Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Serial 92: Horror of Fang Rock

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companion: Leela

Written by: Terrance Dicks
Directed by: Paddy Russell

Background & Significance: "Horror of Fang Rock" slipped through the cracks.

Even though this is the first serial produced by Graham Williams after he took over producership from Phillip Hinchcliffe, but it certainly doesn't feel like it. More than anything, it feels like a big last hurrah commissioned in the waning hours of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era, approved before Williams took over, and stamped with all of the Holmesian trademarks of his run with Hinchcliffe. Williams, as nascent producer, didn't do much to change it to match his vision.

Really, that's the thing about "Horror of Fang Rock" that I find so terribly interesting. It doesn't feel like a Williams story at all. No. It really feels like the last great Hinchcliffe hurrah and even deals with the tropes and stylings and tones of his era to the letter.

It's directed by Paddy Russell (who had previously done "The Massacre", "Invasion of the Dinosaurs", and "Pyramids of Mars") and would be her last contribution to the show. It's also written by Terrance Dicks, who would disappear for a few years only to come back and write about some vampires and then a big multi-Doctor mashup, so in a lot of ways it really does feel like a changing of the guard. It's after this that Holmes's work on Doctor Who undergoes a noticeable shift away from his carefully cultivated tone and style towards the more playful work of the Williams era, and you can really feel his fingerprints all over this story as they make the transition from here into something... less good.

And perhaps most interesting of all is that this kicks off a season that is... middling in my opinion. It's good that the Williams run starts off so strong, but also sad because it means he can only go downhill from here.

So let's get to it!


Part 1:

It’s interesting that we’re talking about this story the week after we talk about “Fury From the Deep", because I feel like the two stories seek to capture the same tonal feel. It’s in the execution of each story that we get to why I think “Fang Rock” is vastly superior to “Fury”.

I mean, in terms of setting, both stories are about a facility located on the edge of a vast expanse of sea. There’s an invading enemy that wants to take all these people out (we get hints of it here, but we don’t get much on it until later as the story progresses). There’s a cast of characters who form various functions/roles within this particular setting (the skeptic, the business-first-everything-else-later guy). And in the middle is The Doctor, who’s instantly off in investigation mode with his faithful companion as they investigate this situation.

The big differences, I think, come in the tonal aesthetic with regards to each story’s particular zeitgeist. The Troughton story is very ensconced in that era’s flavor, featuring stories about monsters and science-or-technology-based locales.

Here it’s noticeably different. Jumping from the previous success of Victorian wonderfulness in “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”, “Fang Rock” drops us in the middle of an isolated English lighthouse just a few years later (I’d say something Edwardian by the look of things). It’s totally a Hinchcliffe/Holmes locale, the sort of idea that sounds and is perfect, and it's impressive that it hadn’t shown up before this. It’s also got the ambiance of fog and night time, which is even more strange and rare for Doctor Who and helps (and I’m not the first to say this) make this story feel like a true companion piece to “Talons” in a way few other stories ever could.

And really, the big buzz word on this whole episode is atmosphere, which Paddy Russell helps bring in spades.

It honestly reminds me a lot of the first episode of "Invasion of the Dinosaurs", or at least, it’s Russell’s ability to mine something special given some strongly tonal material that pops out at me. She knows exactly how to control a moment, exactly how to shoot something to make it visually interesting but in no way confusing. A lot of this, I’m sure, stems from the production design and the visual elements of the setting (in "Dinosaurs" it was abandoned London), because there’s no way this would work nearly as well if it were an audio reconstruction, and that’s not slam against Dicks’s script (which is quite strong), but it’s a testament to Russell’s deft hand at capturing what makes this story sing.

Take, for instance, the way she chooses to introduce characters, specifically Leela and The Doctor. The TARDIS’s arrival in this story is nothing more than a cutaway to the TARDIS then a cut back to the goings on at the lighthouse. Then we cut back to the TARDIS to find The Doctor already some ways away from the TARDIS investigating where it is he’s landed. Notice that he’s almost entirely obscured by the fog and is barely visible, the key focus point in the shot being Leela and her yellow dress, not The Doctor’s light grays. And then when we see The Doctor, it’s him against an almost flat, abstract background, isolating him from his companion. Right off we’re told that the story is attempting to isolate the characters and the characters from us, giving us the “no one is safe feel.”

