Talk to the hand…
The Hand of Fear begins on the frozen wastes of Kastria…
Sue: Is this the planet of the anoraks?
A humanoid figure tracks a spaceship on a computer screen.
Sue: He’s playing the slowest game of Pong ever.
This cold opening, which features an asthmatic alien freezing its bollocks off, doesn’t do anything for Sue. She turns to me and frowns.
Me: Yes, love?
Sue: What the **** is going on?
A spaceship explodes, and then the galaxy goes for a little spin.
Sue: OK, I think the acid just kicked in.
So, to sum up:
Sue: What a terrible start. I didn’t understand a single word of that. What just happened? Is it all going to be like this?
Cue contemporary Earth. The TARDIS has landed in a quarry, which this week is doubling up for a, er, quarry. This throws Sue. She believes we’re back on Kastria after the thaw.
When Sarah exits the TARDIS, Sue’s automatic retort doesn’t disappoint. But at least her supplementary follow-up is original:
Sue: She looks like Andy Pandy. You know, I had a pair of dungarees just like Sarah Jane’s, but mine had blue and cream stripes and they were a little less flared at the bottom. It’s a very cute look.
The Doctor is unperturbed by the deafening sound of sirens and he decides to hone his cricketing skills.
Sue: Well, that’s just bollocks, isn’t it? That rock wouldn’t have fallen over like that. It breaks the laws of physics. They must have used fishing wire to pull it over.
The Doctor and Sarah are distracted by a man in a hard-hat waving at them from afar.
Sue: This reminds me of a 1970s Public Information Film.
But it’s too late. The quarry explodes. Sue sits up in her chair.
Sue: Now that was good.
The Doctor searches the rubble for his friend. He finds Sarah unconscious but alive. She is clutching a petrified hand and she won’t let it go.
Sue: It’s a helping hand.
Me: Right, I’m banning all hand jokes. The next person who makes a joke about hands, arms, or appendages of any kind, will have to empty the cats’ litter trays for the rest of the week.
Sue: What about fingers? Do they count?
The Doctor and Sarah are taken to a hospital.
Sue: This could so easily have been a crossover with Casualty. Where’s Charlie when you need him?
Me: Ah, Derek Thompson, the only actor to rub the back of his neck more times than Jon Pertwee.
The Doctor has his injuries treated but, thanks to NHS bureaucracy, he has to tell the intern where he comes from.
Sue: Gallifree? Where the hell is Gallifree?
Sarah wakes up and she’s not feeling herself. She attacks a kindly doctor named Carter and runs away with the hand.
Me: I love this bit. I definitely remember playing Doctor Who in school playground the Monday after this went out, and the girls took it in turns to be Sarah; it was their job to kill me. Evil Sarah was easy to mimic: a girl just had to walk around with a glazed look on her face, a sandwich box under her arm, and a gaudy ring on her finger. I was killed hundreds of times that week. One day, we mistook some white fossilised dog poo for one of Eldrad’s missing fingers.
Carter regains consciousness…
Sue: I’m glad he’s not dead. I wouldn’t have wanted Sarah Jane to live with that on her conscience. I know it’s not her really fault but just think of the guilt.
Even Carter thinks Sarah looks like Andy Pandy…
Sue: Oh, bollocks.
Sarah strides into a nearby nuclear power station…
Sue: This is quite eerie. I like the direction – there are some interesting camera angles. It’s a bit different to what we usually get. The location is interesting, too. Pertwee would have loved this place.
The cliffhanger ending, which features the hand of Eldrad returning to life, evokes another strong childhood memory. They don’t make them like this anymore.
Sue: It’s The Addams Family meets Torchwood.
Sue: Don’t they end up with this hand in Torchwood?
It takes me while to work out that she’s talking about the 10th Doctor’s amputated hand.
Me: No, that isn’t the right hand.
Sue: No, it’s definitely a right hand. You can tell by looking at the thumb.
I reach for a cushion.
Sue: Still, that was a great cliffhanger. We’re off to a very good start. Apart from the scene at the beginning. What the hell was that all about?top
Sarah communicates with the spirit of Eldrad…
Sue: She really is talking to the hand, cos the face definitely ain’t listening.
When Glyn (“He’s been in loads of stuff”) Houston arrives on the scene as Professor Watson, Sue quickly ends up feeling sorry for him.
