‘Horror of Fang Rock’ (TV)

horror of fang rock dvd

‘HORROR OF FANG ROCK’

Please feel free to comment on my review.

Rutan at a Lighthouse with the Doctor and Leela

This is a creepy ‘Doctor Who’ story set on a lighthouse!

‘Horror of Fang Rock’ has gained itself a position among ‘Doctor Who’ fans for being the most chilling and terrifying of stories ever made. It has a gothic atmosphere that is resonant throughout, despite the fact that this was Graham William’s first story as producer of the series.

I’ve had the DVD cover of ‘Horror of Fang Rock’ signed by Louise Jameson at the ‘London Film & Comic Con 2017’, Olympia, July 2017. I’ve shared with Louise how I found this story creepy and she agreed that it’s a story most talked about by the fans. I hope to review the audiobook of the novelization read by Louise someday.

The story takes place on the island of Fang Rock, off the south coast of England in the early years of the 20th century. A strange light falls from the sky and ends up in the sea. Soon, the lighthouse on Fang Rock becomes under siege, as a green blobby jellyfish alien comes to attack.

This is a four-part story by Terrance Dicks, who is a ‘Doctor Who’ legend since he was the script-editor of the series during the Jon Pertwee era. ‘Horror of Fang Rock’ is an emergency replacement for an abandoned vampire tale which would soon become ‘State of Decay’ in 1980.

In 1977, Terrance Dicks manages to conjure up a story that is a horror mystery set on a lighthouse. Script editor Robert Holmes suggested to Dicks that he come up with a story about a lighthouse. Dicks soon got the boys’ book of lighthouses to help him write this very creepy story.

This story was directed by Paddy Russell, who also directed ‘The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve’, ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’ and ‘Pyramids of Mars’. I was quite surprised when I found out that Paddy found Tom Baker difficult to work with on ‘Horror of Fang Rock’, considering that this tale is a fan favourite.

‘Horror of Fang Rock’ has a strong cast of characters who each have different and interesting journeys of their own. It’s also a story where all of the supporting characters die at the end of the story which is quite a shock, even if some of the characters are pretty unsavoury during this.

There’s Colin Douglas as Reuben, the main lighthouse keeper in the story. Colin has been in ‘Doctor Who’ before in ‘The Enemy of the World’ with Patrick Troughton and he’s well-known for starring in ‘A Family at War’. Reuben does have a very sticky end half-way during the eerie tale.

John Abbot guest stars as Vince Hawkins, another lighthouse keeper in the story. I felt sorry for this character, since Vince seems such a nice chap and he had to die at the end of the story. It was very amusing when Vince saw Leela undressing herself before him and he had to look away.

A luxury yacht soon crashes on to Fang Rock with four survivors that come to the lighthouse. There’s Sean Caffrey as Lord Palmerdale. Palmerdale is a rather unsavoury character who is impatient to get off Fang Rock very soon since he wants to get to London on important business.

There’s also Alan Rowe as Colonel Skinsale. Alan Rowe has appeared in ‘Doctor Who’ before in ‘The Time Warrior’ and he would later appear in ‘Full Circle’ of ‘The E-Space Trilogy’. Skinsale seems very reasonable and gentlemanly, but he has a weakness that becomes the death of him.

There’s also Annette Woollett, who I’ve met at a convention, as Adelaide, Lord Palmerdale’s secretary in the story. Adelaide is rather highly-strung and pretty squeamish when something bad happens. I felt sorry for Adelaide, even though sometimes she tended to be annoying in the tale.

The fourth survivor of the luxury yacht is Rio Fanning as Harker, who is the bosun in the story. There’s also Ralph Watson as Ben, the third lighthouse keeper who dies early in ‘Part One’. I’ve found out that Ralph Watson played Captain Knight in ‘The Web of Fear’ with Patrick Troughton.

Tom Baker as the Doctor and Louise Jameson as Leela really get into the nitty-gritty of the story with solving the mystery of the alien menace, lurking among the rocks around the lighthouse. I enjoyed the Doctor and Leela’s interaction together in this tale whilst they are solving a mystery.

