt suicide (Marius; Stael; Cordo; Tala).

    I don’t deny that under Graham Williams the programme gave a sharp shift – tonally, even at a glance this is the last story to dwell on dark horror rather than spaceships and silly hats – yet you seem to have a lot of assertions but little evidence that “in execution, none of the potential of this idea comes through”, or that it’s been “Drained of the uncanny and uncomfortable horror”. Really?

    [Sorry – this is going to go on a bit]

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  10. Alex Wilcock
    December 5, 2011 @ 7:04 am

    [Continued…]

    Like few other Doctor Who stories, the production team explicitly decided to film at night – with considerably more night filming than in any of Hinchcliffe’s stories – to make it as scary as possible, adding mist and a character stalked to his death by roving camera within the first few minutes, all horror film staples. A leading character’s face is repeatedly cross-faded with a glowing skull in the dark, accompanied by some of the eeriest and most pervasive sound effects the series has ever had (very little comforting music), both for this early establishing death and for the magnificent build-up to the first cliffhanger, a triple-climax with the skull, a nasty slobbering sound and an eerie mechanical throb that perfectly marry technology with ancient horror, Leela in peril and the Doctor frozen to the spot as whatever killed the hiker slides forward to kill him too… For me, these are the series’ most effective several minutes of mounting terror, if not its single most vivid last moment (for which I’d toss between a couple of Hinchcliffe’s).

    It’s an inspired reworking of the Gorgon myth – which reaches its height at the point the Doctor tells Stael it’s too late for him – where rather than a relatively merciful instant calcification, you’re still alive but already doomed because you can never run. Then, in the dialogue, the Doctor is framed as a “wandering Armageddon pedlar” who foretells the death of the human race and calls the Fendahl death itself. If someone’s trying to make this pull its punches, there are an awful lot of people who are succeeding in making it punch harder even than the previous regime.

    You hit on some persuasive reasons why the Fendahl should be the mythic enemy of the Time Lords, but you don’t follow up on what that means for the viewer. Broadcast over Halloween (though set at Lammas, harvesting its strain in humanity), this is not just an outstanding ghost story but a Time Lord ghost story. Comedy has ‘laughter tracks’ to tell you when to laugh; horror has reaction shots as ‘scream tracks’ – we know something’s scary if characters are scared by it – and this uses the Time Lords as the biggest reaction of the lot by giving us the monster that frightens them.

    Now, I did admit that there was one key moment in which its horror fails, and it’s linked to that Time Lord tale of Death. Tom Baker gives one of his most mercurial performances here, right on the cusp between moody Tom and comedy Tom, and this script is clearly a major part of changing him. There’ve been regenerations with smaller changes of character as when, perhaps most notably, the Doctor decides to doss around (which becomes a motif of the Williams years) rather than head straight for the action, with Leela capturing Ted Moss and the dialogue that follows a brilliant mix of exposition, tension and out-and-out funny. And yet despite the Doctor being suddenly more glib when it’s appropriate, he still delivers when something else is needed: he’s spooked, then taken over and in ghastly pain in a hearts-beat at the end of Part Two; he confesses to Leela about his childhood nightmare in the TARDIS. But it’s that TARDIS scene in Part Three, and the thrown-away resolution there in Part Four, where I’d agree the story pulls its punches, and I wonder if those weren’t perhaps the last scenes shot or scripted, such is the difference in tone from the rest – notably in that Part Three detour, where it’s difficult to tell whether it’s Louise Jameson, the script or the director that’s deliberately undercutting the Doctor’s horror, but something surely is. Yet that’s only a couple of scenes, and you have to wilfully ignore much more over the previous three years to pretend that Hinchcliffe stories didn’t also have moments that were less powerful than others.

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  11. Alex Wilcock
    December 5, 2011 @ 7:05 am

    [Last bit – thankfully shorter!]

    Phew. Well, after all that I’ll keep my mouth shut on The Sun Makers. Not least because I still want to reply to Tom Watts, above. I won’t start on Quatermass and the Pit – though it’s brilliant – but it’s interesting for me that you draw almost exactly the opposite conclusion to mine about the script, Tom. I don’t know which of us is right, if either of us are, but rather than this being the most misogynistic of stories, I’ve always read it as quite the reverse.

    As well as scaring me out of my wits, one of the reasons this has stayed a favourite of mine through the years is that the script isn’t full of simple, dumb shocks; it’s intelligent enough that there’s always something more to find in it, and more of your expectations to be subverted. The barking mad scientist with the dubious name, accent and whiskers that say ‘look at me, I’m the villain’ turns out to be quite sane but grasps too late what’s really going on – notably, the only two characters (other than the Doctor, from outside) who have an idea of what’s happening are the two women, proved right though no-one takes them seriously (one being the standard comedy character who becomes positively haunted, the other a scientist played by a famously glamorous actress but treated as quietly competent rather than a dolly-bird). The villain performs occult rituals in a white lab coat with the aid of the latest technological breakthrough, and then finds out to his horror that he’s not really the central villain after all. The Doctor has a whole series of reversals: Tom Baker here becomes more flippant than he’s ever been before, but is faced by almost the only monster who never says a word and wants only to consume him, so his glib tongue’s no use at all for talking his way out of it; the Time Lord with the fabulous mental powers is seized instantly by something that’s been dead twelve million years; and the brave, bright Doctor gets afraid and runs off on a wild goose chase while events run out of control in his absence.

