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Horror of Fang Rock was the first story of season 15 of Doctor Who. Graham Williams' three-year stint as producer of the series began with this story. It is the only time that the Rutan Host — the oft-mentioned mortal enemies of the Sontarans — have been depicted in a broadcast television story.

Synopsis Edit

The cursed island of Fang Rock off the south coast of England is a place of rumour and tales of beasts from the sea. Three lighthouse men at the turn of the century face their fears when something comes from the sea to bring death to all it touches.

Plot Edit

Part 1 Edit

The Doctor's plans to show Brighton to Leela are on hold for now, as yet again the TARDIS takes its occupants to the wrong time and place. This time they arrive on the island of Fang Rock off the south coast of England around the start of the 20th century. Noticing that the lighthouse isn't functioning properly, the Doctor decides to investigate and to ask for directions.

After they arrive at the lighthouse and introduce themselves, the Doctor discovers the dead body of one of the keepers, Ben. The two other keepers — old, superstitious Reuben and keen young Vince — say that a light fell from the sky near the island earlier in the evening. They also say the electricity flow to the lamp on the lighthouse has become erratic. The Doctor deduces that something is feeding on the flow. Reuben does not help matters with his constant references to the mythical Beast of Fang Rock which supposedly once terrorised the lighthouse. He is also unhappy about the replacement of the old oil lights with electrical ones.

As the Doctor and Leela explore, something moves Ben's body out of the lighthouse and onto the island. A curious electric crackling also seems to have killed the local fish. The Doctor believes Ben was electrocuted. The freak fog continues to descend. A ship passes near the island, ignoring the fog and darkness and sailing at top speed. It crashes on Fang Rock...

Part 2 Edit

There are four survivors of the yacht's wreck: the bo'sun Harker; Colonel James Skinsale, an MP; the yacht's owner, Lord Palmerdale; and his highly strung secretary Adelaide Lessage. It emerges slowly that Palmerdale has bought government secrets from Skinsale and was desperate to reach the Stock Exchange in London to make a killing — that was why the ship was travelling at such high speed in the appalling weather.

The Doctor continues to analyse the threat being faced. Reuben believes the Beast of Fang Rock is back, but the Doctor assures Leela there is no such thing. He thinks the light which fell from the sky was a spaceship landing. Aliens unfamiliar with humans are attracted to the lighthouse's electricity. They are keeping themselves out of sight while isolating Fang Rock by creating the fog. The Doctor deduces an attack is imminent.

Reuben goes to stoke the boiler. While he is in the boiler room, Leela feels another cold wave, and the electricity fails again. All is silent in the dark, save Reuben screaming in the boiler room...

Part 3 Edit

The Doctor and Leela go to investigate. Reuben returns while they are away, behaving very oddly, which the others put down to shock. The pattern of death now speeds up. Palmerdale is killed in the lamp room by a glowing alien presence outside the lighthouse. Harker is killed when Reuben corners him in the boiler room. Judging by the alien light emanating from Reuben, he has been possessed or transformed by the alien creature. The Doctor determines their best protection is to secure the lighthouse to keep the creature out.

While inspecting the boiler room, the Doctor and Leela find both Harker's body and that of Reuben, which has been hidden. The Doctor says that Reuben's body is in rigor mortis — he's been dead for hours. Leela is confused, as she knew that Reuben was in his room. The shocked Doctor realises that he has overlooked the chameleon factor, which he says is sometimes called lycanthropy. In securing the lighthouse, the Doctor has locked the creature in with them...

Part 4 Edit

The creature, in the guise of Reuben, appears to Vince, with a grin, and kills him in a flash of blue light by placing a hand on his head.

The Doctor and Leela discuss the creature as Leela fills the boiler. The Doctor says it has great power, but it needed to study the human life pattern first. He says that "organic restructuring is elementary physiology for Time Lords". Leela misunderstands, believing that if the creature is a Time Lord, then they have no chance to stop it. The Doctor corrects her, saying that what his people consider elementary might take other species thousands of years to master, and she says, "Then we have nothing to worry about," because the Doctor, as a Time Lord, should be able to deal with the creature easily. The Doctor seems to be buffered by her blind faith in his people and begins to consider why the creature took the form of Reuben. Leela suggests trying to deceive the creature into thinking its ruse was effective, but the Doctor says it's too dangerous. They then find an alien power relay being used with a distress beacon. He goes to look for the signal modulator but sends Leela to gather the rest of the survivors and bring them to the lamp room.

