THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
BIG FINISH AUDIO BOOKS
"THE CATALYST" AND
ROCKS OF DOOM, THE
MONSTER OF FANG ROCK
& BEAST OF FANG ROCK
'HORROR OF FANG ROCK'
RELEASED IN JANUARY
A mysterious light in
the sky, an unnatural
glow in the ocean and
a thick fog bring
terror to the
lighthouse keepers of
Fang Rock. When the
Doctor and Leela
arrive, the first
death has already
cast doubt on the
safety of the
lighthouse. But the
terrifying and evil
than even he could
Horror of Fang Rock
3RD SEPTEMBER 1977 - 24TH SEPTEMBER 1977
Doctor Who’s fifteenth season is a strange animal. The stories range from the hilarious
(“The Sunmakers”) to the epic (“The Invasion of Time”), and from the thought-provoking (“Image of the Fendahl”) to the thoughtless (“Underworld”, “The Invisible Enemy”). I think that this season really encapsulates the Graham Williams era as a whole; there is no consistent standard. Either an all-time classic like “City of Death” blows you away, or the bottom of the pit is scraped with “The Creature From The Pit”.
“Horror of Fang Rock” though, seems to belong to a world that had gone. It had ‘Philip Hinchcliffe era’ stamped all over it; outgoing script editor Robert Holmes’ touch still quite evident through the lone lighthouse’s distinctly gothic atmosphere.
Now I pity any story that had to follow “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”, but with a script by the stalwart Terrance Dicks and the direction of Paddy Russell, this four-parter at least made a decent stab at it. Though to a certain extent the studio-bound stories all feel confined to a certain degree, “Horror of Fang Rock” feels even more so, perhaps due to the excellent spiral staircase sets. This story really does feel like it has been shot in a lighthouse. Indeed, there is really something to be said for turning the whole studio-bound problem on its head - instead of struggling to create a stunning alien vista, why not go for the opposite effect? It certainly works on a dramatic level - with an unknown alien menace unleashed inside such a confined space, at times even the Doctor’s fear shows through.
“…I’ve made a terrible mistake. I thought I’d locked the enemy out. Instead I’ve locked the enemy in…”
What is more, dependable as ever Dicks creates solid, believable characters who each embark on a very personal journey over the course of the four episodes. With the story set entirely within the very moody, very claustrophobic environment of the lighthouse, the small cast of characters are each given a chance to shine and develop, Colonel Skinsale perhaps being the most endearing of the bunch. Skinsale is a very human character with a very human weakness – greed – which is ultimately his own undoing, yet along the way he shows great courage and selflessness in aiding the Doctor; even impressing him so much that the Doctor would tell Leela that the Colonel died “...with honour…”, when in reality he dies scrambling about trying to pick up diamonds.
Louise Jameson’s Leela also enjoys a good share of the plot; some of her ‘schooling’ in “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” even seems to have paid off as she suggests turning the lighthouse into a laser beam in the last episode. I really like this touch as it illustrates the character’s intelligence; her ability to learn – Leela is often caricatured as a stupid savage, when in reality she is a highly intelligent woman who has had zilch in the way of education. In this, only her fourth televised story as a companion, she is already demonstrating that with the Doctor’s tuition she can be clever. That said, one of my favourite parts of the story sees Leela viciously slap the hysterical Adelaide! God bless that savage.
However, the “Horror of Fang Rock” DVD is certainly not the most of impressive of the range, though I was pleased to find that having Clayton Hickman’s artwork on the disc itself (see right) was not limited to last month’s “Lost In Time” special release. Nevertheless, for such a popular serial, I expected more from this DVD somehow. Here we have “Paddy Russell – A Life in Television”, which does not have all that much to do with Doctor Who (and thus was not of that much interest to me), together with “The Antique Doctor Who Show”, a five-minute skit which, if I remember correctly, preceded the thirtieth anniversary repeat of “Planet of the Daleks” on BBC1– a nice little throwaway extra, certainly, but I fail to see its relevance here.
On the other hand though, we do have “Terrance Dicks: Fact & Fiction”, a phenomenal documentary which I enjoyed every bit as much as the Holmes documentary featured on
“The Two Doctors” DVD. Prior to watching this programme, I was not aware of how much Dicks had accomplished away from Doctor Who – I have read many a Target novelisation, but I never knew that he had written so many non-Doctor Who books or produced things like Oliver Twist. Again though, as most of the documentary focused on the Jon Pertwee / UNIT era of Doctor Who, surely this documentary would have been better placed on a DVD release from that era? I can only conclude that little could be found in the archives of direct relevance to “Horror of Fang Rock” itself, though I think that if the trouble was gone to to haul in Dicks and Jameson to record a commentary, why not interview them as well about the making of the story, and perhaps even produce a short featurette from the same?
And so, whilst I do not think that “Horror of Fang Rock” is anywhere near as good as it is purported to be, it is certainly a wonderfully eerie four-parter that deserved a more auspicious DVD release. Nonetheless, in terms of value, with four classic episodes and a brilliant documentary thrown into boot, one cannot complain too loudly.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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