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13 January 2016 @ 07:06 pm
The Randomiser: The Hand of Fear  
I am repeatedly stuck, in this Randomiser exercise, at how good the Philip Hinchcliffe stories are. It is difficult to put a finger on what makes them work so well. They are frequently fairly cliched, and have their fair share of unfortunate set design, costume and acting choices. The best I can manage is that the general level of competent-to-good is higher than it was anywhere else in the classic series, and although the era unashamedly mines (particularly horror) tropes and cliches it does so with a deft hand which neither insults the audience's intelligence nor gets delusions about how clever or deep it is. The Hand of Fear is no exception to the era as a whole.

Speaking of unfortunate costumes choices, Sarah Jane's outfit here is pretty incredibly bizarre, even for the 1970s. It is very accurately likened to Andy Pandy's costume in the script and, this time around I noticed that even her socks had pink and white stripes. It's been pointed out in many places that Elisabeth Sladen had a fairly limited acting range (albeit one that worked exceptionally well in Doctor Who-style stories). Fortunately blithely rising above a completely ridiculous costume clearly sits comfortably within it. One does wonder what the costume designer was on however. On the other hand Eldrad's female form costume is very good (by the standard of the time), so I guess you win some and you lose some.

The Kastria sets are a lot better than Elisabeth Sladen's costume, but look an awful lot like the interiors of a lot of alien planets in Doctor Who - i.e., a set with a dark backdrop and a lot of painted plywood. They reach the level of basic competence but don't go a lot further. The outside broadcast filming at Oldbury power station representing the Nunton complex by contrast looks excellent and probably underlines why, even now, the production team tends to prefer "real" sets when it can access them. Tame layman spent a lot of time admiring Oldbury (TBH, I'm not sure why it grabbed him in particular since there are plenty of similar industrial settings in this era of Doctor Who).

The power complex segments of the story are probably the strongest. Eldrad is still a poorly understood menace, existing as a hand alone. There are a range of characters for the Doctor and Sarah to interact with, all of whom are broadly sympathetic and the anxiety over a potential reactor overload is well-played. The Kastria segments, on the other hand, are basically a linear sequence involving walking down corridors and over-coming obstacles.

I think the most striking thing about The Hand of Fear, is that it is some way from being the best early fourth Doctor story and yet, in many seasons of classic Doctor Who it would have been a stand out winner. It's a sign of just how good the production team was at the time, and how well these stories have aged.

Sarah Jane leaves at the end of The Hand of Fear. Tame layman had to wipe a tear from his eye. "They really were the best Doctor Companion team," he said.

Yes they were.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/182950.html.
wellinghallwellinghall on January 13th, 2016 07:38 pm (UTC)
Tame layman could see Oldbury power station on the way to or from here in March. A greater attraction may be The Salutation at Ham, CAMRA's current champion pub of Great Britain, which is just a few miles away from it ...
louisedennislouisedennis on January 14th, 2016 11:29 am (UTC)
I've mentioned it to him and I think he's a little tempted by the idea....
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on January 13th, 2016 08:20 pm (UTC)
The Hand of Fear has never really worked for me, even as a child reading the novelization. Perhaps the hand never felt much of a threat or the twist about Eldrad being good and then bad was not convincing. Having a final episode of villainous shouting doesn't really help the story either. I seem to recall that the direction is good, though.
louisedennislouisedennis on January 14th, 2016 11:30 am (UTC)
I think its quite weak for a Hinchcliffe story - and let down by the final episode in particular. However its better than both The Macra Terror and Planet of Fire (which we're currently watching) so it may be benefitting by comparison.