Season 14 of Doctor Who pretty much almost got the series banned. Under Philip Hinchcliffe’s tenure, the show had a distinct element of gothic horror that had Mary Whitehouse and her associates crying for his blood. While new producer Graham Williams had a strict mandate to tone down the violence, the first story of Season 15 certainly didn’t tone down the horror element.
I must confess that I did not enjoy this story when I first saw it on VHS – there was a slight element of it being too dark for my tastes. By the time I purchased the DVD however, this had very firmly shifted to an appreciation of just how good and how clever the story is – to the point indeed that earlier I blogged that I would love to see the Rhutans, the villains of this particular story, make a comeback in modern Doctor Who. Worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as other base-under-seige style stories, Horror of Fang Rock is a fine illustration of how the BBC allied economy of means to richness of result.
The story sees Louise Jameson’s first full season as Leela alongside the fourth Doctor, and they land not in Brighton (as promised) but at Fang Rock lighthouse, where they discover that the group in the lighthouse (to whit – the crew, plus a passengers of a wrecked yacht) are at threat from an unknown alien intelligence. The alien transpires to be a Rhutan – the oft mentioned but until then unseen foe of the Sontaran empire. His purpose is to scout the planet Earth as a potential base for the next attack on the Sontarans, and he is cheerfully wiping out any being that gets in his way. The Doctor’s task is made all the more difficult by the Rhutan’s capacity to change form – so for most of the story he appears in the form of one of the main characters, leading to the startling and dramatic cliffhanger in episode 3, when the Doctor realises: “I’ve made the most terrible mistake. I thought I had locked the alien threat outside … but I’ve locked it in here … with us!”
I make no apologies for my appreciation of Tom Baker as the Doctor, and he is just as stellar in this story as in any other story in his first six seasons. As with quite a number of stories in the top 50, I enjoy them largely because of his singular and unique ability to lift an entire scene through the force of his character. Horror of Fang Rock is a very good example of that, and well worth enjoying.