Sunday, 24 September 2017

457 Horror of Fang Rock: Part Four

EPISODE: Horror of Fang Rock: Part Four
TRANSMITTED: Saturday 24 September 1977
WRITER: Terrance Dicks
DIRECTOR: Paddy Russell
SCRIPT EDITOR: Robert Holmes
PRODUCER: Graham Williams
RATINGS: 9.9 million viewers
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who - Horror of Fang Rock

"Your mockery will end with your race, Earthling, when the mighty Rutan battle fleet occupies this planet!"

"Reuben" climbs the light house and kills Vince on the lamp gallery. The Doctor finds an alien power relay which he thinks is being used as a distress beacon. He orders the survivors to assemble in the lamp room, but while collecting Skinsale & Adelaide, Leela is cornered by Reuben in the crew room. He kills Adelaide, but Leela & Skinsale escape. The Doctor gets them to scatter powder from maroons down the stairs. He confronts "Reuben" who is revealed to be a Rutan, the ancient enemy of the Sontarans. The Rutan tells him that a mothership is on the way to Earth. The Doctor ignites the powder injuring the Rutan and driving it off. They decide convert the lighthouse lamp into a laser using diamonds carried by Palmerdale. The Doctor & Skinsale go to the crew room to get the diamonds from Palmerdale's body. The Doctor takes the largest diamond and returns to the lamp room, but Skinsale is killed trying to gather up the remaining ones. Leela kills the Rutan with a distress rocket. A glowing orange sphere approaches Fang Rock which the Doctor identifies as the Rutan mothership. The Doctor destroys it with his makeshift laser, but the blast temporarily blinds Leela permanently changing her eye colour from brown to blue.

DOCTOR: Blue. 'Aye, though we hunted high and low, and hunted everywhere.'
LEELA: What?
DOCTOR: The Ballad of Flannan Isle, by Wilfred Gibson.
DOCTOR: Wilfred Gibson. 'Aye, though we hunted high and low, and hunted everywhere, of the three men's fate we found no trace. In any time, in any place. But a door ajar and an untouched needle and an over-toppled chair.'
What a fabulous end to the story!

Let's start with Vince's death. Poor lad, he's been in terror the whole story and ends up cut down by someone he thought was he friend without ever finding out what was going on, though I suspect he wouldn't have understood it anyway!

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But that's a lovely visual cut from "Reuben" in the lamp room to the corpse of the real Reuben hidden by the boiler and the Doctor & Leela examining it!

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"Reuben's" next target is Adelaide who'd have escaped had she not panicked and been a little quicker on her feet. She didn't do a lot to elicit any sympathy from me in her screen time this story I'm afraid just sticking up for her crooked employer, who I'm pretty convinced she was having a thing with, screaming and fainting! Thankfully it's a much better story and episode for the other woman in the cast!

Nice effect when Adelaide dies though and another great one shortly after as Leela attempts to kill "Reuben" with a knife.

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The effects work has been pretty good this story as too has the lighting, kept low which creates a decent atmosphere. Several later day Doctor Who lighting directors could have done with watching this story!

We get one more summing up of "what the alien can do", which explains some of the behaviour we've seen, before the big reveal.

