The Hand of Fear
The Hand of Fear was the second story of Season 14 of Doctor Who. It is most significant for being Elisabeth Sladen’s final story as a member of the regular cast of Doctor Who.
The Hand of Fear was originally intended for the 1976 six-part slot that was taken by The Seeds of Doom. It was inspired by the 1946 film The Beast with Five Fingers. There were several versions of the script. One saw the hand as an advance guard preparing the way for an alien army. Another fixed upon two “Omegans” – representing the “hawk and “dove” – working against humanity. There were plans for the Brigadier and Harry Sullivan to appear, with the former, much like in early drafts of Pyramids of Mars, bowing out from Who in a blaze of glory.
However, script editor Robert Holmes took issue with its complexity and commissioned another script to be the final story of Season 13, should this remain unresolved. Finally, in October 1975, The Hand of Fear was officially delayed and The Seeds of Doom was produced in its place.
After Elizabeth Sladen told the production team she wanted to leave early in the next season, Douglas Camfield was commissioned to write The Lost Legion, which would see Sarah killed at its conclusion. However, Holmes was unhappy with the script and, in a turn of fate, decided that The Hand of Fear might have to be used as a replacement. With UNIT and degenerating-humans removed from the plot, Bob Baker and Dave Martin produced a more linear story. Camfield fell behind on his own script and was discounted. Baker and Martin left the writing of Sarah’s farewell scene to Holmes.
Director Lennie Mayne made his final contribution to Doctor Who. After finishing production on The Hand of Fear and an episode of Softly, Softly: Taskforce, he was drowned after a wave swept him overboard in the English Channel.
Permission to film at Oldbury Nuclear Power Station was obtained before the script was completed, so central was it to the story. Bob Baker found the staff very accommodating on his initial visit, such was their enthusiasm for the project. The radiation provided health and safety concerns, with geiger counter checks being performed on the cast and crew and Radiological Clearance Certificates having to be issued before any object could leave the premises.
One hundred and fifty million years ago on the planet Kastria, a traitor named Eldrad is sentenced to death for crimes including the destruction of the barriers that kept the solar winds at bay.
Placed into a capsule and shot into space, Eldrad awaits obliteration. The capsule is detonated prematurely, despite the risk of particle survival. Conditions are deteriorating rapidly on Kastria. The remaining Kastrians await their fate on the desolate planet.
The Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith arrive in the TARDIS in a modern-day quarry on Earth and are caught immediately in a quarrying explosion. The Doctor is slightly injured. Sarah is found unconscious in the rubble, clutching a fossilized hand. She is taken to a local hospital.
The hand is examined. Based on the strata of the rock in which it was found, it is one hundred fifty million years old. Pathologist Dr Carter dismisses these findings as ridiculous. Examining a sliver of the hand under an electron microscope, the Doctor observes a helix similar to DNA. The minuscule radiation of the microscope causes the sample to grow. The Doctor realizes that this fossil might actually contain vestiges of life.
Sarah awakens in her hospital bed, holding a crystalline ring that slipped from the hand. The ring begins to pulse with energy. Sarah hears a voice in her head: “Eldrad must live”. She steals the hand and flees the hospital, knocking out Carter with a flash from the ring. She heads for the nearest nuclear reactor, the Nunton Complex. With the aid of the ring, Sarah overpowers guards and workmen and enters the reactor room. She watches as the hand absorbs radiation, regenerates its missing finger and begins to move.
The head of the complex, Professor Watson, stays at his post when the reactor goes critical. He offers the Doctor aid and advice in trying to get to Sarah. She sits serenely amidst the chaos and klaxons. The Doctor resolves to enter the chamber through a cooling duct in Cooling systems control. His progress is interrupted by Dr Carter, now also under the hypnotic control of the ring. He tries to strike the Doctor while on a stairwell, but his own momentum carries him over the railing and he falls to his death.
The Doctor enters the chamber and finds there is no radiation whatsoever; the hand is absorbing the entire output of the reactor. Sarah is removed and the hand placed in a sealed cabinet. The Doctor breaks through Sarah’s hypnosis.
