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24 September 2014

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Horror of Fang Rock

Production Code: 4V

First Transmitted

1 - 03/09/1977 18:15

2 - 10/09/1977 18:15

3 - 17/09/1977 18:15

4 - 24/09/1977 18:15


The TARDIS arrives on Fang Rock, a small island off the English coast, around the start of the 20th Century. The Doctor and Leela seek shelter at a lighthouse where the island's only inhabitants - Ben, Vince and Reuben - operate the recently-installed electric lamp to warn ships off the treacherous rocks.

Vince has just seen a bright object fall from the sky into the sea. Ben then disappears and his body is later discovered hidden behind the generator - he has been electrocuted. A passing ship crashes on the rocks as a freak fog bank descends, and the survivors - Colonel Skinsale, Lord Palmerdale, Adelaide Lesage and Harker - stumble into the lighthouse. There they find themselves prey to a Rutan - one of the race engaged in a perennial war with the Sontarans - whose spaceship has crashed in the sea.

The Rutan can change its form at will and has been masquerading as Reuben, having killed the old keeper and hidden his body. Vince and the wreck survivors are also killed but the Doctor fights back by blasting the Rutan, now reverted to its natural form of an amorphous jelly, with a makeshift mortar bomb.

The Doctor then rigs up the lighthouse lamp with a diamond taken from a cache held by the now dead Skinsale, thereby creating a powerful laser beam to destroy the approaching Rutan mothership.

Episode Endings

With the lighthouse lamp out of action, a ship approaches the rocks in the thick fog. The Doctor sends up a flare and the fog-horn is sounded, but to no avail. The ship crashes onto Fang Rock.

Reuben is tending the lighthouse generator and goes into the coal store to fetch more fuel. Upstairs, Palmerdale is in the middle of explaining to Adelaide that nothing is happening when an horrific scream from Reuben echoes through the lighthouse.

The Doctor finds Reuben's body in the coal store and realises that the man they have seen walking about the lighthouse is in fact the Rutan. The Doctor has locked the enemy in with them.

The Doctor and Leela return to the TARDIS. As it leaves, the Doctor recites lines from Wilfred Gibson's poem 'The Ballad of Flannen Isle'.


Murder mysteries.

'The Ballad of Flannan Isle' by Wilfred Gibson.

Campbell's The Thing.

Dracula (Harker).

Quatermass and the Pit (alien generated drops in temperature).

E.G. Jerome's Lighthouses, Lightships and Buoys (1966).

Dialogue Triumphs

The Doctor : "... the localised condition of planetary atmospheric condensation caused a malfunction in the visual orientation circuits. Or to put it another way, we got lost in the fog."

Lord Palmerdale : "Are you in charge here?"

The Doctor : "No, but I'm full of ideas."

The Doctor : "The chameleon factor... sometimes called lycanthropy. Leela, I've made a terrible mistake. I thought I'd locked the enemy out. Instead I've locked it in... with us!'"

Leela : "You will do as the Doctor instructs, or I will cut out your heart!"

Double Entendre

Leela : [Yells at Reuben] "Come out, old one!"

The Doctor : "He'll come out when he's ready."


The Doctor knows an anecdote concerning Gallifreyan lighthouses [probably marine ones!]. Leela's eyes change colour from brown to blue as a result of the explosion.

The Rutans are luminous green blobs with tentacles. They can drain electrical power and use it to kill. Small projectiles go through them. They can climb sheer rock, and are amphibious, having evolved in the ocean. Their spacecraft, spinning fireballs with crystalline infrastructures, are amphibious too, and can release a freezing fog to mimic home conditions, Rutans hating heat.

This particular scout from the army of the Rutan Empire has been equipped with new shape shifting technology, organic restructuring similar to Time Lord regeneration techniques, and can imitate a species having dissected an example. Sontarans ('rabble') use photonic missiles.


The Location of Gallifrey

Sontarans and Rutans

The TARDIS Scanner


Fang Rock, possibly near Worthing, 1901-1910.


This was the only Doctor Who story to have studio scenes recorded at the BBC's Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham, rather than in London.

