From TARDIS Index File, the free Doctor Who reference.
- "I've made a terrible mistake..."
- ―The Doctor
Horror of Fang Rock was the first story of Season 15 of Doctor Who. Graham Williams' three-year stint as producer of the series began with this story.
The cursed island of Fang Rock off the south coast of England is a place of rumour and tales of beasts from the sea. Three lighthouse men at the turn of the century face their fears when something comes in from the sea which brings death to all it touches.
The Doctor's plans to show Brighton to Leela are on hold for now, as the TARDIS once again takes its inhabitants to the wrong time and place; this time it's the island of Fang Rock off the south coast of England around the start of the 20th century. Noticing that the lighthouse isn't functioning properly, the Doctor decides to investigate, as well as to ask for directions as the TARDIS seems to have gotten "lost in the fog". Upon arrival at the lighthouse, and after introducing themselves, the Doctor discovers the dead body of one of the keepers, Ben. The other two keepers, old superstitious Reuben and the keen young Vince, report that a light fell from the sky near the island. They also explain the electricity flow to the lamp on the lighthouse has become erratic and the Doctor deduces something is feeding on the flow. Reuben does not help matters with his constant references to the mythical Beast of Fang Rock which reputedly once terrorised the lighthouse.
As the Doctor and Leela explore, something moves Ben's body out of the lighthouse and onto the island, and they witness a curious electric crackling which seems to have killed fish nearby. The Doctor believes Ben was electrocuted. As the freak fog continues to descend, a passing ship, sailing despite the fog and darkness, crashes on to Fang Rock.
The creature keeps a close eye on the lighthouse
There are four survivors from the crash of the yacht: the bosun Harker, an MP named Colonel James Skinsale, the owner, Lord Palmerdale, and his highly strung secretary Adelaide Lessage. Over time it emerges Palmerdale has bought government secrets from Skinsale and was desperate to reach the stock exchange to make a killing - hence the reason the ship was travelling at such a pace.
The Doctor continues to analyse the threat being faced. Reuben believes the Beast of Fang Rock is back, but the Doctor assures Leela that there is no such thing, and he thinks the light which fell from the sky was a spaceship landing, and aliens unfamiliar with humans are attracted to the lighthouse's electricity. They are keeping themselves out of sight while isolating Fang Rock by creating the fog, causing the Doctor to deduce an attack is imminent.
Reuben goes to stoke the boiler, but while he is away everybody hears him screaming.
The Doctor and Leela go to investigate, but Reuben returns while they are away, behaving very oddly indeed, which others put down to shock. But the pattern of death now speeds up. Palmerdale is killed in the lamp room by a glowing alien presence on the outside of the lighthouse, and then Harker is killed when Reuben corners him in the boiler room. From the alien light emanating from Reuben it is clear he has become possessed or transformed by the alien creature. The Doctor determines that their best protection is to secure the lighthouse to keep the creature out.
While inspecting the boiler room, the Doctor and Leela find Harker's body and then Reuben's own - the latter cold for some time - which means the creature in Reuben's form, has chameleonic properties. In securing the lighthouse, the Doctor has in fact locked the creature in with them.
The creature now stalks down and kills the others in the lighthouse. Vince dies first, then Adelaide. With its presence now revealed, the alien among them sheds its disguise: it is a Rutan, a chameleonic life form, whose scout ship crash landed in the sea and is trying to summon its mother ship. The Rutans are losing their perennial war with the Sontarans, but by using Earth as a launch point for a battle fleet the Rutans hope to gain the upper hand.
The Rutan ship is seemingly unstoppable, but the Doctor, Leela and Skinsale come up with a plan. First they kill the Rutan Scout - but not before it kills Skinsale - and then the Doctor uses Palmerdale's diamonds as a focus for a light beam, and converts the lighthouse into a high-energy laser by which the Doctor destroys the Rutan mother ship. The blinding flash even turns Leela's eyes from brown to blue. The Doctor quotes Wilfrid Gibson's poem Flannan Isle as they take their leave.
- This is the first appearance of the Rutans, who were at war with the Sontarans.
- The Rutan is a scout from the Rutan Empire.
- While the Doctor is talking about the electrical generator, Leela reminds him that she is not a "Teshnician". The Doctor later remarks at her mispronunciation/pun.
- This story had the working titles; The Rocks Of Doom, The Monster Of Fang Rock and The Beast Of Rang Rock.
