Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Doctor Who - The Hand of Fear

Following on from my previous reposting of my review of Inferno, here is my review from the Doctor Who Ratings Guide of this week's DVD release, The Hand of Fear:

A strong departure for a good companion

It is incredible just how small a scale this story takes place on, given the traditional perceptions of nuclear power being a threat to the entire Earth. There's a tiny guest cast, with only three additional actors credited for the final episode, two of them in the same role! The result is a story driven very much by characterisation and individual struggles than by a grand sweeping scale.

The opening scenes are initially confusing as it's not entirely clear just what is happening but this just adds to a strong sense of mystery. When the TARDIS materialises on Earth in a quarry there's a strong temptation to wonder just what sort of alien world this is but instead it's a visit to contemporary Earth. For once there are virtually no references to UNIT at all, with the air strike in Part Three being undertaken by a more generic military, and the result is a refreshing change from many years of the UNIT stories. The basic concepts underlying the story of an exiled and trapped being using others in order to restore its physical form and then return home to reclaim its position of power is not exactly new and could so easily become a cliché but it is done sufficiently differently here not to notice. The moving hand of the first two episodes is scary and surprising it is realised extremely well with relatively few obvious CSO shots. Also done well is the location work at the nuclear power station which gives a good sense of its scale and prolongs the fear. Kastria is less well realised, being obviously a studio based alien world, but wisely there are few attempts to show the remains of Kastrian civilisation on a grand scale.

Most of the small cast are not particularly memorable, although given that very few appear for more than a couple of episodes at most this is not that surprising. Glyn Houston manages to bring a strong sense of believability to Professor Watson, especially in the scene where he phones his family whilst believing the plant will explode and is determined not to make his daughter's last memory of him one of him being frustrated with her. Of the two Eldrads Stephen Thorne is probably the stronger since he has some good scenes such as Eldrad's realisation that he has been so spectacularly cheated of his destiny. Rex Robinson is weaker as Dr. Carter, at times seeming heavily out of place. But it's the regulars who steal the acting honours. For her final story Elisabeth Sladen gives a strong performance that shows all her best skills even when in situations when Sarah's more traditional independence has less of a chance to show itself.

Lennie Mayne's direction is competent and superbly complements Bob Baker and Dave Martin's script, as does Dudley Simpson's good score for the tale. As with many stories from this period there's a strong sense of co-ordination throughout the story which enhances it immensely. The result is a story in which the weaker elements areas outweighed by the stronger parts, especially in Sarah's departure.

Given the time they have spent together, it is surprising how quickly the Doctor and Sarah depart from one another. Nevertheless Sarah's reasons for leaving make a lot of sense, reflecting a weariness with repetitive elements in the series but nevertheless she leaves still wanting to see further adventures and is only denied them because it is forbidden for her to go to Gallifrey. The story ends leaving the viewer wondering what the Doctor will find on Gallifrey but also noting that in typical sign he hasn't even left Sarah in the right place! All in all this is a good story and a fitting departure tale for a good companion. 9/10
Oh and this is the story where the Doctor says that weapons don't work in the TARDIS because it's "in a state of grace" and somehow the occupants don't really exist.

The Hand of Fear can be purchased from here.

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