Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Love of Darkness

CAT GIRL (1957)

"The love of darkness, the craving for warm flesh and blood … it is my legacy to you ... passed on from generation to generation of our family …  for 700 years!" Ernest Milton and Barbara Shelley provide the only sparks to this pedestrian programmer.

PRODUCED by Val Lewton and directed by Jacques Tourneur, RKO's 1942 CAT PEOPLE divided critics at the time, but is now considered a sophisticated classic. Telling the story of young Serbian Irena (Simone Simon), who believes herself to be a descendant of a race of people who turn into cats when sexually aroused, the style of the film concentrates on the theory that unseen terrors are more effective than visual ones (what Lewton referred to as "patches of prepared darkness"). This use of suggestive shadow, and the genre-defining shock Lewton Bus moment, was in contrast to the Universal trend of the time, who would make FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN a year later.

CAT GIRL - a British CAT PEOPLE from Insignia directed by Alfred Shaughnessy - barely registers as horror, its stagy and stilted execution making it hard to believe it was released in the wake of Hammer's game-changer, CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Leonora (Barbara Shelley) is summoned to her ancestral estate by uncle Edmund Brandt (Shakespearean actor Ernest Milton, doing his best Ernest Thesiger impression). Recently married to Richard (Jack May), Leonora also brings friends Cathy and Allan (Patricia Webster and John Lee) to the house. Brandt's niece discovers that she is to be united with the soul of Edmund's pet leopard, continuing a family curse which enables mental control of the big cat to "kill ... kill." Under Leonora's control, the leopard savages her husband for having an affair with Cathy, then turns its attentions to Dorothy (Kay Callard), the wife of Leonora's true love Dr Marlowe (Robert Ayres).

Barbara Shelley - the "first leading lady of British horror" - is haunted Leonora. Shelley's looks and stature command the screen, with Barbara playing it commandingly straight.

Aside from Shelley and Milton, the performances are self-conscious (even leopard Chiefy, a performing cat from Southport Zoo, surprisingly lacks menace), and Ayres makes for a particularly characterless 'hero'. Shaughnessy - directing his only fantastic film before creating UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS and planting the seed that would become Pete Walker's HOUSE OF WHIPCORD - couldn't remain positive about the release's own main legacy, lamenting in his autobiography "by using [Barbara Shelley] I fear we condemned a very beautiful and talented actress to a long career in horror films."

Similar to Shelley's Helen in DRACULA PRINCE OF DARNESS, when a hex kicks in, Leonora's sexual repression is unshackled. Now infused with feline aggression, things get weird when she briefly imagines herself turning into a leopard, and eats a budgie (off screen); Leonora's eyebrows also suggest a sudden predatory look (critic David Pirie argues that it is with CAT GIRL that British film heroines started to distort from their emotional norm, even if they are portrayed as mental patients and die violently). In her first starring role Shelley atypically shows off areas of flesh; yet any real charge is smothered by the picture's mundaneness, as a lingering shot of Leonora's naked back sees the camera pan away, leaving the maid to comment on her beauty.

"Everything else is darkness"; the hypnotic stare of Christopher Lee as RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK.

Directed by Don Sharp and scripted by Anthony Hinds, Hammer's RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK casts Shelley again under the spell of Christopher Lee in redressed sets from DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS. After healing an innkeeper's wife and cutting off the hand of the keeper's daughter's suitor, Grigori Rasputin (Lee) is hauled before an Orthodox bishop on grounds of sexual immorality and violence. Preferring to give God "sins worth forgiving", Rasputin is unperturbed by the bishop's claims of Satanism. Heading for St Petersburg, the exiled Monk befriends struck-off Dr Zargo (Richard Pasco) and begins his campaign to infiltrate highest Russian society. This includes gaining influence over the Tsarina's ladies-in-waiting Sonia (Shelley) and Vanessa (Suzan Farmer), but his relentless sexual appetite and pursuit of wealth eventually leads to his death at the hands of Zargo and Ivan (Francis Matthews).

