The Hand of Fear

Episodes 4 'Eldrad must live!'
Story No# 87
Production Code 4N
Season 14
Dates Oct. 2, 1976 -
Oct. 23, 1976

With Tom Baker, Elizabeth Sladen.
Written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin.
Script-edited by Robert Holmes.
Directed by Lennie Mayne. Produced by Philip Hinchcliffe.

Synopsis: A prehistoric relic slowly regenerates itself into a being of immense power.


A Review by Jeff Sims 26/4/97

This is one of Tom Baker's best stories. The Doctor and Sarah are caught in a quarry where blasting is underway. Sarah is buried in the rubble, and when pulled out, is found clutching a strange stone hand. Upon awakening, she immediately sets out for a nearby nuclear power plant, zapping anybody who gets in her way, all the while chanting, "Eldrad must live".

So begins the tale of Eldrad, an incredibly ancient alien who is unwittingly revived in order to accomplish... what? This is a mystery story, which may actually keep the viewer guessing until the end. Eldrad is up to something-- which requires its return to the unknown planet Kastria-- but it's not clear what it is. The Doctor is determined to find out because, whether good or evil, the alien's power is such that it menaces the world.

The Hand of Fear has a lot going for it. The Doctor is in fine form, as usual, and Sarah Jane has never been better. For a good part of the show she takes center stage. Eldrad is one of the most perfectly realized aliens the series has produced; the makeup is quite striking. The superb plot holds the interest at all times. The weird scenes in the finale of Kastria, on the surface and in the underground chambers, are great, and the ultimate revelation is stunning.

On a sad note, this is Sarah's last regular story. She does not appear again until her comeback in The Five Doctors. She truly is the perfect Companion.

A Review by Keith Bennett 23/6/98

The Hand of Fear seems to be known more than anything else (except, maybe, the "Eldrad must live" phrase) for being the story where Sarah left, sending thousands of fans to their tissues. It is fitting, then, that Elizabeth Sladen puts in an absolutely powerhouse performance in her final appearance. She is nothing short of brilliant as both her "normal" self and when she is taken over by Eldrad, and confirms Sarah's status as one of the best companions of all.

While the goodbye between The Doctor and Sarah is good, there's another scene that is equally memorable. During the third episode, when The Doctor heads for the research station to try and contact Eldrad, Sarah, as usual, disobeys his commands to stay put and hurries after him. She says, "I worry about you", and after a bit of banter, The Doctor says, "But... I'll worry about you". This is a lovely scene which shows the bond the two have created during their time together.

As for the story itself... Well, I think it's a bit underrated. It's fast-paced and quite interesting, the crawling hand looks pretty good and Eldrad (when he's a dame) is a dominant and memorable character. When he becomes male and carries on like another raving nutter though, well... Let's be grateful that doesn't last for very long.

The Hand of Fear is, really, a good and enjoyable story, thanks to the brisk script and the outstanding performances from the cast. 7/10

A Review by Tim Rouse 18/4/01

The Hand of Fear: I've just watched this story for the second time; the first time was 25 years ago, and I was surprised at how familiar it all was - it must have made a big impact on me all those years ago. It is of course the final story for Sarah Jane, and although that ending is usually thought of as being "tacked on" to the story proper, my adult eyes can now detect that this theme is present throughout. Overall, this story is a slightly disjointed mixture of disconcerting strangeness (camera effects, acting performances) and whimsical humour, much of which would seem to have been made up by the two principals ("It's an abyss" - "Yes, and it's a long way down!").

It's all about loss and bereavement, you see, with some emotions that are rarely seen in Dr Who on display throughout. Bob Baker and Dave Martin's original script made this theme even clearer, as the story was supposed to climax with the death of one of the Doctor's trusty companions, good old Lethbridge-Stewart! Instead we now see the Director of the Nunton Nuclear Research Institute telephoning his wife and child to say goodbye for the last time, in a scene that is surprisingly well acted by Glyn Houston, who (like the other human characters) is otherwise required only to be a stock Dr Who buffoon.

