Thoughts on ‘Horror of Fang Rock’ (1977)

– I’m sure that ‘Horror of Fang Rock’ is the first Graham Williams era story that I have watched – even just an episode. Being the first broadcast of this era, it is very similar to the story that preceded it: both are pastiche Victorian gothic horror.

– ‘Fang Rock’, set in a fog bound lighthouse is very moody and claustrophobic. There are five very small sets: the platform, staff room, bunk room, boiler room and stairwell (plus the exterior)’ surrounded by fog and darkness. The only interruption is the light and the foghorn, which gradually become ambient to the fear and tension.

– the script by Terence Dicks is brilliant – it’s superb base under siege stuff. A mild disturbance soon becomes a murder mystery. This phase is closed by the Doctor overpowering the lighthousemen, before the arrival of the shipwreck brings an amusing element of Victorian society and social relations into the mix. At this point, in the middle of the story there are several agents at play, with the Doctor scurrying around in order to keep control. Dicks deals with this by having the monster take out all of the supporting characters (the matter of encounter shock is briefly mentioned), leaving the Doctor and Leela to deal with the threat and close up.

– the very contained nature of the piece gives Paddy Russell as the director much opportunity to work with the this moodiness and tension. Close ups, reaction shots, mist and green light are used as the siege intensifies. We have to appreciate the story playing out over three physical levels, with the stairwell in between.

– by this stage in the series, the Doctor’s characterisation is less of a traveller and more of a detective. Encountering the engineers’ body at once, he deduces the danger and works entirely by himself (with Leela on his coatails) at tackling the opposition, with the other characters bemusedly looking on or worrying about themselves. Tom Baker’s endless reserves of charisma enable this to look and be brilliant, but it does make you feel that the Doctor is so clever that he’s oddly invulnerable to anything, human or alien (as if on the 1977/78 table he’s twenty points in front of the opposition).


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