So that’s enhanced by Russell’s style, but it’s also telling that when the characters are not isolated and alone in shots, they are squished up next to each other and thrust far closer to the camera than you’d imagine. Part of this is the realism of the confines of the lighthouse (have you ever been in one? It’s basically like waterboarding a claustrophobe), which does not allow any space for anything, and where most stories would go for the big, wide sets to capture the scope of everything that’s going on, everything in this story is squeezed into the space to make it feel as cramped and crowded as it possibly can be. To add to the madness, the lighthouse’s foghorn goes off every few minutes or so, reminding us once again of the ominous tone of what’s going on (there’s a particularly perfect moment where someone’s scream fades into the sound of the foghorn; it’s a fantastic touch).

It even translates to the simple shot of using the generator to obscure the majority of Vince while he examines his dead compatriot. It’s stuff like that that helps with the claustrophobia.

So what we’re left with in this story is the notion that we’re completely isolated from the world (much like “Fury From the Deep”) and that it’s too cramped and claustrophobic. Even going outside gives you the same sorta sense, what with the fog creeping in and all. Leela’s hunt outside for the evil creature screams both “isolation” AND “claustrophobia”, the former because she is alone, the latter because there’s absolutely nowhere to go.

That brings me to the cliffhanger, which, I’ll admit, is not very strong. Sure, it’s the culmination of where the plot of “lighthouse without power” seems to be going, and yes, a boat crash is always a cool thing….

And yet, I can’t help but feel like this story doesn’t quite know what it wants that cliffhanger to be. Is it an “OH NO THERE’S A CRASHING BOAT” moment? Or is it a moment that hints at something more sinister? Personally, I think it hints at something more thematically scary (which we’ll find out more on in the second part, but I’ll briefly mention here) about how the thematic claustrophobia is only going to get worse going forward now that there’s the arrival of more people, but I don’t think it works so well. It’s well constructed as a piece of composition (I love the two red flares, which function as perverse red suns that alienate the rocky shoals), but beyond that, this feels like a weak link in an unusually strong chain.

If there’s a weak part of this story that I can’t help but find less than appealing, it’s the Tom Baker. While he’s been rather strong all through the Hinchcliffe era, I feel like this is the cracks in the system that we start to see here. His scarf has stopped being scarf like (now going for more of a “giant mini-blanket draped around my neck” sorta thing) and he does this thing with a bowler hat that’s tremendously silly but perhaps not in a good way (I could see liking it and while I don’t hate it, I can’t say it particularly scratches any itches at all). This all goes to say that it’s a giant shame this is the case because it doesn’t really feel like he needs to do anything to fit in here. Tom Baker’s outfit is intensely Edwardian (as opposed to Elizabethan) and thus fits naturally in with the aesthetic of this story. But futzing with it by jacking with the scarf only ends up hurting him, I think, and at the end of the day I’m left saddened that he veered away from a story that he visually syncs with so completely that it’s hard to say he hasn’t just moored his boat on the other side of the bay.

And that’s unfortunate, I think. Leela makes up for it. I love how she switches into the sweater and pants (which match her so much better than just about anything else I’ve seen her in), because it really feels like she’s progressed as a character. I like that about her. Really good stuff.

Part 2:

If there’s a thing I’m noticing about this story, it’s that this really is the turning point for Tom Baker’s Doctor, and because I don’t want to spend too much time focusing on the things he detracts from this story, I’ll get that out of the way right up front.

The biggest criticism I ever consistently have about Tom Baker’s Doctor is that his alienness really can get to me at times. I prefer a Doctor who’s more empathetic towards humans and humanity. That’s why I tend to gravitate towards Davison and Tennant more than, say, Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy. Tom Baker in his later stories becomes far less empathetic than the later Doctors, considerably less and less concerned about the plight of those around him or his effect on people’s lives. He becomes fairly rigidly involved and focused on saving the day and solving the problem of the week. Stop the justice of the alien, the human element is less than important.

Now his early stories (the Hinchcliffe stuff) are the same way (the moment in “Pyramids of Mars” where he  attempts empathy with Marcus Scarman’s brother but fails dramatically is quintessential), but there is a certain amount of heroism involved where he truly does care for human life (his relationship with Sarah Jane in particular is worth noting). But by the time you hit a story like “City of Death”, the characters become immaterial in the light of The Doctor having a swashbuckle of an adventure. By the time he’s hit JNT, he doesn’t seem to care about anything except saving the day for his own seemingly selfish reasons.