    Perhaps most impressively, that most Doctor Who of all forms of death – when someone dies only to come back, hideously transformed – reaches its apotheosis here, with Death personified turning out not to be just a slug or a skull but a beautiful woman, and the staple horror film ‘helpless, abused female victim’ being much more aware of what’s happening than her tormentors then rising in hideous omnipotence to take revenge on all the pleading, screaming men around her. Again, there’s no absolute answer as to whether Tom’s reading or mine is ‘right’, but I’ve always found her apotheosis horrific, yes, but also empowering in its own way.

    Oh, and finally, if anyone’s interested, I’ll be conceited enough to say that I have proven at length the definitive answer to the infamous question often asked about this story, that is, ‘Who Let the Doc Out?’

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  12. Henry R. Kujawa
    April 16, 2012 @ 6:50 pm

    A slow boil for me. Scary like several earlier ones, but somehow, much harder to understand. I had to see this at least twice, maybe three times, before I had a real grasp on what the HELL was really going on. Watching it again tonight, I noted a lot of very awkward cutting from one scene to another, long, long stretches with no music whatsoever (good thing when the music did come in, otherwise I was beginning to suspect my copy of this might be a defective print). And as mentioned, The Doctor keeps going up and down in his mood swings.

    But then, so does Leela. Half the story she's violence personified. But a very warm, caring, downright nurturing side of her comes out in this story as never before. "Do not worry, Doctor, I will protect you." (Isn't that usually HIS line to all the girls?) "He has great knowledge, and also, gentleness." (Quick cut to Baker KICKING a box in the locked room. Great comic timing.) Later in the TARDIS, she tries to comfort him when he realizes he's had trouble realizing something. And then of course, she spends more time away from him than perhaps in any other story to this point (except maybe "TALONS"). In a strange way, they begin to feel like equals in this one. Each having skills the other doesn't.

    But what is there to say about her "new dress"? She must have gone into the wardrobe closet and grabbed what seemed appropriate, not realizing she was just wearing undergarments. She looks like a HOOKER in this story! And her hair– plus her pale skin tone– she looks ghastly for 4 whole episodes, even while she's getting some decent lines to say. By comparison, she's so PRETTY at the very end… pity there's not really anyone around to appreciate it. (He starts to, then stops himself. Can't do that…!)

    This was probably not my first exposure to Wanda Ventham, but it was the first time I really took note of her. She seems somehow a lot older here than she did only a few years earlier in UFO. But still beautiful. I could not believe when the story just let her DIE the way it did, not all at once, but by becoming part of the horror.

    This will never be a favorite of mine. But I still enjoy watching it more than that ghastly "GENESIS". or 75% of Peter Davison's run.

    Oh, by the way, "Fendahlman" later turned up as one of the Police Inspectors on Jeremy Brett's SHERLOCK HOLMES! In several episodes, if memory serves.

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  13. Jacob
    December 10, 2014 @ 11:41 am

    And, to continue my years-too-late contradictions of sweeping generalizations:
    This is actually my least favorite Tom Baker story, and one of my least favorite stories of the entire classic era.

    Reply

  14. Henry R. Kujawa
    July 19, 2015 @ 9:55 am

    Just watched it again. NO change of opinion. It does feel like something's "missing". A shame it takes so much up-close horror for Colby to calm down and become reasonable, for most of the story he's such an annoying, sarcastic prick. You'd think "scientists" wouldn't have such closed minds and big mouths.

    I recently had a chance to see BOTH versions of "QUATERMASS AND THE PIT"– the TV version for the first time (INCREDIBLE!!! –so long, yet never boring! –that's good writing) and the feature film (2nd time, not since 1970– so fast-moving, cramming 3-1/2 hours of story into 1-1/2 hours of film). "FENDAHL" suffers terribly on every single level compared to it. Either version.

    Didn't anyone ever ask Nigel Keale to write for "WHO" ? Or could it be he didn't see the point in working on a show that was repeatedly ripping him off already?

    My least-favorite Baker story continues to be "GENESIS", with "THE INVISIBLE ENEMY" a far-distant 2nd place. I've decided I've seen "GENESIS" too many times, and never want to watch it again. At least "INVISBLE ENEMY" is watchable. not like half the Peter Davisons, and a couple of Colin Bakers. ("TIMELASH"– how, how in God's name did something that STUPID ever get filmed?)

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  15. orfeo
    August 5, 2015 @ 5:07 am

    I think the director ruined it.

    Or somebody did. It really feels like there are ideas that could have been played with and emphasised, and there are some stylish visuals, but it ends up being dull and uninteresting with no sense of momentum. Not horrible like The Invisible Enemy, just…there.

    The acting is highly variable, with the two female guest stars acquitting themselves well but most of the male ones looking rather lost. It comes across as if most of the people involved didn't quite know why they were making this story. Spinning wheels is as good a description as any, really.

    It's a pity that skull went into a supernova, because one of my thoughts around episode 2 was that this is something that could really benefit from a modern remake.

    Reply

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