LEELA: This alien must have great power to change its shape at will.
DOCTOR: It has. But it needed to study the human life pattern first.
LEELA: That is why it took the engineer.
DOCTOR: Organic restructuring is elementary physiology for Time Lords.
LEELA: Then there is nothing we can do.
LEELA: Well, if this creature is a Time Lord
DOCTOR: No, not a Time Lord. Elementary physiology for us is something that lesser species might master after a few thousand centuries.
LEELA: Oh. Then we have nothing to worry about.
DOCTOR: We don't?
LEELA: No. You will easily dispose of this primitive creature, Doctor. You are a Time Lord.
DOCTOR: Yes, but it took Reuben's form for a reason.
LEELA: To kill us stealthily, one by one. Doctor!
DOCTOR: What is it?
LEELA: Suppose we pretend that we still think Reuben is Reuben, and not the alien, then we can get close enough to it and kill it.
DOCTOR: No, no, no, no. We can't. If we got within touching distance of it, we're dead. It packs too many volts.
LEELA: What is it?
DOCTOR: It's some kind of power relay.
LEELA: Does it belong to the alien?
DOCTOR: Yes, yes. Rule one after surviving a crash landing, set up distress beacon. To do that it would have needed a power source. That's why it came here. There must be a signal modulator somewhere, transmitting. To whom? To it's own kind. Leela, get the surviving humans to the lamp room.
LEELA: To the lamp room.
DOCTOR: Yes, that's the easiest place to defend.
LEELA: Oh, but Doctor, where shall we look for this mognal sigulator?
DOCTOR: I'll do the looking. Hurry, there isn't much time.
Ah now the power relay is a nice touch, being used to reveal that the alien has been calling home for help. A nice bit of Chekov's Gun for later.

So finally The Doctor gets to confront "Reuban".

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DOCTOR: May I help you? Having trouble, Reuben, hmm? Not easy holding a human form stable, is it.
REUBEN: No longer necessary. We can abandon this ridiculous shape.
DOCTOR: Good idea. You'll find it a lot comfier.

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DOCTOR: Now I remember. Reuben the Rutan!
RUTAN: You know our form?
DOCTOR: Well, when you've seen one Rutan, you've seen them all.
RUTAN: We are a Rutan scout. We are specially trained in the new metamorphosis techniques.
DOCTOR: Well, I expect you'll get better at it in time. What are you doing in this part of the galaxy anyway?
RUTAN: That doesn't concern you. You are to be destroyed.
DOCTOR: Got it! You're at last losing that interminable war with the Sontarans.
RUTAN: That is a lie!
DOCTOR: Is it? You used to control the whole of the Mutter's Spiral once. Now the Sontarans have driven you to the far fringes of the galaxy.
RUTAN: The glorious Rutan army is making a series of strategic withdrawals to selected strong points.
DOCTOR: Rutan, that's the empty rhetoric of a defeated dictator, and I don't like your face, either.
RUTAN: Your mockery will end with your race, Earthling, when the mighty Rutan battle fleet occupies this planet.
DOCTOR: Why invade an obscure planet like Earth? It's of no value to you.
RUTAN: The planet is obscure, but its strategic position is sound. We shall use it as a launch point for our final assault on the Sontaran rabble.
DOCTOR: But if you set up a power base here, the Sontarans will bombard it with photonic missiles.
RUTAN: That is unimportant. It will serve the cause of our final glorious victory.
DOCTOR: And what about its people?
RUTAN: Primitive bipeds of no value. We scouted all the planets of this solar system. Only this one suits our purpose.
DOCTOR: I can understand your military purposes, but why murder a hatful of harmless humans?
RUTAN: It is necessary. Til we return to our mother ship, and the mother ship informs the fleet, no one must know of our visit to Earth.
DOCTOR: But you crashed, didn't you, just as you made your discovery. You failed.
RUTAN: Failed? We are sending a signal to the mother ship with the power from the primitive mechanism below.
DOCTOR: You're not, you know.
RUTAN: It's of no importance. The ship will home in on the primary signal.
DOCTOR: I'm sorry to disappoint you. I fixed that as well, oyster face.
RUTAN: All your interference is useless. The beam was transmitting long enough for the mother ship to trace the signal.
DOCTOR: You can't be certain.
RUTAN: It will come.
DOCTOR: But by then, you'll be dead.
RUTAN: What could you Earthlings possibly do to us?
DOCTOR: Well, if you'll just step this way, I'll show you.

Huzzah it's a Rutan! We've heard about the Rutans in the previous two Sontaran stories (The Time Warrior & Sontaran Experiment) so it's nice to see them on screen at last. The Doctor intimates here he's met them previously but we've not seen them, just their long time foes.