I was quite shocked that Tom Baker and Louise Jameson didn’t get on well with each other whilst making this story, according to director Paddy Russell. This did trouble me when thinking about it. But of course Tom and Louise are now good friends when they do the Big Finish audios.

The Doctor’s on fine form in this story. I liked the enigmatic moment he has when telling everyone that the lighthouse is under attack and they might all be dead. The Doctor also gets serious when deaths occur and gets flippant when telling Lord Palmerdale he has ‘no chance’ in the fog.

Leela gets to wear some clothes in this story, compared to the usual savage costume she wears. She’s disappointed when they don’t end up in ‘Brighton’. Don’t worry, Louise! That’ll happen at the ‘Timey-Wimey 1’ convention in 2014! 😀 Leela gets to put her hunting skills into good use in this story.

This story is also the first time we meet the Rutans, who are the enemies of the Sontarans. Beforehand, I’d listened to another Rutan story called ‘Castle of Fear’. I’d also seen clips of the Rutan’s appearance in this tale for the ‘Bred For War’ documentary on ‘The Sontaran Experiment’ DVD.

Although unimpressed by their realisation on screen (the Rutan looks pathetic in my opinion), I rather like an alien monster that can shape-shift into any form. The Rutan soon takes the form of Reuban after he kills him in ‘Part Two’, becoming green and menacing with that wicked smile.

Colin Douglas also provides the voice for Reuben the Rutan when he becomes a green jellyfish before the Doctor. I enjoyed the confrontation between the Doctor and the Rutan in ‘Part Four’. I do think that a green blobby jellyfish that can shape-shift is a perfect enemy for the Sontarans.

The DVD special features are as follow. The highlight is the ‘Terrance Dicks: Fact or Fiction’ documentary. This charts a general overview of Terrance’s time on ‘Doctor Who’, including being the script-editor of the Jon Pertwee era and his solo ‘Doctor Who’ adventures as a writer.

There’s also ‘Paddy Russell – A Life In Television’, which features an interview with the director of this story. There’s also ‘The Antique Doctor Who Show’ which was relaxing and there’s a commentary with Louise Jameson, John Abbot and writer Terrance Dicks.

There’s also an info-text commentary to enjoy as well as a photo gallery of the story. There’s also an Easter Egg to look out for on this DVD.

‘Horror of Fang Rock’ is definitely an atmospheric and creepy tale with the Doctor and Leela. It’s certainly good to watch. I wouldn’t rate it as one of my all-time favourite ‘Doctor Who’ stories from the series. But I enjoyed the first appearance of the Rutans in this (well, one Rutan anyway).

‘Horror of Fang Rock’ rating – 7/10


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8 thoughts on “‘Horror of Fang Rock’ (TV)

  1. Excellent summary of the story Tim, Tom Baker was in a mood throughout this production because it was filmed in Pebble Mill Birmingham not BBC Tv Studio in London meaning he couldn’t go on his usual pub crawl around soho.

    Tom was miffed at the attention Louise was getting as she popular with audiences & he thought she’d stole his thunder.

    I enjoy this one, Tom Baker delivers some hilarious one liners & i like the tightly placed setting of the lighthouse which gives the story a claustrophobic suspenseful atmosphere.

    I admit i thought the effects with the spaceship at the end were poor but on the whole this is a solid enjoyable four parter.

    Brilliantly review Tim & some great photos the last photo I’ve never seen before.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Simon.

      Glad you enjoyed my review on ‘Horror of Fang Rock’. Yes, I can appreciate he was in a mood during the making of this story when it was filmed in Pebble Mill in Birmingham and he couldn’t go to the pub in London. Despite this, his performance shines through in this story.

      I didn’t think that Tom would be jealous about Louise Jameson’s popularity as Leela. That would seem to make sense, considering the tense working relationship they had together. I’m glad Tom and Louise have made up for it in the Big Finish audios.