Adelaide begs Skinsale to stop pacing. They're startled by the appearance of Leela, who tells them that Harker has died, the creature is inside, and they must fight for their lives. To Leela's consternation, Adelaide faints. "Reuben" interrupts the Doctor as he searches someone's bunk; the Doctor evades him by climbing out the window, dangling by his fingertips. Adelaide is revived by Skinsale but doesn't want to go. They get her moving, only to find that "Reuben" has found them. The Doctor laboriously climbs back inside, revealing that he has found a device. "Reuben" kills Adelaide right in front of Leela and Skinsale, and they run for it. The Doctor confronts the alien and it sheds its disguise, revealing a tentacled glowing green gelatinous sphere resembling a giant jellyfish. The Doctor immediately recognises it as a Rutan, who uses plural pronouns to reference itself and declares that it is a scout trained in the "new metamorphosis techniques". The Doctor tells him it'll get better at them in time. It refuses to tell the Doctor why it is there, but it is angered when the Doctor suggests that the Rutans must be losing their never-ending war with the Sontarans. The Rutan Scout declares that the Rutan Host is instead making "a series of strategic withdrawls", and although the Earth is remote, it has a sound enough strategic position to launch a counterattack. The Doctor is alarmed, as the Sontarans will use photonic bombardment (which will kill many people) to dislodge the Rutan presence. He realises that the Rutan scout ship crash landed in the sea, and it confirms that it is trying to summon its mother ship. The Doctor reveals that he has deactivated both the primary transmitter and the backup. The Rutan Scout says it was transmitting long enough, and the Doctor says it won't last that long before fleeing upstairs to the lamp room.

Leela and Skinsale have made it to the lamp room and start following the Doctor's instructions to break open the maroons (maroon flares) and spread the powder down the stairs. The Doctor rushes in and uses the powder and a fuse to hurt the Rutan Scout, who retreats back down the stairs. He explains that Ruta III is an icy planet (so its inhabitants find heat painful) and asks if they have more gunpowder or (hopefully) a flamethrower.

Skinsale shows him a kind of mortar they brought up from below. The Doctor grabs a flare device, and they stuff it with items from their pockets to create shrapnel. As they do so, he explains that the real threat is the Rutan ship that is on the way.

The three devise a plan, with Leela suggesting that the Doctor change the lighthouse into a laser, but the Doctor needs crystalline carbondiamond — to focus it. Skinsale says that Palmerdale always carried diamonds, and they get to work.

The men make their way downstairs while Leela covers them with the flare. Skinsale retrieves the diamonds from a hidden pouch. The Doctor selects one, then throws the rest on the floor before running back upstairs. Skinsale tries to collect the other diamonds, and so doesn't see the scout approaching. The Doctor glances back and watches as the Scout kills Skinsale. Leela shoots it with the mortar before gloating over its death. As the Doctor converts the lighthouse into a high-energy laser using the diamond, they watch the mothership approach. The Doctor warns Leela that once he turns it on, they cannot look back and they will have 117 seconds to get out of the lighthouse. They flee the lighthouse and run for cover as the laser destroys the Rutan mother ship. Leela sneaks a look back despite the Doctor's orders not to and is blinded by the flash; she gives her knife to the Doctor and begs to be killed, as amongst the Sevateem it is the fate of the old and crippled. Although he takes the knife, the Doctor laughs as he gets a closer look at her eyes. He explains that the blindness is temporary, but he is surprised to find that the flash has caused pigmentation dispersal in Leela's eyes — in plain English, they've changed colour and are now blue. The Doctor quotes Wilfrid Gibson's poem Flannan Isle as they leave Fang Rock, which echoes eerily on the empty island as the TARDIS fades away:

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 untouch'd meal,
And an overtoppled chair...

Cast Edit

Uncredited cast Edit

Crew Edit

References Edit

Animals Edit

  • Vince Hawkins tells Leela that he talks to seals to combat boredom.

Cultural references from real world Edit

Rutans Edit

  • The Rutan is a scout from the Rutan Empire.
  • The Rutan used to control the whole Mutter's Spiral but the Sontarans have driven them to the far fringes of the galaxy.