- Horror of Fang Rock was in fact a late replacement for the scripts Terrance Dicks had originally submitted, a vampire-based tale entitled The Witch Lords, which was canceled close to production as it was feared it could detract from the BBC's high-profile adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic novel Count Dracula, which was due for transmission close to when the serial would have aired. A re-written version did, however, eventually see production in 1980 as State of Decay, part of Season 18 of Doctor Who.
- At the end of the final episode, as the TARDIS leaves the island, the Doctor recites some lines from "Flannan Isle" by Wilfred Gibson.
- The "pigment dispersal" scene at the end of the story when Leela's eyes change from brown to blue was a practical (rather than story) motivated event, it was so Louise Jameson did not have to continue wearing brown contact lenses. This was done to keep her as a member of the cast, as she found wearing the lenses uncomfortable and considered leaving the show.
- The story's exact year is never made explicit, but a reference to the beast being seen "eighty years ago" in the "twenties" suggests the early 20th century, as does a reference to King Edward VII, who reigned from 1901-1910. Lance Parkin's unofficial chronology A History dates it to c.1902. Colonel Skinsale also refers to his feeling uneasy in the presence of Balfour, Salisbury and Bonar Law while Lord Palmerdale makes him feel uneasy when he is not in his presence - Lord Salisbury died in 1903, Balfour was PM in the second half of the first decade of the 20th century and had been First Lord of the Treasury under Salisbury, and Bonar Law was a notable MP already in that decade and early that decade was Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, although yet to be in the cabinet. All three were prominent Conservatives who became Prime Minister. Marconi's Wireless Telegraph prominently featured in the story and was the latest thing in the first decade of the 20th century most notably being used on the Titanic. Electric lamps in lighthouses started to replace oil at the turn of the 20th century.
- According to the DVD commentary supplied by Louise Jameson, a scene in Part 3 was crucial to the behind-the-scenes relationship between her and co-star Tom Baker. In one scene, he consistently came in ahead of his cue, thereby upstaging her. On the grounds that this move was "not what they had rehearsed" she insisted on three successive retakes until he came in at the rehearsed time. This eventually won his respect. From that point forward, she claims their working relationship was much smoother.
- This is the second of two serials in which Leela is not shown wearing either of her famous leather outfits. After this, however, it was decided to return her to her original, more revealing costume as introduced in DW: The Face of Evil.
- This story marks the last time the Doctor travels with only a single companion until DW: The Keeper of Traken in 1981 (although if the appearance of Nyssa in that story qualifies her as a companion, then the next occasion isn't until DW: The Caves of Androzani in 1984).
- Part 1 - 6.8 million viewers
- Part 2 - 7.1 million viewers
- Part 3 - 9.8 million viewers
- Part 4 - 9.9 million viewers
- Designer Paul Allen researched the lighthouse sets from a book called Lighthouses, Lightships and Buoys by E G Jerrome. (He didn't. He visited two lighthouses, took lots of photographs of them, and based his designs on those.)
- Louise Jameson breaks character and corpses on camera after delivering Leela's "pep talk" to the Doctor in the boiler room. (She can be seen breaking into a smile and laughing after Tom Baker turns his back, but Jameson says on the DVD commentary that the laughter was scripted.)
- Horror of Fang Rock was the only story of the classic series run to be made entirely outside of London. Due to engineering work at BBC Television Centre, the programme's usual production base, its principal studio location was Pebble Mill Studios in Birmingham.
Discontinuity, Plot Holes, Errors
- Would a time/space machine as advanced as the TARDIS, fitted with sensors and tracking equipment which allow it to traverse the whole universe, really be susceptible to getting 'lost in the fog'? The Doctor is just being flippant. He doesn't want to admit he's steered it wrong again.
- There are some obvious use of models, like the ship that crashes in part one, the tower as the Rutan climbs up it and the TARDIS materialising and dematerialising.
- It is quite obvious that the background on the top of the lighthouse is done by bluescreen. The serial then compensates for that by blowing smoke machines to hide that.
- The Doctor and Leela leave quite abruptly at the end of the story, without taking into account the potential danger to vessels related to an unattended, non-functional lighthouse. The least the Doctor could have done was go back and turn the switch back on. Given the nature of the explosion he'd just triggered, it's doubtful any vessels within sight of the blast would have to worry about not seeing land for a while.