Initially announced in 1961 as THE SINS OF RASPUTIN, Hammer's brisk pseudo-exploration of "History's Man of Mystery" is dominated by Lee's extraordinary performance. Unlike his appearances as Dracula - often off-screen and reduced to set pieces - Rasputin is overpowering from his appearance at the Inn door. Passionately researching the role, the actor even sought advice on how to play a medically accurate death by cyanide poisoning. But the film was hampered by overspends on DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS, foreshortening the script and scope; the production was also under the threat of legal action from Prince Felix and Princess Irina Yousoupoff, Felix being one of Rasputin's real-life assassins. Having successfully sued MGM over their 1932 release RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS, pressure from the Yousoupoff's is the reason that Hammer's surrogate assassin Ivan is Vanessa's brother rather than husband, and why Vanessa and Rasputin do not meet in the film's climax.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

No Sex Please, We're British

LET'S GET LAID! (1977)

Even Countess of Cleavage Imogen Hassall and David Jason as an everyman hero can't save the Walter Mitty-inspired WHITE CARGO.

BESET by funding problems and dwindling audiences, the British film industry of the 1970's also had to combat small screen competition from television and domestic video. Furthermore, Margaret Thatcher's first Conservative government cut state funding on productions. Existing in their own parallel universe, British sex comedies of the 1970's are renowned to be unsexy and unfunny affairs, but here are two chronically inadequate examples. Fanatically popular throughout the decade, this sub-genre existed in Britain's most troublesome cinematic period thanks to two major plot devices that required little budget: the cheapest special effect of all - i.e. female breasts - and slapstick.

Ray Selfe's WHITE CARGO - re-written by David McGillivray after The Goodies rejected the initial treatment scripted especially for them - casts David Jason in his first major screen role. Underachiever Albert Toddey (Jason) visits a Soho strip joint owned by Dudley Fox (Raymond Cross) and meets showgirl Stella (Imogen Hassall). Stella is actually an undercover policewomen, and the club is selling girls into white slavery to an unnamed Arabian oil state. A number of scenes are played out twice - firstly with Albert's tendency to fantasise himself as a heroic, slick government agent (initially to be shot in 3D), and secondly the rather less glamorous real outcome. Making use of several recycled sets from the Peter O'Toole classic THE RULING CLASS, WHITE CARGO at least has an interesting cast; in a part originally intended for Ian Lavender, Jason's enthusiasm about his star turn allegedly diminished rapidly during the shoot, and the underused Hassall is the glue attempting to hold the film together. David Prowse also appears as club heavy Harry, who thinks nothing of trading his girlfriend in to the slave market for cash-in-hand.

The only sexual charge in LET'S GET LAID! is created by Anna Chen - as 'Oriental Girl' - astride Robin Askwith in a car atop Hampstead Heath.

James Kenelm Clarke's LET'S GET LAID! also has an unnecessarily convoluted plot and fantasy sequences. Bringing together the vanguard of British sex talent - Robin Askwith, Fiona Richmond and a bit-part from Linda Hayden - demobbed wallflower Gordon Laid (Askwith) is given the key to a Mayfair apartment owned by a rich cousin. Laid aids actress Maxine Lupercal (Richmond) in a flat across the hall in disposing of the body of a secret agent, and inadvertently pockets the dead man's cigarette lighter which is actually the potentially explosive PJ46 device. Amidst a police hunt, the attentions of international crook Moncrieff Dovecraft (Anthony Steel) and the complication that Laid has a double in thespian Jimsy Deveroo, the fantasy inserts make no attempt to follow the dull narrative, which includes Richmond cavorting as a Nazi Miss Whiplash.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Drama Nation


"He cannot resist the inexplicable; almost any happening qualifies for his interest so long as it is out of the ordinary." Terry Nation's stab at DRAMA PLAYHOUSE created Robert Baldick.

FORMING part of the third season of DRAMA PLAYHOUSE - the BBC's launching pad for potential series - THE INCREDIBLE ROBERT BALDICK: NEVER COME NIGHT was Terry Nation's first completed work for the Corporation's drama department since his six episodes of DOCTOR WHO - THE DALEKS' MASTER PLAN in 1965. Directed by Cyril Coke, this never-commissioned pilot is a Victorian Gothic with the titular Baldick (Robert Hardy) an eccentric detective/scientist who owns his own steam locomotive and has a pet owl. A fusion of Sherlock Holmes and Fox Mulder, Hardy plays Baldick with suffocating gusto, but there are too many themes in too short a running time to create a satisfying whole. Elements of Victorian literature (loyal assistants, windswept nights) and Gothic fiction (secrets in the woods, ruined abbey, failed exorcism, unruly villagers) are further complicated by the alien artefact sting, a payoff that is not just a narrative anomaly but an unnecessary Quatermass-like "resolution".