But this story is not really about the humans at all: it concerns the mysterious and ambiguous Eldrad, brilliantly portrayed by Judith Paris, who manages to keep the Doctor, Sarah and we the audience guessing for a marvellously long time. This story also features one of my favourite cliffhangers at the end of Part 1, when Sarah opens the box to see that the hand has grown back it's finger and is starting to flex and move around; I can imagine millions of people all over the country going "Errggghhh !!!" simultaneously - it certainly did that for me today, and I'm 34 years old!

Then the action moves to Kastria, where Eldrad becomes a 'he', and realises that not only have his people chosen suicide as a result of his treachery, but that they have even destroyed his plans for regenerating his race. "Nothing. Nothing" he intones when he inspects the storage chamber, making himself briefly seem a tragic figure.

.... And then ... and then there is that final and unbelievable sequence, which Lis Sladen and Tom Baker play really slowly, as if they can hardly bear to complete what they have started. I was 10 years old when I originally saw this scene, and it produced strong emotions in me, of a sort that I had rarely experienced before. It was like being told that a friend or relative had died, and I would never see them again. In my opinion, this is a prime example of the position of Dr Who as a sort of bridge between the worlds of childhood and adulthood.

A Review by Alan Burns 26/4/01

For a five year old, what holds the attention most is vivid images. I had already been thrilled watching robot mummies and the Krynoid, but no image was as creepy as the one at the end of first episode of The Hand of Fear when the fossilised hand begins to come to life. Of course had the effect not been so perfectly judged the scene could just have been another laughable botched effect, but this was so effective in its simplicity that it was amazing – no screams or terrified close-ups were required, and since Sarah is possessed by the hand she does not appear terrified.

Episode one is very well structured – I could have done without the introductory scene on Kastria since it’s sole purpose is to explain why Eldrad is not completely obliterated and also because I love the following scene of the Tardis landing in a quarry. In fact this story has two beautiful Tardis landings – the first landing in the quarry and the landing on a suburban street during a sunny afternoon at the end (and how many kids must have dreamt of that happening some day on their own street?). This quarry is not Skaro or Omega’s imaginary world, though Sarah says “We’re probably not even on Earth”. What follows is a nice big explosion and Sarah is taken to hospital holding onto a mysterious stone hand. The location filming throughout the story, both in the quarry and especially at the nuclear reactor later is excellent.

Throughout the first few episodes the hand is suitable creepy, Sarah is quite threatening when the hand possesses her and things get suitably tense at the Nunton nuclear complex where the hand starts to regenerate. We are not to be disappointed either when the hand is fully regenerated into Eldrad in episode three, as in female form she is quite magnificent and has a terrific voice. What a pity she is only on screen for about twenty minutes, and in episode four the story falls apart (like Terror of the Zygons and Pyramids of Mars before them, both excellent stories) mostly due to the complete change of location from what has gone before. It certainly seems that things have taken on a Scooby Doo feel when the Doctor and Sarah trip up Eldrad with the Doctor’s scarf and he falls to his uncertain doom.

No matter, as we begin to realise now why Elisabeth Sladen has been so brilliant throughout this entire story, not only when she has been possessed but also in her dialogue with the Doctor, and she even has a nice put down for Eldrad when she describes the dead planet of Kastria as “very nice” though King Rokon goes one better and does an Anne Robinson on Eldrad and describes him as “King…. of nothing”. The Doctor has to leave Sarah on Earth because he can’t take her to Gallifrey and what follows is the best leaving scene for a companion ever – because of the acting and the dialogue; because there are no tears, it is not over-played and there is no music (remember Tegan’s farewell scene anyone?).

The Hand of Fear is often over-looked because of the clutch of excellent stories that were to come next, but although it is not without its shortcomings, it didn’t stop me from having to check my lunchbox for a few days in 1976 in case there was a severed hand slowly trying to make its way out!

