Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Serial 87: The Hand of Fear

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companion: Sarah Jane Smith

Written by: Bob Baker and Dave Martin
Directed by: Lennie Mayne

Background & Significance: Elisabeth Sladen felt it was time to move on.

After three very successful seasons on Doctor Who, Sarah Jane Smith became the thus-far longest serving companion on the show (she would later be beaten by the "wonderful" Tegan Jovanka by something like a month). With that claim to fame under her belt, she decided to take off and try her acting hand in other places.

This is her "final" story.

She would, of course, gain insane popularity as a Companion because of her role as The Doctor's companion during the show's most popular era (Hinchcliffe/Holmes) and eventually come back for a K-9 spinoff and "The Five Doctors" and then return to the show during the Tennant era's "School Reunion" only to get her own damn spinoff show "The Sarah Jane Adventures".

Which, I gotta admit, love the show or her or not, that's pretty rad.

But this, for all intents and purposes, is the end. Now, I haven't seen a whole heck of a lot from the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era yet (and believe me, we'll get there), but what I've seen is very, very strong stuff, and this, while it perhaps might not be the best of the era, is still a strong story on which Ms. Sladen gets to depart. My only problem with it is it wasn't written specifically to be her final adventure (as opposed to something like "The Green Death", which was to that story's incredible success), but she's still as good as she's ever been, if not better and she remains one of the best things in this story, which, given the era and this story's strength, is saying something.

All things considered, her departure is quite sad. In its own way, of course. I just wish it had a BIT more "Green Death" in it, cuz that ending can't not break you.

So let's get to it!


Part 1:

We open on a desolate wasteland of a planet, with a loud voice yelling at Eldrad, the Destroyer. He’s been shut up in a module and sent out, ready to be detonated at the appropriate moment.

There are two dudes in this dome place we’re looking at. One of them is dead.

Oscar (the surviving one, and yes his name is Oscar) watches as the control module heads for the barriers or whatever, and he detonates the drone before it’s ready.

Unfortunately, by destroying this module, the planet is doomed to obliteration or whatever. The lights go out and it gets all cold. I don’t know. That’s the way it is. In all honesty, this opening is wicked confusing and pointless cuz it actually won’t come back until like… episode three. So just tuck it away until then.

The Doctor and Sarah Jane land in a quarry where sirens are going off and it is very loud. Sarah Jane tells The Doctor they’re not in South Croiden, but he pays her no attention. He’s more interested in tossing cricket balls around and having a jolly time.

They notice a dude some ways away who waves at them with big, swooping, violent gestures. They can’t hear him, so they wave back. If they could hear him, though, they’d know to get the f*ck out of the way.

But it’s too late. Sarah Jane manages to realize what the siren means and to get the two of them to run run run JUST as these construction workers set off a huge explosion in the quarry.

No, really, it’s pretty old school massive.

The Doctor manages to remain relatively unscathed, but as he looks back, he realizes that Sarah Jane has been buried alive under the quarry’s rubble. The construction workers run to him and they find The Doctor’s coat (which Sarah was holding) amidst the rubble.

Meanwhile, Sarah Jane’s been trapped under the rocks, but she’s alive (thank goodness). She reaches out for safety and comes into contact with a gross looking hand that’s wearing a nifty ring.

She grabs the hand and screams, alerting everyone to her presence and everyone rushes over to help dig her out. She’s still alive and breathing, so that’s good. They load her onto a stretcher and the paramedics take her back to the hospital.

Back at the hospital, The Doctor gets an examination from a doctor at the hospital, who informs him that Sarah Jane seems to be okay. He takes The Doctor to go examine Sarah Jane.

Also, there’s some really good Tom Baker in here. I mean, to me, this is right around the time that he totally peaked so it only makes sense that he’s awesome right here…

The doctor explains that he gave Sarah Jane a tetanus shot to loosen up the muscles in her hand and forearm, which were clenched around the hand she found, but now, despite the hand being removed, are still clenched.

The hospital doctor sends The Doctor to the pathology lab so he can check out the hand and The Doctor gets introduced to Dr. Carter (so many Doctors!) who shows him x-rays of the hand.

It’s most peculiar, as the hand doesn’t seem to be constructed of any bones or blood vessels or any real organic matter at all.

