The Hand of Fear, Sarah Jane Smith’s farewell story of the classic series, is a favourite of mine, and I’ve never really stopped to think about why. In many ways it feels like a very ordinary story, ticking a lot of the boxes of Pertwee-Baker Earthbound serials, without even a UNIT chappie or two to liven things up.
I think that a big part of the appeal of this one for me is that the story revolves around Sarah as the companion, and has a greater effect on her than most of her later stories had. It might be paced like the old show (and how), but it has a gleam of what we would get in New Who – stories where the companion’s feelings and reactions to things were basically the point of the plot.
A new production team, a new TARDIS team, everything old is new again! Tom Baker’s Doctor is still seen as the definitive take on the character, and 1975 was the beginning of a swell of mainstream recognition for the show such as had not been seen since the Dalekmania days a decade earlier. It’s telling that to many casual viewers and non viewers, “the one with the scarf” is the Doctor they remember.
Tom Baker strode into the role like he had been born to play it, bringing a wave of genuine eccentricity which only added to the idea that the Doctor was an alien, favourite uncle and naughty schoolboy all rolled into one.
It’s hardly surprising that many fans remember a story from 1975 as the start of their devotion – not only were some of the best stories of all time screened in this year, but viewers were treated to nearly two whole seasons of Doctor Who.
Invasion of the Dinosaurs joins The Time Warrior and Planet of the Spiders as the only really GOOD Third Doctor/Sarah Jane adventures, and serves very well to progress their relationship, which is still on shake ground at this point – Sarah was whisked back in time by accident in The Time Warrior and spent a large part of that story thinking the Doctor was the bad guy (fair cop) until he won her over with his suave charm and snippy sense of humour.
The Doctor returns her to London in this story, only for them to be alarmed at a mysteriously empty city. What would be so scary that it is worth evacuating London?
We’ve all had those conversations, right? About the crazy Jo Grant Couture, Amy Pond’s tiny skirts, the adorable go-go boots worn by Polly and Liz Shaw, the alarmingly short shorts sported by Turlough in Planet of Fire, and OH what horrendous crimes against the human body did they force Nicola Bryant into for almost all of her run as Peri? Not to mention Ian’s obsession with Barbara’s combat cardigans, Tegan’s endless flight attendant uniform, Nyssa’s crushed velvet, the modern vs. classic companion attitude to high heels, and whether or not you could actually hunt a Sontaran while wearing Leela’s leathers.
“Planet of the Spiders” (1974)
Season 11: Production Code ZZZ
Written by: Robert Sloman & (uncredited) Barry Letts Directed by: Barry Letts Script Editor: Terrance Dicks
Starring: THE DOCTOR: Jon Pertwee & (uncredited) Tom Baker SARAH JANE SMITH: Elisabeth Sladen BRIGADIER LETHBRIDGE-STEWART: Nicholas Courtney SGT. BENTON: John Levene MIKE YATES: Richard Franklin LUPTON: John Dearth
I once tried to convince Raeli to cosplay this outfit for a party - she had the stripy top but refused to add the spider!
I didn’t mean to rewatch Planet of the Spiders this weekend, but when your seven-year-old daughter voluntarily suggests a touch of Jon Pertwee, you don’t turn her down!
This final story of the Third Doctor’s run is one of my absolute favourites, and has been since… wow. Probably since I was about the age my daughter Raeli is now. It’s a complete love letter to Jon Pertwee and the UNIT Years, with callbacks to previous stories. We even get a letter and a parcel from Jo Grant, a year after she left the show – a very rare example of a companion getting a chance to ‘call in’ after making her farewell, even if we don’t hear Katy Manning’s actual voice. We also get some cute character moments from each of the UNIT regulars, including Benton being adorably domestic, and the Brigadier unexpectedly (against his will!) revealing a snippet of his romantic history with a young lady called Doris.
I’ve been surprised in recent years to hear quite scathing criticisms of this story, especially the indulgent but completely awesome many-vehicles chase sequence, and the not-so-great acting among the Metebelis Three colonists. None of which bothers me at all, because I was raised with an Ignoring the Bad Bits lens through which to view classic Doctor Who stories. If you don’t have one, bet you wish you did. I try never to use this power for evil.
Doctor Who, especially the classic show, has a reputation for being a bit sexist. Which is hardly surprising, considering that it is a product of its time across so many different decades. We lucked out in the late sixties when a classic battle of the sexes episode (including a scene where Jamie spanks Zoe, Taming of the Shrew style) failed to be made. But with such a paternal structure, whereby the Doctor is male and also the character who knows most about everything most of the time, and the employment of such strategic companion costumes as the mini-skirt and, in the 80’s, the mini-skirt AND boob tube combination (not to mention poor Peri in her leotard and shorts) it certainly doesn’t escape that taint. Even the female characters allowed to be close to the Doctor’s intellectual equal, such as Liz and Romana, are regularly taken down a peg or two because the entire premise of the show is that the Doctor is more capable at what he does (even when being comedically bad at what he does) than anyone else.
There’s a reason that more action figures have been made of Leela in her leathers and Peri in her leotard-with-shorts than any other Doctor Who companions. And let’s not get into the recent revelations that Jon Pertwee insisted on a recast of the role of Sarah Jane Smith, because the actress cast before Elisabeth Sladen was too tall, and he liked to perform against a physically small woman, one he could be seen to physically protect. Ahem.
But there’s one sexist trope that, narratively, Doctor Who almost never used, and looking back over some of the rather dodgy decisions made by the show and its almost all-male writing tradition, it’s quite impressive that they didn’t. They almost never killed the girl.
Two seasons down, four to go! (for now) I’ve been having great fun rewatching these episodes and commenting on them with David and Tehani (plus of course my offsider Raeli, now seven years old and firmly in the David Tennant camp after a year of being certain Matt Smith was her Doctor) because of the fresh perspective it comes from bouncing off each other.
Season two, episode three The Doctor – David Tennant Rose Tyler – Billie Piper Sarah Jane – Elisabeth Sladen
We only skip one episode (the werewolf-ish “Tooth and Claw”) before we get to the first of Season Two’s Hugo nominees, “School Reunion”. I think it’s pretty obvious why this one got the fan nod. Not only does it have Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) of BTVS (My fandoms! They cross over!) but of course, we see here the return of Sarah Jane and K9! Fan heads all over the world must have exploded Tansy!
I do want to say one thing about “Tooth and Claw” – I loved how Tennant’s Scottish was showing in that one – listen hard, you’ll hear it 🙂
I don’t think you have to listen too hard, he’s outright doing his own accent for most of the episode! I am a little wistful they wouldn’t let him be Scottish as the Doctor generally. He has a beautiful voice.
Other than the last five minutes, I thought “Tooth and Claw” was an excellent episode, I really enjoyed it. Had a nice nod to Classic Who, some great character acting and an awesome fight scene!
Heh it’s amazing how many stories of this era are brilliant until the last five minutes. But let’s leap ahead to the head-explodey “School Reunion”!