Doctor Who – Horror of Fang Rock

Doctor Who Story 092 – Horror of Fang Rock

Who Wrote It?

Terrance Dicks

What’s It About?

The Doctor and Leela arrive on Fang Rock, a small island off the coast of England. They discover a lighthouse whose workers are desperately trying to keep the lamp shining through an unusually thick fog. But something deadly is lurking in the darkness. Could it be that the legendary Beast of Fang Rock has returned?

You will do as the Doctor instructs, or I will cut out your heart!

The Doctor and Reuben in the lighthouse gallery.
Source: Radio Times

The Hinchcliffe/Holmes era was known for its Gothic horror. In fact, it was violence derived from this horror that led to Philip Hinchcliffe leaving the show. Horror of Fang Rock marks the beginning of the Graham Williams era, and for me, Horror of Fang Rock is possibly the creepiest horror story yet. Much like Talons of Weng-Chiang, Horror is drenched in atmosphere. But where Talons has an element of adventure, Horror is full of dread. It seems unlikely, but Terrance Dicks may have one-upped Robert Holmes.

The essential structure is a base-under-siege, the base being a lighthouse in this case. Just before The Doctor and Leela arrive, the lighthouse keepers see a light fall from the sky and crash into the ocean. The fog soon follows, as do power fluctuations in the lighthouse which has recently been added to an electrical grid. One of the keepers is killed. What follows is a tense story in which the characters struggle to keep the light shining while a creature from the sea picks them off one by one. And I hope it isn’t too much of a spoiler to reveal that a ship crashes into the rocks, adding new, antagonistic characters to the mix.

The story takes place in the 1920s, and it captures the tone of a 1920s supernatural story. According to Shannon Patrick Sullivan on A Brief History of Time (Travel), one of the inspirations for this story was the Wilfrid Gibson poem Flannan Isle, a poem about a ship that comes upon an abandoned lighthouse. The dinner table in the lighthouse is laid out for a meal, but there is no sign of the keepers. Sullivan also cites Ray Bradbury’s The Fog Horn as an inspiration. This story involves a creature from the ocean that is attracted by the lighthouse horn. It is easy to see how both of these stories influenced Dicks in writing Horror of Fang Rock. Both inspirations involve recurring horrors being visited upon a lighthouse, whether the curse in Flannan Isle or the fog horn that sounds like the sea creature’s mating call in The Fog Horn.

One thing I appreciated about the monster: it fit the story. While we ultimately discovered that the monster was a Rutan, as in the eternal enemies of the Sontarans, the visual design of the creature was similar to a jellyfish. Basically, the Rutan looks like it could be a creature that crawled out of the ocean.

This was a great story, possibly Dicks’ best (or at least, the best realized).

My Rating