CRRRaSh! 383 Doctor Who: Horror of Fang Rock

By Roy Mathur, on 2021-05-20, at 23:00:00--23:37:49, for Captain Roy's Rocket Radio Show, Listen

The State of the Rewatch

Tonight was a rush job.

I don't care that I'm taping this on the wrong night, the most important thing is that it's been two weeks and I'm back!

Hell or high water, the next pod you hear will be the general geek show taped on Monday. This week, that at long last includes stuff I've been reading. The Wednesday taping is also back when you can expect me holding forth about Doctor Who: The Invisible Enemy.

Noel Clarke and John Barrowman

New Who. It's impossible to be a Doctor Who fan so as long as I have been without addressing the Noel Clarke and John Barrowman situation. To recap, both have been accused of misconduct by those who have worked with them and The Guardian and Daily Mirror have printed some difficult to refute findings.

Now that we are getting an impression of the toxic atmosphere that may have been present in the early Russell T. Davies showrunner era, it makes the way Christopher Eccleston bowed out after such a short time in the role as the Doctor seem reasonable. Perhaps he had good reason?

It also adds credence to Kidulthood Adam Deacon's side of his spat with Noel Clarke.

Does this change my feelings about Mickey Smith and Captain Jack Harkness? It has undoubtedly slightly tarnished my enjoyment of those likeable characters. I'm still able to separate the characters from the actors, just as I have had to separate many of the things I like from their flawed creators.


Fourth Doctor: Tom Baker
Companion(s): Leela: Louise Jameson
Director: Paddy Russell
Writer: Terrance Dicks
Producer: Graham Williams (Last week we waved goodbye to horror and schlock meister Philip Hinchcliffe. Williams would take over for a while and tone down the scares due to pressure on the Beeb from miserable campaigners like Mary Whitehouse. Boo!)
Location: BBC Pebble Mill, Birmingham.
Broadcast: This is the first serial of season 15, 4 x 25 minute episodes, first broadcast from 3 to 24 September 1977, following The Talons of Weng-Chiang covered in pod 380.

On this Day

Blah, blah, something happened in baseball, blah, who cares?

Also, former Home Secretary Roy Jenkins announced that he was stepping down to become President of the European Commission.

Elvis was number one in the UK with Way Down. Way what? Me neither, and I'm a fan of the King; just not a very good one apparently.

Wasn't that simply riveting?

What Happens

Instead of taking Leela, who is dressed for the early 19th century beach, to Brighton, the TARDIS arrives at the stormy Fang Rock island.

The Doctor and Leela head for the lighthouse where they find a dead lighthouse keeper. The surviving keepers are old Reuben and young Vince, who earlier reported a light falling from the sky.

The new electricity supply is faulty and the lighthouse's lamp fails, causing a boat to wreck itself upon the island's jagged rocks. The survivors also make their way to the lighthouse. The Doctor believes the dead body has been dissected by a hostile alien.

Reuben seemingly becomes possessed and one-by-one the survivors are killed by either a glowing light or a glowing Reuben. When the Doctor find Reuben's body, he realised the alien is a shapeshifter who has taken on his form in order to eliminate them.

The alien is a glowing green ball-like form with tendrils. It is a scout of the Rutan Empire attempting to contact the mothership, to tell his fellow Rutan's of the suitability of Earth as a base from which they can launch a strike, to turn the tide against their enemy, the Sontarans.

The Doctor says that all humans will be destroyed when the Sontarans bomb Earth with photonic missiles. The Rutan cares nothing for humans and is not swayed.

Using fire and heat to fight the heat sensitive Rutan, the Doctor, Leela, and Colonel Skinsdale, the only remaining survivor, push the Rutan beck to the generator room. Skinsdale retrieves his late employer's diamonds (he was killed earlier), but is killed by the Rutan.

The Doctor and Leela finally mortally wound the Rutan using a hacked flare mortar launcher and Leela gloats as it dies.

The Doctor then uses the diamonds to convert the lighthouse lamp into a laser to destroy the Rutan mothership.

As they run from the lighthouse, Leela is blinded by the blast of the exploding ship. She asks to be euthanized, but the Doctor assures her it is temporary. Leela's eyes change colour from brown to blue. The Doctor quotes a poem about an empty lighthouse as they enter the TARDIS.

What I Thought

The post-Hinchcliffe story toned down the horror, but I still think this is a nicely nasty story; I mean look how it ends.

On meeting a fellow female of the period, Leela is unimpressed because the woman has not seen death before. Leela also helps the Doctor find a solution, admittedly unintentionally, manipulates him by massaging his sizeable ego, smashes a door in with a sledgehammer, throws her knife at the deadly Rutan, and later gloats with delight as the alien lies dying. While her ethics are questionable, she is, unquestionably, a total badass.

By the end, every human everyone, human and Rutan are dead, the only survivors are the Doctor and Leela, who, in fairness have stopped an alien invasion. Despite the deaths, the Doctor seems amused that they are leaving a mystery reminiscent of Flannan Isle, a poem by Wilfrid Gibson (which was also a major influence on this script).

IMDB and Radio Times rated it well, I know this is a fan favourite, and on rewatching I think it's a snappy four parter with a weirdly satisfying off-kilter tragic ending---just how I occasionally like endings to be---and is not at all run-of-mill.


This is the only OldWho serial entirely filmed outside London, at the BBC's Pebble Mill studio in Birmingham, due to engineering work at BBC Television Centre.

Jameson stipulated that she would only remain in the role if she was allowed to stop wearing the painful brown contact lenses. The eye colour change was written into the script and explained as a symptom of her eyes being exposed to the flash of the exploding Rutan ship. Baker tried to upstage Jameson coming in too soon with his lines, until she started insisting on multiple retakes.

There was a previous Terrence Dicks script called The Witch Lords (commissioned as The Vampire Mutations) that clashed with the BBC's adaptation Count Dracula, and so this was written as a replacement. The Vampire Mutations was later rewritten as State of Decay (1980). However, even in this adventure, a ship crashes on show, strange and terrible deaths follow, and the boatswain's name is Harker. That's pretty Dracula-ish.

Next Revisit

Doctor Who: The Invisible Enemy.