The Hand of Fear

DVD NTSC
Region 1

DVD PAL
Region 2
VHS Video
NTSC A
NTSC B
NTSC
PAL
(Doctor Who Story No. 87, starring Tom Baker)
  • written by Bob Baker & Dave Martin
  • directed by Lennie Mayne
  • produced by Philip Hinchcliffe
  • music by Dudley Simpson
  • 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: After Sarah is rescued from a quarry accident, she emerges clutching a fossilized hand, and doesn't seem quite herself. What mysterious forces are drawing her and the people she comes into contact with to a large nuclear plant? In search of answers and solutions, the Doctor finds himself en route to the ruins of a lost civilization on the planet Kastria, and Sarah learns she must soon leave the Doctor....

DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by actors Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Judith Paris (Eldrad),
    co-writer Bob Baker, and producer Philip Hinchcliffe.
  • "Changing Time" making-of featurette (50 min.) with Tom Baker, Bob Baker, Sladen, Hinchcliffe, Rex Robinson (Dr. Carter),
    Glyn Houston (Professor Watson), Stephen Thorne (Eldrad), visual effects designer Colin Mapson,
    former producer Barry Letts, and former script editor Terrance Dicks.
  • Tom Baker and Elizabeth Sladen on "Swap Shop" (11 min.)
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery
  • 1977 Doctor Who Annual .pdf on DVD-ROM

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide version instead.


The Bristol Boys (also known as Bob Baker & Dave Martin) are back to write another adventure, after missing out on seasons eleven and thirteen, and only getting a two-part story into season twelve. Finally sinking their teeth into a full-length story once more, they deliver a script full of interesting sci-fi concepts and locations, but only sparsely populated by thin characters. In fact, there isn't a single guest actor that appears in more than two of the total four episodes.


Fun and Functional

The story is notable for some very good location filming, where director Lennie Mayne was quite innovative during many sequences. In addition to the usual exteriors, we also get grand use of an actual nuclear station, featuring the sort of interior location filming that became popular during the Graham Williams era (seasons 15-17), not to mention many a Blake's 7 production.

The simple plot continues to escalate well throughout the story and keep it moving, with the rebirth of Eldrad in the reactor being one of the highlights. Choice dialogue is mixed in with poor and overused dialogue, the worst bits being scenes of people not listening to each other and shutting each other down - the story doesn't get told during this kind of thing, and pretty much stops altogether and irritates members of the audience such as myself. On the other hand, the Doctor gets a lot of great lines, showcasing his humour, uplifting general demeanour, and pacifist helpfulness.

Special effects for the hand itself are really well done. Once again, the ring ray is usually just a silly blue blob superimposed on the screen, which I find less than satisfactory. On the plus side, this effect remains visually literate thanks to Mayne doing it carefully each time, and the fact that the first blast of the ray has an even better angle thrown in amidst the usual ones, showing a proper visual beam. If only we could have had that effect each time.....

The music is important too, for although this isn't one of Dudley Simpson's most memorable scores, he backs moments of Eldrad possessing people so perfectly that many moments are brought to the forefront of our attention where, without the music, such moments would surely have been lost or confusing.

The studio sections are adequate. Kastria is particularly demanding, as Baker and Martin keep everyone moving through new environments without very much happening in any one particular spot. The race-bank storage room is really nicely achieved, and the regeneration chamber works nicely, but the chasm crossing is really blasé, by the time one can figure out what one is looking at. After all that Eldrad has survived, the fall into the chasm is seriously anti-climactic.


Glorious Intro to the Wrong TARDIS

As much as I like the novelty of the secondary control room in the TARDIS from the previous story, I was horrified to see it being used to replace the main white control room in continuing stories. The tiny, static console is way too boring, and the door to the exterior looks exceedingly silly with a black backdrop behind it. And the place is just too small and dark for my tastes. Sure, producer Philip Hinchcliffe fought to lower lighting levels in the studio to help wrap monsters in the unknown - all the more reason why the console room should contrast that and remain the safe and friendly white place it always was.

That said, "The Hand of Fear" features some of the best TARDIS console room scenes in the Hinchcliffe era. Baker and Martin's script is wonderful in introducing the TARDIS to Eldrad and the audience, and showing us what the TARDIS is best for: taking us to cool places like Kastria, and allowing travel to broaden our minds.

The model work for Kastria's exterior is very well done, and this console room does boast the best scanner effect yet, allowing us to continue to see the surface while Eldrad talks about the planet's history, all in the same shot. Magnificent.


Unformatting the Show

Eldrad does quite rightly take a backseat to the real conclusion of the story: Sarah's departure from the series. Lis Sladen's final scene with Tom Baker is the best in the entire story, full of humour, drama, and sadness, and is one of the best exits any companion has had yet. 20-20 hindsight suggests that there isn't really any reason why Sarah couldn't have gone to Gallifrey with the Doctor, but remember, the last time he took any of his friends there, the Time Lords did their best to erase Jamie and Zoe's memories before sending them home. Better to drop Sarah off at home with her memory still fully intact.

Even if it wasn't meant to be one, this does still feel like a UNIT story. A new and unusual menace to mankind makes its way through public facilities like hospitals and nuclear plants, right under the noses of trained scientists and officials, and the Royal Air Force is called in to make missile strikes. Crikey, all we're missing are the friendly faces of the Brigadier, Benton, and Harry. That would flesh out the thin cast, and give us some good humour or relationship development in place of some of the padding. This story doesn't really represent a break from UNIT stories as much as it does a UNIT story without the usual cast charm. The plant's manager, Professor Watson, has to do the Brigadier's role instead, which seems a bit far-fetched. They don't even bother to offer an excuse, like the Brigadier being in Geneva again. Basically, the Hinchcliffe era is still doing UNIT, now at its most impotent ever.

Do they need to get rid of Sarah to do stories that don't beg for UNIT? Not really. Just focus her on an alternate motivation from the returning home thing (an unfortunate staple of season 13), and she could have worked marvellously in space. Sadly, the writers didn't get it early enough.



This story is now available on DVD and VHS video:
DVD NTSC Region 1
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.
VHS Video
NTSC A in the U.S.
NTSC B in the U.S.
NTSC in Canada
PAL for the U.K.

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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "The Deadly Assassin"



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