Well, it seems the BBC are doing their best to preserve the sanity of Doctor Who fans who are staring into an abyss labelled “how long till the Christmas special????”. Yes, they seem to be trying to increase the frequency of DVD releases from the classic series. And here’s the latest – one with a special place in the hearts of many fans of a certain age, as it sees the departure of Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen). Yes, her, as seen in School Reunion earlier this year.
First shown in October 1976, The Hand of Fear stuck in my memory for several reasons, but mainly because unless my memory is even more faulty than normal, I missed the last episode. I’ve no idea why, but I remember reading about Sarah’s departure in the papers afterwards, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t actually see it. And in those days, there was no BBC3 to show a repeat the next day, and video recorders were still in the “primitive” and “expensive” categories. So back then if you missed something on TV, you missed it. Somewhere in the intervening years, I may have caught it on UK Gold, but I don’t remember it. So at least part of this DVD was effectively new to me, which has to be a Good Thing.
After a prologue in which some mysterious aliens make a big fuss about “obliterating” someone called Eldrad, followed by some images intended to indicate the passage of a lot of time, the story proper opens with the Tardis materialising in a quarry. Wait, hold on… It was something of a clichÃ© that every alien planet looked remarkably like a quarry, but this time, it’s an actual quarry. The Doctor and Sarah arrive just in time for some blasting, which results in the Doctor being slightly dazed and Sarah being buried in a pile of rocks.
Sarah is rescued quickly enough, but in the rocks she has found what appears to be a fossilised hand – a hand that must have been there for something like 150 million years…
The hand is wearing a ring, and this appears to have a very strange effect on Sarah. Taking the hand with her, and zapping anyone who gets in her way (the ring gives off a lovely blue blast), she goes to a conveniently located nuclear power station. There, she seals herself and the hand into a dangerously radioactive chamber, all the while saying “Eldrad must live”. The hand begins to regenerate and move around in a manner familiar to people who watch the right kind of horror movie.
After that, things get more interesting. Lots of fun involving a nuclear reactor not exploding, nuclear missiles not destroying the power plant, and the mysterious Eldrad. Is Eldrad an evil destroyer or just misunderstood? You’ll have to watch to find out.
After settling things with Eldrad, the time comes for the Doctor and Sarah to part. Sarah initially gets a bit fed up and announces that she’s leaving (she doesn’t really mean it, but she’s trying to make a point). While she’s packing, the Doctor receives a telepathic summons from his home planet, Gallifrey. He has to return, and as outsiders are not allowed, he can’t take Sarah with him. And so he takes her home, and she leaves the Tardis.
The Doctor’s last words to her are “until we meet again”, which sets us up nicely for their meeting in School Reunion.
Extra features this time round include:
- Changing Time: a 50 minute “making-of”, which dives around a bit, as it looks at the casting of Lis and Tom, and focusses on the relationship between the Doctor and Sarah. Lots of chat from the stars (Tom in excellent form, I’m pleased to say), supporting actors and people involved with the production.
- Swap Shop: a clip from a 1970s Saturday morning TV show presented by Noel Edmonds, featuring an interview with Tom and Lis. And kids phoning in to ask odd questions.
- The ubiquitous on-screen production subtitles
- Other bits and pieces
All good fun. This one is a four-part story on a single DVD. Shop around, and you should be able to get it for under £10, which is a bargain.
 Someone in Doctor Who Magazine worked out that at the current rate of release, it would take around 18 years to issue DVDs of all the surviving stories.
 Which makes me old, I think
 Blakes Seven did the same thing. Only it was blatantly the same quarry in successive episodes…