Technology Edit

Story notes Edit

  • This story had the working titles The Rocks of Doom (also Rocks of Doom), The Monster of Fang Rock and The Beast of Rang Rock.
  • Horror of Fang Rock was a late replacement for the scripts Terrance Dicks had originally submitted, a vampire-based tale entitled The Vampire Mutations, which was cancelled close to production lest it detract from the BBC's high-profile adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic novel Count Dracula, due for transmission close to when the serial would have aired. A re-written version of The Vampire Mutations eventually saw production in 1980 as State of Decay.
  • Director Paddy Russell cast John Abbott as Vince Hawkins after seeing him play Snoopy in a play in the Edinburgh Fringe. (DCOM: Horror of Fang Rock)
  • At the end of the final episode, as the TARDIS leaves the island, the Doctor recites some lines from Flannan Isle by Wilfred Gibson.
  • In the DVD commentary, Terrance Dicks says he was unhappy about Tom Baker's delivery of the line "Dead, with honour", when telling Leela of Colonel Skinsale's fate. In the episode, Baker says "Dead with honour", with no pause. In his novelisation of the story, Dicks writes the line as "Dead. With honour", to emphasise what he had intended — that Skinsale was dead, but after a moment's thought adding that it was "with honour" (even though it wasn't).
  • The "pigment dispersal" scene at the end of the story when Leela's eyes change from brown to blue was a practical (rather than story) motivated event. It was so Louise Jameson did not have to continue wearing brown contact lenses. This was done to keep her as a member of the cast, as she found wearing the lenses uncomfortable and seriously considered leaving the show. Horror of Fang Rock was actually the second story filmed of the season, after The Invisible Enemy, so when the time came to don the contacts for this story, Jameson's eyes had had a rest for several weeks and she was better able to cope.
  • The story's exact year is never made explicit, but a reference to the beast being seen "eighty years ago" in the "twenties" suggests the early 20th century. Lance Parkin's unofficial chronology aHistory dates it to c.1902.
  • According to the DVD commentary by Louise Jameson, a scene in part three was crucial to the behind-the-scenes relationship between her and co-star Tom Baker. In one scene, he consistently came in ahead of his cue, upstaging her. On the grounds that this move was "not what they had rehearsed", she insisted on three successive retakes until he finally came in at the rehearsed time. This apparently won his respect. From that point forward, she claims, their working relationship was much smoother.
  • This is the second of two serials in which Leela does not wear either of her famous leather outfits. After this, however, it was decided to return her to her original, more revealing costume introduced in The Face of Evil.
  • This story marks the last time that the Doctor travels with only a single companion until The Caves of Androzani in 1984. However, if the introduction of Nyssa in The Keeper of Traken does not qualify her as a companion, then the next occasion really occurs in that story.
  • This was the final televised story in which every character other than the Doctor and his companion(s) is killed until The Doctor's Wife in 2011. In early drafts of the story, Adelaide and Skinsale survived; however, this was changed to make the story more resonant with the poem Flannan Isle. (INFO: Horror of Fang Rock) Stories in which most of the characters die include Pyramids of Mars (also directed by Paddy Russell), Warriors of the Deep, The Caves of Androzani, The Parting of the Ways, and Sleep No More.
  • Although they are referenced in several other stories, particularly those featuring their enemies the Sontarans, this is to date the only televised appearance of the Rutans in Doctor Who.

Ratings Edit

  • Part one - 6.8 million viewers
  • Part two - 7.1 million viewers
  • Part three - 9.8 million viewers
  • Part four - 9.9 million viewers

Myths Edit

  • Louise Jameson breaks character and corpses on camera after delivering Leela's "pep talk" to the Doctor in the boiler room. (She can be seen breaking into a smile and laughing after Tom Baker turns his back, but Jameson says on the DVD commentary that the laughter was scripted.)

Filming locations Edit

  • Horror of Fang Rock was the only story of the classic series run to be made entirely outside of London. Due to engineering work at BBC Television Centre — the programme's usual production base — its principal studio location was Pebble Mill Studios in Birmingham.

Production errors Edit

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.

to be added

Continuity Edit

Max Headroom signal intrusion incident Edit


Screen capture of "Max Headroom" taken during the hijacked broadcast.