Here, it’s somewhere between those two tracks. The Doctor clearly wants there to be no loss of life (that’s why he’s trying not to start a panic), but at the same time he’s tremendously aloof when it comes to all these people. The bowler hat is indicative of this (he’s not taking the situation too seriously), but the way he marches in and flops down like he owns the situation is less than grabbing to me and the sorta thing that I find I don’t like about his Doctor. That’s a me thing, of course. I’m infinitely more interested in things like characters and their relationships (or in the case of Doctor Who, The Doctor and his relationship with  his Companions) than in the big bombastic sci-fi story idea that someone cooked up.

But the story justifies The Doctor’s apathy towards humanity, or at least, it justifies it in the case of this story…

See, Lord Palmerdale is a dick. He’s a scheming, maniacal (although hardly to a Doctor Who level) douche who’s only concern is with himself and his own greed. It’s his fault the boat crashed and it’s he who wants to do anything to make all the money he can based on some knowledge he has about stuff that’s gonna go down soon. He’s helped along by the MP guy Skinsale who sold him the secrets, who now seems contented in the fact that Palmerdale isn’t going to be able to use them, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s not the nicest of guys either. After all, he did do something illegal.

And because of that I can see the story justifying why these people don’t necessarily need to survive this (spoilers) and why The Doctor is right to focus on the situation rather than them, because if he concerned himself with saving these people he’d probably get second thoughts (I know I would).

The people in this lighthouse only serve to ratchet up the tension and stakes. Regardless of quality of life amongst these people, it doesn’t change the fact that there are quite a few of them who could bite the dust by the end. The stakes have been raised and The Doctor’s still on the line to save them. It’s just unfortunate that he doesn’t seem to care about them any more than he would a woodchuck or any other animal that’s not of his species (isn’t it weird how some people can value the life of a dog more than a person? And yet it’s not nearly the same sense of companionship we can find with another person; it’s similar just not the same…)

But beyond that, there’s a LOT that’s working here. The alien menace actually plays next to no role in what’s going on here. There was a lot of it in the first part of the story, what with the death of the electrician and the power outtages, but here the only hint of it is the “glimpse” we get of it in the water when Leela’s looking at it. It’s strange how well it works. It’s almost as if Russell knows we don’t know what we’re looking for or at, so she feels the liberty to show us whatever it is she wants. It’s a bold choice, but it works because we’re not sure what we’re looking at. Is it a mutated eel? Is it an avatar for the main villain (what I thought the first time)? We’re not entirely sure… but it does work well.

It’s also telling how well the rest of the episode plays out. The only talk of the monster is of it as a legend (“The Beast of Fang Rock”) and that only helps to deepen the mystery of what’s going on. It also helps make the eventual reveal of whatever it is that much scarier when it happens at the end of this episode.

Only it doesn’t, and we get what’s probably my favorite cliffhanger in this whole thing. Just like the characters in this story we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security as to how exactly this story will play out. These characters ARE trapped and there IS a threat on the loose. And this threat is learning a whole manner of things about them, things that are probably not good for the future. While this danger is going on and The Doctor and Leela are investigating and running around in the dark, desperately trying to figure out what’s going on, Palmerdale is running around dealing with his get-richer-quick scheme, which has nothing to do with anything. It’s engaging though (the dialogue is delicious and the storyline is at the very least intensely engaging because we’re already invested in this story), and by the time we reach the bit at the end where Reuben screams and we get Skinsale remarking “what the hell is that”, suddenly the story has lurched forward at the worst possible moment.

That works, and it works so good. After an episode of building the tension and letting the fear sink in (however subtly) the fact that it ends on the moment that is so self-aware (“what the hell is that” is intensely meta; it’s what we’re all asking) brings around the notion that our writing team knows EXACTLY what it’s doing and it’s completely self-assured and aware that whatever’s coming next is going to be horrible.  It knows you want more; it tells you that you want more.

And they’re going to make you wait for it as long as they can before they let you know what happens next.

Part 3:

The most effective thing about this story so far, I find, is its use of dramatic irony.

Take, for instance, the way it parses out information. At the beginning of each part we, the audience, learn something that the other characters are not privy to (the definition of dramatic irony, for those curious). In the first part we learn that something has arrived at the lighthouse (in this case, an alien being), but it’s not until the end of the episode that everyone learns that something has arrived at the lighthouse (it’s the cliffhanger, remember? But the thing that arrives is the boat and its crew, not the alien). In the second episode, we learn early on that there is a creature and it is attacking and that no one is safe, but it isn’t till the end of the episode that everyone kicks into high gear and responds to the threat (sure, The Doctor and Leela are acting on their suspicions, but they’re more investigating than setting up defenses).

