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Review #3560: Classic Doctor Who: “Horror at Fang Rock”

Posted on the 22 June 2012 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: John Keegan

Written by Terrence Dicks
Directed by Paddy Russell

Season 15 marks a shift in the Fourth Doctor era, away from the gothic horror stylings of the Hinchcliffe production motif, yet one might be forgiven if they didn’t recognize that point from the tone and content of this serial. It definitely feels like a holdover from the previous administration, with the added benefits (and weaknesses) of a bottle show.

Review #3560: Classic Doctor Who: “Horror at Fang Rock”

The vast majority of the story takes place within and around a lighthouse, where a sinister presence has taken hold, threatening to spearhead invasion of the Earth. Along the way, various characters (including the Doctor and Leela) are caught up in the mystery of just what is happening at Fang Rock.

One problem with the story, given its bottle show nature, is that such productions usually rise or fall based on the depth of character exploration. Bottle shows are meant to keep the budget or production demands as low as possible, and often come about when a script needs to be put together quickly. As a result, the psychological conflicts between characters, and their internal struggles, become the driving force of the narrative.

In this case, one can see that this was very much a factor in the conception and writing, but the follow-through is haphazard. Conflicts are brought up, but don’t necessarily get a satisfying resolution. Some plot elements are dropped entirely over the course of the story! It’s very sloppy, and while this can be somewhat forgiven when one realizes that it was written in haste, it doesn’t eliminate the end result. Compared to “The Robots of Death”, it just doesn’t hold up.

One thing I did enjoy was the evolution of Leela. As dubious as I am of the execution of the “Eliza Doolittle” concept for the character, since it’s largely off-screen, I do appreciate that her innate intelligence is being acknowledged. Leela is not stupid; she’s just been sheltered by her life with the Sevateem. Her ability to grasp scientific concepts and apply them is on display here, and it’s a great to see. At the same time, I love how her pragmatic “savagery” remains a part of her character; if nothing else, it keeps the Doctor on his toes!

As a semi-payoff to the previous references to the Rutans and their endless war with the Sontarans, this is a letdown. Exactly how are the Rutans so imposing an enemy? The Sontarans are bred for war; they ought to be able to wipe the floor with a species that can barely negotiate a flight of stairs! It might have been more effective to have the Rutan completely out of sight; much of the creepiness early in the story is built around the menacing nature of the fog, the loss of power, and the unseen mind behind it all. The revelation of the creature actually undercuts that by several degrees.

On the other hand, how often do we get a story where the ending is so final? Granted, the supporting characters are not the most memorable, and many of them beg for a sticky end, but it’s surprising to see the body count as high as it was. It gives a bit of edge to the story, especially once the wind goes out of the sails after the Rutan’s appearance.

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

Final Rating: 7/10

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