Doctor Who #435: The Hand of Fear Part 2

"Careful. That's not as 'armless as it looks."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.9 1976.

IN THIS ONE... Sarah snaps out of it, but Eldrad must live. Chases through a nuclear power plant. Creepy animated hand stuff.

REVIEW: Lis Sladen seems intent on making us miss her terribly once she leaves, don't you think? As Eldrad's slave, she's incredibly creepy, never allowing her new catchphrase to get boring. And once the Doctor severs the connection, she gets all the best jokes, and throws the kind of subtle and believable reactions that have been her trademark for more than three seasons. I just love her reaction to being put under by the Doctor's super-hypnotism (they're really starting to ramp up his Master-like powers), and her subsequent testing of her mind's freedom from Eldrad. Does she only fake the Doctor out, or did she get you as well? And is this the first instance of a creepy catchphrase in Doctor Who? In New Who, it's been standard practice since Moffat dropped "Are you my mummy?" on us, but I think "Eldrad must live" is the granddaddy of that trope. Certainly as memorable and part of why The Hand of Fear has always stuck with me.

Given that everyone who comes into contact with Eldrad's cursed hand (and ring) falls under his spell, it's quite important to show the possessed character's humanity. Sarah and poor Dr. Carter are very sympathetic characters, which makes their take-over more horrifying. Driscoll doesn't benefit from the same attention, but it's the nuclear power plant's other staff ARE given human moments. Professor Watson could have been a Pertwee-era bureaucrat, blocking the Doctor's progress, but he and loyal Miss Jackson are actually written as disaster movie heroes. Watson's call to his family when it looks like the reactor could melt down is rather touching. And when things go critical at the end of the episode, HE'S the one who gets the cliffhanger, not the Doctor or Sarah. Here's hoping he survives this story and gets back to his wife and kids. There won't be a nuclear incident, what with Eldrad eating up all the radiation, but there are many more ways to die in Doctor Who and we've already lost Dr. Carter in a most terrible, hard-hitting way. They manage to capture a fall on film more viscerally than the UNIT era ever did.

The emotional realism at the core of this serial's punch is supplemented by the location's realism. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the unusual access the production was given to a working nuclear power plant! And director Lennie Mayne uses that location to its very best effect. He chooses angles that fill the screen with interesting backgrounds, has his actors climb all over the machinery, shoots chase scenes through piping, and brings a hand-held camera and the Doctor to the top of some vertiginous stairs, which gives me vertigo. And while the studio sets are fine, the location finds a way to put them to shame in comparison (that color wheel lock, for example). Perhaps because the environments and people are so real, the horror element can't help but be effective, a feat since the villain is, at this point, nothing more than a severed hand! But what a hand it is, crawling on all fives, snapping shut on Driscoll's hand... Brrr. I'll almost be sorry to see it turn into a humanoid. No, not almost.

REWATCHABILITY: High - More than a great choice of location, this episode features great direction as well. The action is vivid, the characters are vibrant, and the horror is enough to make you squirm.



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