Horror of Fang Rock DVD
"I thought I'd locked the enemy out. Instead I've locked it in... with us!"
It's early twentieth-century England and the TARDIS materialises at the lighthouse on Fang Rock shortly after another mysterious visitor from space has crash-landed into the sea nearby. Before long the temperature drops, a thick fog rolls in, and the lighthouse's new-fangled electrical lamp starts to play up.
Next the head engineer is killed, a pleasure cruiser runs aground and something nasty, green and pulsating emerges from the fog ...
Its strengths are self-evident. Terrance Dicks' tight, well-structured script is irresistible, the story populated by real, believable people in an unreal, unbelievable situation. The restricted location works in the story's favour giving a real sense of 'nowhere to run'. The four episodes just drip atmosphere and there are some real scares too - particularly in the frankly blood-curdling alien cry, which ends episode two. Performances are generally outstanding; Tom Baker, who, apparently, loathed the script, is at just about his best here. He's a true alien, self-absorbed, largely uninterested in the affairs of the rest of the lighthouse group, a real outsider.
Louise Jameson as Leela remains an underrated asset to the programme. Watch her closely, even in background sequences, and see how she continually portrays the savage, uneducated primitive even when the camera's not directly on her.
Philip Segal, executive producer of the 1996 TV movie, saw the serial as a model Doctor Who story and used it to try to sell the idea of a new television film.
There are one or two of those 'oops' Doctor Who moments when an ambitious visual doesn't live up to scratch. But we learnt to live with these things where, as we keep telling people, the story's the thing. And the story here is a very good thing indeed.
The serial had no location work, being shot mostly on videotape at Pebble Mill, with some 16mm film material from Ealing Studios. This DVD is based on digital video copies made from the original masters in the mid-1990s. As with any colour Doctor Who where videos (as opposed to black and white 16mm film copies) survive, the picture quality is as good as it can be, given the limitations of the source material, which is of lower resolution than DVD, let alone 35mm cinema film. Much of the serial is quite darkly lit, making shadow detail on the poor side.
The sound is the original mono, over two channels. There's little to say except that it is entirely clear, with dialogue, music and effects well mixed - BBC professionalism at work.
The main extra is, as ever, an audio commentary, this time involving Louise Jameson, Terrance Dicks and John Abbott. There's an obvious rapport between the three of them, and some more-candid-than-usual stories are told about Tom Baker and Paddy Russell.
The remainder of the extras are dominated by two specially made featurettes. "Terrance Dicks: Fact and Fiction" is a tribute to the man who is one of the two major voices (the other being Robert Holmes) of Doctor Who, from latter-day Troughton onwards. Not only are his contributions as screen writer and script editor discussed, but also by far the most prolific writer of the Target novelisations which for many in the 1970s was the only they had of accessing earlier stories that they'd been too young to see. He has also gone on to write original novels in the New Adventures and Missing Adventures lines.
The second featurette is a shorter piece, "Paddy Russell: A Life in Television". Now retired, she is interviewed at her home, looking over her forty-year career.
"The Antique Doctor Who show" is a little item broadcast for the programme's thirtieth anniversary in 1993.
The extras are completed by a stills gallery, and an Easter Egg, click left off the "Antique Doctor Who Show" and click the link that is highlighted. You then see eleven seconds of the countdown clock to Episode 3.
- Picture format: 4:3 Non-Anamorphic PAL
- Region: 2
- Soundtrack(s): English Dolby Digital 2.0
Review by Alec Deacon