      The story was pretty suspenseful throughout and I enjoyed the Doctor and Leela’s interaction together during the story and how they solved the mystery with the Rutan. Glad you enjoyed the one-liners featured throughout by Tom Baker in this story.

      I liked the lighthouse setting too and I think Terrance Dicks did a good job with providing the tension required throughout this story. The special effects weren’t great no, but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the story and the Rutan effect was pretty good.

      Glad you like the photos I’ve included in my review, Simon. I’m surprised you’ve not seen the last one with the Doctor and Leela before. I’m glad I made your day with that! 😀

      Thanks for commenting on my review on ‘Horror of Fang Rock’, Simon. Glad you enjoyed it!

      Tim. 🙂

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  2. A very strong and atmospheric story that surpasses the less than great effects. Doctor who at that time was in a run of classic episodes with talons and robots of death and fang rock is up there with the best ever Imo.
    I recently got the bbc audiobook with Louise Jameson narrating and I can highly recommend it.
    I get the impression that Louise could more than handle herself if Tom was in one of his moods back in the day , I don’t think she suffered his nonsense 😃 !
    All the best Tim great review as always.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Glynn.

    Glad you enjoyed my review on ‘Horror of Fang Rock’. It is pretty strong and atmospheric throughout and the poor special effects didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the story.

    Yes, ‘Doctor Who’ was in its golden age by this point, even though the Philip Hinchcliffe era was over and the Graham Williams era had begun. I’ve reviewed
    * ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ – https://bradleybasement.wordpress.com/doctor-who-reviews/the-talons-of-weng-chiang-tv/
    * and ‘The Robots of Death’ – https://bradleybasement.wordpress.com/doctor-who-reviews/the-robots-of-death-tv/
    already on my blog if you’d like to check them out.

    Thanks for letting me know about the ‘Horror of Fang Rock’ audiobook, Glynn. I would like to check it out and read/listen to it for review on my blog. I’m sure Louise Jameson’s superb reading the story.

    Well certainly Louise Jameson seemed to cope with Tom Baker’s moods during the making of these stories and I’m sure it added to the relationship between the Doctor and Leela in both the TV stories and the Big Finish audios.

    Thanks Glynn for your comments on my review. Glad you enjoyed it.

    Tim. 🙂

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  4. Here in Australia, this story went to air on the ABC in early 1979, February as I recall, as school had just started.
    I recall coming home after school to watch the story and short trailers during the week included snippets of dialogue with Leela asking the Doctor how he’ll get past the Rutan?.
    To my childhood mind, I still recall an image of some kind of long alien tentacle climbing up in the lighthouse, from a plant, akin to a Krynoid!.
    Of course, the reality was different, but in those days, Doctor Who was regularly repeated with different series aired out of sequence and of course, an entire story was played night after night, as I only realised later in the 1980’s that in the UK it was aired weekly!.
    A surprise to me at the time!.

    The story itself is well named and keeps the audience in suspense plus its one of these stories where the Doctor makes repeated mistakes resulting in people being killed.
    Unlike the updated series where in the Matt Smith era, the Doctor was portrayed almost as an all knowing “God”, which is far from the more realistic character of the Tom Baker era for example, and thus more likable.
    Baker himself is rather aloof at times and mysterious himself, a fact that is mentioned in the story “Pyramids of Mars” novel as Sarah Jane muses to herself.
    Suffice to say, I stopped watching the show for most of the Smith era, but Fang Rock is a good story, even now.
    Thank you for review.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Philip.

      Glad you enjoyed my review on ‘Horror of Fang Rock’.

      Thank you for sharing your memories of watching this story in Australia back in early 1979. Interesting how the story was transmitted differently in Australia compared to how it was transmitted in the UK. Yes I can see how the ‘Doctor Who’ stories you watched would’ve been transmitted out of order compared to how it was transmitted in the UK.

      Yeah the ‘Doctor Who’ series under the Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi eras did dwindle in terms of reality and believability, especially as you saw in making the character more God-like rather than fallible. I still love watching ‘Doctor Who’ and am currently enjoying the Jodie Whittaker era which I feel is an improvement from what had gone on before under Steven Moffat’s time as the series’ showrunner. There are pros and cons in both classic and new series versions of the show but I still find ‘Doctor Who’ entertaining and compelling which is what it should be.

