Horror of Fang Rock

DVD NTSC
Region 1

DVD PAL
Region 2
VHS Video
NTSC A
NTSC B
PAL
(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)

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.


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).


"Horror of Fang Rock" opens with an impressive model effects shot of the lighthouse and the arrival of the main antagonist of the piece. 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 monster'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 of the approaching mother-ship near the end of the story has a particularly beautiful atmosphere to it. I even like the Rutan in its natural form, which remains effective in the few shots that Paddy Russell limited it to. Its transformations appear more like holographic tricks than an actual change in physical form, but remain interesting. The one effects shot I don't much care for is the ship crashing upon 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 for episode one. 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?


Space Politics

A bit of the mythology of Doctor Who is delivered in the final episode, when we learn that the shapeshifting, electrocuting, aqua green blob terrorizing everyone is in fact a Rutan, the never before- or since-seen sworn enemies of the popular Sontaran race. Very nice touch, worth at least half the price of admission. Colin Douglas gets to spend half the story playing his human character Reuben, and the other half playing the disguised Rutan, and he does both excellently, making the Rutan's smiles particularly chilling.


Character Disaster

The biggest drawback of this story is that the death toll couldn't possibly get any higher, with every single guest character buying the farm before the story is over. In the first place, that just sucks. The story is just not as enjoyable for having such an end result. In the second place, it's not too believable. The Rutan aggressor is slow, and its victims usually sense danger early enough to run away. Vince's idea of running away is to fall to the ground and wait for death, while Adelaide apparently acts against her awareness of the danger and conveniently crosses the room between scenes to lay her head into the hands of her attacker. This story could have been much more enjoyable had Vince at least, and probably Adelaide and Harker too, survived to tell the tale. More easy points lost.

In the third place, it does untold damage to the Doctor's character. Watch him appear extremely bored and disinterested as he asks the shipwrecked people to introduce themselves, while conversely becoming gleeful at the thought they might all be dead by morning. We can put up with him being rude and flippant and smiling at death like this, if he proves that he knows what he's doing and he is successful at saving people's lives and he enjoys what he does. But the fact that they're all dead in the end makes him appear very callous, as though he should have been on the ball a bit more, and as though he didn't really like these people and preferred them dead anyway. That's not the kind of hero I enjoy rooting for, or the kind of show I feel like convincing people to watch. Even after he admits one of his biggest mistakes in a wonderful moment for the cliffhanger of episode three, he still can't get into a better groove. Tossing a handful of excess diamonds onto the floor to taunt Skinsale the way he does seems to have no motivation on the Doctor's part other than cruelty in the extreme. And he's making a mess, possibly tipping off the Rutan to his plan. Not smart in any way.

And what's all the excess death in aid of? Fulfilling the poem that the Doctor recites near the end as though it's some kind of Marie-Celeste-like prophecy? The glee with which he quotes it adds to the impression that he doesn't care a fig for any of the people he encountered during the adventure. They're all dead, and he wants to smile and put it poetically. What's up with that? And they call the Master a malicious Time Lord. As far as the poem goes, it describes the kind of scene that makes a great start to a mystery story. A main character, not involved in what went on, arrives and speculates on what happened. It's not a great place to end a story, when an exiting hero knows all the grim details of what happened - there's no mystery left and the image has lost its grip. The Marie Celeste sequence in "The Chase" (story no. 16) proves this point with equal adequacy. All the more reason to let Vince and some others survive the tale.


The Light in Her Eyes

One item of housekeeping is tended to in the final scene, 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 with a discussion between Leela and the Doctor about whether or not the fog hindered her sight more than the temporary blindness she experienced when some other flash changed the colour of her eyes.

"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. It's a given that the regulars will survive, and they have failed to save any other on-screen characters today.


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.

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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "The Invisible Enemy"



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