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Show: Doctor Who (1963-1989)
Episode:  The Hand of Fear (Part 1)
Review by: Michael Hickerson
When you think about the classic stories from the early years of Tom Baker's reign as the Doctor, "The Hand of Fear" isn't necessarily one that draws attention to itself. Part of that may be that it's nestled in a season that is largely considered one of the best seasons of all-time by most Who fans. Another part of it is there are so many giants around it—Deadly Assassin, Robots of Death and the Talons of Weing Chiang—that it tends to get lost in the shadows. I know that I've been guilty of overlooking "Hand of Fear" not only in my overall assessment of the Tom Baker era on Doctor Who but also in my usual journey through the series that is Doctor Who.

But should the story be more widely regarded than it is? Certainly it has all the elements that make for a good and popular Who story, especially this late in the Holmes/Hinchcliffe era. It's got some gothic horror, it's got an intriguing enough monster and it's even got a bit of a social commentary slant from the end of the Pertwee years. And it's a story that features the departure of one of the more well regarded companions, Sarah Jane Smith.

So, why isn't The Hand of Fear classic Doctor Who?

Probably because it's just good Who and in a season with such giants that raise the bar so high, it just doesn't do much of anything really memorable or exciting. (Beyond the departure of Sarah Jane Smith, that is.) Certainly, the story has its fun moments—the TARDIS lands in what is obviously a rock quarry and instead of the usual alien planet it turns out to be a rock quarry. Sarah is quickly put into danger, possessed by the hand of Eldrad. It even features a popular and memorable catch phrase by the writing team of Bob Baker and Dave Martin with, "Eldrad must live!"

And it's with Bob Baker and Dave Martin that I think a lot of the problem lies. In interviews, the duo has talked about the "formula" they used to write Doctor Who episodes—how to break it down so something dramatic happens every five or so minutes, culminating with the cliffhanger to conclude the episode. And while it was intriguing enough in the Pertwee years and it worked extremely well in the shorter The Sontaran Experiment it quickly loses its luster here. The story just seems to keep wanting to top itself and going to extreme lengths to do so. Sarah is almost killed…but wait, now she's gone into a nuclear reactor…but wait, the hand is really alive! All of it tries to build up to a crescendo, but each time it just doesn't feel as though Baker and Martin have their hearts in it. And after three or so episodes of this storytelling, it begins to wear a bit thin.

That said, once the crew has attacked Eldrad with planes and he has formed into the image of Sarah, we head off to his homeworld for scenes right out of Death to the Daleks or the final moments of Pyramids of Mars. Imagine that—Eldrad hasn't been telling the entire truth! And his people have all died out, thus robbing him for his revenge. Part of the problem is that we don't feel any attachment to Eldrad as a villain and so it's hard to muster up any sympathy for him here. He's been running about, shouting orders and trying to take over people's minds for so much of the story that we don't feel any sympathy for his plight here. (Also, you have to wonder—how does the Doctor know which era to take him home to? Why take him there when the planet has been destroyed? Are we seeing a bit of the manipulative side of the Doctor that was so evident in the 2nd and 7th Doctors?)

But for all the things the story doesn't quite get right, there is one thing it does get remarkably right—Sarah Jane's departure. Sarah Jane's leaving of the TARDIS is in the same no-nonsense vein that she entered the TARDIS. It will tug a bit at the heart strings and it certainly does resonate a bit. You feel as though you're losing an old friend from the TARDIS crew and you realize just how good she was as a companion and how much you will miss her. Sarah's departure is pretty much pitch-perfect and hit all the right notes, even down to the Doctor dropping her off in the wrong part of town. And the final scenes between the Doctor and Sarah Jane are just marvelously done. Both Tom Baker and Liz Sladen pull these off with confident ease.

So, is Hand of Fear perfect? No, not really. But it is one of the better, what I consider middle stories in Who. It's good to pull out and watch when you've seen your favorite umpteen times and want to dust off something less familiar. It does the departure of Sarah Jane justice and that, I suppose, makes it well worth the time and energy to give it a viewing.
Last Updated: 10/25/2006
Other Reviews by Michael Hickerson
1) The Celestial Toymaker (Updated: 10/25/2006)
2) The Parting of the Ways (Updated: 11/15/2006)
3) The Ultimate Foe (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
4) Colony in Space (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
5) Paradise Towers (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
6) The Web Planet (Updated: 10/25/2006)
7) The Happiness Patrol (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
8) The Hand of Fear (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
9) Vengeance on Varos (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
10) The Tenth Planet (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
11) Terror of the Vervoids (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
12) The Brain of Morbius (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
13) Time-Flight (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
14) Spearhead from Space (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
15) Caves of Androzani (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
16) The Curse of Fenric (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
17) The Gunfighters (Updated: 10/25/2006)
18) Aliens of London (Updated: 10/25/2006)
19) World War Three (Updated: 10/25/2006)
20) Dalek (Updated: 11/15/2006)
21) City of Death (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
22) The War Machines (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
23) Boom Town (Updated: 10/25/2006)
24) The Ark in Space (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
25) Mindwarp (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
26) The Massacre (Updated: 10/25/2006)
27) The Mysterious Planet (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
28) The Pyramids of Mars (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
29) The Rescue (Updated: 10/25/2006)
30) Planet of Fire (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
31) Full Circle (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
32) Mawdryn Undead (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
33) The Two Doctors (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
34) The Myth Makers (Updated: 10/25/2006)
35) Attack of the Cybermen (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
36) An Unearthly Child (Updated: 10/25/2006)
37) Underworld (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
38) Timelash (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
39) The Steel Sky (Updated: 2/13/2006)
40) Invasion (Part 1) (Updated: 2/14/2006)
41) Delta and the Bannermen (Part 1) (Updated: 2/20/2006)
42) Tomb of the Cybermen (Part 1) (Updated: 3/1/2006)
43) The Daemons (Part 1) (Updated: 3/2/2006)
44) Terror of the Zygons (Part 1) (Updated: 3/3/2006)
45) The Day of the Daleks (Part 1) (Updated: 3/13/2006)
46) New Earth (Updated: 4/20/2006)
47) Tooth and Claw (Updated: 4/27/2006)
48) The Idiot's Lantern (Updated: 5/31/2006)
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