A low-budget, low-rent film crew are shooting their latest schlock horror in the mocked-up catacombs of Fetch Priory. It’s a hackneyed, tawdry slasher, replete with all the overused “young woman as sacrificial victim” clichés. But this film project is not just a case of tacky production values and poor creative choices. This movie director and his ill-assorted team have hidden motives that are even darker than the bloodthirsty obsessions of their join-the-dots plot.
New Big Finish audio Night Of The Fendahl is the first in a series of four one-off adventures bringing some of the well-remembered monsters and adversaries from the world of Doctor Who into the Torchwood realm. Given Who’s extensive carnival of monsters, kicking off this new run of stories with the Fendahl is something of a “less obvious” choice. Writer Tim Foley is to be commended for taking on the challenge; and it’s already been announced that the next release will focus on the “classic” threats revealed in The Green Death.
Strong on atmosphere and with some good broad-strokes characterisation of this group of misfit filmmakers, it’s clear from the outset that neither the cinematic nor the criminal ambitions of this group are likely to play out as they had planned. Much of the fun of the piece is trying to anticipate not if but how their nefarious schemes will unravel and with what consequences.
It’s fabulous to hear Eve Myles’ Gwen Cooper return to the audio Torchwood world, even though her arrival on set is initially the source of some confusion, as Gwen is clearly “not herself”. She’s stilted, unnatural and seems unsure of just what it is that she has signed up to. It’s a vulnerability that slimy film director Phil (a great turn by Bradley Freegard) is keen to exploit, while his dysfunctional crew look the other way.
But it’s soon clear that small-timer Phil is completely out of his depth, and unaware that his repellent ambitions are not the dominant story of this screenplay’s plot. The mythos of the Fendahl “core” slowly makes its presence felt as the story unfolds, as do the motivations behind Gwen’s submissive approach to her thankless acting role. While the ensemble cast is small, Foley does make space in the 65-minute running time to shift the focus between each of them in turn, so none feel superfluous to what is a fast-moving storyline.
There’s clearly a love for the world of Seventies movie horror shared by this Big Finish team. Characters debate the difference between anthology and portmanteau filmmaking, and name-check the Amicus studio; while the production shows clear affection for the world of cash-strapped, make-do, guerrilla cinema (or at least its non-murderous incarnations). The plot of Night Of The Fendahl allows the expected dynamic between hunter and prey to be reversed to entertaining effect. In the process, the drama enjoys taking a swipe at that strand of exploitation cinema which cast women only in the role of vixen or victim. All in all, a promising start to this new Torchwood imprint.