Like I said, the power relay, and that it's being used to transmit a signal serve a purpose flagging up that more of them are coming which creates an additional problem for the Doctor:

DOCTOR: Of course, it's not just this Rutan I'm worried about, it's the others.
SKINSALE: You mean to say there are more of these beasts?
DOCTOR: There's a whole battle fleet out there. By the time the Rutans and the Sontarans
SKINSALE: Sontarans?
DOCTOR: Yes. By the time they've finished with it, this planet'll be like a cinder hanging in space.
SKINSALE: You mean to say that there's a whole battle fleet coming here?
DOCTOR: Yes. Unless, of course, we could knock out both the mother ship and the scout ship. If we could do that, they just might conclude that this section of space was too dangerous.
LEELA: How can we do that?
DOCTOR: I don't know. We've nothing here that would stop a Rutan spaceship in its tracks. Rutan ships have a crystalline infrastructure, you see. Shielded, of course. Still, landing on a planet like this, they might just cut off the energy fields to save power. No, I'd need an amplified carbon oscillator.
LEELA: What is an am, what did you say?
DOCTOR: It's like a laser beam but much more destructive.
SKINSALE: A laser beam?
LEELA: Yes, that's some kind of very powerful light, isn't it, Doctor?
DOCTOR: Well, yes, put in it's simplest terms.
LEELA: Why don't we use this?
LEELA: This.
DOCTOR: That? Are you suggesting I convert the carbon arc beam?
LEELA: Well, obviously.
DOCTOR: Leela, that's a beautiful notion.
The look on Leela's face here is beautiful: from being a technologically ignorant tribesperson she's suddenly the star pupil who's gone to the top of the class!

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Small catch though:

DOCTOR: Unfortunately I'd need a focusing device, a fairly large piece of crystalline carbon.
LEELA: Crystallised carbon?
SKINSALE: A diamond.
DOCTOR: No, that's too small. I'd need a much bigger one for the primary beam oscillator.
SKINSALE: Palmerdale.
SKINSALE: Palmerdale. He always carried diamonds.
DOCTOR: He did?
SKINSALE: He called them his insurance.
I'm a little concerned about the diamonds: I can believe Palmerdale would carry them as insurance but it's not referred to until right at the the point it's needed. Hang the gun on the wall, use the gun later. It's almost as if Terrance Dicks has backed himself into a corner here and now needs to pull something from nowhere to perform the escape. Now if Palmerdale had tried to bribe Vince with a diamond in the previous episode, and the Doctor had found the diamond, damaged by the Rutan perhaps, on the the gallery floor giving him the idea for the laser.... It's a minor point but it's still there.

Even in the midst of the crisis the Doctor still has time for a funny line!

DOCTOR: All right. Remember, Leela, don't fire until you see the green of its tentacles.
LEELA: Doctor, how are you going to get past the Rutan?
DOCTOR: With discretion.
With the threat to his name gone with Palmerdale and Adelaide's deaths, Skinsale's military background and training kicks in against the threat and he aides the Doctor well locating the hidden diamonds on Palmerdale's corpse. However with the Doctor having got the diamond he needs he discards the ones he doesn't and it's while greedily scrabbling on the floor for the remainder that Skinsale meets his end.

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LEELA: Are you all right?
DOCTOR: You singed my scarf.
LEELA: And the Colonel?
DOCTOR: Dead with honour.
LEELA: Then at least we have avenged him.
So I don't 100% agree that Skinsale death was honourable but right up till the moment of his demise he had done much to redeem himself. We never learn what exactly advantageous piece of information he'd told Palmerdale in return for having his gambling debts ripped up!

In some ways Horror of Fang Rock could be described as formulaic Doctor Who done by the numbers: Base Under Siege, isolated location with a small group of people who are bumped off one by one. Maybe, it is but it's done so well here that you just don't care. Easily one of the best Base Under Siege stories and also the first story where every member of the guest cast dies:

Reuben - killed at the end of episode 2
Vince - episode 4
Ben - episode 1
Lord Palmerdale - episode 3
James Skinsale - episode 4
Adelaide Lessage - episode 4
Harker - end of episode 3
The only survivors are the unseen remaining members of the boat crew, the Doctor and Leela,
LEELA: It is here, Doctor. I did it! Finished!
RUTAN: Your triumph will be short, Earthling. Our mother ship will blast this island into molten rock.
LEELA: Empty threats, Rutan. Enjoy your death as I enjoyed killing you.
RUTAN: We die for the glory of our race. Long live the Rutan empire!
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Leela's gloating feels somewhat out of place but her attitude doesn't go uncorrected by The Doctor.

