Horror of Fang Rock

“Leela, I’ve made a terrible mistake. I thought I’d locked the enemy out. Instead, I’ve locked it in…with us.” – The Doctor

Yet another excellent story though not as famous as others, perhaps because it’s more straightforward and simple: a group of people are trapped in a lighthouse under attack from a crashed alien who slowly kills them one by one until the Doctor is able to turn the tables and defeat it. Despite the basic premise, it’s again a great moody atmospheric story filled with old English fog (I hadn’t realized there were two of those in a row) and an isolated location that contributes greatly to the story; indeed, the show had not had a good ‘base under siege’ type episode in quite a while. The characters are all full of personality and humanity and moral failures that build the story and make things interesting. (It has nothing to do with the plot but the scene of the old and young and new lighthouse keepers debating the merits of modern technology, for example, is just a nice piece of realistic dialogue and interaction that personalize these characters so that we can feel bad at their eventual demise.)

It’s really the Doctor and Leela that make this story work. It’s a great example of the Doctor at the peak of his game—sizing up a situation and taking command by sheer power of will as well as nonchalantly confronting a deadly enemy. Leela shines more than ever in this story—absolutely a gem as she straddles her old world and new. From her total lack of shyness changing in front of the lighthouse worker to her inability to deal with a shrieking woman (“Has she never seen death before?”), the unique perspective given by her ‘savage’ background is well highlighted. We see her bravery as she boldly follows the Doctor at every hint of danger, and I was absolutely cheering her fierce loyalty in blocking the way to make sure Adelaide follows the Doctor’s command.

At the same time, the episode highlights her growth including the wonderfully touching way she reflects on her changing viewpoints when Adelaide talks of her astrologer: “I understand. She is your shaman…A waste of time. I too used to believe in magic, but the Doctor has taught me about science. It is better to believe in science.” Yet she is far from a servant to his everyexpectation. She stares down the dying Rutan and gloats in their destruction of him. (“Enjoy your death as I enjoyed killing you.”) The Doctor disapproves but she doesn’t really show any regret—in her eyes it is right.

Best (or worst) unsettling moments:

Episodes where the Doctor tries to protect a group and yet everyone dies are always a bit disturbing or perhaps frustrating. We don’t see it but the description of the Rutan’s ‘post-mortem’ on poor Ben is a bit horrific—unusually, they even give us a glimpse of his bloody remains.


  • Rutans – mentioned many times before but never seen


There are times where the Rutan looks more like a fried egg than an alien but I appreciate the attempt at something different at least. I also have to suspend a lot of disbelief at the end to think the Doctor is able to use a tiny diamond to convert a lighthouse lamp into a laser beam.