A strong departure for a good companion by Tim Roll-Pickering 10/9/02

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

"Eldrad must live!" by Terrence Keenan 18/10/02

It doesn't feel at first like the last episode of a beloved companion. Unlike Warrior's Gate, where we get early hints that Romana will be leaving the TARDIS on her own by story's end, The Hand of Fear seems like another Tom and Lis romp.

After an atmospheric prologue, the TARDIS arrives in the official BBC quarry -- which is a quarry in the story as well instead of an alien planet -- where after the Doctor and Sarah get trapped in an explosion, Sarah finds a stone hand in the wreckage. From this odd opening (it reminds me a bit of the opening of Tomb of the Cybermen) events spin off from here. It seems the stone hand is the only remaining bit of a Kastrian named Eldrad. And, being Doctor Who, Eldrad has both immense powers and issues.

The visuals are well done. Somehow, the BBC got permission to film in an actual nuclear power plant, which gives the story credibility. Even the sets for the reactor core, control room and decontamination room look well designed and plausible. The scenes set on Kastria are a bit duff, but are helped by atmospheric lighting.

The regulars are both on top of their game, but Lis Sladen steals the show, especially when she's possessed by the Hand. Instead of going over the top, Lis goes for creepy. Brill stuff. Tom is on his game, as always and shines throughout. His exchanges with Judith Paris make the third episode special. Judith Paris gives a great alien performance, trusting and completely untrustworthy at once. She takes over in the third episode. Stephen Thorne is OTT as the male Eldrad, but considering his performances in both The Daemons and The Three Doctors, this wasn't a surprise. The rest of the cast hold their own and don't embarrass themselves. Glyn Houston is deserving of much praise for the scene in episode two where he calls his family to say his good-byes.

Bob Baker and Dave Martin concoct an solid, interesting story. The science is pretty dire, but the ideas -- silicon based life forms, nuclear powered regenerations, a race committing suicide rather than letting a potential tyrant lord over them -- are well conceived and hold your attention well.

And then, after Eldrad trips over the Doc's scarf, we get the best leaving scene in Doctor Who History, bar none. Tom and Lis had a chemistry like none other on the show (and that includes the Tom and Lalla chemistry, which was amazing ). Sarah bitches, with reason, and the Doc ignores her. And although we expect the Doc to use his charm to win her back after she's packed her bags, the Doctor get the summons to come back home. Sarah, who's waiting to be charmed, is suddenly told she has to go. The look on Lis's face is priceless. There's no hug and no tears between them, but the raw emotion is there. Sarah leaves the TARDIS, parked in a cul-de-sac, suburbia for all intents and purposes. It's brilliant and full of real emotion and it gets me every time.

The Hand of Fear is underrated. It's a fun little story with some great ideas and a classic moment at the end, where the only companion who was on the same level as the Doctor himself got her good bye in style and befitting her.

Eldrad must live! by Michael Hickerson 23/5/03

A lot of fans consider season fourteen to be one of the best Doctor Who ever produced. While I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call it the best season the series ever produced, I'd have to argue that it was the most consistent. Overall, it had several great stories and the rest of the stories were universally good. The best thing I can say about the season is that all the stories bear up well under repeat viewing.

Even the odd man out story of the season, The Hand of Fear.

In a lot of ways, The Hand of Fear feels a bit out of place in the middle of the celebrated Gothic-horror sensibility that Phillip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes brought to Doctor Who for the early Tom Baker years. Really, it feels like a bit more of a remnant of the Pertwee years -- from two and a half Earth-bound episodes to a military strike to a possible threat to all of England and, quite possibly, the rest of civilization as we know it. There's almost a Pertwee-like sensibility to the story that makes it seem a bit out of place from the rather Gothic nature that is the rest of season fourteen.

Not that it's necessarily a bad thing. If you're watching the fourth Doctor's era straight through it makes for a nice little breather -- a more traditional Who story plopped into a season full of horror and dark meance.