Main article: Wikipedia: Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion incident.

On 22 November 1987, a rebroadcast of Horror of Fang Rock on PBS affiliate WTTW in Chicago, Ill., was the target of a prank in which individuals managed to hijack WTTW's broadcast feed and, for nearly 90 seconds, the pranksters aired footage of two individuals, one wearing a Max Headroom mask, spouting gibberish and advertising catchphrases including those at the time associated with Max Headroom and Coca-Cola, and humming music. The two also engaged in mildly risqué behaviour near the end of the tape. The signal intrusion occurred twice that evening: first during highlights from an American Football game on a newscast on the then-independent commercial station WGN-TV, and later during the broadcast of Horror of Fang Rock on public television station WTTW. The first attempt appeared to be partially unsuccessful as those responsible were unable to properly broadcast sound, only managing to provide electronic buzzing and screeches in the signal's audio channels, and were quickly cut off by WGN-TV. The Doctor Who interruption had proper sound, albeit distorted, and ran in its entirety.

The Doctor Who interruption appeared to have been pre-recorded, and was transmitted during the first part of Horror of Fang Rock. The footage starts with a man disguised as television personality Max Headroom, referring to an unknown individual who the presenter describes as a "frickin' nerd" before mentioning Chuck Swirsky and laughing. The presenter proceeds to toss a Coca-Cola can at the camera while saying "Catch the Wave" (referencing the actual Max Headroom, who used the slogan as part of a marketing campaign for Coca-Cola's then-current "New Coke") before raising his middle finger up to the camera (an obscene gesture in the United States, akin to the inverted V-sign in Britain) while wearing a rubber finger atop the former. The presenter then states that "your love is fading," a reference to the 1966 Temptations song "(I Know) I'm Losing You," and removes the rubber finger. He then sings the theme tune to the 1959 American synchro-vox cartoon Clutch Cargo and states, "I can still see the 'X'" midway (a reference to Clutch Cargo's final episode, "Big X"). Groaning, the presenter then moans, "My piles," referring to haemorrhoid pain, and gyrates while making flatulent noises, describing it as "a giant masterpiece for all the greatest world newspaper nerds" (an apparent insult at WGN). He proceeds to don a cloth glove on his left hand (stating that the other one is "dirty" and in his brother's possession) before taking it off in disgust after complaining that there are bloodstains on it. At this point, the tape cuts to another angle where a second individual is visible. The first individual's rear end is visible, yet his face is left off-camera. He holds his mask up to the camera with the rubber finger in its mouth, claiming that "they're coming to get me," before the second individual (dressed as a French maid) commands him to bend over. The second individual repeatedly spanks the first with a flyswatter while the latter pleads to "make it stop." The transmission cuts to black and then Doctor Who resumes at the scene where the Fourth Doctor surmises that Ben had died of electrocution. Representatives for WTTW later admitted that they were powerless to stop the broadcast because the engineers were not on duty at the Sears Tower transmitters.

In the days following, the scene from Horror of Fang Rock that had been interrupted was rebroadcast on local Chicago and national media. The individuals responsible for the illegal hijacking of the two broadcast signals have never been identified or apprehended; it is also a mystery as to whether the Doctor Who broadcast had been targeted specifically, or if the pranksters just happened to choose that moment to begin their hijack.

Home video and audio releases Edit

DVD releases Edit

This story was released as Doctor Who: Horror of Fang Rock.



  • Commentary by Louise Jameson, John Abbott and Terrance Dicks.
  • Terrance Dicks: Fact & Fiction - With a writing career spanning 6 decades, Terrance Dicks is featured in this special documentary that looks at his work for books and television, with contributions from many of his friends and colleagues.
  • Paddy Russell: A Life in Television - In this specially shot interview, Paddy looks back over her forty year career in television as an actress, stage manager and director.
  • The Antiques Doctor Who Show - This short film from 1993 gives an insightful look into the merchandising of Doctor Who.
  • Photo Gallery
  • Production Subtitles
  • Easter Egg - Countdown clock for Part 3. To access, go to the special features menu and press left at the cursor for "The Antiques Doctor Who Show".


VHS releases Edit

This story was released as Doctor Who: Horror of Fang Rock.


External links Edit