Horror of Fang Rock

Region 1

Region 2
VHS Video
(Doctor Who Story No. 92, starring Tom Baker)
  • written by Terrance Dicks
  • directed by Paddy Russell
  • produced by Graham Williams
  • music by Dudley Simpson
  • 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: Trapped by bad night weather in a lighthouse in the early 1900's, a group of people are slowly being eliminated one by one by a mysterious force. The Doctor is about to learn that the enemies of his enemies are not his friends....

DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by Louise Jameson (Leela), John Abbot (Vince), and writer Terrance Dicks.
  • "Terrance Dicks: Fact & Fiction" featurette (36 min.) - a look at the writer's 6 decade career in books and television,
    with Dicks, Barry Letts, Christopher Barry, Louis Marks, Eric Saward, Paul Cornell, Peter Darvill-Evans, and Brenda Gardner.
  • "Paddy Russell - A Life in Television" - specially shot retrospective interview (14 min.) of director Paddy Russell
    on her 40-year TV career as an actress, stage manager, and director of (among other things) four Doctor Who stories.
  • "The Antique Doctor Who Show" (5 min.) - a short film from 1993 on Doctor Who collectibles
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery
  • "Who's Who" text biographies (may feature on Region 1 discs only)

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak
(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

Introduction to Season Fifteen

The Graham Williams era begins with teething troubles, as it struggles to replace the dark horror of Hinchcliffe & Holmes with more humour, light-heartedness, fantasy, and yes more intelligent sci-fi premises behind the stories themselves than just wheeling out the next malformed mad killer. But the road is bumpy, and it probably was best that Williams saved his winning Key to Time theme for the next year, as it might have been botched badly had he attempted to graft it onto the hit and miss production of season fifteen.

Horror of Fang Rock

Once again, last minute abandonment of problematic developing scripts results in a return to good old bottle-story horror formulae. The production team can't go too far wrong with this one, and thankfully don't, although it won't win too many prizes for originality or brilliant sci-fi ideas either. But several easy opportunities for good marks are also wasted, and "Fang Rock" doesn't quite come off as well as last year's "Robots of Death" (story no. 90).

Atmospheric Success

"Horror of Fang Rock" opens with an impressive model effects shot of the lighthouse and the arrival of a strange something. Following this, the three lighthouse keepers get an exceptional introduction, and in no time at all, the lighthouse has attained the atmosphere of a little island of safety in the midst of cold, hostile mystery. This atmosphere is quite inviting actually, a wonderful element of the story that director Paddy Russell maintains throughout.

The series regulars don't fare quite so well with introductions. Although the police box gets all the sound and visuals it needs for a good materialization, this effects shot is very much out of place when crammed between two unrelated scenes of the keepers in the lighthouse, and when we cut back, the Doctor and Leela are already wandering around outside of it. Those unfamiliar with the show get nothing to really help clue them in on who these two are or what the TARDIS is - the fact that they arrived in it isn't even made clear by showing them come out. And of course, giving new viewers any idea of the TARDIS interior, whatever colour it may be this time, is nowhere on any of the production team's minds. Definitely not all a season opener should be. Easy points lost.

Luckily the guest characters are all easy to understand and like, and remain very watchable the whole way through. The effects shots for the story also work incredibly well this time around, from all the model shots of the lighthouse, to the antagonist's Point-of-View shots, to the electronic electrocution effects, and so on. The sets all work wonderfully well, with the gallery at the top of the lighthouse being the most outstanding, showcasing excellent liberal use of CSO. The dawn/sunrise-like effect later in the story has a particularly beautiful atmosphere to it. I even like the antagonist in its natural form, which remains effective in the few shots that Paddy Russell limited it to. The one effects shot I don't much care for is the ship encountering the rocks. It can pass during a movie compilation version of the story, but it hasn't got the right energy or weight to it to make a good cliffhanger. And what are all the strange lights in the background? You'd think you were looking at the glow from the lighthouse, until it disappears and reappears in a completely different spot. How many lighthouses are in this story?

A bit of the mythology of Doctor Who is delivered in the final episode, when we learn the true identity of the antagonist terrorizing everyone. Very nice touch, worth at least half the price of admission. Colin Douglas gets to play a range of characterizations during this story, and he does both excellently and brings a particularly chilling quality to many scenes.

Character Disaster

The biggest drawback of this story is something I can't really reveal without giving away plot spoilers, so you'll only find the full discussion of it in the In-depth Analysis version of this review. Let's just say that it is both disappointing from a story-scripting point of view, and, the way it is executed on-screen here, also far less than believable. More easy points lost.

Thirdly, it does untold damage to the Doctor's character. Watch him appear extremely bored and disinterested as he asks the bulk of the guest characters to introduce themselves, while conversely becoming gleeful at the thought of all the danger he believes they're in. This is his infamous "Oscar Wilde" style of humour, which is never more morbidly out-of-place as it is here in this story. In the end, the Doctor appears very callous. That's not the kind of hero I enjoy rooting for, or the kind of show I feel like convincing people to watch. And they call the Master a malicious Time Lord. My full rant appears only in the In-depth Analysis version of this review along with a ton of spoilers. You may well want to see the story for yourself before clicking through to read it.

A poem pops up out of nowhere at the very end of the adventure, making one suspect that the story was artificially forced to cater to it. Big mistake. As far as the poem goes, it describes the kind of scene that makes a great start to a mystery story. It's not a great place to end a story - after that mystery's solved and the image has lost its grip. Episode three of "The Chase" (story no. 16) proves this point with equal adequacy.

One item of housekeeping is tended to in this tale, as reason is given to allow Louise Jameson to chuck the irritating cosmetic contact lenses she'd been forced to wear. I really question why she was forced to begin wearing them in the first place. The colour of Leela's eyes is too unimportant to warrant contacts in the first place - it affects nothing in her early stories and is barely noticeable on the small screen. The colour of Leela's eyes should have been the same as those of whichever actress claimed the part for "The Face of Evil" (story no. 89). The irritation in Jameson's eyes is painfully obvious during this story, particularly during one of her smiling close-ups in the gallery at the top of the lighthouse. I would have shifted the excuse for dropping the contacts into an unseen adventure between this one and the last, and referred to the event in the first scene.

"Horror of Fang Rock" finishes with action that remains riveting and spectacular, giving the Doctor and Leela plenty of good stuff to do. But despite this, there is an overwhelming sense that little has really been accomplished. The story is solid, with an exceptional production, but manages to leave a disappointing aftertaste nonetheless.

This story has become available on DVD and VHS video:
DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.
VHS Video
NTSC A for North America
NTSC B for North America
PAL for the U.K.

Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

Contact page


Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "The Invisible Enemy"

Home Page Site Map Star Trek Sliders Doctor Who Tom Baker Era Episode Guide Catalogue