This third episode is the same way, but it’s far more pronounced here because the story preys on what we know and countermands it with what the characters don’t.

I’m speaking, of course, of Reuben.

At the end of part two, we hear a scream. The scream (which we know because we know he was down there) is Reuben’s scream and it’s made because he’s presumably attacked by the alien (although we don’t see it). Visually, though, in the opening few minutes of this episode we’re treated to a scene of Reuben leaving the side room and heading up to his room, closely watched by the Bosun and unresponsive to his words.

This is masterful. Dicks, Holmes, and Russell’s choice to not treat the audience like they’re morons makes it even more powerful. It allows them to put the pieces together and let the irony be even more chilling. It seems like we’re the only ones in on it and we’re powerless to stop whatever happens next.

It’s a clinic in how to build suspense, and made all the more haunting because we are constantly reminded that, in this haunted house story, the killer is literally inside the house, just up the staircase, hiding in his room, biding his time, waiting for his moment. A lot of this is down to Colin Douglas, who is masterful at playing both the salty old codger and the possessed, sociopathic murderer. He’s positively electric (ha ha) in every scene he’s in, and even the hint of his presence sends chills down my spine (and I’ve seen this before). It’s all in his silences, his elections to not speak, and the fact that he knows (like we do) that he’s going to kill all of these people. And he’s going to kill them soon.

I can’t get away from this without at least mentioning Paddy Russell, who expertly crafts and directs Douglas’s performance. She knows just how to frame him and just how to block him for maximum impact. His first shot of “re-entering the lighthouse” is amazing (he’s coming from literally right beneath our noses) and the moment of him walking down the stairs before he murders the bosun is… stunning. It’s wonderful buildup of suspense leading up to it, and it’s a tremendous payoff of that suspense to watch him grin like an insane murderer just before we cut away to another storyline. I can’t say enough about it and him, nor can I wait to discuss what happens next.

But wait I shall.

I say this all because structurally speaking, at the end of the episode, The Doctor realizes what we’ve realized the entire time: that he’s locked the creature in. This has been long cited as an amazing cliffhanger, and I can’t at all disagree. It’s chilling and wraps us in even further because my god, it’s worse than we could have possibly imagined. To add insult to injury, it’s a magnificent moment for the 4th Doctor simply because it’s a moment of failure. Tom Baker’s Doctor tends to grow more and more infallible as time goes on (especially in the Williams stuff), but watching the way he realizes he’s been underestimated is… great. It’s exactly the sort of “oh no” moment you want going into part four of a thriller/horror story.

On top of that, we also have some wonderful developments between the rest of the people on the lighthouse which (because oh my god I’ve been writing for so long) I’ll highlight really quickly.

One of the things about this story is the fact that it’s populated with a bunch of less-than-favorable people. Palmerdale in particular is especially nasty and the sorta guy who is… awful. I love the way he’s constantly attempting to do the thing that’s awful and is constantly driven by his own greed and self-whateverness. It’s refreshing and even though it’s one-dimensional (that’s all he seems to want), it’s a nice sorta character thing because far too often characters are goalless in Doctor Who and the story suffers as a result. Here, his drive provides some excellent conflict and puts him at odds with just about every character around, which makes for excellent drama.

And then he’s killed. Which is like… what do we care? I mean, the dude’s an asshole. Good for him.

But what sucks is the way he brought everyone down with him, or rather, everyone has a sin to atone for. Were it not for Palmerdale, Skinsale might not have sold himself out and ruined his career and reputation, but his sin is that he put his pride and the preservation of his reputation out ahead of the safety of everyone else in the lighthouse. Him destroying the telegraph puts him in the crosshairs. So too is Adelaide (although she is mostly sinless), she who is unwilling or incapable of standing up for herself, blind to the abuses of her employer.

The most unfortunate of these is Vince, who, steadfast and loyal at the top of the lighthouse, takes a bribe from Palmerdale just before the alien menace executes Palmerdale. He attempts to atone for the sin (burning the money; also it erases his connections to Palmerdale), but it’s too late. Sin committed always dooms you in a horror story (and a haunted house story at that) and can only mean certain doom for his character. That is, unless he atones, right? We can only hope so, and yet I’m not sure that’s going to be the way it is… But I guess time will tell.

And of course, by the end of this episode, the power is out such that the fog horn is no longer usable. Suddenly, a sound that had previously been a source of isolation and claustrophobia becomes even more isolating and claustrophobic. That fog horn was their only way to communicate (however slightly with the outside world). Suddenly, the lighthouse’s reach has shrunk and we’re suddenly even more trapped and isolated. That’s brilliant, subversive work and the sorta thing I love to see. It’s mindblowing that that could even work, and yet it does. Excellent, excellent stuff.

