The third story from writer Chris Boucher again features an extended cast of likeable characters, and delivers another spooky mystery. However, this time, I feel the plot gets too tangled up in itself. I must admit, I was drifting off a little around part 2 or 3, and it never fully grabbed me.
I’m not sure I could adequately summarise the plot. It mixes alien mythology with exogenesis and an energy lifeform preserved inside a glowing skull. Somehow, energy from an erased planet has passed through generations of space to find Earth, possibly guided our evolutionary path in order to make us viable hosts. Meanwhile, a cult has, for some reason, taken to this lifeform, the Fendahl, as a goddess, sacrificed a woman to host the creature, and then been betrayed when the Fendahl hypnotises them and turns other people into giant slugs? Which are also psychic but killed by salt. M’kay!
When the Doctor is basically pushing the plot forward by spouting technobabble, while the others look on in confusion, something has gone a bit wrong. Tom Baker manages to bring this nonsense to life, but it’s the human factor that makes the best moments of this serial. Whether it’s healing a shocked old woman by talking about fruitcake, or more solemn moments like handing a gun to doomed Max and saying “I’m sorry”, it’s these moments of humanity that make the Doctor such a compelling character. No theatrics, he quietly deals with it and moves on. Sometimes, people just can’t be saved.
Image of the Fendahl is not averse to some dark themes, nor does it shy away from death, but it’s also quite funny in places too. It’s this mix of darkness and humour that I think plays so well, even today, and makes for some of the most entertaining episodes. The plot may have bored me a little, it may have been overly hokey and mystical for its own good, but at its heart remains a formula that works.