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Classic Who on the Rock
on 22 January 2014
Teatime television had two fixed points on winter weekends in the 1970s. Sunday brought the `Classic Serial', highly-regarded adaptations of Dickens, Austen, the Brontes etc. in half-hour episodes. Saturday gave us a modern classic serial - the first Saturday of September meant a new season of `Doctor Who'!
In September 1977 these two weekend fixtures seemed to merge in the Space-Time Continuum, producing the outstanding `Horror of Fang Rock'.
Terrance Dicks' script is superb, full of tension, incident, excellent dialogue and even some humorous moments, each character's motivation and personality clearly drawn and believable. The first-rate cast bring this script to life as sincerely if they were playing one of the Sunday classics, from the opening friendly argument between the lighthouse keepers about the rival merits of oil and electricity, to the arguing shipwrecked aristocrats (who are not feeling friendly to each other at all). The convincingly cramped lighthouse sets and swirling studio fog add greatly to the claustrophobic mood as danger closes in.
Tom Baker is in fine form, as the Doctor slowly pieces together the puzzle and even makes a rare mistake along the way - the Doctor's realisation of this is a dramatic moment. Of course he recovers from this to finish off his adversaries in a typically inventive manner before delivering the memorable final lines of the story, a quotation that stayed with me for more than 35 years.
Louise Jameson is excellent as Leela. The script gives her plenty of great material and she plays it perfectly as usual, laying down the law to timid earthlings, pushing heedlessly through Edwardian social conventions, even teasing the Doctor at one point and clearly enjoying it. Leela is still the fearless warrior, but also very intelligent and learning fast from her travels with the Doctor.
It must be said that the enemy, when it finally shows itself, is a product of its pre-CGI time in terms of special effects, but it's certainly different and the concept is a good one in a strong story.
`Horror of Fang Rock' must be one of the scariest DVDs to carry a U certificate. It was a brilliant response to the critics who said `Doctor Who' had become too violent. The critics were wrong anyway - I'd watched since Jon Pertwee's early years (my early years too) and yes, `Doctor Who' was frightening sometimes, it was meant to be, and we loved it!
DVD Extras include the interesting commentary with good anecdotes and Terrance Dicks giving the writer's perspective on this unforgettable tale, and a documentary about his career - one of the key figures in the success story of classic `Doctor Who'.