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Review #3501: Classic Doctor Who: “The Hand of Fear”

Posted on the 11 May 2012 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: John Keegan

Written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin
Directed by Lennie Mayne

The only thing I knew about this serial, coming in, was the fact that this is the final regular appearance of Sarah Jane Smith. She would reappear here and there over the years, but moving forward, the Fourth Doctor era would move on without her.

Review #3501: Classic Doctor Who: “The Hand of Fear”

If the previous serial reminded me of a transplanted Hartnell era story, then this felt like it was a holdover from the Pertwee era. It’s actually surprising how many of the serials from this period call back to the prior versions of the show, considering how often I’ve heard that it has its own unique flavor of Gothic horror. Not that this is a bad thing, per se, just surprising.

One interesting aspect of the episode is how the story doesn’t focus on Sarah Jane’s departure much at all. It only factors into the very end of the episode, and it’s covered in an odd way. First, Sarah Jane jokes about how she’s had enough and she wants to go home. Considering what she’s been through since meeting the doctor, it could be taken as a bit of a joke between friends. But then the Doctor gets a “message” to return to Gallifrey, and he can’t take Sarah Jane with him. So after a heartful farewell, Sarah Jane returns to Earth, more or less in the vicinity of home.

Most of the story involves the discovery of a “petrified” hand in a quarry (of course), which turns out to be the remnant of an alien being named Eldrad. The first two episodes (fully half of the story) is just the process of Sarah and others being possessed by Eldrad, who needs to be exposed to high levels of radiation to regenerate. Sarah’s possession is well-done, but some of the other details are a bit over the top. Calling an air strike on a nuclear facility in the middle of England seems a bit ill-advised, and I’m fairly sure hiding behind a vehicle in the parking lot isn’t going to do much good!

Things pick up considerably in the third episode, where Eldrad takes on semi-human female form. I can only imagine how this was received during first run, because the costume is a skin-tight body stocking covered strategically with black “crystals”. Think a prototype to the Borg Queen, and it wouldn’t be too far off. It’s tame by today’s standards, but memorable, largely due to a strong performance that sells the notion that this is an alien creature taking on a specific form.

Eldrad wants to get home for suspicious reasons; in the beginning of the story, we’re told that Eldrad is a traitor. Eldrad’s motivations are never quite clear, and that’s part of the fun. Is Eldrad really the terrible monster as described, or were “her” actions just a misunderstanding, a function of her alien nature and the process by which “she” regenerates? It becomes a bit of an exercise in perspective, which I always enjoy.

Unfortunately, much of that work is tossed in the final episode, in which Eldrad is reformed into a male, who then shouts generic villainous dialog about how he was trying to get home to rule the world, and the universe, and so forth, only to be foiled by his own people, who destroyed themselves against the possibility that he might return. Cut to the inevitable chase scene. Until the final moments with the departure of Sarah Jane, the fourth episode undercuts everything that the third episode seemed to promise.

Writing: 1/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 1/4

Final Rating: 6/10

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