I won't go so far as to say The Hand of Fear is exactly a great story. It's a good one, but it's surrounded by so many other out and out great stories (Deadly Assassin, Robots of Death) that is sometimes seems to pale in comparison. It's certainly a good story and it's reasonably well told (though it does drag a bit in the middle episodes). But overall, if not for the great catch phrase of "Eldrad must live" (which if you really want to have some fun, throw that line in at random points in a covnersation and see the kind of looks you get), it might not be as well remembered as it is. The storyline is fairly simple -- Sarah finds hand in quarry, hand takes over her brain and uses it to recreate the entire being of Eldrad, Eldrad hitches ride with the Doctor home to the planet he/she destroyed and must pay the consequences for his/her crime. It's not exactly the mind-boggling or series-shattering story that we get with other stories from the season. It's simply content to be good Doctor Who well told. And, quite honestly, there's not anything really wrong with that.

By this time, the Baker/Sladen duo is going like a well-oiled machine. And that's what makes Sarah's departure at the end seem to abrupt. Honestly, I think they could have kept up the Doctor/Sarah duo for the entire Baker years run and it wouldn't have hurt the show one bit. But seeing Sarah depart and as abruptly as she does is a nice touch. She forced her way into the TARDIS and is then forced out by the Doctor because of a call home to Gallifrey. Sarah's departure is a rather bittersweet one and it's nice to know the entire story doesn't try and set-up her leaving as an integral part of the story. It's an event that happens -- sort of like real life. You never know what kind of curveballs are going to come your way.

And seeing that for all his good intentions the Doctor still can't get the coordinates right is a nice touch.

Also, from The Hand of Fear, I have learned that TupperWare is useful for everything. Seeing Eldrad's hand carried around in a TuperWare box is just one of those unintentionally funny moments that Who has from time to time. It doesn't really take away from the story, though I do often find myself wondering why a silicon based hand needs to be kept fresh, especially after being buried in a rock quarry all these years.

And, quite honestly, if it weren't for these little things to sit and contemplate on our umpteenth viewing, would Who really be as much fun?

Overall though The Hand of Fear is good, but not great. I'm tempted to say it's the weakest story of the season, but that's a bit of damning by faint praise. Season fourteen as a whole is universally good and even the weakest of the lot is still an enjoyable enough Doctor Who tale.

A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 11/12/03

The Hand Of Fear probably deserves more recognition than it gets, as despite its reputation, the story being most notable for the departure of Sarah Jane. There is a nice touch of irony, as the tale starts off in a quarry (the setting being relevant for once) and Sarah becomes possessed by a hand. As Sarah Jane`s last story, she gets a fair slice of the action, Elisabeth Sladen is great when she is possessed and while her leaving scene hits all the right notes, it is overlong. As for the guest stars Judith Paris fares better than Stephen Thorne as Eldrad, her portrayal giving the character a sense of motivation, lacking in Thorne`s performance. So perhaps it is somewhat fitting that his fate is a result of being tripped over by The Doctor`s scarf. Speaking of whom, Tom Baker is great injecting the right amount of emotion into Sarah`s leaving scene and similarly there are great character moments between the two throughout. In short this is their tale and as such it is a fitting end to a fine pairing.

Thing on the loose... by Joe Ford 11/7/04

There is a cliche in Doctor Who that endings can never live up to their beginnings. It works when applied to all sorts of cases, stories, seasons, eras... there are of course exceptions to the rule (Who would have thought for instance that the utterly unimaginative Davison era would climax on something as glorious as The Caves of Androzani? Certainly not me...) There is a reason why episode ones get such high ratings, as the great Barry Letts points out it is easy to grab your viewer with the opening of a new story but harder to sustain their interest the further into the story you go. The Hand of Fear is the most obvious example of this train of thought, its first three episodes are thoughtful, watchable and dramatic but the final instalment is nothing but a farce. Twenty-five minutes of pantomime antics that some would say would be more suited to the Graham Williams era.