The Doctor speculates that the hand is made out of actual stone and asks Dr. Carter to run some tests to test his theory and they discover that whatever this hand is, it’s been buried for a hundred and fifty million years, well before humanity was hanging around.

Back in Sarah Jane’s room, the doctor tending Sarah Jane leaves and Sarah Jane starts to wake up. She shoots a death glance at the door and then unclenches her hand to reveal the ring that was on the hand.

And the ring starts glowing.

Sarah Jane gets out of bed, gets dressed, and, ring in hand, walks calmly out of her room.

Or at least, she tries. The Doctor shows up, but instead of going in, he just flips the sign on the door to do not disturb and walks off.

So now she can leave, she heads off to the pathology lab.

She sneaks in and grabs the hand and Dr. Carter turns around. He seems elated and asks to see how she’s doing, but she retorts with an extremely creepy “Eldrad must live!” and zaps him with the ring and he goes down.

She places the hand in a Tupperware and walks out of the hospital, cool as a cucumber, but thinking to herself about how no one must interfere.

The Doctor returns to check out the quarry, looking for any remnants of a spaceship or whatever, but the quarry guy looks at him like he’s a crazy, cuz any ship woulda been down there for a long time. Unfortunately, he finds nothing, so… where did the hand come from?

Dr. Carter wakes up and calls reception to try and stop Sarah Jane, but they inform him that she walked out an hour ago. And that’s when The Doctor returns to the hospital and checks on Sarah Jane only to find her missing.

He races to Dr. Carter’s office and the two discuss the hand. Dr. Carter acts strange for a minute, asking if The Doctor found anything, but then changes and asks a little more politely.

Dr. Carter examines the piece of stone hand again, but its form has changed to something more double helixy (like DNA). The Doctor theorizes that the piece of hand has been absorbing radiation from the electron microscope, and realizes where Sarah Jane has gone.

And this brings us to our first youtube. It’s a rad clip, if you ask me. Very… horror. Very… good. I love it because it’s superbly directed and very well put together.

If you just watch Sarah Jane, it’s chilling and Elisabeth Sladen is really putting everything into it. Very good and a very chilling ending to this first episode that… it’s just gonna gross you out. Great, great stuff.

Seriously, if more Hinchcliffe/Holmes means more of that, bring it on.

Part 2:

We come back with Sarah sitting in the radiation room. Taking directions from the now moving hand, she locks herself in.

The Doctor and Dr. Carter manage to elude the guards and make their way to the control room as the plant’s director gives a brief speech about how a mad woman broke in and there’s probably some bad stuff going to happen and all that.

The Director orders his assistant to order someone else to get a team of men suited up and into the reactor room place to pull Sarah out of there. No really. He tells his assistant and then she turns around and tells someone else the second he’s gone.

Gotta love a guy who establishes a good and rigid chain of command in his establishment. Good leader. Second only to the go-getters. I love the go-getters.

Really, leadership: it’s a balance between micro-management and bureaucracy.

Anyways, The Doctor and Dr. Carter manage to make it to the control room and start messing with the bureaucracy. The Director tells them to shove off and continues with his work, but his assistant informs him that they can’t get into Sarah Jane’s reactor room because all the manual locks are jammed.

Quick question: why do you need to be able to lock this amazing room with manual locks on the inside? That’s my question.

So that brings us to our second youtube, which is The Doctor’s talk with Sarah and his daring rescue attempt. It’s kinda freaky and kinda chilling and kinda awesome. It’s a bit long, but I really wanted to include the scene with the Director towards the end that is just so... wonderfully humanizing.

Oh, and a guy falls off scaffolding. Always awesome (so long as it’s not me…).


So the radiation level starts to drop and everything begins to normalize. The Doctor brings Sarah Jane to decontamination, but, upon investigation, realizes that she’s not infected with any radiation at all. Not only that, but when she wakes up, she remembers nothing.

Most peculiar.

They get the monitor back online and send Mr. Driscoll down to the reactor room with his radiation suit to retrieve the hand (which is gross cuz the hand is squishy). What they don’t see is Driscoll spot the ring and pick it up.

And it glows in his hand.

Great. And now Driscoll is possessed.

