Monday, 18 November 2013

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Hand of Fear

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Sarah is controlled by Eldrad's hand and their gaudy ring.
Doctor Who - Season 14, Story Two - The Hand of Fear
Written 3/6/13

The Hand of Fear has gained its main place in Who lore as the last episode of the Classic Series to feature Sarah-Jane Smith as a continuous companion, and after three and a half seasons her presence has really made itself known. While I never really liked anything specific about Sarah Jane's character, she had very enjoyable chemistry with Tom Baker, and in the two and a half seasons since I started looking at Classic Who again, she and Tom have been the two things I look forward to most with each story. From the perspective of someone whose first experiences with Sarah Jane came from first The Five Doctors and then in NuWho, getting to see her original stories has justified to me why so many people love her.
     The Hand of Fear as a story, however, does not betray its starring feature until the last few minutes. Instead, we're given a sotry in two distinct halves whose tone and atmosphere couldn't be more different. The first, taking up the first two episodes, feels very much like a UNIT hangover and sees a magic stone hand possessing people and causing The Doctor to go running round hospitals and nuclear power stations. The second half is much weirder and much sillier, where the episodes' main concepts spill out like angel hair pasta and it's not very clear what's going on. My cup of tea entirely then.
     The main villain of the story is the memorable Eldrad, and their (I'm going to use neutral pronouns because they're both a woman and a man at different points in the story) abilities make this quite possibly the first story that I think I would have really enjoyed as a child in a "re-enact it in the playground" kind of way. Director Lennie Mayne's odd camera angles add a wonderful sense of mystery to the first half of the story, as we're unsure of what exactly is going on even as Elisabeth Sladen does her best as a possessed Sarah. Later, when Eldrad manifests themselves, they are a remarkably complex villain who despite their ranting and raving is given just the right treatment to make us wonder whether or not they're right.
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Eldrad in their female form gives us most of their complexity.
     While some may argue that the final episode on the barren planet of Katria devolves very much into silliness, I think that comes as a light relief to the first few episodes of gripping power-plant action. Not to put those episodes down, though - there are attempts made to evoke the horror of the Nuclear Threat during the Cold War, and it has moments both very effective (the head of the plant calling his wife and saying he loves her when he believes the plant is going into meltdown) and less so (the Government decide to kill the radiation-absorbing creature by firing a Nuclear Bomb at it, because logic.) It's a matter of personal taste, really.
     My apologies if this review has come off as a little rambling, but that's because of its final few minutes. Written by Sladen and Baker themselves, Sarah Jane's departure has the right amount of tragedy, the right amount of love and just the right amount of humour. There's this definite feeling of loss; the unimaginable concept that after all this time, Sarah-Jane's just gone, and she won't come back in any permenant capacity in Doctor Who. It took me back to Elisabeth Sladen's death in 2011 and underlined it painfully. But, despite that, I am still thankful that Sarah Jane's character was there through these past two and a half seasons, and I am looking forward to seeing her beginnings when this run-through ends back at Season 11.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: A slightly less rambley revisitation of The Deadly Assassin.

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