This past week it was announced that Terrance Dicks, one of the most prominent writers for Doctor Who, had recently passed away at the age of 84. He became script editor on the show in the Second Doctor era in the late 60s but it wasn’t until Tom Baker’s première serial as the Fourth Doctor, Robot, that Dicks received a sole writing credit. He would later be responsible for other great serials like State of Decay and The Five Doctors. This past week I decided to watch my favourite Terrance Dicks serial, Horror of Fang Rock, the first story of the 1977 season.
The first serial in Graham Williams’ run as script editor, it has some of the nice gothic flavour that distinguished Philip Hinchcliffe’s tenure as the previous script editor. It begins with a lonely lighthouse, shrouded in fog, and a superstitious elder lighthouse keeper, Reuben (Colin Douglas), schooling his younger colleague, Vince (John Abbott) on the superiority of gas over the newly installed electric light.
The Doctor (Tom Baker) and Leela (Louise Jameson) show up, amusingly off course for sunny holiday in Brighton, and at the beginning of the second episode four more new characters show up, wealthy socialites from a shipwreck caused by the malfunctioning lighthouse. An alien menace is stalking the island, picking people off one by one, and the story becomes a curious rumination on what qualities predispose individuals for survival.
Even though Reuben’s superstition has prepared him for the appearance of a superpowered beast, he has no real defence against it. Even though Lord Palmerdale (Sean Caffrey) is ruthless enough to extort his friend, his faithlessness also can’t protect him.
One of the shipwreck survivors is a woman named Adelaide (Annette Woollett) who obnoxiously plays up an affectation for noisy hysterics. Panicking doesn’t do her much good and it annoys Leela who continues to develop as one of the Doctor’s best companions in this story. Her relish for hunting and killing doesn’t come into conflict with the Doctor’s motives until the end of the episode. She has lines that almost sound villainous, as when she directly remarks on how much she enjoys killing her enemies.
Like a horror movie, there are elements of morality conspicuous in the killings committed by this enemy, an alien blob called a Rutan, as when one character is killed because he stopped to pick up some diamonds the Doctor had tossed away. But, like a lot of good horror movies, the punishment seems much too severe for the crime. Even the Doctor seems to notice and feel dissatisfaction when the man who stooped for diamonds nonetheless died, according to the Doctor when he related the event to Leela, with honour. Apparently Dicks was unhappy with the way Baker delivered the line, wanting there to be a pause between “He died” and “with honour”. One can hardly blame the Doctor for writing the epitaph of a basically good man in a way that doesn’t convey the circumstance of his death with accuracy. This subtly contrasts with Leela remarking to Adelaide that the Doctor had shown her why it’s better to believe in science than Adelaide’s chosen source of prophet, astrology. Sometimes the story is better than the rational explanation, and certainly Horror of Fang Rock is a very good story.
Twitter Sonnet #1275
The softened rice permits wasabi through.
The fish were Wrapped in outward roasted tides.
Horizons fade from green to ocean blue.
Across the rippled surface something rides.
A flying card deposits decks in ships.
Collected waves became a single sea.
The corp’rate pools deposit fish and chips.
A sickly plastic hardens ‘bout the key.
In vain we tried to guess a metal thought.
A glowing jelly moved beneath the house.
A pallid crew await the blood to clot.
A group of five return to chase the mouse.
The hunter’s eyes attained electric sight.
A fog concealed a lack of laser light.