Squire Aldington (Reginald Marsh) and Reverend Elmstead (James Cossins) discover the corpse of a young woman in the reputedly haunted ruins of Duvel Woods Abbey. Elmstead visits friend Robert Baldick, in the hope that the unconventional sleuth will assist in this latest of murders to effect Boardington village ("local legend has it that the deaths go back into prehistory.") Aided by his valet Thomas Wingham (Julian Holloway) and burly gamekeeper Caleb Selling (John Rhys-Davies), Baldick delves into local parish records, and discovers that the Abbey has long been associated with human sacrifice. Excavating deeper within the crypt, fear and anxiety grips the group; Thomas is pulled into a chamber below, which is full of human bones and pervaded by a sense of absolute evil. Baldick is convinced that the Abbey contains a distillation of the terrors and phobias of all the people who have visited the enclose, and later studies a strange object he retrieved from the floor: a small metal box containing intricate electrics and runic symbols.

DOCTOR WHO - THE ANDROID INVASION was the second of two non-Dalek scripts Terry Nation turned in for the series (the first was THE KEYS OF MARINUS from 1964).

Although beautifully shot and well received, the programme suffered from scheduling problems which was triggered by a behind-the-scenes tussle over the name of the character. BALDICK was originally to be shown on 6th September, but in the immediate aftermath of the Munich Olympic massacre, it was removed at the last moment and eventually aired at a later than usual time slot on 2nd October. However, the original airdate of 23rd August was quashed by legal ambiguities between the BBC and Robert Baldick Junior, a PhD student whose father Dr Robert Baldick - an Oxford French literature academic - had granted Nation permission to use his name. Unfortunately Baldick Senior died before the broadcast date, and head of drama serials Andrew Osborn eventually conceded that - although it was too late to change the pilot - the name would change if the venture would develop.

For DOCTOR WHO - THE ANDROID INVASION, Nation invented the rhinoceros-like Kraals, who go to finite trouble to create an exact replica of an English village and populate it with synthetic organisms to rehearse an invasion of Earth. Chief Kraal scientist Styggron (Martin Friend) also intends to release a deadly virus to aid resistance, but this is ultimately as unnecessarily convoluted as BALDICK. Themes of duplication and mind-draining are lost in a number of silly plot elements, most of all duping astronaut Crayford (Milton Johns) in thinking he has lost an eye by simply giving him an eye-patch. On the surface this is a minor entry in the Time Lord's greater Gothic scheme of the mid-70's, but it does cover interrogation - The Doctor (Tom Baker)’s subjection to the Analysis Machine - and 1950’s Sci-Fi paranoia; Crayton may be a critical laughing stock, but is a man in identifiable flux.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Bridal Torment


Thomas Hardy reflected a concern for the poor in society, and particularly the lack of opportunities offered to women. For The Withered Arm and Barbara of the House of Grebe, there is nothing but torment for young brides.

IN his 1888 collection Wessex Tales, Thomas Hardy writes of the true nature of nineteenth century marriage and its inherent restrictions, the stance of women, and a society which could not cope with even minor diseases. Hardy did not explore the sensibility of Jane Austen or the vivid caricatures of Charles Dickens; rather, his poems and novels are filled with characters that are as functional and rustic as their clothes; his dramatis personae follow the hardened edge of nature, the intractable working of fate, and the inevitability of a relentless decline. There is also a sense of enigma, that something beyond our physical appearance is guiding our hand. For many people of a certain age, one such story - The Withered Arm - is remembered as an oddity of their school experience. Often included on English Literature syllabuses, it sits awkwardly between ambiguous morality tale and surreal horror.

Wessex Tales was made into a BBC anthology; the first broadcast was THE WITHERED ARM, and is a masterpiece of the form. In a Southern England rural community, wealthy farmer John Lodge (Edward Hardwicke) returns home with his new young bride Gertrude (Yvonne Antrobus). Gertrude awakes one morning to find four painful welts on her arm, and consults Conjuror Trendle (Esmond Knight) with the reluctant help from weathered milkmaid Rhoda Brook (Billie Whitelaw). Trendle prescribes a ghoulish cure: “you must touch with a limb the neck of a man who’d just been hanged.” It transpires that Rhoda’s son Jamie (William Relton) is the illegitimate spawn of Lodge, and it is he who is the man hanged for a frivolous reason.

In an illustration of Hardy's "magnificent gloominess", Yvonne Antrobus appears as a horrific vision in THE WITHERED ARM.