Sue: He’s worried about how this ****-up is going to look when they call for the inevitable public inquiry. I bet he was days away from retirement as well.
In spite of the current emergency, Watson allows the Doctor to waltz around as if he owned the place.
Sue: He’s letting a complete stranger fiddle with the controls to his nuclear reactor. The security in this place is a disgrace.
But Sue seems to like this episode. She’s impressed with the hand effect (“For its time”), the unusual camera angles are right up her street, and Carter’s death, which involves him plummeting from a very tall height, is heaped with praise. But for Sue, the best moment occurs when Watson telephones his family to say goodbye.
Sue: That was really sad. I didn’t expect that. I actually give a shit about this character, now.
The Doctor experiments on the hand and he concludes that it is feeding on radiation.
Sarah makes a lame gag about it not being as ‘armless as it looks.
Sue: Hey! Sarah is doing hand jokes, now. That’s not fair.
The Doctor probes Sarah’s mind for information about Eldrad.
Sue: It’s a great performance from Elisabeth Sladen. She looks like she’s really enjoying this story. And so am I.
Meanwhile, a technician named Driscoll is possessed by Eldrad’s mighty ring of power…
Sue: OK, forget Torchwood, it’s The Addams Family meets Lord of the Rings.
Me: You’re mad, love.
Sue: The hand doesn’t appear to have grown very much. At this rate, we’ll be here all day waiting for it to sprout a forearm.
The episode concludes with Driscoll stepping into the reactor core. This starts a chain reaction.
Sue: This is really good. I still have no idea what the scene at the beginning has to do with anything, but that wasn’t bad at all. Oh, and Neil?
Sue: Eldrad must live.top
Sue: It’s all gone a bit Chernobyl. If the explosion doesn’t kill them, the radiation will. Unless they come up with a sci-fi explanation for it.
But of course they do.
Sue: OK, fair enough. But Watson should probably phone his wife back before she books a luxury cruise with the insurance.
Eldrad is trapped in the reactor core and he wants to get out.
Sue: Eldrad sounds like a whale. The hand is going to turn into a crap monster, isn’t it?
Watson requests a nuclear strike on the nuclear reactor and the RAF oblige him in less than ten minutes flat.
Me: That must have been some phone call.
Sue: This can’t be a good idea. If Eldrad eats radiation then this attack will be a takeaway snack. Blimey, it really has turned into a 1970s Public Information Film. In the event of a nuclear blast, please hide behind your nearest car. No wonder the Doctor is taking the piss. This is ridiculous.
The reactor is opened and we prepare to meet Eldrad…
Sue: Please, don’t let the monster be shit…
Sue: Oh, I wasn’t expecting that. Is it a lady alien? You don’t see that every day.
Sue checks her out.
Sue: Chipped mirrored tiles were all the rage in the 1970s. And he looks like one of the X-Men. Don’t ask me which one. But yeah, it works for me.
The Doctor brings Eldrad up to speed with current events: 150 million years have passed since she crashed landed on Earth.
Sue: I think they should help her out.
Me: Are you sure about that?
Sue: Yeah. She’s having a really bad time. Poor thing.
Watson has the opposite reaction and he tries to gun her down in a corridor.
Sue: Two nukes didn’t kill her so I’ll try these bullets instead. You idiot.
Eldrad retaliates and Watson is enveloped in pain.
Me: Do you still want to help her?
Sue: He just shot her six times. I’d be pissed off if I were her. And she didn’t kill him. Chill.
The Doctor, Sarah and Eldrad leave Watson to deal with the metaphorical fallout.
Sue: Somebody should take that gun off him before he shoots himself in the head. His wife might get her cruise after all.
The TARDIS arrives on Kastria…
Sue: Finally. That scene at the beginning might make sense now.
The episode concludes with Eldrad setting off a lethal booby trap that spears through her chest. It’s one of those rare occasions where a cliffhanger makes Sue gasp.
Sue: Bloody hell, I didn’t see that coming. I told you she was the goodie. You wouldn’t have a cliffhanger where the villain was in danger, would you? That would be silly.top
Within minutes, Sue is singing from hymn sheet of the fan consensus…
Sue: This is a bit silly now.
What really annoys her is the way the Doctor and Sarah will take time out to spout exposition at each other or admire the Kastrian scenery (which Sue hates), even though they should be rushing to save Eldrad’s life. After all, Eldrad must live.
