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Saturday, October 25, 2014

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2014-Day 26: DOCTOR WHO "IMAGE OF THE FENDAHL" (1977)

The Fendahl: Proof that monsters on DOCTOR WHO don't have to be scaly, slimy, or composed of tentacles to be disturbing as hell.

It always comes back to Lovecraft.

In the present day of 1977, a group of evolutionary scientists run tests on a skull of a homo sapiens found during an archaeological dig in Kenya and determine it to be at least four-million years too old to exist. During one of the tests, the skull reacts and possesses the team's female member while also unleashing a swarm of deadly tentacled wigglies into the nearby area. Naturally such weirdness attracts the attention of the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker), who arrives to investigate with his future-savage companion, Leela (Louise Jameson). What they discover is best summed up as "DOCTOR WHO collides head-on with H.P. Lovecraft," as a diabolical cult led by one of the scientists seeks to awaken and control the Fendahl, a gestalt entity of great malevolent power and intent straight out of the mythology of the Time Lords (the Doctor's race). The Fendahl devours life itself and in the past destroyed at least one entire planet and its population, and when it arrived on Earth all those millions of years ago and went dormant after being buried, its influence may have borne heavy influence upon the development of the human species. But whatever scientific and evolutionary revelations the Fendahl's skull could yield, the baleful entity must be utterly destroyed lest planet Earth be the next to meet its fate ate the hands of the life-eater.

The Doctor attempts to communicate with the Fendahl entity. It does not go well.

If you want to get your kids into the whole Lovecraft flavor of horror, I strongly suggest starting here. "Image of the Fendahl" pretty much runs the gamut of the father of modern horror fiction's tropes and the result feels just like one of his WEIRD TALES yarns, only guest-starring the Doctor and Leela. Lovecraft's old school prose style is terrific for conjuring up mental images of formless, misshapen threats that drive men to states of gibbering insanity, but it's kind of quaint and a bit daunting to modern audiences that are used to their scares thrown in their collective face with little or no conceptual heavy-lifting, so dressing the Lovecraft ethos in the guise of DOCTOR WHO for a 1970's audience was a stroke of genius. A black magic cult, the summoning of an uncontrollable otherworldly terror, ancient rites and  artifacts, resurrected destructive alien gods, scientists messing with things best left alone by man, lesser creatures that reflect a much larger horror, minds shattered by un-human contact... It's all here and somehow deemed kosher for what's ostensibly a kids' program, though I very much doubt such material would have flown in an American children's show during its era. I mean, really, would an image like the following ever have been allowed on the after-school air ?


"Coming up next: Bugs Bunny and all your cartoon pals!"

I'd bet good money on the answer being a resounding "NO," so once again I give heartfelt kudos to DOCTOR WHO for going that extra mile and caring enough to truly put the frighteners on its young and avid audience. Don't want your kids to be a bunch of pussies? Then don't feed them pablum while treating them like idiots. Give them quality horror. It gets the survival instincts going and makes them think, and there were few other children's entertainments that seriously brought both respect for its audience's intelligence and genuine fear to the wee ones like vintage DOCTOR WHO. Accept no substitutes!

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