After the oddly uneven patchwork release ‘Lost In Time’ back in November, it’s a welcome return to ‘proper’ DOCTOR WHO on DVD with the timely arrival of ‘The Horror of Fang Rock’, an example of the series at close to its best – telling taut, simple stories packed with dread and menace. This’ll do nicely as we coast along towards the new series and, hopefully, more stories approaching this calibre.

It’s early twentieth-century England and the TARDIS materialises at the lighthouse on Fang Rock shortly after another mysterious visitor from space has crash-landed into the sea nearby. Before long the temperature drops, a thick fog rolls inond the lighthouse’s new-fangled electrical lamp starts to play up. Then the head engineer is killed by a massive electric shock. Then a pleasure cruiser runs aground on the rock. Then something nasty, green and pulsating emerges from the fog and starts picking the Fang Rock refugees off one by one?

‘Horror of Fang Rock’ has long been a fan favourite, happily rehabilitated after years of negl. Its strengths are self-evident. Terrance Dicks’s taut, well-structured script is irresistable, the story populated by real, believable people in an unreal, unbelievable situation. The restricted location – a bugger to film in, by all accounts – works in the story’s favour giving a real sense of ‘nowhere to run’. The four episodes just drip atmosphere and there are some real scares too – particularly in the frankly blood-curdling alien cry which ends episode two. Performances are generally outstanding; Tom Baker who, apparently, loathed the script, is at just about his best here. He’s a true alien, self-absorbed, largely uninterested in the affairs of the rest of the lighthouse group, a real outsider. Consider that shortly after this K9 joined the show’s cast and the descent into self-parody began and we can see here how great Baker could be when he was firing on all cylinders. Louise Jameson as Leela remains an underrated asset to the programme. Watch her closely, even in background sequences, and see how she continually portrays the savage, uneducated primitive even when the camera’s not directly on her. Able support too from veteran actor Colin Douglas as the grumpy Reuben and John Abbott as the innocent trainee keeper Vince.

‘Horror of Fang Rock’ was a troubled production, taped as it was in the unfamiliar environs of the now-closed Pebble Mill complex in Birmingham. Fortunately little of these troubles is apparent on screen as the story looks clean and efficient with only one or two of those ‘oops’ DOCTOR WHO moments when an ambitious visual doesn’t live up to scratch. But we learnt to live with these things in DOCTOR WHO where, as we keep telling people, the story’s the thing. And the story here is a very good thing indeed?

THE DISC: After some recent excesses in the extras department it’s a nice return to normality here with a pared down list of excellent special features. Best of these is a thirty-plus minute documentary ‘Fact or Fiction’ (which should probably have been called ‘Professional’ based on the discussions in the last few minutes of the feature) which takes an in-depth look at the contribution to the series by writer Terrance Dicks, very much the elder statesmen of DOCTOR WHO production. A shorter feature on director Paddy Russell is no less interesting, enlivened by some fascinating archive material of a young Paddy in the studio and working with the legendary TV pioneer Rudolph Cartier, now sadly forgotten by so many. There’s a chummy commentary with Dicks, Jameson and Abbott, extensive picture gallery, pointless easter egg of a clapperboard and a throwaway ‘Antiques Roadshow’ feature which has nothing to do with the story and was shown on TV about 12 years ago. All in all, a nice package for a more-or-less essential DOCTOR WHO release.

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