Written by Terrance Dicks
Directed by Paddy Russell
Doctor Who is a British science fiction television series which has been around off and on since 1963. The main character is just known as “The Doctor” and is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. This means he travels through time to various places. One of his favorite places to visit is Earth. Typically, he has one human female accompanying him on his adventures, and sometimes a human male as well or another alien. He travels in a time machine known as a “Tardis” which is disguised as a British Police booth.
A Time Lord can regenerate if fatally wounded, which has accounted for all the different actors who have played The Doctor throughout the years. In this episode, he is portrayed by Tom Baker. Baker was one of the most popular incarnations of The Doctor, and by many fan’s assessments he was the most popular.
In The Horror of Fang Rock, the Doctor and his traveling companion Leela (Louise Jameson) arrive in the TARDIS near a lighthouse on Fang Rock along the British coast. It’s a dark and foggy night…
Strange things begin happening. The light won’t stay on. One of the crew is found dead, apparently from an electrical shock while repairing the generator. Since the light isn’t working, a ship traveling too fast in the fog runs aground on the rocks. This adds additional people to the equation, and more suspicion as the lighthouse crew talks about the legend of the creature of Fang Rock.
As the story is explored further, the truth behind what is happening is fleshed out. It wouldn’t be Doctor Who without an alien, and it’s here that fans learn a great deal about the much talked-about Rutan who have been engaged in a long-term war with the Sontarans and who now are sending advanced scouts to Earth for a possible invasion.
The story is excellent with a good balance of horror and intrigue. The story builds as it goes along, from the simplicity of the Doctor and Leela arriving at what seems like a faulty lighthouse to moments that are truly scary at times. This is the only episode I can remember that comes close to being a horror flick, and it’s done so much better than many supposedly scary films.
There are moments of dark comic relief, usually provided by the Doctor’s traveling companion, Leela. Louise Jameson is excellent in the role as the barbarian from another planet. Here she’s not dressed in the leathers and skins she was seen in early on, similar to Xena. Instead, she changes to suit the times and is in a skimpy knitted woolen sweater and skirt as she roams the lighthouse. She is truly devoted to the Doctor and to defending him, although it seems to be a deep and loyal friendship rather than a romantic interest. When she says “If you don’t listen to the Doctor I shall cut your heart out” it seems a perfectly natural thing for her to say. The people around her don’t know what to make of her, but are sufficiently wary of whether she would actually carry out her threats (she would).
Tom Baker is marvelous as well. As a Time Lord, he has seen many things so there’s little that should phase him. Baker carries the Doctor with quite a nonchalant attitude, although at times his expressions give away the possibility that he isn’t quite as sure of himself as he would like others to believe. However, his nonchalance is what enables him to methodically solve what’s going on even as the humans around him seem to be falling apart. He’s not a buoyant as he has been in the past, but goes about trying to solve the mystery of what is happening with a somewhat grim determination rather than the usual jokes and smiles he gives.
The supporting cast of humans who find themselves trapped at Fang Rock in an increasingly tense situation as they seem to be killed off one by one do a decent job, but they are there to be the victims and set up the fear factor, not to really propel the story along. That is primarily done by the Doctor and, to a lesser extent, Leela. The acting by the supporting cast is fine but not distinctive.
The effects are halfway decent, probably because there’s not a lot of them. It was filmed entirely on a set in London, rather than outside anywhere. The fog rolling in looks fairly convincing, although the boat running aground on the rocks is very obviously a model.
The Horror of Fang Rock is part Scooby-Doo mystery, part science fiction, part horror. It’s really an excellent story which can rope in people who haven’t seen the older series before. My eleven year old, who fell in love with Doctor Who after seeing the new series on the Sci-Fi Channel, watched this disc with rapt attention one Saturday morning and soaked in the whole story. It does transcend the generations even without the dazzling special effects or CGI which seems to dominate many science fiction shows and movies. It just proves that a good story is really what you need, the rest is just window dressing.
• Commentary with Louise Jameson, John Abbot, and Terrance Dicks
• Paddy Russell – A Life in Television
• The Antique Doctor Who Show
• Information Text
• Photo Gallery
• Who’s Who