This story features the one and only appearance in the series of a Rutan - seen in its natural state as an amorphous green blob with trailing tentacles.


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.)

Fashion Victim

None: Leela wears sensible jeans.

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - Tom Baker

Leela - Louise Jameson

Adelaide - Annette Woollett

Ben - Ralph Watson

Harker - Rio Fanning

Lord Palmerdale - Sean Caffrey

Reuben - Colin Douglas

Skinsale - Alan Rowe

Vince - John Abbott


Director - Paddy Russell

Assistant Floor Manager - Bill Hartley

Costumes - Joyce Hawkins

Designer - Paul Allen

Film Cameraman - John Walker

Film Editor - unknown

Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson

Make-Up - Jackie Hodgson

Producer - Graham Williams

Production Assistant - Peter Grimwade

Production Unit Manager - John Nathan-Turner

Script Editor - Robert Holmes

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - Bob Gell

Studio Sound - David Hughes

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Visual Effects - Peter Pegrum

Writer - Terrance Dicks

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

A masterpiece, designed to do nothing more than scare kids, which it does very efficiently. It's a very good Leela story, too. Her gloating over the dead Rutan is wonderful, as is the final scene where the Doctor expresses his horror at needless death.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

Horror of Fang Rock maintains the high standard established by The Talons of Weng-Chiang at the end of the previous season. Terrance Dicks's well-written scripts take full advantage of the isolated nature of the story's setting and are very effective in building up tension. The scenes that take place outside the lighthouse on the rocks are eerie and atmospheric, the clever use of smoke and lighting effects helping to make this a convincing locale despite the fact that it was created entirely in studio. In fact, all the sets for this story are superb. The lighthouse itself is totally realistic - even down to the curved doors leading onto the main spiral staircase - and engenders a palpable feeling of claustrophobia as the action unfolds.

Some reviewers, however, have been less than enthusiastic about the story. Keith Miller, writing in Doctor Who Digest Number 8, dated April 1978, found the whole thing tedious: 'The main characters of Vince and Reuben were so melodramatic and stagy that I couldn't believe in them at all. The modelwork, which at first looked quite promising, quickly deteriorated when the ship ran aground. The limited space... of the lighthouse could have been exploited far better than it was, the story being reduced to an uninteresting runabout up and down stairs from the unseen enemy. The fact that... the monster [was kept] unseen until the last episode was, I think, the only thing that held the audience's attention throughout the tedious plot. And then to find out the alien was only a balloon with spaghetti attached to its rear was a vast disappointment.' Howard D Langford, commenting on the story in TARDIS Volume 3 Number 3, dated May/June 1978, had similar misgivings: 'I thought there was rather too much rushing about the lighthouse. Also the Doctor's speeches were too abrupt - he appeared to be constantly in a bad mood, and this is a feature of the series in general: there was little genuine humour. I wish everyone hadn't been killed. Nevertheless, on the whole I liked this story.'

The small guest cast are generally very good, although Annette Woollett's Adelaide is a little annoying (there's a nice moment where Leela slaps her round the face to stop her screaming, and one suspects that many in the audience would like to do the same thing). Top marks to Colin Douglas and John Abbott who are excellent in their respective roles as Reuben and Vince and whose scenes together in the opening episode are important in helping to create a sense of impending doom. Vince's eventual death is particularly poignant, especially as it seems to come at the hands of Reuben, his one-time friend and mentor - although it is actually, of course, the work of the Rutan masquerading as Reuben. This is indeed a rather depressing story in many respects, as it is - as Langford noted - one in which everyone aside from the Doctor and Leela is ultimately killed. Skinsale's death is particularly pointless, caused purely by his greed for a handful of diamonds casually discarded by the Doctor.

Horror of Fang Rock is a tightly constructed drama that succeeds because of, rather than in spite of, its confined setting and limited cast. If any story proves that Doctor Who has no need of a huge budget and eye-popping visual effects in order to succeed, it is this one.

< The Talons of Weng ChiangFourth DoctorThe Invisible Enemy >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.

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