- On departing Fang Rock at the end of the story, the Doctor seems rather upbeat and cheerful for leaving behind a lighthouse full of dead innocent humans, having failed to save any of them besides Leela. Saving millions of lives is something to be cheerful about.
- The Rutan is strangely lacking in curiosity regarding the Doctor's extra-terrestrial knowledge - he has no way of knowing he is an alien himself. Wouldn't it be inclined to think that maybe it had underestimated the knowledge possessed by the human race, and thus the potential threat they might pose when they attempt to invade? Whatever conclusions the Rutan drew based upon the Doctor's knowledge, it didn't have time to act on them or even to really follow up in questions with him.
- The Doctor's plan to destroy the Rutan mother-ship at the end of the story hinges on his assumption that it will lower its energy shield to 'conserve power'. Surely when landing on an alien planet about which they know very little, besides that one of their scout ships has already been caused to crash on it for some reason, they would be even less likely to lower their shield than usual. There's economic energy use and then there's just foolhardiness! There's also standard operating procedure, which would guide their actions unless they had reason to behave differently. Given Earth's relative lack of technology, the ship has no reason to think they would need the shield up.
- It requires an even greater suspension of disbelief than usual for the series that the Doctor can turn a primitive lighthouse lamp, albeit a powerful one, into a weapon destructive enough to down an advanced spacecraft, using only a small diamond. A laser is, after all, just a concentrated light beam.
Max Headroom signal intrusion incident
Screen capture taken during the hijacked broadcast.
- Main article: Wikipedia: Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion incident.
On 22nd November 1987, a rebroadcast of Horror of Fang Rock on PBS affiliate WTTW in Chicago, Ill., was the target of a prank in which individuals managed to hijack WTTW's broadcast feed and, for nearly 90 seconds, the pranksters aired footage of two individuals, one wearing a Max Headroom mask, spouting gibberish and advertising catchphrases including those at the time associated with the Max Headroom and Coca-Cola, and humming music. The two also engage in mildly risque behaviour. The signal intrusion occurred twice that evening: first during a newscast on commercial station WGN-TV, and later during the broadcast of Horror of Fang Rock on WTTW. The first attempt appeared to be partially unsuccessful as those responsible were unable to broadcast sound; the Doctor Who interruption had sound, albeit distorted.
The Doctor Who interruption appeared to have been pre-recorded. It begins with the individual in the mask appearing to parody commercial pitchmen and can be heard cursing. A reference to his brother is also heard and he can be heard saying "I still see the X", possibly referencing the camera, then humming the theme tune to the animated series Clutch Cargo. Then the tape cuts to another angle where a second individual appears to slap the first individual on his bare rear end with a flyswatter several times. The transmission cuts to black and then Doctor Who resumes; representatives for the TV station later admitted they were powerless to stop the broadcast.
In the days following, the scene from Fang Rock that had been interrupted was rebroadcast on local Chicago and national media.
As of 2009 the individuals responsible for the illegal hijacking of the two broadcast signals have never been identified or apprehended.
DVD and Video Releases
Released as Doctor Who: Horror of Fang Rock.
- Commentary by Louise Jameson, John Abbott and Terrance Dicks.
- Terrance Dicks: Fact & Fiction - With a writing career spanning 6 decades, this special documentary looks at Terrance Dicks' work for books and television, with contributions from many of his friends and colleagues.
- Paddy Russell: A Life in Television - In this specially shot interview, Paddy looks back over her forty year career in television as an actress, stage manager and director.
- The Antiques Doctor Who Show - This short film from 1993 gives an insightful look into the merchandising of Doctor Who.
- Photo Gallery
- Production Subtitles
- Easter Egg - Countdown clock for Part 3. To access, go to the special features menu and press left at the cursor for 'The Antiques Doctor Who Show'.
Released as Doctor Who: Horror of Fang Rock.
- Main article: Doctor Who and the Horror of Fang Rock
- BBC Episode Guide for Horror of Fang Rock
- Doctor Who Reference Guide: Detailed Synopsis - Horror of Fang Rock
- A Brief History of Time (Travel): Horror of Fang Rock
- The Tardis Library: Video release information for Horror of Fang Rock
- Adelaide: The Annette Woollett Online Center (An Adelaide Lesage fan site)
- The Max Headroom incident archive footage (YouTube) (language and content warning)