Rhoda’s dream sequence of a grotesquely grinning Gertrude taunting her with her wedding ring - only to have Rhoda angrily grabbing the bride’s arm before awakening - is eerily effective, and in the programme’s standout image Whitelaw holds the distinction of the only actress to ever make milking a cow look ethereally sinister. A mix of jealousy and body horror, Gertrude is the Gothic Outsider not just existing in an unfamiliar world, but an ultimately unwanted one: she cannot bear children.

Directed by Desmond Davis - who would go on to direct the Ray Harryhausen opus CLASH OF THE TITANS - THE WITHERED ARM was dramatised by Rhys Adrian greatly indebted to THE BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW. Wandering wearily through the bracken and ploughed earth, Gertrude’s physical affliction makes for close relation to SATAN'S CLAW's yearning for devil skin. The programme is also enveloped by the hanging ethic, unsurprising as Hardy himself was an enthusiastic spectator of such public punishment. This is illustrated by scenes of locals jostling for position to see the noose being made, and an old man selling wooden hanging figures. There is also a cinematic shot of a silhouette of the gallows against the day-for-night sky.

Ben Kingsley and Joanna McCallum play the heights of Hardy's married anguish in BARBARA OF THE HOUSE OF GREBE.  

The sixth and final WESSEX TALE was BARBARA OF THE HOUSE OF GREBE. Lord Uplandtowers (Ben Kingsley) wants to marry Barbara (Joanna McCallum); however, this daughter of Sir John Grebe (Leslie Sands) elopes with handsome Edmond Willowes (Nick Brimble). Marrying "beneath her," Barbara can only gain her parents consent by having Edmond "educated" in Italy for a year, while their lodge house is readied. During his stay in Europe, Edmond is facially disfigured in an opera house fire while saving others; on his return to England, Barbara is repelled, forcing him to leave a farewell letter. After leaning of his death several years later whilst in a loveless marriage with Uplandtowers, Barbara receives delivery of a commissioned statue of a pre-accident Edmond from Pisa. Worshipping this as a shrine, Uplandtowers learns of the original disfigurements and has the statue amended accordingly, at last receiving Barbara's affections.

Dramatised by David Mercer, this unnatural tale of social status was described by T. S. Eliot as "to have been written to provide a satisfaction for some morbid emotion." Barbara experiences love and loss at every extreme level, from its initial blooming to isolation and despair. Edmond's burned reveal is starling: what seems to be a simple mask turns into a full unveiling of face and wig, as if the forced exile is peeling an orange. While captured in their matrimonial hell, Kingsley and McCallum excel, Barbara caressing her model as Uplandtowers simmers to his ultimate victory.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

State of Decay


A fan favourite, HORROR OF FANG ROCK contains many elements from the poem Flannan Isle by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, which the Doctor quotes from at the end of the story (the poem draws on the real-life mystery of disappearances in 1900). Here is the cover to the 1978 Target novelisation.

PHILIP Hinchcliffe's three seasons as DOCTOR WHO producer registered unparalleled violence and complaints. Incoming producer Graham Williams was under pressure from BBC brass to tone down the horror elements with his premier block of serials - Season Fifteen - which would screen between September 1977 and March 1978. But from the start Williams was embroidered in a number of behind-the-scenes tussles. His first intended serial, Terence Dicks' THE WITCH LORDS/THE VAMPIRE MUTATION, was vetoed late on by Head of Serials Graeme McDonald, because it would undermine the lavish BBC production of Bram Stoker's Dracula then under preparation; Louise Jameson quit as Leela; and in an attempt to re-connect as a children's show and up the comedy, robot dog K9 became a regular companion - much to Tom Baker's chagrin. 

Against this backdrop, it is amazing that Williams' initial broadcast - HORROR OF FANG ROCK - is a triumph. One of the last genuinely scary Classic-era adventures, HORROR OF FANG ROCK sees a shape-changing amorphous jelly (a Rutan scout) crash-land near a desolate Edwardian lighthouse. Initially only populated by a crew of three, soon The Doctor (Baker) and Leela (Jameson) arrive, and survivors from a shipwreck swell the numbers. The alien - one of the race engaged in a perennial war with the Sontarans - is killing its occupants in a quest for life-giving electricity, and The Doctor has been battling to keep it out. But as the death toll rises, realisation hits the Time Lord: "Leela, I've made a terrible mistake, I thought I'd locked the enemy out. Instead I've locked it in - with us." Eventually, The Doctor turns the lighthouse into a laser, knocking out the anti-gravity of the incoming Rutan Mothership.

