I’ve previously mentinoed Terrance Dicks’ firm grip of basic storytelling principles and there’s further evidence of that here. Our new characters – Lord Palmerdale, Skinsale, Adelaide and Harker – all have interlocking conflicts with each other which will help to keep the drama ticking along.
Palmerdale (Sean Caffrey) plainly sees himself as the top dog and is quite happy to boss young Vince about. And although Adelaide (Annette Woollett) might be Palmerdale’s employee she too has no compunction in ordering Vince to do her bidding. There’s a nice moment of class comedy played out during the scene where Adelaide asks Vince his name. He replies Vince Hawkins and she graciously responds. “Thank you Hawkins”. He’s pleased to have received kind words from a lady and the fact that she used his surname doesn’t register with him. The mistress/servant divide is plain here (just as the opposite is in play with the Doctor and Leela, who always call Vince by his first name).
If Palmerdale and Adelaide both seem rather superior (although having to share a cramped lighthouse with a killer will no doubt wipe the smiles off their faces) then our first impression of Skinsale (Alan Rowe) is rather more favourable. The audience is invited to view the arrogant Palmerdale with disdain and it’s Skinsale who is allowed to articulate these feelings. That Skinsale is placed in opposition to Palmerdale (along with Skinsale’s wry humour) immediately makes him a likeable character although, as we’ll see, his ruthless self-interest will prove to be dangerous.
The Doctor continues to brood and Tom dominates the screen whenever he’s on. The moment where he strides into the crew room and places his feet on the table (a Tom adlib possibly?) is one of those little touches which adds so much to the feel of the story. The Doctor’s baiting of Palmerdale is another treat.
The arrival of Harker (Rio Fanning) ramps up the drama another notch. The only survivor from the crew, Harker blames Palmerdale for the death of the others (this simmering resentment will eventually spill over). For now though, he’s a handy man to have about – a practical sort, unlike the pampered upper-class types still bickering upstairs in the crew room.
The mystery of Ben’s death continues. If he was dead, how did he find his way out of the lighthouse and into the sea? The Doctor has an explanation for Vince. “The shock simply stunned him, he partly recovered, staggered out onto the rocks, fell into the sea and was drowned”. It sounds reasonable, although the Doctor’s well aware that it’s not the truth. But, as he tells Leela, he can’t tell Vince the truth, because he still doesn’t know what the truth is. Whenever the Doctor is clutching at straws it helps to raise the tension just that little bit higher.
The relatively small cast and the confined space allows the Doctor and Leela to be paired together for long stretches (most stories would tend to see the Doctor and companion split up for an episode or two). Tom and Louise might have been struggling off-screen, but on-screen the Doctor and Leela make for an excellent team. Here, the Doctor shares his fears with her. “That creature, or whatever it is, will be getting bolder by now. It’s seen this primitive technology, it’s had time to calculate the physical strength of its enemies. I think we’re in terrible trouble”. Leela’s deadpan next line (“Do not be afraid, Doctor”) is another well-delivered moment as is the Doctor’s slow-burn reaction to it.
As I touched upon earlier, Terrance Dicks provided Leela with plenty of good material. Apart from her byplay with the Doctor, she gets to memorably threaten Palmerdale (“Silence! You will do as the Doctor instructs, or I will cut out your heart”).
This week’s cliffhanger is a tad more impressive than last week’s. A blood-curdling cry causes the others to stop their squabbles as it suggests that the Beast of Fang Rock has claimed another victim ….