LEELA: They are hard to kill, these Rutans.
DOCTOR: Been celebrating, have you?
LEELA: It is fitting to celebrate the death of an enemy.
DOCTOR: Not in my opinion. I haven't got time to discuss morality.

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DOCTOR: Look out there.
LEELA: Is that the Rutan mother ship?
DOCTOR: It is. When it gets within range, this will lock onto its carbon resonator and knock out its anti-grav, I hope. We've got about a hundred and seventeen seconds to get out of here. Understand?
LEELA: Perfectly.
DOCTOR: Good. So when I switch on, you run for it, all right?
LEELA: Yes. It's getting nearer, Doctor.
DOCTOR: Come on. Whatever you do, don't look back. I said don't look back! Let's go. Now!
Unfortunately, like Lot's wife, Leela does look back and sees the improvised laser destroy the Rutan mothership.

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Fortunately she doesn't get turned into a pillar of salt and neither is her fate as bad as she initially fears:

DOCTOR: That'll teach them. I thought I told you not to look back!
LEELA: Slay me, Doctor.
LEELA: I'm blind. Slay me now. It is the fate of the old and crippled.
DOCTOR: You're neither old nor crippled. The effects of the flash will pass.
LEELA: You are sure?
DOCTOR: Mmm. Blink. That's interesting.
LEELA: What is?
DOCTOR: Pigmentation dispersal caused by the flash. Your eyes have changed colour. Leela, stop blinking now. Let's go.
LEELA: What colour are they?
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There's a real life reason behind this scene: Leela's eye colour is changed in order to get rid of the contact lenses Louise Jameson had been wearing for the role and was having difficulty with.

This is a last Doctor Who job for director Paddy Russell. She's started out as an actress appearing in the first two, surviving episodes of The Quatermass Experiment as a Crash Site Onlooker in Contact Has Been Established and a Comet Passenger in Persons Reported Missing, both of which you can see as part of The Quatermass Collection DVD. After that she turned to directing with Out of the Unknown: Come Buttercup, Come Daisy, Come...? as an early assignment which you can see as part of the Out of the Unknown DVD Set. Her first Doctor Who came shortly after as she directed The Massacre after which followed an extensive break before she returned for Invasion of the Dinosaurs, Pyramids of Mars and finally Horror of Fang Rock. Sadly she didn't have a good working relationship with Tom Baker during the making of this story and vowed never to do a Doctor Who again.

It's all the last Doctor Who for some time for writer Terrance Dicks. His next credit comes 3 years later for State of Decay which is a rehash of The Vampire Mutation, the story which Horror of Fang Rock replaced at short notice.

For me Horror of Fang Rock is one of the very best Tom Baker stories and is amongst my top Doctor Whos full stop. It's a great base under siege and is very well done in a limited set under somewhat trying circumstances. It's one of Leela's best stories, she gets lots to do and actually gets to wear some sensible clothes for a change! My wife Liz loves it too and it frequently goes in the bag to watch when we go away to the seaside so it gets seen more often than many of the stories.

Horror of Fang Rock was novelised by the television story's author Terrance Dicks. My local library didn't have a copy so I believe the first time I read it was when I borrowed it from the central library in Kingston. It is one of Terrance's thinner efforts though, right in the middle of his "knocking a Doctor Who novel out every month" phase!

Horror of Fang Rock was one of the later Doctor Who video releases appearing on July 1998 and on DVD in January 2005. The documentary on Terrance Dicks in this set comes especially recommended and is one of my favourite special features on the DVDs.

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