The ring, however, is left behind in the chamber. It is found by a technician named Driscoll, who falls under its control. He takes the hand and makes his way to the reactor core. He uses the ring against the security personnel who attempt to stop him. The Doctor pursues and narrowly avoids becoming a victim. Driscoll enters the core and the reactor again nears critical.
Watson orders an RAF strike to destroy the hand and the reactor, but the missiles’ impact cause an ‘unexplosion’; that and the full power of the reactor are enough to complete the full regeneration of Eldrad.
Crystalline, silicon-based and female, she tells the story of how she created the spatial barriers that let Kastria thrive, but in an interstellar war the barriers were destroyed and she was disgraced and condemned. Eldrad persuades the Doctor to return her to Kastria so she can save her people; he agrees on the condition that they travel to Kastria in the present, a hundred fifty million years after she left.
Immediately afterwards, Watson arrives and attempts to attack Eldrad, firing a gun at her with no effect. She immediately retaliates and means to kill him, but is persuaded otherwise by the Doctor. Leaving Watson to work on getting Nunton back to normal, the Doctor, Sarah and Eldrad return to the quarry where the TARDIS landed, and depart for Kastria.
The planet is barren and ruined, but her ring activates some instruments. Booby traps have been set long ago by Eldrad’s rival, King Rokon, on the minuscule chance of her return. The Kastrian opens a door and triggers a trap. A syringe-like dart hits her.
Sarah, Eldrad and the Doctor look upon the thermal chambers.
After she explains that the dart contained an acid of her own design, Doctor and Sarah take the dying Eldrad to a regenerator chamber deep below the surface of Kastria, in the thermal chambers. The regenerator chamber is rigged to destroy Eldrad, but a malfunction allows a full regeneration. The new form of Eldrad reveals he had based his earlier form on Sarah, the first human he encountered. Eldrad is now much taller and male. He boasts that he destroyed the solar barriers in a rivalry with King Rokon. They find Eldrad’s ultimate goal, the Kastrian race bank, with which he intends to revive the dormant Kastrian people. The Bank, however, is empty.
An image of Rokon appears on a video screen, informing Eldrad that without the barriers, facing perpetual subterranean existence and a small possibility of his return, the Kastrian race elected to destroy themselves and the Race Bank. Rokon mockingly salutes Eldrad from the grave as “King of Nothing.” A bitter Eldrad now decides to rule the Earth instead and demands that the Doctor return him. He refuses, stating that his obligation to Eldrad is now satisfied.
Eldrad pursues the Doctor and Sarah to an abyss. Tripping over the Doctor’s scarf, which has been stretched out across the passageway by the Doctor and Sarah, Eldrad falls straight into the depths to his apparent doom. The Doctor drops Eldrad’s ring into the abyss as well. He notes that Eldrad’s fate is uncertain, as silicon-based lifeforms are difficult to kill.
The Doctor and Sarah depart in the TARDIS, and the Doctor sets about making repairs. Sarah bemoans her life in the TARDIS — bouncing around the universe, fleeing from bug-eyed monsters and needing a bath. The Doctor is focused on his work on the TARDIS console, which infuriates her. She demands to be returned home and storms off to her room to pack.
While she is gone, the Doctor receives a telepathic summons to return to Gallifrey and notes to himself that he cannot take Sarah with him. Sarah returns with her packed things and the Doctor informs her that he must return her to Earth, as he cannot take her with him to Gallifrey. With her idle threat suddenly becoming reality, Sarah is taken aback, especially at missing the chance to see Gallifrey.
The Doctor steers the TARDIS to bring her to Hillview Road, South Croydon — Sarah’s home. She asks him not to forget her; he replies likewise. Once the TARDIS de-materializes, Sarah makes her exit noting that travel does indeed broaden the mind and The Doctor promises her that they will meet again.
After watching the TARDIS disappear to return the Doctor home, Sarah realizes she hasn’t been left on Hillview Road and guesses she’s probably not even in South Croydon. However she is not angry, and playfully remarks to a nearby dog, “He blew it”. Whistling and full of fond memories, Sarah walks off toward her new life…