The Hand of Fear

Written by:
Bob Baker and Dave Martin
Directed by: Lennie Mayne
Starring: Tom Baker
Year: 1977
Video Availability (NTSC version only): Try Amazon

You know, it's weird when you read about the "dark, gothic" Hinchcliffe era. For despite being followed by a run of four adult, first-class stories, Hand of Fear opens with crappy spaceship effects and overlit sets. The faceless hoods are quite nice though (even if you can see the join). Reminded me of that 70s public safety campaign telling you to steer clear of riverbanks.

The fourth Doctor again takes on a cricketting mantle (bowling) and there's a real postmodern flair when the Doctor arrives in a quarry... featured as a quarry. Of the guest cast, the quarry owner is a bit rank, though there's a rare sighting of an Asian actor in 70s Who. Having said that, Renu Setna does play a Doctor.

I see Hand of Fear as the final Pertwee hand-me-down, really. It's got a big bellowing monster and isn't very sophisticated. From this point on a Tom Baker story would never be so simplistic or childish again. The Doctor's ability to practically take over the (fake-looking) hospital within three seconds flat is a little unbelievable, but then this is Doctor Who. Sarah, the ditziest feminist in the history of the world, gets to be a villain, while Dudley Simpson produces one of his silliest scores.

There are some witty lines in this one, though, such as the Andy Pandy gag. Direction by Lennie Mayne is quite good, with some intelligent shots and angles pepping up a very average story. Note how much bigger and "real" the outside of the Nunton complex looks compared to, say, that of the complex in The Green Death.
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What's odd about this story is that Tom's still trying. He's serious, applied, dominant, controlled. The following year (Invisible Enemy, Sunmakers, Underworld...) and he just wouldn't give a damn. He needs to wash his hair though, the greasy git.

The hand - an excellent effect in the box, a less impressive one out of it - is exactly the sort of thing that would terrify kids, and I'm all for it. Generally though there's not enough plot to sustain a whole episode. The very linear, A to B narrative contains too little in the way of subtext or literary merit to really compel. And Sarah's "armless" pun sees her desperately in need of a slap.

Glyn Houston gets a special mention as the likeable complex chief, though again his ready belief in the Doctor and the situation stretches credulity. Oh, and he sends a tannoy warning without pressing a button.
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A bit of a strange start to this one, with those old favourites Mr. Boom Mike Shadow and Mrs. Off Camera Background Clatter making intrusive appearances. Later, some footage of planes try to drop a nuclear strike that's been ordered in thirty seconds.

Anyway, after two episodes of "Eldrad must live" this and "Eldrad must live" that, Eldrad finally does live. She's nicely designed in the effective form of Judith Paris, though I don't think I would.

The Doctor claims to have a kind of prime directive this episode ("Threatens the indigenous population", etc.) which seems to contradict the Time Lords' non-interference. Still, Eldrad's on hand to talk in chunks of exposition (And not read Sarah's mind the one time it would have helped her. Convenient, that).
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The cheapo episode with ropy CSO, 70s computer decor and polystyrene rocks. This is the episode that reminds you Lennie Maybe also directed The Three Doctors.

For her final story this isn't a great Sarah Jane tale. Her predictable, always-the-bloody-same "screaming" annoys, as does Eldrad's voice. Look out for Tom copping a feel of Judith Paris's left breast six minutes in. Anyway, it's not long before Eldrad regenerates into a male form. This form unfortunately resembles a mountain of coal with a purple femidom on top. We also meet his enemy, Rokon (which was a slang term for... ahem... at our school) a man who is just as pompous, and talks about himself just as much. I estimate the word "Eldrad" gets said 50,000 times in this story. And Stephen Thorne gives it the full Blessed. Even Tom thinks he's over the top, you can see it in his face. And when Tom Baker thinks something's over the top, then it's REALLY over the top.

It's all pretty interminable really, with Tom and Lis playing second fiddle to all the bloated exposition. Their defeat of Eldrad is pure Pertwee. However, what is a childish and anti-climatic ending (I've sat through three episodes only for the hand to turn into an egotistical shouter and trip over a scarf?) is made better by one of the best leaving scenes. Check out Sarah's clomping as she leaves the Tardis, though - she's got no grace or femininity about her at all, has she?
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Probably the weakest story of season 14, this is still watchable, albeit shallow, entertainment.
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