Doctor Who: Horror Of Fang Rock - BBC AudioBookmark and Share

Thursday, 23 March 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Doctor Who and The Horror of Fang Rock (Credit: BBC Audio)
Based on the novelisation by Terrance Dicks
Read by Louise Jameson
Running Time - 180 Minutes
Available now

I was barely seven years old in September 1977 when Horror of Fang Rock first aired, and I can remember that, like most Doctor Who of that era - it terrified me. Since first watching the story I have never been able to look at a lighthouse without thinking of the occupants being electrified by a terrifying, angry green blob with tentacles. A visit to Portland the following year was a particularly traumatic experience.

Of course, when you are seven everything can seem terrifying. Back in the 1970's 'special' effects weren't anything like we have now, but they still captured the imagination well enough. I've bought the story twice since, once on VHS which was of course later replaced by a nice shiny DVD, with lots of extras. Yes, when viewed as an adult, you can easily see that the effects now look shoddy - but the story still thrills, and Horror Of Fang Rock still remains one of my all time favorite episodes of Who, and is one that I am always happy to revisit.

Horror Of Fang Rock is the quintessential base under siege story that Who has always done so well. The base is of course the lighthouse, with the men in charge of it, and a small assortment of disposable characters from a wrecked ship being menaced by an alien threat. Of course, this is no ordinary alien. This is our first real glimpse of a Rutan, the sworn enemy of the Sontarans the two races having been at war for longer than either species can remember. Rutans are shape shifting aliens who here demonstrate a skill for killing humans by electrocution. In their natural form they resemble a glowing green ball with tentacles, but through the power of shape shifting, they could resemble anyone. Or in this case, maybe just old Reuben, the curmudgeonly lighthouse keeper.

Like most young Who fans of the time, I feverishly collected the Target novelisations, and I can remember reading Horror of Fang Rock until the print was almost worn off of it's pages. The joys of the novelisations were of course that you could revisit your favorite stories whenever you wanted to. There was no video then, and hardly any repeats, so you read the book, and somewhere between what you remembered, and your imagination, you were able to relive every detail. Rather wonderfully though, with the help of the author's  own realisation of the tale based on what was broadcast, you often got a lot more material to fuel the imagination, and Terrance Dicks was particularly skilled at adding his own flair.

Listening to this audio transported me back to a version of the tale, and this version was visually so much more stunning that the original broadcast. Dicks always laid out a scene perfectly. A good example here is the Rutan itself. There is a moment in the show when old Reuben the Rutan reverts to it's original form - a lump of green plastic, with tentacles that was lit from the inside, which shuddered with anger and made some scary crackling noises. Which was good enough to ensure that the seven year old me plonked himself behind the sofa, awaiting Mum letting me know that the monster had gone. But just have a read of the description that Dicksput in the novelisation:

"In place of Reuben's form there was a huge, dimly glowing gelatenous mass, internal organs pulsing gently inside the semi-transparent body. Somewhere near the center were huge many faceted eyes, and a shapeless orifice that could have been a mouth."

Now seeing THAT on the telly in 1977 would have given cause for my seven year old self to need some serious therapy. With a tiny bit of prompting, the imagination can be a wonderful thing.

Louise Jameson here reads the novelisation, and she does a fantastic job. She steps back into the role of Leela of that time with ease, and it's because of this that the reading is really brought to life. Jameson also manages to differentiate between the various characters dialogue perfectly. I was also very impressed by the sound effects used throughout, and found myself sometimes looking around to see where a noise was coming from, only to rather sheepishly realise it was coming from my headphones.

Spread across three discs (the story is also available to download), and coming in at 180 minutes, you really do get great value for money on this telling of an absolute gem of a story. This audio is a must listen for fans of the era.