THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
DOCTOR WHO EPISODE
OF THE EDUCATIONAL
AND THE TV STORY "THE
BOB BAKER &
'THE HAND OF FEAR'
RELEASED IN JULY 2006.
The Doctor and Sarah
return to Earth, but
are plunged into
danger as soon as
they step from the
TARDIS. They arrive in
a quarry rigged with
explosives, and the
blast leaves Sarah
unconscious in the
rubble, a fossilised
stone hand in her
grip. What strange
power does the hand
have over Sarah
The Hand of Fear
2ND OCTOBER 1976 - 23RD OCTOBER 1976
2006 has been a truly great year for Doctor Who DVD releases. The wonderful “Beginning” box set, followed by the unparalleled “Genesis of the Daleks” two-disc set… and now the commercially-shrewd release of Sarah Jane’s final classic story, “The Hand of Fear”, less than two months after Elisabeth Sladen’s appearance in “School Reunion” on television!
These days the Restoration boys have got putting these DVDs together down to an art and “The Hand of Fear” - even with the unenviable task of following “Genesis of the Daleks” onto the shelves - does not disappoint.
Above: Elisabeth Sladen in the "Changing Time" documentary
Having Tom Baker contribute to the commentary is once again thoroughly entertaining. He has you in stitches one minute as he fervently cheers the Doctor on - “Go on Tom, headbutt him! Give him a curly kiss!” – before being casts into the depths of depression the next as he sits and casually contemplates death and Hormone Replacement Therapy! However, when they can get a word in edgeways, Sladen, Judith Paris (Eldrad), Philip Hinchcliffe (Producer) and Bob Baker (Writer) all share their fascinating memories of the making of the serial too. The writer’s insight is perhaps the most interesting as he talks about the writing of the story, how he did not write that famous last scene, and his wonderful coup of getting permission to film in his local nuclear power plant! Sladen’s memories of the filming were
not quite as happy… She was not aware that she had been working in a potentially dangerous environment until afterwards when someone ran a Geiger counter over her!
Aside from the episodes themselves, the “Changing Time” documentary is probably the DVDs biggest selling point, and as usual it is beautifully shot and produced, giving us a wonderful insight into not only how the serial was made but also into the ‘special relationship’ between the Doctor and Sarah. As good as it is, like with “The Dalek Tapes” documentary on “Genesis of the Daleks” I was left feeling a bit cheated – not once is “School Reunion” mentioned, something that makes no sense to me at all considering that this DVD was doubtlessly released to tie-in with the broadcast of that episode and hopefully to attract some new, young fans to the classic series. It is also a bit annoying because this season the new series really made an effort to tie itself to the classic series, not only through “School Reunion” but also with other fleeting references littered throughout. One would think that the DVD producers would try and do the same in return! The rest of the extras are not fantastic, but they are nice to have for us completists all the same. The Swap Shop clip is quite amusing, especially in light of Noel Edmonds recent renaissance!
The four episodes themselves hold up remarkably well in 2006. The Earthbound section of the story looks particularly good on screen, with the location shoot at Oldbury power station the production values are well above Doctor Who’s normal standard for the time. And as Hinchcliffe points out in the commentary, some parts of this story could pass for a 1970s Hollywood movie. Even the CSO shots of the animated, disembodied hand also look unusually good; free of the ‘outline’ effect that Doctor Who’s overuse of CSO is famous for.
Sarah’s comedic outfit - “yes, just like Andy Pandy” – and the hilarious opening that sees the Doctor and Sarah stroll through a quarry that is about to be blown up, casually waving at the quarry workers, is really at odds with the tone of what is undoubtedly one of the series most spooky stories. Sladen is phenomenal here – the way she plays Sarah when she is possessed really show how far both Sladen and Sarah Jane have come on since “Planet of the Spiders” when she was last under an alien influence. Her eyes!
Sladen’s performance aside, “The Hand of Fear” also has a particularly good supporting cast. Paris, who plays Eldrad, has a tremendous on screen presence. She really brings something very alien to the part; her movements are stiff, almost mechanical – it
looks great on screen. Furthermore, Glyn Houston (Watson) may play a clichéd character that has been done a thousand times before, but he really does it in style. If his phone call home to the wife and kids does not get you, nothing will. Melodrama at its best.
The first episode of the story is very slow as there is a lot of plot and a lot of exposition to get through, but at no point does the story drag at all. The second episode, however, is where things really kick off. From the opening scene the viewer is dealing with a much faster, much louder, much more action-packed story. We even get to see the Doctor knock out Sarah Jane!
“Hail Eldrad, King of Nothing.”
Things do go downhill slightly when the Doctor agrees to return Eldrad to Kastria though; the gritty realism of terror in Oldbury power station is replaced by running through some corridors in a BBC studio. In the 150-million year gap since Eldrad left Kastria, it has become a wasteland, his civilisation long dead. There is not much plot at all to the last episode, it is just a lot of padding – lots of underground traps and puzzles, that sort of thing.
It really lacks that creepy, hammer horror feel that the first three episodes had. Even
Stephen Thorne’s bulkier, regenerated Eldrad is far less impressive than the elegant,
female Eldrad. And following his comments about Paris in the commentary, I am sure that the erstwhile Doctor would agree!
Bob Baker’s script ends as the Doctor and Sarah flee Kastria, abandoning Eldrad to his solitary fate. Enter Robert Holmes…
“How did you know? I’ve had the call from Gallifrey… I can’t take you with me. You’ve got to go.”
The elongated farewell scene for Sarah Jane is a testament to just how loved her character was. Even Jo Grant’s poignant exit in “The Green Death” had half the screen time that Sarah gets here. The Doctor receives a telepathic summons from Gallifrey and, as aliens are not allowed (apparently), the Doctor has to leave Sarah behind. It is a beautifully written scene, touchingly performed by the two regulars. It is not too soppy though – there is even the little joke at the end where she realises that he has dropped her off in the wrong place! The semi-cliffhanger ending also helps to diffuse things, with the audience intrigued about the call from Gallifrey – Russell T Davies used the same trick in this year’s season finale “Doomsday”, with Catherine Tate’s runaway bride. That is the Doctor’s life – always moving on, never going back; and it is really sad - especially for Sarah Jane who clearly loves the Doctor. He was her best friend and he could have gone back for her at any time. But he did not.
Of course, it could have been worse for Sarah – Douglas Camfield’s original swansong for her would have seen her killed off and given an honourable burial by the Foreign Legion. Now how many hearts would that have broken? There could not have been a “School Reunion” then...
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
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