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29 April 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 484: Image of the Fendahl, Episode Two

Dear diary,

So do we all now just assume that a splinter of Clara opened the door to the locked room and let the Doctor out? I know very little about this story, but even I know that this causes something of a bone of contention amongst Who fans. The Doctor tries his sonic on the lock. Nothing. He paces around a bit… and then the door opens. Off he goes. He doesn’t even question it! I guess you could argue that the lock takes a while to react to the sonic (I guess?), but I much prefer the idea that there’s a version of Clara running around Fetch Priory that we never see. Maybe she’s the cleaner?

Something that I am enjoying - or, rather, something that I think I’m enjoying - about Image of the Fendahl is the direction. It’s George Spenton-Foster’s first time directing the programme (though he’ll be back again for the Key to Time series next year, before being whisked off to Blake’s 7), and he certainly brings a style to the episodes that I’m not used to seeing. I’ve been wracking my brain for the best way to describe it, but there’s only really one - it’s more artistic than I’m used to.

Several years ago, I studied ‘Film and Television Production’ at university (or something like that. We were the first group to take the course, and they changed the name every few months across the three years. I can’t even remember what my diploma says - heck, five years on I’m not sure I can even remember my final grade…). Because it was an art school that I attended, there was an awful lot of snobbishness around everything. All your films needed to be arty. Well, I came to this course at the point when web-video and YouTube was just taking off, and I was determined to create a web series. It took me the full three years, but I was finally able to do it.

The one problem I kept running into was tutors reading the scrips and saying ‘you could lose this scene. All of that can be conveyed with an artistic camera shot’. The problem, I constantly argued, was that by being too arty with something as narrative as my series meant that viewers may end up lost, and then switch off. Well, I’m certainly feeling lost at times with Image of the Fendahl, because there seems to be an awful lot of style over substance.

Usually, this comes in the form of two reactions from me; first, I muse on how good a particular shot looks - how unlike Doctor Who it is, and how much better than some of the more run-of-the-mill direction I’ve witnessed over the last few seasons. This then muses into the second reaction: realising that I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to be looking at. It happened a few times with Episode One - I wasn’t sure if the skull was transforming and morphing into Thea’s form… or if it was doing something else (I think I’m right in saying that it was, effectively, brainwashing her). Then during the cliffhanger, the Doctor finds himself rooted still in the forest, while the camera moves towards him. It’s very striking, what with the mist and the location at night, and the Doctor so utterly helpless… but I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be seeing some kind of Point-of-View shot from a creature, or if it was just Spenton-Foster getting a bit artistic!

All of this sounds so negative, but there’s a lot to really love about the direction, too. There’s nothing wrong with it being artistic - as long as you can follow the plot! Elsewhere in the story, the direction simply feels ahead of its time. There’s a two-person shot of Fendelman and Adam examining an x-ray of the skull which feels like it’s come from a drama from the 90s: it’s very out-of-keeping with what I’d expect to see, but in the best way possible! I’m wondering if things may settle down a little for me the longer the story goes on, maybe with me getting used to the ‘language’ of Spenton-Foster’s direction (I’ve still retained something of my art school training!), or with him toning down the flourishes to simply tell the story… 

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