      I’m pleased ‘Horror of Fang Rock’ is a story that means a lot to you, Philip. I would like to check out the Target novelization/audiobook read by Louise Jameson someday. It’ll be nice to revisit the story through that.

      Many thanks for your comments.

      Tim. 🙂

      Like

  5. Good Day Tim,
    Thank you for airing my comments, which I’d nearly forgotten about a few weeks ago.
    Further, for some odd reason the ABC in Australia never aired Dr Who weekly to my knowledge, at least when I watched it.
    Certainly the show was very popular from the mid ’70’s until well into the ’80’s due to repeated showings of the Pertwee/Baker episodes.
    We could watch an entire series of Baker shows in a few months, via nightly viewings of each episode, then the ABC would perhaps revert back to a Pertwee series, until it gained the rights to air a new Baker series etc.
    The show seemed to be on very regularly indeed, but we were blessed by the quality of the Pertwee/Baker era perhaps which allowed that.
    VCR’s were unknown in homes then, but it didn’t matter that much as if one wanted to see Horror of Fang Rock again, there was a fair chance it would be repeated after quite a short time.
    Indeed, I recall it was repeated a few times well into the ’80’s and it was always amusing to read in the local newspaper TV guide misspellings like “Honor of Fang Rock” etc, circa 1980, 1981.
    Also back then we in Australia were in the midst of a veritable “British revival” movement, with a seemingly endless number of programmes from the UK in what some call the “Golden years” of top class British shows;
    Dr who, The Professionals, The Good Life, Man about the House, To the Manor Born, The Sweeney, Yes Minister, The Two Ronnies, Dave Allen at Large etc.

    I recall people used to look forward to getting home on a Friday nights as the family viewing was so good.
    After the news finished at 7.30PM, we’d watch Pot Black, then The Two Ronnies, Dave Allen at Large and by early 1979, Blake’s 7 appeared.
    So by late night, the family would be laughing, entertained, interested for young and old.
    Even my unimaginative Dad got into Blake’s 7 which was an achievement!.
    Other nights, there would always be something for the Mum’s to watch or some other combination of shows such was the variety.
    All this continued into the 1980’s and even by the mid 80’s (circa 1983), we’d still be watching the end of Blake’s 7, but also The Professionals and then Minder came along as lads of my age were a bit older now.
    Some of these shows were aired weekly, but then the ABC would revert to an earlier series and we’d get into that having forgotten most of what happened!.

    Interestingly, all this UK culture had an effect on the public mind and by the early 80’s, for a while it looked like Australia would again buy more British defence equipment such was the “solidarity” seen between the two countries, even if it was only one sided!.
    Hence we nearly bought Navy Lynx helicopters, Sea Harrier jets and HMS Invincible which was offered for sale to Australia at knock down prices.
    I can still recall the class room being deathly quiet by everyone when the news came out that HMS Sheffield was sunk in the Falklands war, such were the societal ties then, as we’d had nearly a decade by that stage of the UK being seen as being a clever and capable nation with far reaching innovation!.
    Reality tends to burst bubbles though!.
    So they were odd sort of days, but the public here were very much “on side” with our British cousins and shows like Dr Who played a part in shaping the youthful minds like mine!.

    You mention the book for Fang rock, well, I still recall the near underhanded efforts I made to borrow that first copy of the book from the school library and take it home over the May holidays in 1979, beating a fellow classmate who was usually more sneaky!.
    I was still overjoyed getting that book and read it to completion that same Friday night on the 20th of May!.

    Thanks for the discussion and comparisons between then and now.
    Philip

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Philip.

      Thank you very much for sharing your TV and ‘Doctor Who’ memories between you and your family. It’s been interesting how you viewed programmes in Australia back in the 70s/80s. It’s very different to how I watched programmes in the 90s in Cardiff, Wales.

      Many thanks.

      Tim 🙂

      Like

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