Sue: Stop blathering! Can’t you walk and talk at the same time?
Me: If they did that, they’d run out of set.
Sue: Well, the writers should know better. There are two writers as well. One of them should have spotted it.
She’s not happy with the way Sarah is being written, either.
Sue: She’s screaming a lot this week. That’s not like Sarah Jane at all.
As the Doctor and Sarah make their way through Kastria, we are shown fleeting shots of a mysterious figure shrouded in a pink blanket.
Sue: It sounds like a Dalek. It’s not a Dalek under that quilt, is it? That wouldn’t make any sense, would it?
The Doctor and Sarah are faced with a yawning abyss. We know exactly how it feels.
Sue: Are you sure this isn’t a Terry Nation script? Don’t tell me: this is so bad he had to hide behind two pseudonyms because one wasn’t enough. I’m right, aren’t I?
As Sarah crosses the chasm via a makeshift bridge, she decides to make a right meal of it.
Sue: You could drive a truck over that. This story is going downhill rapidly.
As the Doctor carries Eldrad into the regeneration room, Sue is impressed with Judith Paris’ ability to mimic a plank of wood.
Sue: You have to be really fit to stay as rigid as that. Or you could just watch this episode. It will bore you rigid. It’s a shame because I really enjoyed the first three episodes. It was on for a seven or an eight yesterday.
It seems that the Doctor and Sarah have accidentally flattened Eldrad…
Sue: Is that it? They are just going to shrug their shoulders and leave?
And then the “real” Eldrad turns up.
Sue: I like his purple hat.
Eldrad rants and raves. A lot. Sue sighs. A lot.
Sue: Ok, this is officially rubbish now. It’s heading for a four.
Sarah exclaims that they have been taken for a ride.
Sue: Tell me about it, love!
Eldrad learns that the Kastrian race banks are empty. He has what Sue describes as a “dicky fit”.
Sue: That’s pathetic. He reminds me of you the last time our Internet connection went down.
The Last King of Kastria has left Eldrad a taunting video message. Eldrad is furious.
Sue: Stop talking to it! You are trying to have a conversation with an answering machine, you moron!
Eldrad decides to turn his attention to Earth.
Sue: Eldrad definitely has a chip on his shoulder. Well, he’s got several chips, actually, but you know what I mean.
The Doctor and Sarah make a run for it. Eldrad gives chase but he trips over the Doctor’s scarf and falls into the abyss.
Sue: This is embarrassing. It’s a bloody pantomime.
The Doctor and Sarah return to the TARDIS (Sue is chuffed to bits that the secondary console room is still in use) and the Doctor suggests that Eldrad might not be dead after all.
Sue: So why throw his ****ing ring down after him? And which writer would be stupid enough to bring him back anyway? What a load of rubbish. Worst. Monster. Ever.
But it isn’t over yet…
Sue: Oh, the Doctor’s been called to Gallifree. That’s almost as exciting as being called to Gallifrey.
But then the joking stopped.
Sue: I am genuinely shocked by this. I thought Sarah would be around a lot longer than that.
When Sarah steps onto a suburban street, Sue is delighted.
Sue: Awww, what a gorgeous labrador. She looks like Buffy when she was young. That’s nice.
When the credits have faded to black, and I’m convinced that my voice won’t crack, I ask Sue to sum up.
Sue: It was a brilliant scene but I know she’s coming back, so it’s fine. If I didn’t know she’d get her own series I think I’d be more upset. It’s only upsetting now because Elisabeth Sladen is no longer with us. That scene has different layers of poignancy to it now. Especially for you. But look at Sarah Jane at the end. She’s happy.
Later that night, I decide to quiz Sue on whether she was surprised to see Sarah leave the TARDIS without K9, especially as she’s used to seeing the pair of them together.
Sue: Oh yeah. So how does that happen?
When I point out that the dog references at the end of this story are prophetic, Sue thinks it’s clever foreshadowing. So I put her straight.
Sue: So the dog stuff was just a happy coincidence?
Sue: That’s handy.top
The Final Score
Sue: This is a very difficult story to mark. It was good, very good, good, shit, really shit, then excellent. I don’t know what to do. Oh sod it, it’s Sarah Jane’s last story. I’ll have to give it:
The experiment continues…
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