“Dark. Great dark. It called me. In my mind it called me. Hungry. It were hungry for my soul!” – Mother Tyler
As a child, I only ever read this story (but many times over because I really liked it), so by the time I actually saw it as an adult I had already heard that the realization on-screen was a bit of a let down to the story overall. I found this to be true as there is definitely some overly theatrical acting (and unnatural dialogue) and quite a lot of lagging direction—lingering too long on a scene, actors standing waiting for the action. Tom Baker’s over-the-top reactions become a bit wearisome here. The Fendahleen also don’t come across very convincingly.
Of course, some things come through great on screen. The portrayal of the old character Gran is wonderful. I really like that it’s her old world magic (salt charms) that saves the day. The skull is nicely designed and looks great when glowing. Leela’s fierceness shines through again (“Does it seem to you that I am afraid?” she challenges with a snarl). Her capture of and later sparring with Ted Moss is also mildly amusing.
I still have had a soft-spot for the story as one of my earliest encounters with sci-fi that weaves alien technology and old magic—explaining ancient superstitions as remnants of extraterrestrial encounter and such. It was also my introduction to concepts like gestalt organisms, neural relays, and race memories. Unfortunately, watching it after a long run of solid scripts also makes me realize that these aspects that I liked so much ruin the story a bit. It’s as if they writer tried to throw in every cool idea he could think of without really looking to see if it flowed well or gelled together as a story over all. Covens and haunted woods and pentagrams! Time fissures! Time loops! Astral projection! The asteroid belt as a destroyed planet! A creature buried in the earth is recreating itself! It helped developed mankind! Or maybe we’re all alien! Let’s make it an ancient legend of the Time Lords too! Throw in a Greek goddess! In the end, it’s all a bit too much and would have benefitted from some paring down.
Best (or worst) unsettling moments:
There are many scenes that are supposed to be fill us with horror—Stael’s suicide, Fendleman’s death, Thea’s transformation, the destruction of the covern–but either the actors or the dialogue or direction don’t quite pull them off. Mother Tyler’s fearful scene is one well done example. Also kind of frightening are the Doctor’s cries of pain and distress at touching the skull.
There is a lot of bad direction and editing in this story. The ending cliffhanger is quite confusing because it doesn’t make sense why the Doctor is standing there (they don’t explain about the creature causing him inability to move until later) and we’re not clued in that there is any visible danger approaching him; it just seems like the camera is suddenly doing an odd close-up. The scenes at the ritual as the cult followers are transformed plod along very slowly—the Doctor is literally walking around as the actors hold their position as if they can’t see him. There’s also the ridiculously long dramatic pose held by Thea (as the Core) with the Fendahleen behind looking like they are trying to create a movie poster. This plus some of the odd dialogue and unnatural delivery of lines by actors are all a bit distracting to the story.
Leela also again seems to regress in her learning and character development, seeming more childlike than before.