I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on the exact reason, but I’ve always found this story somewhat dull. Perhaps “unengaging” would be a better word. “Image of the Fendahl” certainly has plenty of atmosphere, but I just can’t quite bring myself to get all that enthusiastic about it as a story.
Episode one may well demonstrate part of the problem. Far too much of the episode is spent with the guest cast while the Doctor and Leela only take preliminary steps to get involved in the actual story. The guest characters of Dr. Fendelman. Max Stael, Thea Ransome and Adam Colby are reasonably entertaining however, so it’s amusing enough to watch them bicker and get excited about their discovery and lay down the basic plot, even without the Doctor around to liven things up. I’m somewhat ambivalent about the merits of the plot itself, however. The idea of the 12 million year old skull being an alien that has influenced mankind is hardly original. It’s been done before, and since. “Evils from the dawn of time” are laughably common, and I’ve had the thought that one day I need to write a Doctor Who novel where he travels to the beginning of the universe and finds nothing but all-powerful evil demigods fighting it out.
I really can’t muster much enthusiasm for episode one at all. Episode two at least sees the Doctor and Leela get involved with the main storyline, though the Doctor is locked up rather quickly and still, frustratingly, gets less to do than Fendelman and company. Leela’s encounter with Ted Moss at Mrs. Tyler’s house occurs with no explanation as to why Leela has gone there when she was supposed to be following the Doctor to the priory. She just up and slips away while the two of them are tromping through the woods.
Episode three is where things really begin to happen, though frustratingly, the Doctor still can’t bring himself to get involved in the actual main plotline. Leela shows up to rescue him quite conveniently, and then the two of them jet off to talk to the Tylers while all the bad stuff continues to happen in the Priory. The Doctor even takes off on a trip to the fifth planet for reasons I’ve never quite figured out. It’s as if he’s trying not to get involved. And when he finally does decide to do something at the end of part three, it’s too late to stop three of the four scientists in the story from dying in various ways. Way to go, Doc. I’m not sure the Doctor has ever been more useless than he is in this story, with the possible exception of “Revelation of the Daleks” where he similarly accomplishes very little and is peripheral to the plot.
Part four is reasonably creepy, but it’s too late to save the story. By this point I’m just ready for the episode to end. I’ll concede that the conceit of making the Fendahl a gestalt creature is a smart move, so it can be all-powerful and yet defeatable by the Doctor due to being incomplete.
Overall, this is a ponderous story that has no real bright spot, and leaves me feeling cold rather than entertained after I’ve watched it. Not even Tom Baker livens it up. It’s a well-made story, it’s just unenjoyable.