What I really like about this story is the realism that is injected into it. It's like a throwback to season seven; being set in quarries, hospitals and nuclear power plants. There is a real down to Earth feel seeing the Doctor and Sarah back on home turf and despite the alien presence the danger is brought down to a very human level. This realism extends to the characters too, most of which are just normal, everyday people and not the caricatures we are used to. Some might say the story is a bit dull because of this but I have to disagree, seeing real people with real life struggles is more dramatic than I could have ever imagined. You have a Pakistani Doctor, a deathly serious power plant director, his conservative assistant, a cockney hard hat man, whilst these people sound like cliches on paper they are never the less extremely realistic and I have met at least three of these four in my life.

The location work is of an incredibly high standard and goes a long way to selling the story. I love it when Doctor Who goes to these huge power complexes to film (The Pirate Planet is another top example) as they give the story a sense of scale and importance. How better to convince your audience of a nuclear disaster than to have the story set in a real nuclear power plant with lots of scary looking machinery, walkways, pipes and security notices. What's more it is probably director Lennie Mayne's best direction yet in a Doctor Who story with the location work complementing the drama very skilfully. The first episode alone boasts some superb work, Sarah's infiltration into the power plant is filmed with a sinister unreal quality, I love it when we see her alien, almost childish expression as she approaches the guard (ie the camera) and knocks him out with the ring. Dudley Simpson's chilling score helps immensely but the best work is being done by Mayne and his camera. Even the explosion in the rock quarry, an extraordinarily mundane event manages to be spectacular as the entire wall detonates the rock buries the damn camera! Later we are treated to some fine stunts such as Dr Carter falling from an extremely high walkway and a missile attack on the power plant; these further stabs at drama only succeed in planting the story firmly in reality.

Why does Sarah spend the entire story acting as though she is totally pissed? Honestly! She seems totally drunked up on the adventure of it, even more so than usual. People praise Elisabeth Sladen's performance to high heaven but despite a few select moments (her babyish moment in the reactor room under Eldrad's spell, her "I worry about you" to the Doctor when he is walking into mortal danger and she won't let him face it alone) this is by far one of her weakest. Bizarre following on from her confident role in Masque of Mandragora, Lis seems content to flow through the story on autopilot, screaming, flapping her arms and generally acting like a right madam. There are far too many moments where she appears to trying to make Sarah appear natural and fails to do so such as when she appears from behind the trunk holding her nose with her mouth wide open or when she cracks daft jokes with a knowing wink ("Eldrad must live... just kidding!"). It's that sort of annoying smugness that turns you off a character and it might be because she is leaving but there is something... I don't know DIFFERENT about dear old Sarah-Jane in this story. Perhaps it is her apparent smugness given the severity of the situation I don't know but it jars significantly.

So it helps that the Doctor is more sombre than ever, treating the issues with appropriate seriousness. Again this isn't one of Tom Baker's best ever performances because he was always at his best when drawing laughs from sober material but I appreciate the effort all the same. His horrified face when he realises Sarah has been buried really gives the situation some gravity and his general lack of scene stealing goes some way to letting the incidental characters shine. It is great how fascinated the Doctor is about Eldrad and Kastrians; unlike the other characters he is the only one interested in learning and communicating with him.

There is a very rare straight performance in the series from Glyn Houston as Professor Watson and one that works in conveying the drama of the situation effectively. Here is a man who clearly knows what he is talking about when it comes nuclear power and his severe actions (ordering a bomb strike on the complex) go some way to revealing how out of hand events have become. What's more he is a very believably constructed character with a close friendship with his assistant Miss Jackson, a wife and kids at home (who he phones when he thinks he is going to die) and clearly has the knowledge and experience to have earned his job as director. There is a beautiful moment of braveness and stupidity when he sends all his staff away from the complex and stays himself just in case there is a chance things return to normal. Even better is when he finally loses his rag and goes after Eldrad with a pistol. His story comes to an end before the end of episode three where he is left sitting in the ruins of a damaged nuclear power plant raving on about how nobody will ever believe the truth of the situation. This sort of everyman is not really suited to Doctor Who but on this occasion and in this environment it works a treat.

