Horror of Fang Rock (1977)

Horror of Fang Rock is the first story of Season 15 and it’s a corker. Written by former Script Editor Terrance Dicks, what we have in this story is the only Doctor Who story where everyone but the regular characters die. Despite Graham Williams being the producer after Philip Hinchcliffe had been removed by BBC chiefs, this still feels like a Hinchcliffe product. Robert Holmes is still the script editor at this time so there is still a dark element to the story.

The story is set in a Lighthouse on the island of Fang Rock which isn’t working properly due to fog. It also coincides with the arrival of the Rutan who sneaks on the crew of the lighthouse and kills of the crew one by one. Then there is the arrival of a posh passengers of a luxury yacht. One of the crew is a sneaky Lord Palmerdale who caused the yacht to crash. That’s the B-Plot that is introduced mid-way through the story. The Rutan is discovered and is trying to summon the mother ship. It takes Diamonds and the last surviving crew member (Vincent) to finish off the Rutan.

One thing I love about this story is that it has the isolated base effect. Like The Moonbase, The Tenth Planet & the Tomb of the Cybermen, this story has that claustrophobic feel which is helped by the cramp lighthouse condition. The crew of the lighthouse were nice characters but it was when the passengers of the yacht came on board that we had the Upstairs Downstairs feeling to it. I quite like both set of characters with Vincent (John Abbott) being the best one whereas with the posh side I thought Colonel Skinsale (Alan Rowe) was the best of that group. I was chuffed when Leela slapped Adelaide (Annette Woollett) because I just found the character an annoyance and it could have been toned down a bit.

The character of Rutan was a nice creation by Dicks but was slightly disappointing in design. It gives me no pleasure in saying this that the Rutan looks like a bit of snot. The voice was good though as it did sound alien and was effective. The scene where the Doctor and the Rutan talk on the stairs was one of the many highlights. With the presence of the Rutan we got to learn of the war that the Sontarans were having. It’s a shame that the Rutans never got to appear on TV because a Sontaran/Rutan battle would have been a cracking story. The Rutan’s would have to wait until 2009 before returning in the Big Finish adventure ‘Castle of Fear’.

Tom Baker and Louise Jameson were very good in this. The Doctor shows a fallible side when he locks the Rutan in the lighthouse instead of out and Leela thrives in the battle against the Rutan. Her best moment was obviously when she slaps Adelaide and her clothing is better in this as she wears the lighthouse crew’s clothing to replace what she was wearing at the beginning. Their relationship is settling down now and as it shows. It’s a long way from Face of Evil the previous year.

The Horror of Fang Rock ranks as one of my favourite stories because it has everything that I would want from a Doctor Who story. It’s not surprising for me to say that it is a good solid script because it comes from Terrance Dicks who oversaw some really strong stories as Script Editor. Paddy Russell did a good job of making the same five sets interesting still after four episodes. Russell keeps the action cranked up to 11 and shows why she was a top director.

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