Thursday, 23 January 2014

Story 92 - Horror of Fang Rock

In which the Doctor's attempts to educate Leela in the ways of her ancestors goes awry - again. Instead of a visit to the Brighton Pavilion, the TARDIS gets lost in the fog and materialises on the desolate Fang Rock, in the English Channel, whose only inhabitants are the three crewmen of its lighthouse. It is the first decade of the 20th Century. The lighthouse has recently been adapted to use electrical power for the lamp - a move derided by the superstitious old veteran Reuben. Chief Keeper Ben, and young Vince are more in favour of the modern changes. Just before the arrival of the TARDIS, Vince had seen a shooting star fall into the sea close by, followed by a strange glow beneath the waves. Reuben teases him with tales of the "Beast of Fang Rock" last seen some 80 years before.
The lamp suffers power failures and during one of these, Ben is attacked by a creature that is lurking in the shadows, and killed by a powerful electrical charge. His colleagues assume the generator is at fault. Soon after, however, Ben's corpse goes missing. It is found some time later floating in the sea, now horribly mutilated. The Doctor examines the body and spots the signs of an autopsy having been carried out.

A luxury yacht crashes onto the rocks during a further power failure. The passengers take refuge in the lighthouse. They are Lord Palmerdale and his secretary Adelaide, MP Colonel James Skinsale. With them is a crewman named Harker. They were rushing back from Deauville on the Normandy coast. Skinsale has given Palmerdale some insider information, and the peer is determined to gain from it - hence their reckless speed in the treacherous conditions.
The Doctor deduces that what Vince saw was the arrival of an alien spacecraft. Its occupant killed Ben then investigated the corpse to learn more about human anatomy. The creature kills again - Palmerdale being electrocuted outside the lamp room after bribing Vince to try and send a message on his behalf. Harker is also killed, down in the generator room. To avoid scandal, Skinsale sabotages the telegraph device. Reuben's body is then discovered - despite everyone having just seen him...

The Doctor realises the reason for the autopsy. The creature is able to copy the human form. The Reuben now prowling the lighthouse is an alien duplicate. It kills Vince and Adelaide. The Doctor identifies it as a Rutan. These green amorphous blobs have been engaged in a centuries-long war with the Sontarans. This is a scout, come to investigate Earth's suitability as a base in that conflict. It reverts to its natural form. The Doctor fatally wounds it with a blast from the lighthouse's flare launcher, supplemented with assorted items as shrapnel. The Rutan has already summoned its mothership, and it will arrive soon. The lamp could be converted into a rudimentary laser if focused through something like a diamond. Skinsale points out that Palmerdale always carried a supply of these. He and the Doctor remove the gems from the dead man. The Doctor selects one and throws away the rest. The greedy Skinsale stops to snatch these up, but is killed by the dying Rutan. The laser plan works, and the crystalline mothership is destroyed. Leela fails to look away and is blinded. The effect proves to be temporary - but does result in her brown eyes turning blue. The Doctor and Leela depart. No-one is left alive to tell the tale of what happened here this night...

This four part adventure was written by Terrance Dicks, and broadcast between 3rd and 24th September, 1977. It is the opening story of Season 15, and marks the beginning of Graham William's tenure as producer.
The director is Paddy Russell, and Robert Holmes remains the Script Editor.
Philip Hinchcliffe had left to produce the gritty police drama Target - which had originally been set up by Williams. Part of Williams' remit was to tone down the horror and violence in Doctor Who, injecting more humour. He wanted more of Sci-Fi stories. It is somewhat ironic, then, to think that the first story of his era was almost a Vampire tale. Dicks had written the story that would eventually see the (twi)light of day as State of Decay - "The Vampire Mutations" - featuring, naturally enough, Vampires. The BBC were about to produce a lavish adaptation of Dracula, and word came down that Who was to steer clear of Nosferatu. A quick replacement was needed.
As told by Dicks, when he was Script Editor he had given Bob Holmes the task of writing a story set in Medieval England. When Holmes said he knew nothing about the period, Dicks had given him a "Boys Book of Castles" and told him to get on with it. Now, four years later and their roles reversed, Dicks protested that he knew nothing about lighthouses...

For the first time in the series' history, studio work moved out of London. This story was produced at Birmingham's Pebble Mill studios. The cast and crew were very impressed by their new location - the studios not being well known for drama production and keen to show what they could do.
The small guest cast includes Colin Douglas as Reuben. He had played Donald Bruce in Enemy of the World. He's an old curmudgeon when alive, and has a wonderfully sinister grin when playing the Rutan duplicate. He also voices the creature once it reverts to its blobby green natural state. Another Who veteran plays Skinsale - Alan Rowe. He had previously appeared in The Moonbase and The Time Warrior, and would return in Full Circle. Other cast members are John Abbott as Vince, Sean Caffrey as Palmerdale, Annette Woolett as Adelaide, Rio Fanning as Harker, and Ralph Watson (The Web of Fear and Monster of Peladon) as Ben.
Episode endings are:

  1. With the lamp suffering power failure, a flare illuminates a yacht crashing onto the rocks...
  2. Palmerdale is trying to calm Adelaide when they hear a terrible scream coming from the generator room where Reuben has just gone...
  3. On finding Reuben's corpse, the Doctor realises they have locked their enemy in with them...
  4. The TARDIS dematerialises. The Doctor's quotation from the poem Flannan Isle hangs in the air...

Overall, a nice little atmospheric and claustrophobic tale - making good use of the lighthouse set and the foggy filmed exteriors. It very much has the feel of the previous Hinchcliffe era - the blackest of humour and death aplenty.
Things you might like to know:

  • No-one here gets out alive. One of the rare stories to have everyone other than the regulars bumped off. Indeed it is the last story of the classic series where this happens. (One of the characters in Warriors of the Deep disappears so only might be dead). Coincidentally, the last time there was a 100% death rate was Pyramids of Mars - also directed by Russell.
  • Originally Skinsale and Adelaide were supposed to survive. However, it was decided to kill everyone to make it resonate more with the poem Flannan Isle, Wilfred Wilson Gibson's 1912 poem is a major influence on the story. The Doctor quotes the following lines at the conclusion: "Aye, though we hunted high and low, And hunted everywhere, Of the three men's fate we found no trace, Of any kind in any place, But a door ajar and an untouch'd meal, And an overtoppled chair..." The poem relates to a real life mystery on the Flannan Isles in 1900, where three lighthouse men vanished without trace. 
  • Louise Jameson had found wearing red contact lenses - to make her blue eyes look brown - very uncomfortable. The blinding incident at the conclusion of this story was included to enable her to dispense with these. 
  • There was a sequence where Tom Baker was supposed to run into the crew room. The camera was to follow him in and show Leela at the door behind him. Tom repeatedly rushed in too fast - annoying both Paddy Russell and Louise Jameson. Jameson insisted the shot was retaken each time. Her firm stand impressed Baker, and the incident helped to improve their personal and professional relationship.
  • Despite the fact that they make for a very cheap monster, the Rutans have never returned to Doctor Who. They feature in books, audios, the unofficial spin-off video production Shakedown, and a recent computer game. When I say cheap, I mean they can be represented by their duplicates of humans. A CGI Rutan is long overdue. A good story to highlight Strax perhaps...
  • The name of the character Harker is a little in-joke to remind of the story that Dicks originally intended for this slot - Jonathon Harker being one of the main characters in Dracula.

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