The hand too, they realize, has absorbed the radiation and has begun to regenerate itself. Driscoll places the hand in one of the containers and The Doctor asks Sarah Jane where she put the ring, but she says she doesn’t remember.


But Driscoll says he didn’t see it. They send him back to the reactor room to go get the ring and the Director heads back to the control room to supervise. (Clearly, the bureaucracy left or something).

With Sarah Jane and The Doctor now alone in the decontamination room, The Doctor locks the door and tells her to concentrate. She freaks and yells that that’s not fair, but he drops her into a trance and asks her about Eldrad.

The trance allows him to question her about Eldrad and he finds out that the ring possesses anyone who comes into contact with it. The Director then informs The Doctor that Driscoll hasn’t found anything and The Doctor realizes that Driscoll has the ring.

In the decontamination room, the attendant says that there’s a banging coming from the radioactive materials locker, meaning that the hand is back. He’s told to wait for The Doctor, who will take care of the hand.

But Driscoll gets there first, and he makes a run for the reactor room. The Doctor manages to spot him and calls The Director to give him a fast update and then the chase is on!

Driscoll manages to slow down The Doctor long enough to allow him to get to the reactor core first.

The Doctor and Sarah Jane (who caught up with him) watch as Driscoll opens the MASSIVE reactor door and walks right into the reactor. They duck as, in the control room, The Director yells at everyone to evac, but in the midst of him doing it, the screens and panels start to explode all around and the director gets knocked unconscious.

Part 3:

The Doctor races into the reactor room and shuts the giant concrete door and he explains to Sarah that there wasn’t an explosion because there was… what he calls “an unexplosion.”

The Director (who got up real quick. So much for unconsciousness) arrives and yells at them to get the hell out of there, but The Doctor assures him that there is no radiation. The Hand is absorbing it all.

The Doctor explains that Driscoll went into the core and caused a nuclear explosion, which the hand absorbed. Driscoll’s dead, but now the hand’s in there and it’s growing.

The Director gets so incensed he runs off to go order a military strike to take this place out. The Doctor locks the reactor door and listens as the creaking and moaning inside the reactor continue. Whatever’s in there is alive… and probably scared.

The Director races back in to explain that he’s ordered a nuclear strike to come in and blow the hell out of these nuclear reactors and they’ll be here in ten minutes time. He and Sarah Jane race out, but The Doctor stays behind, wondering at the majesty of whatever creature’s inside.

But he notices everyone’s left and he races out after them, noticing that whatever’s inside the reactor has started to melt through the door.

All of them hop in a truck, one of the guards locks the gate (for… some reason?), and they drive off about thirty feet and Sarah Jane, The Director, (and some other non-name characters) hide behind the truck as The Doctor stands in plain sight.

But nothing happens.

The Doctor tells them that whatever missiles they fire at the creature will be neutralized, child’s play in the face of the massive radiation it’s been absorbing. He recommends they try older weapons like speech and diplomacy.

So they head back inside just as the creature emerges from the reactor.

It is horrified at its appearance, but no matter. The obliteration has failed. It will return to Kastria to punish those who were its subjects.

The Doctor heads in alone, but Sarah Jane manages to chase after him, insisting to go along, which involves a really delightful scene of The Doctor admitting he worries about her just like she worries about him. Lovely.

They head into the reactor room and meet the creature, whom The Doctor realizes is Eldrad. So… yeah. Eldrad lives. The Doctor tries to convince Eldrad that he was trying to save her, not destroy her.

But Eldrad is skeptical and uses a mind-scan to polygraph The Doctor’s answer, but it hurts, and The Doctor tells Eldrad not to do it so much and asks Eldrad about herself.

Turns out Eldrad is now in the business of revenge and seeks it against the planet of Kastria, which she created. The Doctor explains that Eldrad has been trapped under a quarry for a hundred and fifty million years. Whoever she wants to seek revenge against is probably long past dead.

This leads Eldrad to explain a little more about herself. She designed barriers to block out the solar winds, but at some point Kastria became the battleground between two warring races and they discredited Eldrad and sent her off to obliteration.

Eldrad begs The Doctor, whom she deduces is a Time Lord, to take her back in time and save Kastria. The Doctor refuses, but says that he will take her back to Kastria as it is now so as not to violate the laws of time.

