The Ninth Doctor would really have hated what happens here. Everybody dies. Even Sprocket the dog.
Oh, by the way, spoilers!
This story features the nemesis of the Sontarans. No, not a potato peeler, the Rutans! Yes, them. We finally get to see the race that has kept our potato-headed chums busy for thousands of years.
The Rutans come from the Gamma Quadrant where they control a massive empire with the help of their lizardy thugs, the Jem’Hadar… Hang on, I am getting them confused with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s Dominion, aren’t I? Sorry.
The Rutans are nothing like the Dominion shape-shifters. Except for the conquering and killing and rhetoric that is. Plus the Dominion don’t look like balls of radioactive snot. No, they look like earwax blobs.
Although not the most popular story, this is most certainly one of Tom Baker’s best. Horror of Fang Rock is one of the best in the entire history of Doctor Who.
It all starts when the snot monster’s scout ship crashes into the sea. The Rutan was scouting Earth to see if it could be a potential base or just a handy place to pick up miso soup for the Rutan boogers at home.
The Rutan spots the lighthouse on Fang Rock and thinks ‘Ah, ha! I was aiming for Fraggle Rock but this will do instead!” Fang Rock is a military target, a place to study the fleshie humans in isolation. Perfick!
In the lighthouse, we have old Reuben, young Vince and not-so-old Ben. Reuben is an old hand with this lighthouse lark, he knows all the legends and secrets. Vince is a naive young man with a heart of gold. Ben is reliable but ultimately just destined to be gobbled up by the snot monster.
That the Doctor and Leela arrive at the same time as the marauding Rutan snot-bubble is just a coincidence. Fang Rock is very foggy at this point due to the Rutan having a smoke machine. Before the Rutan disco-ball can be displayed, our heroes wrangle themselves into the lighthouse.
That the Doctor and Leela are suspected of murdering Ben is just a normal day at the office for them. Reuben has his beady eyes on them and things are not helped when the Rutan decides to stage his own version of Weekend at Bernie’s with Ben’s corpse.
As if things couldn’t get any worse, a ship crashes into the rocks and suddenly we have an influx of fresh new victims/characters. Colonel James Skinsale MP, Lord Palmerdale, secretary Adelaide Lessage, and the bosun Harker. It is worth noting how people are named due to their class. Skinsale and Palmerdale refer to Harker by his last name, putting him in his place. Is this story as much about class as it is about a rampaging alien monster? Yes, I think so.
In other sci-fi and fantasy shows/books/films, shape-changers can usually just mimic someone by looking at them or by sticking them in a pod. Oddly, the Rutan does none of this. He seems to need to kill and autopsy a body before it can successfully mimic it. This suggests that they must copy a body exactly, even the bits that nobody sees. Are the Rutans the most anally retentive alien species on Doctor Who?
When the Rutan is disguised as a human being, he mainly spends most of his time either standing still and staring at a blank wall or grinning inanely as he murders.
In this adventure, Tom Baker is off the wall with his portrayal of the Fourth Doctor. He clearly has had a big old think and has decided to dial up the crazy to 11. When he informs everyone that they all might die, he does so with a winsome grin. His grin after Leela threatens to cut out somebody’s heart is something else though, subtle compared to the winsome one but no less bonkers. Baker is brilliant and odd, brilliantly odd and oddly brilliant. This is why so many people love him as the Doctor.
Louise Jameson as Leela turns in another fantastic performance here. Leela gets to be a hunter in this story, going off to find and kill the snot monster. Her social niceties are as entertainingly lacking as they were in The Talons of Weng-Chiang. This is a neat reference to her tribal heritage. Note how she slaps the hysterical Adelaide. I love that scene because you can slowly see Leela getting annoyed and frustrated by this simpering wet blanket of a woman. Even when she is showing human ugly emotions like gloating over the body of the dying Rutan, you can’t help but love her. Bless ‘er cotton socks…
It may or may not be worth mentioning but I will do so anyway. Normally, Leela wears skimpy leathers that leave nothing to the imagination. Now this was a cynical move by the production team to entice the dads into watching the show with their children. In leathers, I don’t find Louise Jameson attractive. So when she is dressed in more normal clothes, it is almost a revelation to me. Revelation? Yes, because in this story, Louise is so much more attractive than normal to me when she is wearing a thick woolly sweater than when she is wearing six leather handkerchiefs. When she is in leathers, I barely bat an eyelid. But when she is wearing a chunky knit jumpers? Wowsers, I am like that Tex Avery cartoon wolf with the eyes out on stalks and the heart visibly pounding. Not to mention the howling and stamping of my right foot. This is why Horror of Fang Rock is the only story where I need to take a cold shower afterwards.
Right, where was I? Yes…
A friend of mine recently told me that she thought Horror of Fang Rock was like an Agatha Christie book. With the story’s single location, small cast and a murderer who you know is a murderer before he does any actual murdering, I have to agree. But this is better than Christie because it has a snot monster.
Like my other unreviews, there is so much more that I could say. I could mention Skinsale and Palmerdale’s awful yet compelling hair, Leela’s eyes changing colour, the way she says “tesh-nician” in reference to her début story but you know what? Watch it for yourself or I will cut your heart out!
No, really, I will…