Friday, February 01, 2013

Doctor Who #437: The Hand of Fear Part 4

"You're a good girl, Sarah."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.23 1976.

IN THIS ONE... Eldrad suffers a sex change and falls down a hole, but who cares? This is the one where Sarah Jane leaves!

REVIEW: Sadly, there's the sense that script editor Bob Holmes is playing for time in this final section. All sorts of booby traps? A dead red herring in a cloak watching things from afar until it crumbles into dust when confronted? That's Death to the Daleks, another script Holmes tinkered with. At least the heroes don't have to overcome some silly and incomprehensible puzzle as well. On another unfortunate note, Eldrad becomes male, and in so doing, much less interesting. Where the female Eldrad had a vulnerability and projected ambiguity, the male version just shouts and rants, an obvious, growling villain. He's such a douchebag, in fact, that his entire species committed suicide on the OFF CHANCE he might return some day. Sarah agrees with this decision, but I can't. I mean, you defeated the tyrant once before, so why give up so easily when you could do it again? But I'm no Kastrian, I don't know how they think.

While there are flaws in the plotting and the casting, our intrepid heroes don't disappoint. The Doctor keeps showing good faith, but is betrayed by Eldrad the Betrayer (who'd have thought?), and has a couple neat tricks up his sleeve, including bits with a magician's cane and, of course, his great big scarf. You know, I'd have thought the Doctor would have been one step ahead of Eldrad all along, but he seems genuinely surprised when the Kastrian starts twirling his mustache. It certainly sells the idea that he doesn't really listen to Sarah, because had he done so, he'd have been warned. As usual, she's the one to look to for great reactions, whether it be her faking injury after the silicon-choking gas trap, figuring out before the Doctor that Eldrad's story doesn't quite match up with reality, or her anguish over walking on dead Kastrians or the female Eldrad's apparent death.

I'll try not to get too teary writing up Sarah's farewell scene, but it always gets me. That Sarah has suddenly had ENOUGH is questionable, but we've got to see it as part of her normal pattern. Since she joined, we've had many Earth-based stories where she's apparently working as a journalist, so it stands to reason that she's gone home several times already. And when these stories end on a TARDIS departure, she's frequently been re-invited, encouraged, to go for one more trip. This latest leg of the trip has been trying and she wants a rest and a bath, but I bet this is what she was doing in Part 1 of The Seeds of Doom. Since then, the Antarctic, the compost machine, drugged by the Cult of Demnos, trapped in a rock slide, possessed by Eldrad, and landed once again on a frozen planet. AND the Doctor deserves a little tantrum for not listening to her. And that's all very cute. And then the Doctor gets a call from Gallifrey, decides he can't bring her there, and the scene becomes something else. Suddenly, it's permanent. It's not simply that Sarah wants what she can't get now that she can't get it, it's that his tone implies he won't come back from this one, or at least, not for her. Tom and Lis play it perfectly too, in the most understated way, letting pauses and looks dictate the meaning behind what is scripted as their usual banter. Sarah can't quite stop talking and the Doctor, unusually Spartan in his speech, closes off avenues of conversation. Sarah, to her credit, teary-eyed though she may be (and there I go myself, damn it, I said I wasn't going to do this, snif), keeps it light, makes jokes, and to the very end, criticizes the Doctor (well, it really WASN'T South Croyden). The Doctor has his mission, he's seen companions come and go, it's not his first rodeo... but he's DESTROYED here. He won't say it, but we KNOW it, partly because we are too. This wasn't a case of a companion finding another life somewhere, like Jo did. The Time Lords broke them up. Their "don't forget me" exchange is heartbreaking, and if the Doctor keeps it short, it has to be because he can't face the situation. She was his best friend, it was all about her, and fittingly, the episode ends on a freeze frame of our Sarah Jane walking away, whistling, one last snapshot before we close this chapter of our scrapbook.

THEORIES: Had a crazy thought. The Doctor's call from Gallifrey was telepathic, so probably routed through the TARDIS' telepathic circuits. What if the TARDIS first nudged Sarah's mind so that she would ask to leave at the same time? In part to make it easier on the Doctor and spare him pain, in part as a crew purging command that might have accompanied the recall order, and in part because it's always played a role in choosing (and thus un-choosing) companions for its pilot? That one's for those of us who either think her decision came a little bit out of the blue, or else can't understand why she would EVER leave the Doctor.

VERSIONS: The Target novelization is as accurate as they get.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium for the episode, High for the last 7 minutes
- We've seen some of those tropes too often already and the change in actors doesn't do Eldrad any favors. However, that last scene is one of my favorites in the entire canon.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: High - Sarah's last story has some creepy horror, great location work and direction, a nifty villain (at least, until the gender change), and one of the best companion farewells in all of Who. Lis Sladen is particularly good in it, and I'm incredibly sorry to see her go, even if we haven't technically heard the last of her. 'Til next time, Sarah Jane! It can't come quickly enough. (That said, the next companion is also one of my favorites. No tears.)


Calamity Jon said...

I hafta tell you, I'm really looking forward to your review of The Horror of Fang Rock...

Siskoid said...

Because it's a favorite, or because you have problems with it?