And that’s when Eldrad detects another presence. The Doctor says there’s no one there, and Sarah backs him up (but it’s a lie, as she’s spotted the now-gun-toting Director behind Eldrad). Eldrad is about to polygraph Sarah, but The Doctor convinces Eldrad to trust them.

So she does. And they leave. And The Director takes the opportunity to open fire on Eldrad. Eldrad fires back with the ring, but The Director manages to make it back to the destroyed control room to reload (shoulda brought extra clips, man. Plan ahead!)

Eldrad catches up with the Director and starts to kill him with her blue blue eyes, but The Doctor threatens her with not taking her back to Kastria if she kills him.

Eldrad lets him go, leaving him alive and The Doctor and Sarah and Eldrad head back for the TARDIS to head off to Kastria. This leaves the Director bewildered and lost, as now he has no one who will believe him that Eldrad was around. No one even saw Eldrad in his car, which The Doctor took.

Good grief. I hope The Doctor manages to get that back to him.

The Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Eldrad arrive back at the TARDIS. Eldrad is impressed with The Doctor and his people as The TARDIS is quite pretty. She asks about its armaments, and The Doctor points at his head. (Great moment).

They head off to Kastria (Sarah Jane still ridiculously skeptical about Eldrad) and arrive to see the solar winds blowing and the entire planet a desolate wasteland.

They head inside the dome, and we’re essentially in the same location as the opening of episode one (do you remember? I hope you remember).

Eldrad activates the power and discusses her plans to return Kastria to its former glory. The Kastrians, she speculates, are in the thermal caves beneath the planet’s surface. She activates the power (which is drawn directly from the planet’s core) and starts to head down into the thermal chambers.

And then she gets shot.

Part 4:

So Eldrad, like a badass, removes the giant arrow thing from her chest and hands it to the Doctor. Turns out there was an Eldrad-created acid in the tube AND THERE IS NO ANTIDOTE.

The end. Just kidding.

But really, there is no antidote.

So Eldrad is dying, and the only way to save her is if they make it to the regenerator chamber on Floor 306 lest she get paralyzed and die and... not restore Kastria to its greatness? I mean, really I don’t understand why The Doctor and Sarah are helping her now… They took her to Kastria so…


They begin to descend into the thermal caves and a warning voice comes over the intercom in the security room, warning of an intruder’s infiltration into the lower levels.

Unfortunately for everyone, there are booby traps set up as they quest forward, including beams of light, falling rocks, and a very thin bridge. Sarah notices that there doesn’t seem to be any signs of life around, nor do there seem to be any bodies, but The Doctor points out that they’re walking on them: the sand on the ground.

So after managing to make it through all the obstacles, they get into the regeneration chamber (which was booby trapped) and place Eldrad on the table. The Doctor realizes that the ring (which he used to access the regeneration chamber) contains Eldrad’s genetic code, which enables her to reconstitute herself whenever she needs to be…

The Doctor activates the regenerator, and the thing crushes Eldrad. Sarah Jane and The Doctor panic, because it looks like the people in the undercity finally got their chance to kill Eldrad.

But then… a door opens, and a giant rock guy shows up. And it’s Eldrad. And he has the voice of Omega (no really, it’s the same actor who played Omega in “The Three Doctors”). But it turns out that this is Eldrad in his true and final form.

Eldrad starts gloating about his return and how he’s now so awesome and going to sweep aside his enemies with his rock hand and rock facial hair (no really, it’s made of rocks)… And then he’s interrupted by Rokon! An evil rock guy who is decked all in brown!

Turns out, Rokon has been awaiting the return of Eldrad and he has made preparations for this moment. This makes Eldrad PISSED. Back in the day, Rokon had ordered the obliteration of Eldrad and now he claims to have victory. Too bad Eldrad destroyed the solar wind barriers in retaliation.

But… Then the truth comes out… Rokon was King of Kastria and Rokon feared him because Eldrad wanted to conquer the galaxy and Rokon… didn’t.

So Eldrad leaves to go meet his Kingdom so he can overthrow Rokon once and for all and begin the Kastrian conquest of the universe. Sarah Jane and The Doctor follow after, careful to snatch Eldrad’s ring off the regeneration control.