Part 4:

The best final part to any Doctor Who story is the one that doesn’t seem to require much discussion. They’re the ones that seem to fly past and before you know it, you’ve already rocketed right into the ending and the story’s already over.

So what we have here is a tremendous ending to a tremendous story.

Honestly, not much happens in this episode. The first half involves more of the same thriller/slasher aspects of this horror romp, while the second half degenerates into your typical “Doctor figures out a way to destroy the bad guys.” Degenerates, I realize, now that I’ve typed it, is something of a pejorative word, but it in no way reflects poorly on this story, but rather reinforces and reminds us that we’re rocking Doctor Who, which is in no way a bad thing.

Inevitably, though, I’m always going to be drawn to the thriller/slasher aspects of this story, specifically the first half.

In a lot of ways, the plot of this story is incredibly self-aware. Now that it’s plan is on the move, the evil Rutan (for the bad guy is a Rutan) has no qualms about marching into just about everywhere and systematically executing every extraneous character it can get its tendrils on. First, it executes Vince, and then sets its sights on Adelaide, and this is all… great great stuff, but the story is wise to drop this aspect of it rather quickly. After the second smiling murder by the malicious Reuben, we’ve really gotten all we’re going to get out of it and it’s probably for the best that we very quickly move on to the gross-out monster effect that is (as The Doctor calls him) “Reuben the Rutan.”

Reuben the Rutan himself is something that screams Hinchcliffe/Holmes to me both in terms of its aesthetic but also in its thematic properties. Sure, the Rutan just wants to help colonize Earth for the glory of the Rutan Empire that they might finally defeat those blasted Sontarans, but at the same time isn’t the Rutan just the latest in a long line of self-interested, grotesque Holmesian villains? Separated from society and using avatars (Reuben) to further its gains? Couldn’t you also argue that the actual visual aesthetic of the Rutan (that shade of green, the jellyfish like airy tendrils and qualities) remind you of their other bad guys, specifically the Dalek mutants in “Genesis”, the eponymous “Brain of Morbius”, or even the Krynoid’s tendrils in “Seeds of Doom”?

As such, it’s another great little mini-twist on the Holmesian villain (and Holmes did twist them good in the previous story) and a great little epilogue to the Hinchcliffe era.

It all culminates in a thrilling climax as The Doctor prepares to utilize the lighthouse as a laser beam to take out the Rutan mothership. While I’m extremely iffy on the ethics of this (I hate when The Doctor plays “in a game of us or them let’s have it be us”), I must admit the escape from the lighthouse sequence is an absolute delight, as is the actual effect of watching the lighthouse blow something up. Same too, the destruction of the Rutan and Leela’s mocking scorn at its lack of luck is a wonderful moment, even though I do worry about The Doctor endorsing such behavior.

But in the end everyone dies. Everyone. That’s probably the biggest and most pointed difference between this story and “Fury From the Deep”, and I must say it’s a welcome one. Every death in this story is a pointed stakes-heightener (and we get some wonderfully grizzly ones, in the best of ways) and it really helps drive the narrative forward. It’s also the sort of thing that lends an air of “Pyrrhic Victory” to everything that’s going on. Sure, it doesn’t feel like a defeat at the end by any stretch, but it is the sort of thing where each death is a palpable hit as each occupant of the lighthouse is picked off one by one.

I forget who it was (let’s assume Philip Sandifer; he’s smart), but someone pointed out that it’s rare of Doctor Who to so completely devastate its guest cast. Sure, there’s plenty of stories with high body counts, but even Saward’s stories would leave at least a person or two alive. Here, though, we get a total wipeout of anyone who isn’t The Doctor or his Companion, and it feels strangely earned. Were it not for The Doctor’s hubris, none of these people would have died (he did lock the Rutan in with them after all, and perhaps, could have handled it better), and yet here we are at the end, left with a trail of bodies and devastation behind.

What’s most interesting about this, though, is the fact that it is a noticeable turning point for The Doctor. I already mentioned that he gets more aloof after this (and he’s plenty aloof already in this one), but it’s… more than that.

