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24 January 2018 @ 07:57 pm
The Randomiser: Horror of Fang Rock  
Horror of Fang Rock is, as the title suggests, from the early Tom Baker period of gothic horror pastiche stories, even though it comes right at the end of that time as a variety of forces pushed the show in a more light-hearted direction. However, you wouldn't guess that was coming from watching this which keeps tight control on its claustraphobic tone.

Set in a lighthouse, the script has vague aspirations to invoke the Ballad of Flannan Isle but doesn't seem entirely clear how it wants to do this. The Doctor quotes the poem at the end, and there seems to be some implication that we should consider Fang Rock to be the events that inspired the poem. This always worries me, mostly because in the poem the lighthouse keepers have mysteriously vanished, while the Doctor and Leela leave behind a veritable pile of bodies in the lighthouse. I don't think there's an overturned chair either. Obviously it could just be an allusion but something about that has always bothered me as well. I'm not sure why the inclusion of the poem has always niggled me so much about this story, but it has.

I wouldn't say the story was prefectly formed, there is a certain amount of padding involving running around the lighthouse, and the monster, while an ambitious attempt, ultimately looks a bit silly. There aren't, perhaps, quite enough sympathetic characters to go round either and the performances of the supporting cast are mostly adequate rather than impressive, certainly none of them manage to imbue much into their characters beyond the broad-brush characterisations of the script.

Still, it gets a lot of things right. There aren't many Doctor Who stories in the gothic horror mold that are not attempting to ape a famous movie of some kind, but this is one of them and arguably it is the better for it, avoiding over-the-top trappings such as madmen playing organs. The sets for the lighthouse and the direction are rightly praised. It is an excellent story for Leela and while the comparison with the Victorian Adelaide is a bit heavy-handed and clumsy it at least ensures that Leela is not relegated to a damsel in distress role. I think I've read that Tom Baker was being difficult during the making of this, getting on with neither director Paddy Russell nor co-star Louise Jameson, but if that is true it doesn't show on screen. He gives a strong performance and the chemistry between the Doctor and Leela is convincing.

It's an excellent piece of Doctor Who and in some ways I'm surprised it isn't heralded more often (not that I would claim it is particularly neglected). I suspect, perhaps, its very restraint means it gets over-looked sometimes in comparison to other stories of the era.

This entry was originally posted at https://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/480213.html.