The Kastrian society is cleverly revealed in stages. I especially liked the prelude to the story set in the dying days of the planet, considering we do not return to the planet until the end of episode three it is taking quite a risk if involving the viewer in a plot that is not dealt with until the final instalment. This initial five minutes, involving robed, faceless figures arguing over the destruction of a criminal sets the story up powerfully, suggesting just how dangerous Eldrad really is. What's more the model work is highly atmospheric and when we return to Kastria with Eldrad the snowy wasteland has a desolate, clinical feel that captures the mood of the renegade perfectly. It is only when we delve beyond the surface the story starts to go pear shaped, the budget clearly run out on the expensive location and we are forced to endure scenes of the Doctor and Sarah helping Eldrad through a series of hideously unconvincing sets.

Eldrad is a fascinating character, especially in how she models herself on Sarah and takes female form. This version, played by the icy Judith Paris, is by far the superior one; her gravely voice and aggressive temperament create a distinctive and frightening alien. It is fun to watch her trying to dupe the Doctor into taking her home, her appeals for his right as a Time Lord to uphold peace is clearly a big fib but she remains convincing despite the lies. That malevolence and cold anger is replaced by cliched bluster when Eldrad is regenerated into a Brian-Blessed style shouter, the truth that he wants to conquer the galaxy is as boring as the actor's performance. It is such a swerve in quality after the first three episodes and to see the story dip into such obvious territory is shameful considering the efforts the writers have gone to make the story fresh and interesting to that point. The bitter irony that the race banks have been destroyed and that Eldrad is "King of nothing" is nice but his resulting anger and embarrassing defeat finish the story on an extremely disappointing note.

Finally you have Sarah's leaving scene, which rocks, obviously despite her earlier antics. There is a genuine sense of loss as she leaves the ship for the last time, obvious in Sladen and Baker's performances that they will miss each other deeply. Sarah's unwillingness to believe she is being kicked out so he can return to Gallifrey is beautifully counterpoited by her theatrical exclamation just two minutes earlier that she was going to pack her goodies and go home. When she turns and sees the TARDIS dematerialise, leaving her on Earth after all her adventures it is a positively tear jerking moment. It was three years of great fun with the gal.

How could you round up all these feelings about The Hand of Fear? Disappointing? Not really because the first three instalments kept me easily entertained. It is only the last episode that sinks and even that improves dramatically in the last five minutes. If only they hadn't climaxed the story in such a silly way. Oh well, at its heart there is a great idea in a renegade alien let loose on Earth and one that is exploited rather well. On the whole it is another roaring success for Hinchcliffe and easily one the most realistic stories he attempted, lacking the camp horror of many of his stories. It just needed some more convincing sets built for Kastria, that's all.

A Review by Jonathan Martin 24/1/05

Hand of Fear is certainly an atypical adventure for the forth doctor era. It’s paced just like a 6-parter and I remember the first time I watched it I kept thinking ‘isn’t this a 4 parter?,’ and I wasn’t very impressed, finding it all fairly dull.

I’m more favourable these days though, since I know what to expect. Just pretend you’re about to watch a 60’s or a Pertwee story, and not a Tom Baker/Hinchcliffe thrill ride.

This is easily the most “Pertwee” story in the Tom Baker years after Robot. All the human characters are straight out of the Pertwee years... particularly Rex Robinson, who appears to have just casually strolled over from The Three Doctors or Monster of Peladon. And put Jon & Katy in place of Tom and Liz and not much would change, except the Doctor would be a bit blander and would have karate-chopped Eldrad rather than relying on his wardrobe.

After an interesting first episode, nothing much happens for the next two… Sarah wanders around endlessly and they hang around in a power-plant for ages. Much praise is given to the ‘go get mummy’ scene, but it all seems odd to me. Eldrad (female version) is a well-written character however, and she saves the middle episodes from being a slog. With the ‘modeling itself on Sarah’ thing, it would certainly have been interesting if that had been a bit more literal and we had Elizabeth Sladen in that get-up don’t you think?