After this story we get the Graham Williams era, which very famously saw The 4th Doctor not return to Earth very often in subsequent stories (he’d only return in “Image of the Fendahl”, “The Stones of Blood”, “The City of Death”, and “Logopolis”), instead choosing to visit random planets, spaceships, and galactic locales that weren’t Earth. That’s an interesting choice, and I know that Williams was totally into “the worlds of dreams and fantasy” and really loved aliens and their societies and all that shit and yes, I know that the Williams era is the one that inspires all sorts of people to bitch about The Doctor (or even the show) never leaving Earth…

But it begs the question: why does the 4th Doctor leave Earth at all? I mean, sure he went out to explore and travel all around the galaxy after the events of “Robot”, but he makes that great speech in “The Ark In Space” that’s all about the majesty and wonders of humanity (“homo sapiens” and all that) and his subsequent adventures are all about learning about and saving humanity from a whole manner of exciting plots and schemes. And then all of a sudden he stops visiting them. Of his first eighteen stories, half are set on Earth (more if you count partial credit), and then suddenly… it changes. And why?  I think it’s the alienness of it all. Humanity just becomes too much for him, he loses touch, loses his mind, goes batty for a few years, and then regenerates and gets more in touch with his human goodness.

“Fang Rock” is the turning point. It’s the point at which The Doctor stops saving people because he likes them and starts saving people because it’s his moral obligation to.

It’s honestly the exact opposite of Colin Baker (who started off hating humans and eventually grew out of that…) because it shows that The Doctor is slowly losing touch with humanity and the thing that grounds him to his sanity. I’m sure that wasn’t the thought at the time (people had their hands full trying to reel in Tom Baker….), but it would be interesting to see that explored, to see what it is that poisons him so and his attempts to turn back the clock on that sentiment when he finally hits his regeneration…

The moment it changes, I think, is here. It’s the moment when Skinsale is killed by the Rutan. The Doctor has the choice to try to save him (which, I believe, a rational Doctor would attempt to do given the circumstances), but runs off to save his own skin. Suddenly it feels like a different sort of situation and we’re now in some different realm. Shouldn’t The Doctor have saved him? But I guess he wasn’t worth his time. Regardless, it does feel noticeably different from the aloof. This is different. This is like… wantonly detached or something. I dunno, something serious sounding, because The 4th Doctor, man… You know he can’t relate to humans super much.

Regardless of all that though, this is still excellent and just everything you could want out of the ending to a story.

Final Thoughts?: I really really love this story.

One of the things I'm finding that I love, more and more as time goes on, is a story that really pushes itself to get the most out of a series of various self-imposed constraints and parameters. In the case of this story, Terrence Dicks was tasked with writing a very contained horror piece and he turned around and made something absolutely incredible. It's a extremely tense, high-suspense thriller that also serves as a piece of both minimalist fiction and excellent, exquisite Doctor Who. It's a magnificent build and its narrative is both deftly plotted and expertly structured.

But Dicks is only half the battle. None of this effectiveness would be possible without the work of Paddy Russell.

Russell (whose praises I sang previously) really stands out as one of the key components of this story. The whole story itself takes place over four distinct sets (the boiler room, the living space, the stairwell, and the light chamber) with a few minor diversions (Reuben's room makes a cameo and there is some location shooting throughout), and it's a marvel that Russell manages to disguise this story so well. Part of that is the fact that I've seen enough Doctor Who to realize that sets are reused over and over again.... but it's also the fact that Russell is constantly re-framing and re-blocking it such that they look and feel completely different than what she's going for.

And in the end, all of these things add up to a wonderfully atmospheric piece of horror in the vein of Hinchcliffe/Holmes and functioning as their last hurrah in a big bad way.

All that said, it shouldn't be a surprise for me to tell you that this is easily one of my favorite Tom Baker stories that's ever been done. Ever. It's a testament to his early days that this story isn't higher or perhaps that it's not more widely beloved (it's outside the stretch of the "legendary seasons"), but I think that's unrightly so. This is thrilling, gripping Doctor Who at its absolute best. It's a bonkers good plot, has some phenomenal drama, and it's got a killer, killer script that had to at least have been heavily polished by Robert Holmes. And my god did he polish a strong story with some wonderfully grafted on dialogue. The episodes and characters really sing their parts and they sound so good saying the words.

It's got great actors and a great villain, and it's a great piece of work by all who worked on it. Highly recommended. You should go watch it right now.

Hell, I just finished it and I'm totally down for watching it again. So good.

Next Time!: 5th Doctor! Tegan! A Mara! No Nyssa! Shakespearean madness! Lots and lots of words! Apples! Snakes! And Mama Prophets! All this and more (so much more) can be found in my new post on "Kinda"! Coming Next Tuesday!

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