At the end of Part Two of IMAGE OF THE FENDAHL, the Doctor asks the Fendahl skull if it would like a jelly baby, but actually offers it a liquorice allsort. This was commented on in the 'Watchdog' segment of NATIONWIDE; the DOCTOR WHO production office replied by saying that this was one of the ways the Doctor liked to confuse his enemy.

The realistically cramped lighthouse scenes were shot at Pebble Mill Studios in Birmingham, the only time the series had ever ventured from its London studio base. Strong on atmosphere, this is a tense, claustrophobic tale that makes the most of its small cast and tiny location, but lacks the intensity of the Hinchcliffe Gothic era. Perhaps feeding off their tensions off screen, Baker and Jameson are both outstanding, The Doctor at his unpredictable, arrogant best, and Leela - without her trademark leather outfit - fearless against the threat. The loose background to this teleplay refers to the true mysterious events surrounding the disappearance of three lighthouse keepers from the Flannan Isles lighthouse around 1900. Built approximately twenty miles from the Outer Hebrides, this legend is a mixed bag of allegedly hoax log entries and sea monsters, and even a long-boat of ghosts heading to the Isle on the night the lights went out.

IMAGE OF THE FENDAHL acts as a last stab of gothic horror for the show. In contemporary England, Professor Fendelman (Denis Lill) subjects a twelve million-year-old skull to the effects of his Time Scanner, providing a channel for the malevolent Fendahl to once more terrorise the Earth. The skull is also infiltrating fellow scientist Thea Ransome (Wanda Ventham), who is eventually transformed into the Fendahl core, mutating colleagues into snake-like monsters. The theme of mankind manipulated by an ancient alien again draws from DOCTOR WHO's favourite reference point - the works of Nigel Kneale - but the story is let down by the Fendahl itself; an attractive women with eyes painted on her closed eyelids doesn't really justify a terrifying entity that feeds on death; nor does the climax, where a creature that can teleport itself across space is killed by a handful of rock salt.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Paint It Black


Dou (Maurice Denham), once a student of Rembrandt, sells his niece to a Sepulchral for a casket of gold in SCHALCKEN THE PAINTER.

THE first incarnation of the BBC's A GHOST STORY FOR CHRISTMAS strand ended with pretentious episode THE ICE HOUSE in 1978. The two programmes here attempt to carry on the tradition, the first often confused as an official entry, and the second directed by the series' talisman on ITV. Actually screened as part of OMNIBUS, Leslie Megahey's SCHALCKEN THE PAINTER is a fictional exploration of real life seventeenth-century Dutch artist Godfried Schalcken. Adapted from Sheridan Le Fanu, Schalcken (Jeremy Clyde) is a student of Gerrit Dou (Maurice Denham) and admirer of Dou's niece Rose (Cheryl Kennedy); Schalcken is as lifeless as the canvas he devotes himself to, and loses Rose's hand to deathly stranger Vanderhausen (John Justin).

If the story has a message at all, it is that females can become detached objects and property; when Rou's niece is bound to the cadaverous Vanderhausen, it serves as a metaphor on the cruelty of woman as breeding stock. The slow narrative and detached composition has flatteringly been likened to Kubrick, but the programme stands more as a companion piece to another OMNIBUS adaptation, Jonathan Miller's WHISTLE AND I'LL COME TO YOU. Whereas Miller takes M.R. James and reflects supernatural image as mental breakdown, Megahey sees Le Fanu's tale as an artist's shattering loss of hope.

CASTING THE RUNES was released on Network DVD in 2007. This disc also included ITV Schools' rare adaptation of Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance, and the documentary A PLEASANT TERROR: THE LIFE AND GHOSTS OF M.R. JAMES.

In M. R. James' Casting the Runes - first published in 1911's More Ghost Stories - Edward Dunning is a researcher for the British Museum, who has recently appraised The Truth of Alchemy by occultist Mr Karswell. He begins seeing the name John Harrington wherever he goes, and learns that this individual had also reviewed Karswell's work, but died in a freak accident. Following the celebrated 1957 film version NIGHT OF THE DEMON directed by Jacques Tourneur, the story was adapted twice on British independent television: in 1968 as a third season MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION, and again as an eleventh season PLAYHOUSE.