But in the last episode the plot goes nowhere and we are left with a ranting buffoon… the ‘conquering the galaxy’ idea might have been alright if that revelation had been made with Judith Paris still in the role, but it’s impossible to make much of a connection between her and this new loud-mouth.

Seeing Tom Baker groping her at the start of the episode is the only excitement, and a steady 6 parter is wrapped up around halfway episode four. Thus we are treated to the rightly-praised best leaving scene for a companion (though I haven’t seen them all, I can guess), which outshines all that’s gone on before it. While Sladen was indeed a strong companion, I think she hung around perhaps a little too long… her performance here isn’t really that stunning, though I agree with Keith Bennett’s review, in that the ‘I worry about you scene’ is a really nice one.

Thus we move on to bigger, more thrilling adventures, and ‘Eldrad must Live!’ and ‘Sarah’s got to go!’ remain the only distinct memories pertaining to this particular story.

A Review by Finn Cark 12/10/08

For a Bob Baker and Dave Martin story, it's not too bad. Unfortunately this means that it's dreary, ill-suited to television and far better as a Target novelisation.

Okay, I'm being mean. Nevertheless The Hand of Fear is the beginning of Bob & Dave's nightmare run in which their stories got brought to the screen by trained chimps. The Armageddon Factor looks better than the others, having six episodes' worth of budget to play with instead of four, but the others are shocking. The Invisible Enemy and Underworld are as bad as anything ever broadcast under the name of Doctor Who, while Nightmare of Eden drove its director into retirement and thank goodness for that.

The Hand of Fear isn't that bad, of course. It wasn't produced by Graham Williams. Nevertheless, its gawping, unimaginative direction makes it one of Season 14's two production failures, along with The Face of Evil. Their common problem is the setting. Jungle villages = good. Power stations and BBC corridors = yikes. Of course it didn't have to be that way. Imaginative direction and design would have spiced things up, but we didn't get any of that. The Hand of Fear looks like Timelash, but less memorable. Of course poor direction is hardly unknown on Doctor Who, but it particularly hurts here. For example, look at part 2. Nothing happens! This is normally a bit of a problem in an action-adventure series, but it's not so bad in a horror movie like this. No, really. Horror. Disembodied killer hand = clue. Part 2 should have been creepy as all hell, with demonic possession, ancient evil, etc. Unfortunately what we get is so throwaway and lazy that you don't realise it was ever meant to be horror in the first place!

Thought experiment #1: imagine Eldrad's hand in either Solon's castle from The Brain of Morbius or the lighthouse from Horror of Fang Rock. Scary, right? This is just control rooms and corridors. Neither the hand nor its victims feel dangerous. It also doesn't help that the technology wasn't available to do the hand properly. In their own 1970s way, the effects look quite good, but it's always obvious when we're looking at a rubber prop that can't threaten anyone. Again the tension isn't there.

Thought experiment #2: imagine this story in the Hartnell era. It could have been part two of The Edge of Destruction. An evil possessed Ian or Barbara would have left an entire generation still not sleeping at night. Hell, even Susan would have been more sinister than Sarah Jane, who just makes the story feel slow. A possessed Sarah somehow doesn't register as a monster, even if you haven't seen any of the other 10,000 stories in which she'd also got hypnotised. In this case, Liz Sladen rings the changes by turning into a petulant little girl. It's new, at least. It's also worth pointing out that Tom puts her under the influence just like David Tennant does.

Eldrad is also less memorable than he should have been as one of the Whoniverse's most badass entities. I was impressed by part 3 when they were hammering home just how tough he is. Think about it. Eldrad's similar to the Fendahl. Both are so old that they're discovered as fossils, but indestructible and capable of possessing people to live again. One could also draw parallels with Sutekh. Notice incidentally that the sample in episode one was also alive, so could you regenerate an Eldrad from that as well? Can Kastrians reproduce by fission? The sequels need never end! Nevertheless, Eldrad's the least memorable of all these mid-Tom era demigods, despite the fact that she should have been the most interesting. She walks and talks. She takes only two episodes to accomplish what the others don't even achieve in all four. As with The Mutants, I can find a lot to in like Bob and Dave's ideas even if in practice they don't work. Theoretically, this is a plot that's going places.

