Saturday 10 April 2010

Horror of Fang Rock

The Fourth Doctor and Leela arrive at an Edwardian lighthouse where the inhabitants are being menaced by an alien entity.

This story is a great illustration of how effective Doctor Who can be on a low budget. With its claustrophobic setting this story has a very stagey feel, but it still manages to terrify.

This story is very simple. The Doctor and Leela arrive at a foggy lighthouse. A mysterious alien being starts killing both the crew and a group of shipwrecked travellers. The Doctor confronts and defeats the aliens. What makes this simple story work, even on a low budget, is the brilliant script writing and the sterling quality of the acting from both the regulars and guests. Tom Baker was apparently throwing hissy fits throughout the filming, but somehow director Paddy Russell kept him under control sufficently to put in a superb performance.

There is a clever continuity reference, in that it is the only story to feature the Sontarans archenemies, the Rutan, first mentioned in The Time Warrior. Envisioned as a jellyfish-like creature, it looks a bit unconvincing as a green beach ball with ropey tentacles and it is killed rather easily. However, the terror created by the cast enables the story to generate a sense of menace regardless.

The story is clearly inspired by and references the poem, Flannan Isle, concerning mysterious disappearances at a lighthouse. The Doctor quotes the poem at the story's end.

This story is the first to be produced by Graham Williams. It has something of the horror feel of the Hinchcliffe era, nevertheless it thankfully lacks some of the more gratuitous horror and violence that caused so much controversy under Hinchcliffe.

I really dislike the story Pyramids of Mars, finding it much too dark. So it is strange that I really like this story. I think the difference is that in Pyramids of Mars, we are lead too feel much more sympathy for both the cast and the non-regulars. We have the poor chap who sees his brother turned into a servant of Sutekh the Destoyer, gallant Sarah Jane Smith seeing her version of 1980 eradicated and the Doctor tormented by Sutekh's power. In Horror of Fang Rock, all of the non-regular cast die, but we are not lead too feel much sympathy for them. The aristocratic travellers are a rather rotten lot and although the lighthouse are crew are treated with a degree of empathy, old Ben is rather xenophobic. The Doctor shows little concern for the people he is trying to protect. He projects an uncanny distance from the events. As is often said, he was the most alien Doctor. Leela too, shows herself too be equally distant from the viewer in her alienness. She taunts the dying Rutan and threatens Palmerdale with her knife. When she fears she has lost her sight she begs for death. There is something fascinating about the ending with the only survivors of the story being this mysterious alien figure and this savage, brutal woman.

No comments:

Post a Comment