Horror of Fang Rock was the last time that Terrance Dicks and Robert Holmes worked together on the same Doctor Who story. If one had to choose the most significant writer who ever worked on the series then Dicks and Holmes, along with David Whitaker, would surely have to be towards the top of the list.
All three had similar career paths – they had all served as script-editors and helped to broaden the mythos of the series in numerous ways (they weren’t too shabby as writers either). If pressed, I might have to plump for Terrance Dicks – as not only did he help to stabilise the series in the early seventies (following the rocky road the show had trod in the later Troughton era) thereby ensuring that the programme had a long term future, but he also had the good sense to commission Robert Holmes. And a Doctor Who cosmos without Robert Holmes scarcely bears thinking about ….
That’s a bit of a flip reason true, since Dicks was no slouch as a writer himself. Fang Rock is probably his best solo script for the series – which is especially impressive when you consider that it was a last minute replacement for his rejected vampire story. Compare and contrast with The Invasion of Time, which also had to be cobbled together at great speed. True, the season closer also had to stumble through the production from hell, but had the script been sounder then things wouldn’t have turned out to be so shambolic. But that’s a story for another time.
Rueben’s looking far from well, but isn’t actually dead (or so it appears). Once again the Doctor’s still several paces behind the action and is working from a false premise – he believes that Rueben’s seen the creature and has valuable information, but the truth’s a little more complicated.
Whilst the Doctor attempts to contact Rueben through a locked door, Palmerdale is tempting Vince with a fortune (fifty pounds). Palmerdale has a limited opportunity to make a killing on the stock exchange with the information supplied earlier by a reluctant Skinsale. Skinsale would much prefer that he didn’t of course (since he would be ruined if the news leaked out). Quite how this would be isn’t quite made clear – some kind of insider trading obviously – but it’s not really important.
The key fact is that Palmerdale attempts to bribe Vince to use the telegraph to broadcast a message to his brokers, so Skinsale destroys the telegraph machine to ensure this doesn’t happen. This is clearly a very bad move as it isolates them from the mainland. The Doctor helpfully spells this out. “To protect your honour, you’ve put all our lives in danger”.
It’s a good dramatic moment and played well by Tom (the Doctor doesn’t display anger at Skinsale, only weary resignation). But you have to wonder why the Doctor or indeed anybody else hadn’t thought to radio for help before. And let’s be honest, even if Skinsale hadn’t wrecked the telegraph it’s impossible to imagine the Doctor ever lowering himself to request anybody’s assistance, certainly not turn of the century human beings.
Therefore the destruction of the telegraph is a bit of a red herring, although it serves a useful purpose in allowing us to see that Skinsale is just as corrupt and untrustworthy, in his own way, as Palmerdale.
We’re closer to the end of the story than the beginning, so it’s clearly time that the remaining humans are bumped off, one after another. Palmerdale is the first to go, which sends Adelaide into a fit of hysterics (swiftly curtailed after Leela gives her a good hard slap!). There then follows a nice exchange between the two, which sees Leela tell Adelaide that she shouldn’t put her faith in astrology. “A waste of time. I too used to believe in magic, but the Doctor has taught me about science. It is better to believe in science”.
Before we’ve caught our breath from Palmerdale’s demise then Harker is also killed off and a couple of scenes later the Doctor and Leela discover Rueben’s cold, dead body. This is a bit of a mystery since Rueben has recently been seen alive and well.
The Doctor finally understands. “The chameleon factor, sometimes called lycanthropy. Leela, I’ve made a terrible mistake. I thought I’d locked the enemy out. Instead, I’ve locked it in, with us”.
It’s a slight oddity that the Doctor refers to lycanthropy, since that only refers to the change between a human and a werewolf, but the Doctor’s ominous pronouncement is an interesting point on which to end the episode. Having the Doctor or the others placed in danger would have been more of a hook, but the realisation that the Doctor’s been wrong all along is also frightening and disturbing – albeit for a different reason.