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Recap / Doctor Who S15 E1 "Horror of Fang Rock"

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Horror of Fang Rock
Written by Terrance Dicks
Directed by Paddy Russell
Production code: 4V
Air dates: 3 - 24 September 1977
Number of episodes: 4

"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."
The Doctor

The one where Leela's eyes change colour.

Also the one that got hijacked.

Season fifteen kicks off where season fourteen finished: Gothic Horror. The TARDIS materialises in a lighthouse on an isolated piece of shoreline just after a mysterious light has been seen falling from the sky. One of the lighthouse-keepers is found electrocuted. The Doctor and Leela (who throws on a nice warm sweater) investigate.

Soon, a sudden fog bank descends, causing a ship to founder on the rocks. The posh survivors straggle ashore but they soon find that they're locked in the lighthouse with a Rutan — a jelly-like alien that can take other forms and has been masquerading as lighthouse-keeper Reuben.The Rutans are described by the Doctor as being the ancient and implacable enemies of the Sontarans, who have appeared multiple times in the show's history (though this is the only appearance so far of the Rutans). Everyone who's not on team TARDIS dies. The Doctor kills the Rutan warrior with a makeshift explosive, and then uses a diamond that one of the survivors had been carrying to focus the lighthouse's light into a laser beam to destroy the incoming Rutan mothership. Despite the Doctor's warning, Leela looks at the explosion and gets blinded. She promptly tells the Doctor to kill her, because she's a liability, but he explains that the blindness is temporary — although it did change her eye colour permanently, from brown to blue.note 

On a trivia note, this is the only classic-era Doctor Who story to be taped in Birmingham rather than London, which might well have been to its advantage because the staff of the small Pebble Mill studios didn't want to waste this chance to prove they could stage a quality drama. The serial is also remembered for a 1987 American broadcast which was hijacked by some guy in a Max Headroom mask. The hijacker remains unidentified as of this writing.


