Doctor Who #456: Horror of Fang Rock Part 1

"You said I would like Brighton. Well, I do not."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Sep.3 1977.

IN THIS ONE... A strange fog comes up and deaths start occurring on a lighthouse.

REVIEW: The Hinchcliffe era gives way to Graham Williams', but Robert Holmes stays on, so we shouldn't expect a huge difference quite yet. In fact, Terrance Dicks' rapidly put together season opener could continue straight on from The Talons of Weng-Chiang without the short hop in time. We're within 20 years of the season finale, no more, on a Gothic, fog-bound island where ships, the TARDIS included, are running ashore. But it's not just the Doctor and Leela in different hats, Horror of Fang Rock is actually playing on a completely different genre. It's straight-up horror, with a monster picking off members of the cast one by one in a closed environment, in this case, a lighthouse. We don't see the TARDIS interior, but the lighthouse sets are actually smaller, creating a claustrophobic vertical world. Even the exterior scenes are closed off by darkness and fog (the better to hide that terrible unmoving sea and sky backdrop, thankfully). That makes the fun exchange about whether the TARDIS is big or small not only amusing, but thematically relevant.

The advantage of having Dicks write it is immediately apparent in the number of references to past stories (Leela's three, definitely), creating a cohesive whole. Even if he's never written for this particular duo, as the writer of so many Target novelizations, he's as good a continuity expert as the era ever had (imagine him advising JNT during the 80s instead of Ian Levine. So we get Leela's specific vocabulary (teshnicians), but also justification for the things she's able to take for granted (ships she might have seen on the Themes in the previous story). As in Talons, Leela starts to disrobe in front of a guy. The Sevateem definitely weren't a prudish bunch. There's no real reference to The Robots of Death, except the fact that the situation will soon look very familiar to Leela. And in thinking of references to past stories, I just noticed that the Doctor's bad luck trying to get to a proper beach has been going on since the Pertwee era. Maybe the TARDIS isn't attracted to trouble, maybe it just doesn't like to get sand tracked all over its floors.

There's the odd but well-worn theme of old vs. new, as weathered, superstitious seadog Reuben sings the praises of oil to electrical engineer and Terry Jones impersonator Ben, but aside from an incidental play on the producers' transition, it doesn't really have much to do with anything. Reuben's old-fashioned ways function like all those UNIT-era bureaucrats did, as a rather frustrating way to block the Doctor's actions. The actual thematic motif is electricity itself, since the monster (more about which in later reviews, for now, all you need to know is that it's green, the color of alienness in Who) kills with electricity, and likely feeds on it if the lighthouse's unfortunate power outages are any indication.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Nice atmospherics, good use of the regulars, and a set-up that promises an intense, contained story.



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