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20 April 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 475: The Horror of Fang Rock, Episode One

Dear diary,

You know that feeling you get in the morning of New Year’s Day? You’ve spent the night before seeing out the old year and telling yourself that this is it: brand new year, brand new start. You might make resolutions, you might simply decide to do things differently, but it’s a whole new world. And then, the sun rises. January 1st is simply The Day That Follows December 31st. It’s not a brand new year at all - it’s the same old year with a load of tidying up to do from the night before. I’ve got that same feeling with The Horror of Fang Rock Episode One. I finished yesterday in a mixture of happy and sad feelings towards the end of the Philip Hinchcliffe era. As much as I’d enjoyed it, the time felt right to move on into a new style, before the old one wore thin. And then today’s episode… well, it wouldn’t feel out of place in Seasons Thirteen or Fourteen.

You’ve got a remote, isolated setting. It’s night-time, and there’s plenty of atmosphere (here rolling in on the mysterious fog). The Doctor and Leela have rocked up in the middle of the night and it’s the early Twentieth Century. There’s a feel to this story which I can imagine people calling ‘gothic’ simply for lack of any better term. In short, it feels a bit like a horror movie. This isn’t the bold new start that I was expecting at all. I have a feeling that’s going to come with the next story (in the same way that The Ark in Space is a lot more like Hinchcliffe Who than Robot was), so I’m just going to carry on.

All of this sounds a bit like I’m complaining, when of course I’m not. All these elements, familiar as they may seem, add up to make a truly great opening episode. There’s plenty to hook you in, and I’m captivated by the whole lot of it right from the start. I have seen The Horror of Fang Rock before, but it’s so long ago and so wiped from my memory as to be practically new to me. I’d forgotten, for example, that the dead lighthouse keeper gets up and goes missing (though I now have vague memories of him coming back for a confrontation on the stairs, maybe?). I’d forgotten that Leela takes it upon herself to venture out onto the rocks to investigate, while the Doctor heads upstairs to get his knowledge from the ‘locals’. I’d also forgotten just how good the serial looks.

I’m in danger of becoming horribly repetitive lately, because I seem to be giving a lot of praise to the set design in every story, but it really does need to be brought up again. They do a great job of making the lighthouse feel really cramped, while making the vast open rocks feel just as overbearing and claustrophobic. The lighting and the ‘fog’ all help towards this, of course, but it’s a great way of opening your season. It feels so rich, and real. It’s a shame, then, that it’s let down somewhat by the model ship in the cliffhanger. I don’t know what I was expecting to happen, but the lingering shot of the ship brushing against the rocks led me to think that more was to come of it. After some truly great model work in the last few years, this felt like a bit of a damp squib.

I also worry that the addition of more characters to the story will start to take something away from it for me. I have a vague recollection of not much caring for the guest character in this tale, and I worry that it may end up putting me off. Still, if worst comes to worst, I can at least enjoy this as a great start to the season.


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