As a result, Eldrad's threat to conquer the universe for once isn't just the usual nonsense. Consider his power levels. Who's going to stop him? Drop a nuke on him and he'll eat it for breakfast. This is not someone you can afford to leave wandering around loose. The Doctor would have been justified in murdering him, although of course he doesn't. This point seems to have confused a number of people. Nevertheless, Eldrad doesn't die at the end of this story. He's indestructible. He didn't even die after being executed by his own people, falling to primeval Earth FROM ORBIT, being smashed to pieces and then fossilised for 150 million years. Furthermore Sarah and the Doctor confirm this. "Do you think he's really dead?" "I doubt it; very hard to kill." Still more tantalisingly, the ring is the secret to Eldrad's immortality and yet the Doctor throws it down the hole after him! We could even be looking at multiple Eldrads. (1) that sample they left in the microscope in episode one and was explicitly shown to be regenerating. (2) Eldrad down his hole. (3) since the ring's the important bit, maybe he could even start possessing other stone objects, like a silicon-based Auton.

That ambiguous ending is one of my favourite things about this story, but it's a shame that in practice it strikes the casual viewer as half muddle and half ghastly production gaffes. That should have been an almost heartbreaking ending. Racial suicide! The Kastrians destroyed the crystals that could have repopulated their planet! I can't think of a similar ending to... well, anything. It's almost Shakespearian. Stephen Thorne's certainly giving it his all, but alas he's on his own. My heart goes out to him. He looks like a talking turd on a cheap BBC set, Dudley Simpson's caterwauling away over him and Lennie Mayne's given up and gone home. Look at that camerawork. It's embarrassing. It's a full-length shot guaranteed to ensure that the costume eats the performance. Any drama or pathos never stood a chance. It's like Flesh Gordon 2 and the Cosmic Cheerleaders. I actually feel Thorne does a good job here, except that he's being stabbed in the back by the director.

While we're on the subject of Eldrad, incidentally, his female form is also surprisingly unattractive for someone wearing jewels and a body stocking. Why did they paint her that muddy blue?

Mind you, you've got to love the goodbye scene. That would be great even without the irony value of "Daddy Wouldn't Buy Me A Bow-Wow."

Incidentally, this story is a reunion for a lot of the crew of The Three Doctors. The two stories share a writing team (Bob Baker and Dave Martin), director (Lennie Mayne), lead villain (Stephen Thorne), guest actor (Rex Robinson as doctors Tyler and Carter) and if you want to stretch into "d'oh" territory, the Sound Creatin' Folks (Dudley Simpson, Delia Derbyshire, Ron Grainer and Dick Mills).

Random observations:

  1. The opening scene on Kastria is poor and some of its dialogue is hard to follow. I don't know if it's the technobabble or the alien voices, but I lost them here and there.
  2. I like the meta-joke of the quarry, including the quarry foreman. "I'll just let you get on with it."
  3. The Doctor bowls cricket-style.
  4. They're remarkably ready to drop nukes on English soil!
  5. There are cool moments, e.g. the Doctor standing up in the jeep when everybody else is sheltering from the bomb, or Nuclear Bomb Bloke phoning home.
  6. Episode 4 turns into Pyramids of Mars, and not in a good way.
  7. TARDIS control room.
If they ever start remaking old Doctor Who stories, let me suggest this one. As usual with Bob Baker and Dave Martin, I like their ideas while having grave problems with the finished production. Hmmm. To tell the truth, I almost prefer The Mutants. This story's watchable in an "I like the 1970s and Tom Baker" way, but the gap between concept and realisation is one of almost unprecedented incompetence. It's almost Pennant Robertsesque in how it murders the script, that's how bad it is.