  • Action Girl: Leela has already shown herself to be one, but she's particularly badass in this story, slapping a character who goes into hysterics, personally going out into the fog with her knife to kill the alien and later smashing Ruben's door down with a sledgehammer she was earlier taking practice swings with. She also threatens to cut out a man's heart when he refuses to do as the Doctor says.
  • Alice Allusion: The Doctor, when investigating the generator, says "Curiouser and curiouser".
  • Asshole Victim: Lord Palmerdale and, to a lesser extent, Adelaide.
  • The Atoner: Colonel Skinsale tries to be this. Unfortunately, it results in him making some pretty stupid decisions.
  • Bad News in a Good Way: (excitedly) "Gentlemen, I have news! This lighthouse is under attack and by morning we may all be dead!" (toothy grin) Of course, by morning they are all dead, except for the Doctor and Leela....
  • Big Bad: The Rutan.
  • Big Entrance: Whenever the Doctor enters a room. Since the lighthouse was cramped and the camera had to be very static, Tom Baker insisted on entering each room with a flourish to make up for it.
  • Blood Knight: Leela, as usual. She grins happily as the dying Rutan oozes its way down the stairs.
    Leela: Enjoy your death, Rutan! As I enjoyed killing you!
  • Blue Blood: Lord Palmerdale and company. The Doctor bottles up his contempt for them.
  • Break the Cutie: Being trapped in the lighthouse with a monster that will kill them all by morning has a clear negative effect on the Doctor's mind, sending him moody and paranoid and, most of all, pants-wettingly terrified.
  • Cassandra Truth: Nobody believes Vince when he says he saw something fall out of the sky.
  • Closed Circle: The characters are all stuck in a circular enclosed space.
  • Cue the Sun: The story ends while dawn is breaking.
  • Death by Materialism: The last surviving non-regular character, Skinsale, is killed after his greed gets the better of him and he scrabbles for the diamonds that the Doctor had thrown away (only needing the best one to focus a laser). The Rutan gets him. It had been established earlier that greed was his Fatal Flaw.
  • Death Ray: The Doctor using his MacGyvering skills to weaponize the lighthouse beam into a sort of Archimedes Heat Ray to blow the Rutan mothership into smithereens.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Leela all the way. She casually starts to remove her clothes in front of Vince (who covers his eyes and flees) and has no issue wearing men's clothes and stoking the boiler, to Adelaide's disapproval. Later she gloats over the dying Rutan and tells the Doctor to kill her after she thinks she's gone blind.
  • Dissonant Serenity: How the Doctor breaks the news of the lighthouse attack to Harker, Palmerdale, and Skinsale, complete with a grin:
    The Doctor: Gentlemen, I've got news for you. This lighthouse is under attack and by morning we might all be dead! Anyone interested?
  • Don't Look Back: Because you're going to be blinded by the explosion, Leela.
  • Doomy Dooms of Doom: This story was originally going to be called "Rocks of Doom."
  • The Edwardian Era: Though Ben has hair and a moustache that could only have existed in The '70s.
  • Electric Jellyfish: The Rutan is pretty much a space version of this.
  • "Everybody Dies" Ending: No one survives this one except for the Doctor and Leela; the lighthouse's residents are massacred by the Rutan, who in turn is killed by the Doctor and Leela.
  • Expospeak Gag: The Doctor explains "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."
  • Eye Colour Change: Leela's eyes change from brown to blue. In-universe, because she looked into the blinding light of the explosion. In real-life, because the naturally blue-eyed Louise Jameson was fed up of having to wear brown contract lenses.
  • Face Stealer: The Rutan dissects Ben in order to learn enough human physiology to take the form of Reuben for the final two episodes. Later victims it just kills.
  • Faint in Shock: Adelaide faints when Leela announces that the Rutan is inside the lighthouse.
  • Flare Gun: Not a flare gun, but the Doctor uses the flare gun's bigger brother the signal rocket (taken from the lighthouse stores) against the Rutan.
  • Fog of Doom: Caused by the Rutan scout trying to adapt the local environment to its own needs.
  • Foil: Adelaide is Leela's foil; being a rich, spoiled and whiny Screaming Woman.
  • Foreshadowing: The main threat turns out to be the Rutans, sworn enemies of the Sontarans. Guess who show up in the season finale?
  • Genre Refugee: The upper class survivors seem like they've wandered in from Upstairs Downstairs.
  • Get a Hold of Yourself, Woman!: Leela slapping Adelaide for screaming.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: The Rutans may be this in their long war with the Sontarans.
  • High-Voltage Death: Like the rest of its species, the stranded Rutan is capable of generating and discharging massive amounts of electricity from its body, making use of this ability to fry the living daylights out of its victims.
  • Hysterical Woman: Adelaide just sits around sobbing, screaming or fainting all the time, to Leela's annoyance.
  • Insignificant Little Blue Planet: The Doctor is quite surprised by the Rutan's interest in Earth. It turns out to be fairly mild.
    The Doctor: Why invade an obscure planet like Earth? It's of no value to you.
    Rutan: The planet is obscure, but its strategic position is sound.
  • Inspired by…/Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The Flannan Isles mystery proved the inspiration for this adventure. The poem is even quoted by The Doctor.
  • Jerkass: Lord Palmerdale.
  • Lack of Empathy: While the others look upon the shipwreck with horror, wondering how they can help any survivors, Leela turns her back on it and flatly declares that all aboard must be dead.
  • Lighthouse Point: Where all the action takes place.
  • Mineral MacGuffin: The diamonds.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: See The Radio Dies First below.
  • Never Speak Ill of the Dead: The Doctor tells Leela that Skinsale died with honour.
  • Oh, Crap!: The Doctor is shocked to see that Reuben has been dead long enough for his body to develop rigor mortis. "I thought I locked the creature out. Instead I locked him in. With us." Cue credits.
  • The Radio Dies First: Skinsale sabotages the wireless to thwart Palmerdale's schemes.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The reason Leela's eyes are bleached by the explosion in the lighthouse at the end of part four was more practical than story-based: Louise Jameson hated the brown contacts she had to wear, citing them as irritating and painful. As a result, she stated that she would only stay for Season 15 if she could stop wearing the contacts, causing Terrance Dicks to incorporate a re-write into the script to explain the colour change in-universe.
  • Repeated Rehearsal Failure: the Doctor sends his companion Leela down to the boiler room at the base of the lighthouse to pass a message to one of the lighthouse keepers about the importance of keeping the boiler pressure up. Leela hurries down the long stairway, muttering the message to herself to fix it in her memory. It comes out a bit mangled at the end, but fortunately the lighthouse keeper is able to figure out what the Doctor meant about the "boipressure".
  • Rich Bitch: Adelaide.
  • Screaming Woman: Adelaide... until Leela slaps her.
  • Shock and Awe: The Rutan kills its victims with electricity.
  • Silent Snarker: Leela rolls her eyes at Adelaide after she faints.
  • Shout-Out: The Doctor quotes Wilfrid Gibson's poem The Ballad of Flannan Isle as they leave Fang Rock.
    "Aye, though we hunted high and low, and hunted everywhere, of the three men's fate we found no trace. Of any kind in any place. But a door ajar and an untouched meal and an over-toppled chair".
  • Sickly Green Glow: The Rutan.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Apart from Leela, Adelaide is the only female character in the story.
  • Starfish Aliens: The Rutan, glowing tentacled blobs.
  • Temporary Blindness: Leela, if only a few seconds.
  • The Siege: A "base under siege" story like many before it. Though as the Doctor realises too late, he's actually in a Trapped-with-Monster Plot because the creature can shapeshift into human form.
  • Spoonerism: Leela consistently mangles technological terms, from "boiler pressure" to "Mognal Sigulator" (signal modulator).
    • "Teshnician." Although this one has an in series reason. Leela's tribe, the Sevateem (survey team) have a rival tribe called the Tesh (Technicians). Both names are the result of linguistic degradation of two parts of the crew of a crashed spaceship.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: The Rutan, with great effort.
  • Wandering Walk of Madness: Reuben apparently encounters something nasty downstairs and can only wander aimlessly back up the stairs in shell-shocked silence, unable to make eye contact with anyone or speak beyond a request to be left alone. Vince, having heard the stories of the Beast of Fang Rock and the three victims it left in the wake of its last appearance - two dead and one insane - assumes that the pattern is repeating with Reuben being driven insane by the beast. It's ultimately subverted when it turns out that this isn't Reuben at all: it's the Rutan scout infiltrating the lighthouse, having killed the real Reuben and adopted his appearance; the wandering and apparent madness is due to the fact that it doesn't know how to properly impersonate human beings just yet.
  • The X of Y: "Horror of Fang Rock".
  • Zombie Gait: The Rutan doesn't really know how a human body moves normally.


Video Example(s):


The Max Headroom Incident

On November 22, 1987, an unknown group of people hijacked a WTTW re-run of the 1977 Doctor Who serial "Horror of Fang Rock" using a pre-recorded video parodying the Channel 4 character Max Headroom. The video, which features "Max" erratically mocking various bits of pop culture before being spanked by a French maid, aired for 90 seconds before cutting back to Doctor Who. To this day, the parties responsible have never been identified. Note: this clip has been edited for conciseness.

How well does it match the trope?

4.94 (16 votes)

Example of:

Main / MockHeadroom

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