As with all fans, for me this story will forever be the one in which Sarah Jane Smith left the TARDIS. I don’t think it is the least exaggeration to say that Sarah was to classic Doctor Who what Rose is to Nu Who – the bright and bold companion that everyone fell a little bit in love with, and such a perfect foil to the Doctor that one never wanted her to leave (that said, I still think she was at her best when they had Lieutenant Sullivan in the crew as well)
So watching this story for the first time on VHS provoked similar emotions to when I watched Logopolis and hoped that perhaps Tom Baker wouldn’t actually regenerate if I hoped hard enough. It couldn’t be that Sarah would leave, could it? Sadly, no matter how much one wishes, Tom Baker’s fourth doctor receives fateful summons to Gallifrey, and leaves Sarah back on earth (though not, as it turns out, in her home of Croydon!)
Before we get to the drama of Lis Sladen’s departure however, there is a story to be told that on occasion is quite literally gripping. After materialising in a quarry (provoking a mild breaking of the fourth-wall as the Doctor notes the ‘irony’, given the series’ fondness for using quarries as the scenes for alien planets) Sarah is trapped beneath a rockfall, and found clutching a calcified hand. The hand turns out to be the last and living remains of an alien named Eldrad, who possesses Sarah, and uses her to take his hand to a nearby nuclear reactor, where the energy of the reactor can be used to recreate his body.
A well-told and elegantly paced adventure, the tension builds as one tries to determine if Eldrad is merely unfortunately placed and victimised, or is in fact an arch-villain, climaxing in the thrilling denouement on his home planet Kastria. You would never guess that Sladen was acting in her final story as a regular cast member, so accomplished is her performance, while Baker is of course at the very height of his powers in the role. The Hand of Fear is a hugely entertaining adventure that has aged very well. Even the sad departure of Sarah Jane cannot ruin it – rather it makes it memorable for all of the right reasons, and is a pointer to modern showrunners in how to handle a farewell for companions.