Doctor Who #457: Horror of Fang Rock Part 2

"And when she struck it was get the owner away and the owner's fancy woman and the owner's fine friend. Never mind the poor sailors."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.10 1977.

IN THIS ONE... The crew of a shipwrecked yacht arrive at the lighthouse, which may be under attack from the "Beast of Fang Rock".

REVIEW: The cast of potential victims is supplemented by a group of yachters - Henry the greedy businessman who needs to get to London so he can use a hot tip, Harker the sailor who blames him for the death of the crew, Skinsale the gentleman gambler who regrets his collusion with Henry, and Adelaide his racist secretary. Harker looks pretty honorable, but the rest of the lot are quick to show why they'll deserve their eventual deaths. But it's hard to get too invested in their subplots because, well, they're not expected to last the night! So unless their story arcs tie into the plot (which they don't in this episode aside from landing them on Fang Rock) or are thematically relevant (they're not, are they? I suppose you could say they're lost souls in the fog, but it's a stretch), their scenes can come off as padding. That's part of the genre, of course. We get to know the characters just enough that we feel for them when they're killed, or we cheer the monster on. Henry and Adelaide definitely fall into that last category. Skinsale at least finds the Doctor and the irony of Henry's situation humorous, so he's more likeable.

Thankfully, the Doctor and Leela are quite good. Sometimes, Leela acts like Dicks' idea of a companion, just there to ask questions, but she's also a good tactician, trying to work out how to survive the siege. There's a great moment when she loses it and threatens Henry with her knife. And this is the second story in a row where she questions the Doctor's bravery. To an action girl like her, he seems awfully passive, his caution like fear in her eyes. But it's not fear that animates him, it's urgency and the knowledge that something terrible is just out there, in the fog. It's funny that he doesn't want Leela to spill the beans about their being aliens, because his reactions are quite alien. He smiles broadly when announcing their eminent death, and he bolts up with alarm when he realizes he and the yacht passengers weren't yet introduced, rude and bored as soon as they start making those introductions.

As for the so-called "real" monster, the "Beast of Fang Rock" (I won't reveal its identity until the serial does), they keep teasing it. We see some kind of phosphorescent green jellyfish, and of course some jellyfish have an electric sting. Teasing is fine, but with so much time devoted to the new crop of victims, the Beast doesn't get up to much. It's studied its first kill's anatomy, and allowed the Doctor to sort of divine what's happening, but otherwise... There's of course little chance the Beast is the same that menaced these shores 80 years ago, that's another red herring. Looking for more meat (or seafood) from this 4-parter. And maybe a good cliffhanger. The musical sting has been coming just a little too late to be effective up til now.

- With the introduction of a second guest-cast and very little from the monster itself, it feels like Horror of Fang Rock is stuck in first (episode) gear.


Matthew Turnage said...

I really like the guest cast in this story, and the background of the yacht crew was always more interesting to me than the monster itself. In fact, I start losing interest in this one during part 4 when it gets down to just the Doctor, Leela and the monster.

Although, looking at the picture you've chosen for this episode, it occurs to me that one of the more underrated additions the yacht survivors bring to the story is cool facial hair.

Siskoid said...

That's not a very nice thing to say about Adelaide!


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