“It is the law. There must be no interference with the design! Eldrad must live!”
Companion departures are built up as epic affairs these days. But back in the day, a companion's final story would usually just be a run of the mill adventure with a quick goodbye scene tacked on at the end. This is very much the case with 'The Hand of Fear'.
This story's big claim to fame is that it marks the final regular appearance of Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. Because of Sladen's immense popularity, that act alone is enough to elevate 'The Hand of Fear' to semi-classic status.
Elisabeth Sladen didn't want Sarah's exit to dominate the story so, even though she is very much at the heart of the story early on, this story never ends up being about Sarah leaving the Doctor. The reasoning behind Sarah's departure may be a little suspect (since when has the Doctor given a damn about Time Lord rules?), but there is no denying that those final moments pack a serious emotional punch (even more so now following Elisabeth Sladen's tragic death in 2011).
For their final story together, Baker and Sladen are both at the absolute top of their game. Sladen gets to try out her crazy acting as Sarah becomes the first to fall under Eldrad's control. Although Sarah leaving is never the focus, we do get a sense of just how close these two have become in their time together. Russell T. Davies can imply it all he wants, but I will never ever believe that there was something romantic between these two. They were simply the closest of friends; friends who worried about each other frequently.
Take away Sarah's big goodbye and all you're left with is another plodding effort from the masters of mediocrity, Bob Baker and Dave Martin. Okay, that might be a little unfair. 'The Hand of Fear' is actually one of the better stories Baker and Martin contributed to the series, featuring a great central concept (severed alien hand coming alive and possessing people so it can regenerate itself by feeding off radiation), one that fits in well with the horror theme of this era. But it still suffers from many of the same flaws as all of their stories. There are some good ideas here, but Bob and Dave are never really able to successfully translate them into interesting narrative.
The story's villain, Eldrad (who must live), is memorably performed by Judith Paris, but not Stephen Thorne, who takes over the role in Episode 4 and turns an interesting villain into a generic rent-a-rant bad guy who just drones on and on endlessly about how he is going to conquer the universe or something. The way he is dispatched, tripping over the Doctor’s scarf into an endless abyss, has to rank as one of the most feeble deaths a Who villain has ever had the indignity of enduring.
Notes and Quotes
--Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen wrote the Doctor and Sarah's final scene themselves.
--Hurrah, a quarry that is actually supposed to be a quarry.
--Hiding behind a truck has about as much chance of shielding you from a nuclear blast as a sheet of A4 has of stopping bullets.
--In case you didn't know already, Eldrad must live.
--I loved Professor Watson taking time out from his plant going into meltdown to call his family, a rare moment when a guest character on Doctor Who gets to be a person, not just cannon fodder.
--When the Doctor is describing the un-explosion his hand gestures are the opposite of what he is describing.
--The FX for the hand coming alive is very good.
--What use would nuclear missiles be against a creature that absorbs nuclear radiation?
--Sarah was originally supposed to be killed off in a pseudo-historical story written by regular Who Director Douglas Camfield, involving aliens and the French Foreign Legion. However Camfield was unable to finish the script so 'The Hand of Fear' was chosen instead. Sladen was relieved, as she did not want Sarah to be killed or married off.
--The Doctor shows off his impressive bowling skills.
--Not sure what Sarah is going for with that Andy Pandy ensemble.
Sarah Jane: "Eldrad must live."
Eldrad: "Can this be the form of the creatures who have found me and who now seek to destroy me? No matter. They shall fail as the obliteration has failed. Strange form or not... Eldrad lives and shall again rule Kastria!"
Sarah Jane Smith: "I must be mad. I'm sick of being cold and wet and hypnotised left, right and centre. I'm sick of being shot at, savaged by bug eyed monsters, never knowing if I'm coming or going... or been... I want a bath, I want my hair washed, I just want to feel human again... and, boy, am I sick of that sonic screwdriver. I'm going to pack my goodies and I'm going home..."
Sarah: "Don't forget me."
The Doctor: "Oh, Sarah, don't you forget me."
The Doctor: "Keep her talking. I'm going in there."
Professor Watson: "How can you? All those door locks are jammed."
The Doctor: "Look, the plans show a cooling duct."
Miss Jackson: "But the temperature inside the cooling duct is over 200 degrees centigrade."
Professor Watson: "You'll roast, man."
The Doctor: "Not if I'm quick."
Were this not Sarah's final story it would be a two. But that final scene is enough to push this one up to three out of four Eldrads who must live.
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.