Monday, 23 December 2013

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Horror of Fang Rock

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The Doctor talks to the Rutan.
Doctor Who - Season 15, Story One - The Horror of Fang Rock
Written between 23rd and 30th June 2013

The new producer's first story, a rushed replacement for the original draft of Terrence Dicks' State of Decay (which would later be used in Season 18), does very little to differentiate itself from the old regime in terms of tone, gore or intent. This is not a bad thing, however, as it's a good-old Terrance Dicks script that knows what it's doing and, along with managing to be one of the first "kill 'em all" stories, is one of the most tense and atmospheric that I've seen in this run so far.
     The Doctor and Leela happen upon a foggy lighthouse on their way to Brighton, and as they arrive one of the three lighthouse keepers is killed by a mysterious monster. As a yacht runs aground and the small crew come inside, the monster begins picking people off faster than The Doctor can work out what it is. It takes the form of Luddite keeper Reuben, and after that The Doctor discovers it to be a Rutan, one of the enemies of the Sontarans who are losing their war and who plan to conquer Earth. The Doctor blows up the lighthouse with the Rutan inside and he and Leela go off on their merry destructive way.
     The atmosphere that Dicks creates using the foggy shores of the lighthouse's stretch of rock encouraches upon the story, making the situation of those trapped there ever the more dangerous. Rather wisely, we don't see the Rutan until the third episode, where its appearance as a wobbly green blob does the story absolutely no favours. The aim was to create a fearsome and strange alien race that the Sontarans themselves would have feared in battle, and the result is an alien whose various machinations leave its true nature confused. An alien killing a man offscreen is no more scary than jumping out on someone and realising they're in a different room.
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Leela's still badass, however. At least some things don't change.
     The story's guest cast throw in an extra subplot about something or other that I didn't really follow, and which had very little do with the rest of the story. It felt injected into the story to give it something to do toher than to just have an alien killing people in a lighthouse, which as the basis for a hammer horror story is great, but otherwise it's pretty shit. While the performances of the initial three guest characters were enough to make me feel a little sad when they were inevitably offed, I got a bit of a tired Big Brother feeling when they had throw some more in just to keep things happening.
     I know I shouldn't keep shitting on people's beloved Classic episodes like this. There are those who herald this particular story as incredibly tense and powerful and a really great start to the era. But it didn't say anything to me, it just felt like the same thing we'd been getting for the previous three years where classical allusions were used to pad out an underdeveloped original idea. The Horror of Fang Rock is okay, and I enjoyed its first two episodes, but after a while it just really began to bore me in a way that Doctor Who never should.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Doctor Who predicts that weird episode of The Magic School Bus in The Invisible Enemy.

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