Eldrad confronts Rokon, but Rokon has decayed and turns to dust as he falls to the floor. Turns out, Rokon’s message was a recording and the booby traps had been lying in wait for a long time. Eldrad’s return was predicted, and the Kastrians were ready for him.

But Eldrad doesn’t care. All he cares about is the Kastrians in the memory banks, saved as genetic codes (like Eldrad’s ring, I guess) and with them, he can use the particle regenerator to recreate Kastrian society and begin reconstruction of Kastria and prepare them for their eventual conquest of the universe.

But when he enters the memory bank room, he finds the room entry and a message from Rokon comes on. He breaks the bad news to Eldrad. Turns out no one liked him and they chose TOTAL OBLIVION rather than bear witness to his return.

And then Rokon says one of the best lines in the whole episode: “And now you are King, as you wished. Hail Eldrad! King of Nothing!”

So as expected, Eldrad starts to lose his god damn mind. He says he’ll still be king, but of Earth, because Earth has the necessary everything he’ll need to begin a conquest. The Doctor and Sarah Jane will take him back.

But The Doctor says that’s not happening. Eldrad got a one-way trip to Kastria and now The Doctor has his ring. Eldrad demands he give it back, and The Doctor throws it, using the opportunity of distracted Eldrad to get Sarah Jane to run.

But it’s not the real ring. And so he chases after them, but The Doctor and Sarah Jane set up The Doctor’s scarf as a trip line and Eldrad trips and falls into an endless abyss.

(Also, his fall is totally not funny at all).

The Doctor casts Eldrad’s ring into the abyss and the two head back to the TARDIS, day saved.

And with that, we come to the final youtube, the departure of Sarah Jane from The TARDIS. It’s a bit heartbreaking, especially the moment when she realizes he’s called her bluff, or not, really. Touching, heartfelt, and a good departure.

And it’s still so sad…

Final Thoughts?: It's even better the second time.

No really. The thing about this blog is I watch all these stories in advance and then come back to them later and do the re-cap and pictures and everything. So I liked it the first time, and LOVED it the second time. Eldrad is a wonderful villain (not good, bad, great, or perfect; just wonderful) and the story itself is a wonderfully constructed piece of whatever.

It's a nice ending for Sarah Jane. I almost wish she had her own departure episode (as "Green Death" from minute one was very clearly a departure for Jo, but ah well. We can't have everything). Certainly it's a better departure than the one we had for Tegan, but it's got the same feel of a very rushed, tacked on, "Oh wait, she has to leave now?! Crap!" feel to it.

Other than that, though, it's a solid, solid story, with some great Tom Baker, some wonderful Sarah Jane, some wonderful intense thriller/horror storytelling, and some great sci-fi concepts and lines and all that. Really good. Really solid. Really wonderful.

In terms of Tom Baker stories you can just hand to someone, this is definitely one of them. Just as long as you can get past the strange and confusing opening three minutes, you should be fine. Really, it's just a good story, and if this is considered among the weakest of this season, I can't wait to see what else they've got.

Bring it on!

Next Time!: 3rd Doctor! The introduction of Sarah Jane! Medieval Times! Silly scientists! The debut of the Sontarans! And, of course, IRONGRON! "The Time Warrior"! Coming next Tuesday!


  1. I was always struck by the way that the quarry at the very beginning turns out to be an actual functioning real-life quarry, rather than a stand-in for an alien planet. It's a clever meta joke that messes with the audience's expectations. Also, Eldrad's costume is splendid and the actress wears it well.

  2. You seriously actually think this departure wasn't as good as the Green Death...?! (It was not a Sarah-leaving story by Sladen's request, BTW- she felt the show should be about the Doctor, not the companion) And you didn't get the opening,one of the coolest, most mysterious and atmospheric of Who's history,which sets the tone beautifully? The planet is dying because the barriers have been brought down, and it is freezing to death- the module is detonated early because the last survivor on the surface is dying,and has to see the detonation through while he's still alive to do so. (Then again, you thought the end of Masque of Mandragora made sense, so maybe we just exist on separate planes of reality or something...) Love the blog, even if our tastes are usually 180-degrees different. :-)