On a remote rocky island a few miles off the Channel coast stands the Fang Rock lighthouse. There have always been tales of the beast of Fang Rock, but when the TARDIS lands here with Leela and the Doctor, the force they must deal with is more sinister and deadly than the mythical beast of the past.
It is the early 1900s, electricity is just coming into common usage, and the formless, gelatinous mass from the future must use the lighthouse generators to recharge its system. Nothing can stop this Rutan scout in its search and its experimentation on humans…
Originally transmitted: September 1977
Script: Terrance Dicks
Novelization: Terrance Dicks
Published: March 1978
Chronological Release: 40
Target Library Number: 32
Favourite Chapter Title: 5. Return of the Dead
Comments: It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of the TV version of this story and the novelisation, although slight, is just as entertaining. I first read this book when I was nine years old and borrowed it from Ecton Brook Middle School Library. Strangely enough, I’d get my own copy only a few months later in a surprisingly large haul of Target books discovered by my mum on a second-hand book market stall, but I distinctly remember finding this amongst the “Free Readers” section in the school library. It wasn’t just the title that caught my attention, it was Jeff Cummins wonderfully dramatic cover.
Although you can tell he’s slowly drifting into the treadmill phase, Terrance adapts his own story with plenty of verve, fleshing out the Edwardian period and improving upon the limitations of the TV versions budget. The Rutan fares particularly well in this aspect, being far more impressive in it’s natural state than it was on screen:
Skinsale stared down at the gleaming stones at his feet. There was a fortune there, enough to keep him in comfort for the rest of his life. He couldn’t leave them… There was a glow from the stairs as the Rutan flowed onto the landing and sprang forward into the crew room. A tentacle lashed out, curling round Skinsale’s body and there was a crackle of blue sparks. Skinsale screamed…
Just up the stairs the Doctor heard the sound and turned back. He ran down to the landing, looked into the crew room and saw the Rutan clasping its victim. Realising he could do nothing, he turned and ran. The Rutan dropped Skinsale’s dead body and flowed after the Doctor with appalling speed. This time it was risking no Earthling traps. It would catch the Doctor and kill him now. Then there would only be the female.
The Doctor shot up the stairs three at a time, the angry crackling of the Rutan close behind him. If it got near enough to reach him with a tentacle he was finished – and so was Earth. As the Doctor ran up the last few steps the Rutan was close on his heels. It was almost upon him as he rounded the bend and saw Leela crouched behind the rocket-launcher. As he dashed for the lamp room doorway, the Rutan gathered all its energies for a final effort. With a shrill cry of triumph it sprang…
Unfortunately, that beautifully described scene wasn’t quite what we got, was it? No matter how good Paddy Russell’s direction was. On TV this scene was sold by the actors performances, in the book it feels much more like a genuine fight for survival. The cast of characters are much as they are on TV although Harker, the only surviving crew-member of Lord Palmerdale’s stricken yacht, is described as a much bigger, burlier figure than as cast.
As much as I love Horror of Fang Rock, part of me wishes it had been written a few years earlier, when Dicks wasn’t so pushed for time and was able to take longer in crafting his novelisations. As fun as this book is, it is fairly simplistically written – and how much better could it have been nestled amongst The Auton Invasion, The Abominable Snowmen and The Three Doctors? An enjoyable but missed opportunity.