When the TARDIS lands in a quarry on Earth, the Doctor and Sarah are caught in a mining explosion. Sarah is found clutching what appears to be a fossilised hand, buried in one-hundred-and-fifty year-old strata. Analysis shows the hand to be silicon-based and inert, but when Sarah begins to act as if possessed, the Doctor suspects that it may still be alive…
The Hand of Fear sees the show say goodbye to the final element tying the show to the Jon Pertwee era, Sarah Jane Smith. It’s a fairly solid exit story for arguably one of the best companions, and the majority of the story works really well. It has some good guest performances, especially Sarah Paris as Eldrad, but feels a bit rushed and I lost interest when we got to Kastria, Eldrad’s home planet.
It’s hard to argue that the story lacks ambition and stakes, and certainly the use of the Power Station helps to build up the stakes, which the story manages to maintain relatively well, before this drops when the story moves to Kastria. It is a noticeable drop, as it appears to be trying to set up a story similar to The Seeds of Doom, moving from one location to another midway through the story. Where the latter has the advantage over this story is the fact that it is a six part serial rather than a four-part one. The original Hand of Fear was a six-parter, so potentially, if broadcast as originally intended that could have prevented this problem. This may also be contributed to by having to feature Sarah’s departure, limiting the amount of time that we spend on Kastria. However, this story really excels by not making Sarah’s departure a massive driving force, but instead allowing her to lead the narrative. It is her discovery of Eldrad’s disembodied hand that begins the entire plot and her possession that drives the majority of the story. This is the second time in as many stories in which Sarah has been possessed, and does seem to be a recurring theme in the Hinchcliffe – Holmes era. Like a lot of Bob Baker and Dave Martin scripts, it bristles with ideas although some of them aren’t terribly original. Eldrad’s version of events around their exile from Kastria seems to be very similar to Omega’s in The Three Doctors, for instance.
Lennie Mayne’s direction is fairly good here and utilises the location of Oldbury Power Station well, but this also works to the story’s detriment. When the narrative moves to Kastria, it is painfully clear that the caves are sets and not great ones at that. That being said, the shooting of the explosion in the quarry is fantastic and looks cinematic in nature, literally starting the story off with a bang. There are some more questionable things, especially when you know that Stephen Thorne and Judith Paris never met to discuss the portrayal of Eldrad, and Mayne doesn’t seem to have given any direction to make them feel like the same character. The planet of Kastria seems very similar to every other barren planet that we have seen in Doctor Who and there’s nothing particularly visually distinctive about it, and the opening sequence is a little bit of a mess, where it’s not always clear who’s speaking. Mayne is perhaps not entirely to blame for that one, as the costume design for the Kastrians is bizarre. The movement of the hand is really well realised and really creepy and the use of CSO here is the least noticeable I can recall – I certainly don’t remember seeing very much fringing on the hand.
The guest cast are quite strong here and make a quite an impression. We have Rex Robinson playing Doctor Carter, who is quite an affable character, the pathologist who starts off investigating the Hand of Fear, and bounces off Tom Baker quite well until falling under the influence of Eldrad. There’s also Glyn Houston playing Professor Watson, who feels as though in different hands could feel like a Pertwee-era busybody, but this story and the performance give the character real heart. There is a lovely moment where he remains behind, evacuating his staff in the process, when they believe that there is going to be an incident with the reactor, and calls his family. We also have Sarah Paris’ portrayal of Eldrad which is quite subtle and manipulative and aided by the fantastic costume. It is a shame when she regenerates into Stephen Thorne’s version of the character, who regresses to a generic feeling ranting and raving villain.
Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen put in a great performance here and their chemistry is fantastic. Baker is particularly good in the scenes where she hypnotises Sarah – his eyes are so expressive of the character’s manic energy. Sladen is particularly creepy when she is possessed and it is particularly unsettling. The two have great moments, like the one where Sarah follows the Doctor back into the Power Complex after the attempted airstrike and Sarah tells the Doctor that she will only worry about him. The departure scene is probably the high point of the episode, and it is certainly one of the strongest ones in the original runs. I recently reviewed Fury From The Deep on here, which saw Victoria’s departure, and it is quite similar in some ways to that story in the fact that the story is not based around a imminent departure. It really benefits from having allowed Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen to tailor the scene from a framework written by Robert Holmes and both actors speak very favourably of their experience performing it this way. I must say that it feels very natural as Sarah starts the scene off by complaining about the experience of travelling with the Doctor and stating that she wants to leave, although it is clear that perhaps they have been here before, and goes off to pack, leaving the Doctor tinkering under the TARDIS console only to receive the summons from Gallifrey, meaning that Sarah will actually have to leave. The scene is notable for what’s not said – it is quite a subtle scene but still maintains a lot of heart and packs an emotional punch.
