Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Hand of Fear - "Careful, that's not as 'armless as it looks."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Hand of Fear - Details

Season 14, Story 2 (Overall Series Story #87) | Previous - Next | Index

It would've been tragic had this been the last
outfit we saw Sarah Jane wear in Doctor Who.
Watching this story again, I'm struck by how much it looks like Tom Baker dropped in a Pertwee era story: we've got a quarry, some stock footage airplanes, and filming inside a giant industrial plant, even Sarah Jane, all very familiar from the last Doctor's era although we're into Tom Baker's third series. However, it's all about to change. Well, we haven't seen our last quarry, but this is Sarah Jane's farewell and that feels as much like the end of an era as anything.

The Doctor, perhaps unconsciously reacting to Sarah's Andy Pandy overalls leads them directly in quarry that, oddly enough is not masquerading as an alien world this time, is actually a working quarry where blasting is about to begin. Nearly buried in rubble, the Doctor and Sarah Jane escape with their lives ... and with something else as well -- Sarah's got a hold of Eldrad's stony hand, released after millions of years from rock where it fell when Eldrad was destroyed by his own people. Luckily for Eldrad, there's a nuclear facility nearby with all the radiation he -- or she, for the moment -- needs to regenerate.

When conventional weapons ordered by the plant's director fail to kill Eldrad, the Doctor gets a chance to try conversation and diplomacy. His compassion is exploited, but Eldrad's return was foreseen by his people and his plans are foiled. In a final indignity, the Doctor and Sarah trip him with a scarf, sending him plummeting to, what we assume is, his final doom.

It's all competently done and, apart from the usual episode 3 looping (Evacuate the plant! OK, problem solved, everybody come back. Here we go again, everybody evacuate! ... ) the story moves along in a successful execution of the formula we're familiar with, except a little faster than normal ...

That's because there's some business at the end which sets up the next story, "The Deadly Assassin". It's sad stuff for those of us that adore Elisabeth Sladen though, because this is where the Doctor is called back to Gallifrey, and he can't bring Sarah Jane with him. It's heartbreaking partly because it's so understated: he explains the call means he's got go, asks her not to forget him until they meet again, and she's shown the door. It's a different feeling watching now, knowing that she'll partner up with Three again in "The Five Doctors", Ten will meet her again in "School Reunion," and that eventually she'll even get her own show. Of course, the real, unalterable heartbreak now comes in due to our having lost Elisabeth Sladen and any chance of seeing our Sarah Jane again except by travelling back in time, watching these old shows and reliving those moments where we can catch the little smiles like the one that after that "armless" pun.

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