Directed by A GHOST STORY FOR CHRISTMAS regular Lawrence Gordon Clark, CASTING THE RUNES was another attempt at a contemporary updating. Shot on videotape and 16mm film, the central protagonist is a woman, Prudence Dunning (Jan Francis), the producer of an investigative television programme that is critical of the practises of Karswell (Iain Cuthbertson). With a limited running time, this take suffers from scenes which have previously been so effective in other adaptations - there is no séances, and no Halloween garden party - and what remains creates an imposing but underdeveloped demonologist; Karswell is reduced to building a model dolls house and putting a live spider in one of the beds to satisfy this particular brand of curse.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016



An adult Wirrn from THE ARK IN SPACE. Originating from Andromeda, these aliens are "almost too horrible to think about."

ALTHOUGH the script for what would become the DOCTOR WHO adventure THE ARK IN SPACE was commissioned during Barry Letts' show running tenure, it fell to incoming producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes to bring this classic tale of bodily possession to life. Screened as the second story of the programme's Season Twelve, and scripted by Holmes from an original draft by John Lucarotti, it tells of the insectoid Wirrn Queen laying eggs inside cryogenically-preserved humans on the future space "ark" Nerva; when the eggs begin to hatch and the monsters start to absorb homo sapien knowledge as well as their bodies, The Doctor (Tom Baker), Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) and Harry (Ian Marter) team up with revived humans to lure hatched Wirrn into a shuttle craft and blast them into space.

THE ARK IN SPACE's body horror is played out in Roger Murray-Leach's brightly lit, clinical sets, and its claustrophobia and trails of green slime couldn't have been further from the atmosphere of the previous serial, ROBOT. Noah (Kenton Moore)'s unnerving cell-by-cell mutation into an insectoid not only recalls the fate of Carroon in THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT, but provides a bridging point for body-destruction explored in major motion pictures such as ALIEN and THE THING (the shuttle craft finale also provides a nod to Ridley Scott's film). The Wirrn grubs and flesh of Noah's transforming hand were constructed primarily from then new bubble-wrap packaging and sprayed green, and to further illustrate the show's queasy hue, the opening titles to Part One were green-tinted as an experiment but consequently dropped.

THE MASQUE OF MANDRAGORA is one of the most literate of all DOCTOR WHO's; not only is Mandragora the latin for the plant Mandrake, which in folklore is said to have magical qualities, the serial has also been equated to Hamlet's discussions on the supernatural.

The Fourteenth Season of DOCTOR WHO opened with two stories that also explored the Hinchcliffe/Holmes brand of control. THE MASQUE OF MANDRAGORA is a sumptuous costume drama set during Renaissance Italy (which was actually filmed in Portmeirion). The TARDIS lands unwittingly carrying Mandragora energy, that possesses an underground cult - the outlawed Brotherhood of Demnos - intent on dragging the world back to the Dark Ages. Portmeirion's locations fit in perfectly for 15th century Italy, as the architect for the Welsh village - Sir Clough Williams-Ellis - was inspired by the Italian harbour town of Portofino. This mixture of history and black magic come to life in Louis Marks' intelligent scripts, using the Madragora Helix to symbolise superstition that would be negated by science ("the dawn of a new reason"), and Barry Newbery's design for the wood-panelled console room is a thing of beauty.

THE HAND OF FEAR is set on contemporary Earth, and sees Sarah Jane possessed by the fossilised hand of Kastrian Eldrad (Judith Paris/Stephen Thorne), a criminal who was destroyed in space as punishment for attempting to wipe out his own race. Sarah Jane hijacks a nuclear reactor where radiation recreates the creature; regenerated, Eldrad persuades The Doctor to take him back to Kastria, but the planet has been destroyed by King Rokon (Roy Skelton) in case Eldrad should ever return. At its conclusion, The Doctor receives a summons from the Time Lords, forcing him to leave Sarah on Earth; this action would result in the ground-breaking THE DEADLY ASSASSIN.

Judith Paris as the reconstituted Eldrad in THE HAND OF FEAR.

Disembodied hands have a long tradition in pop culture. Amicus in particular enjoyed the malevolent severed organ, and here the impressively realised digit is brought to life by Steve Drewett and CSO. But this is a serial for the women; in her female form Eldrad presents a ruthless beauty, and Sladen is threatening while under the influence, then feistily accepting in her farewell scene. In fact, THE HAND OF FEAR is the perfect story to showcase the most popular of the Time Lord's assistants. Sladen appeared in eighty episodes between 1973 and 1976, and through subsequent audio dramas, reboot appearances and spin-offs, new generations could also fall in love with her grounded yet infectious charm. Sladen's swift death from pancreatic cancer in April 2011 left the Whovian community in shock, and BBC Four fittingly showed THE HAND OF FEAR as a tribute to Sladen's timeless appeal.