Verdict: The Hand of Fear is a good story, if not exceptional, and gives Sarah a good story. 7/10
Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Rex Robinson (Dr. Carter), Renu Setna (Intern), David Purcell (Abbott), Roy Pattinson (Zazzka), Robin Hargrave (Guard), Glyn Houston (Professor Watson), Roy Boyd (Driscoll), Frances Pidgeon (Miss Jackson), John Cannon (Elgin), Judith Paris (Eldrad) & Stephen Thorne (Kastrian Eldrad).
Writer: Bob Baker & Dave Martin
Director: Lennie Mayne
Behind the Scenes
- Sarah Jane’s final story was to be a pseudo-historical written by Douglas Camfield, featuring aliens and the Foreign Legion and would have concluded with Sarah’s death. Camfield fell behind with writing the story and so Bob Baker and Dave Martin’s script was moved up instead, although the final departure scene was written by Robert Holmes and rewritten by Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen.
- There were a number of changes made to the script for this story:
- The nuclear power station was originally to be Nuton Power Complex from The Claws of Axos, but was changed to the Nunton Experimental Complex;
- The part of Miss Jackson was originally male and was gender-switched by director Lennie Mayne, who built up the part and cast his wife, Frances Pidgeon in the role.
- Eldrad’s home was a black hole called Omega 4.6, which Robert Holmes requested changed due to the character of Omega, ironically from a Baker and Martin story, The Three Doctors;
- The Brigadier would have featured, now working for the Extraterrestrial Xenological Intelligence Taskforce and would have sacrificed himself by steering an experiment rocket into an Omegan kamikaze ship to save the Earth. This proved impossible due to Nicholas Courtney not being available;
- In a later draft, a character named Lieutenant Hawker was replaced by former Fourth Doctor companion Harry Sullivan;
- There would have originally been a Omegan spacecraft found at the same time as the calcified hand, which would have been central to the plot, as well as Omegan factions; and
- A new character, Drax, would have been introduced. Drax was envisaged as an untrustworthy Gallifreyan mechanic with eyes on stealing the TARDIS. Drax would eventually appear in The Armageddon Factor.
- Lennie Mayne provided Sarah Jane’s whistling at the end of Episode 4 as Elisabeth Sladen could not whistle. Mayne was one of three directors to direct stories featuring William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, but passed away shortly after production of this story after a boating accident in May 1977.
- This story was repeated over two nights in May 2011 after the death of Elisabeth Sladen.
- This story marked the final regular appearance of Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. She would return in a guest appearance in The Five Doctors, then on a semi-regular basis from School Reunion in 2006. Sladen would also go on to star in her own television series The Sarah Jane Adventures. If companion tenure is construed as seasons, Sladen holds the record as the longest serving companion – however, if “years” is used, then Janet Fielding is, and if stories, then Frazer Hines wins.
- Actors who previously appeared in Doctor Who include:
- Rex Robinson (Dr. Tyler in The Three Doctors and Gebek in The Monster of Peladon);
- Roy Pattison (Draconian space pilot in Frontier in Space);
- Roy Skelton (various voice roles, including the Cybermen from The Tenth Planet to The Wheel in Space and the Daleks from The Evil of the Daleks to Remembrance of the Daleks, and multiple screen roles in stories in Colony in Space, Planet of the Daleks, The Green Death and The Android Invasion);
- Frances Pidgeon (Queen Thalira’s lady-in-waiting (uncredited) in The Monster of Peladon);
- John Cannon (multiple uncredited roles from The Monster of Peladon to The King’s Demons, credited as Guard in The Armageddon Factor); and
- Steven Thorne (Bok in The Daemons, Omega in The Three Doctors and First Ogron in Frontier in Space).
- Actors who would go on to appear in Doctor Who again include:
- Glyn Houston (Professor Watson in The Awakening).
It has to be the departure scene – do I need to say anything else?
Don’t forget me.
Oh, Sarah. Don’t you forget me.
Bye, Doctor. You know, travel really does broaden the mind.
Yes. Until we meet again, Sarah.Sarah Jane Smith and the Fourth Doctor
Previous Fourth Doctor review: The Masque of Mandragora
Other Stories mentioned: