The Hand of Fear (TV story)

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The Hand of Fear was the second serial of season 14 of Doctor Who. Significantly, it was the final regular appearance of Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, though she would return to the role in a semi-regular capacity in School Reunion in 2006, and the main cast member of The Sarah Jane Adventures in 2007.

The Hand of Fear was originally intended for the 1976 six-part slot that was taken by The Seeds of Doom.[1] It was inspired by the 1946 film The Beast with Five Fingers. (DCOM: The Hand of Fear) 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 with The Hand of Fear. After finishing production on the serial and an episode of Softly, Softly: Taskforce, he was drowned after a wave swept him overboard in the English Channel in May 1977.[1]

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. (DCOM/INFO: The Hand of Fear)


When the TARDIS lands in a quarry on Earth, the Doctor and Sarah are caught in a quarrying explosion. Sarah is found clutching what appears to be a fossilised hand, buried in one-hundred-fifty-million-year-old strata. Analysis shows the hand to be silicon-based and inert, but when Sarah begins to act as if possessed, the Doctor suspects that it may still be alive...


Part one[[edit]]

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 fossilised 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 realises 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, sending the complex into red alert. She watches as the hand absorbs radiation, regenerates its missing finger and begins to move...

Part two[[edit]]

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 him, closely followed by Sarah, and narrowly avoids becoming a victim of the ring. They catch up with Driscoll just as he is about to enter the core and set off a chain reaction. The Doctor pulls Sarah to the ground to await the explosion.

Inside the control room, the panels explode, knocking Professor Watson to the floor...

Part three[[edit]]

The Doctor persuades Eldrad to let Watson live.

It seems they are waiting in vain, as nothing happens. The Doctor enters the reactor chamber where the level of radiation is, surprisingly, still normal. He explains that sort of "unexplosion" happened. They close the reactor core and hurry out as Watson has ordered an RAF strike to destroy the hand and the reactor. The missiles' impact, however, have no effect because the hand absorbed all the energy. The nuclear missiles and the full power of the reactor are enough to complete the 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 she 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 reactivates some instruments. The Kastrian opens the door to the underground thermal caves looking for survivors and triggers a trap. A syringe-like dart hits her in the chest.

Part four[[edit]]

Sarah, Eldrad and the Doctor look upon the thermal chambers.

After she explains that the dart contained an acid of her own design, the Doctor and Sarah take the dying Eldrad to a regenerator chamber deep below the surface of Kastria, in the thermal chambers. Booby traps have been set along, targeting silicon-based beings. The regenerator chamber is rigged to destroy Eldrad, but a malfunction allows a full regeneration. The new form of Eldrad emerges and 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, to rule Kastria. He enters the Kastrian race bank, where he intends to revive the dormant Kastrian people. The bank, however, is empty.

An image of the long dead Rokon appears on a large 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. It was Rokon who long time ago set the booby traps. Rokon mockingly salutes Eldrad from the grave as "King of Nothing". A bitter Eldrad now decides to rule Earth instead and demands the Doctor return him there. The Doctor refuses, stating that his obligation to Eldrad is now finished. Eldrad pursues the Doctor and Sarah, but they stretch out the Doctor's scarf across the passageway. Tripping over it, Eldrad falls into an abyss to his apparent doom. The Doctor drops Eldrad's ring into the depths 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 belongings (which include a stuffed toy owl), and the Doctor informs her that he must return her to Earth, as he cannot take her to Gallifrey. With her idle threat suddenly becoming reality, Sarah is taken aback, especially at missing the chance to see Gallifrey.

Sarah walks away from the TARDIS.

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 materialises, 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 dematerialise to return the Doctor home, Sarah realises that she is not on Hillview Road and guesses that she is probably not even in South Croydon. She playfully remarks to a nearby dog, "He blew it!" Whistling, she walks off toward her new life.



Uncredited crew[[edit]]


Cultural references from the real world[[edit]]



  • Eldrad has heard of the Time Lords.
  • Eldrad says he built barriers to keep out the winds and machines to replenish the soil and atmosphere.

Science and technology[[edit]]


Time travel[[edit]]

  • According to the Doctor, bringing Eldrad back to their home time would contravene the first Law of Time.


Story notes[[edit]]

  • When Elisabeth Sladen expressed her intention to leave the series, Sarah was originally supposed to be killed off in a pseudo-historical story involving aliens and the Foreign Legion. However Douglas Camfield, who was supposed to write the scripts, was unable to do so. This was much to Sladen's relief, as she did not want Sarah to be killed or married off. Sladen also asked that Sarah's departure not be the main focus of the story, as she felt the programme was about the Doctor, not the companion. Bob Baker and Dave Martin intentionally did not write Sarah's departure scene. The script for that scene was rewritten by Sladen and Tom Baker from Robert Holmes's original version.
  • In terms of "seasons", Elisabeth Sladen was the longest serving companion with any Doctor, appearing for over three seasons and surpassing Katy Manning's record as Jo Grant. In terms of "years", Janet Fielding holds the record for playing Tegan Jovanka for just under three years. Frazer Hines as companion Jamie McCrimmon holds the record for the longest serving companion in terms of the number of "episodes" in which he appeared. These records do not take non-televised adventures into account, nor later "guest" reappearances.
  • The original script for The Hand of Fear had many differences from the finished version. The nuclear power station was supposed to be the Nuton Power Complex of The Claws of Axos but was renamed the Nunton Experimental Complex instead. The real-life location was the Oldbury Nuclear Power Station in Gloucestershire. Miss Jackson was a nameless man. Director Lennie Mayne built up the part, changed the gender and cast his wife, Frances Pidgeon. Eldrad's home was originally supposed to be the black hole of Omega 4.6. When Robert Holmes pointed out to Bob Baker and Dave Martin that the name Omega had already appeared in Doctor Who (in The Three Doctors; ironically this story was also written by Baker and Martin), they changed the name to Kastria. The story was to feature an ageing Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, who had been transferred from UNIT to the Extraterrestrial Xenological Intelligence Taskforce — EXIT for short — to study UFO activities. He was to sacrifice his life when he steered a commandeered experimental rocket into an Omegan kamikaze ship to prevent that ship from crashing into Earth. This plan did not go through as Nicholas Courtney was unavailable for filming.
  • In a later version, a key character, Lieutenant Hawker, was later replaced by Harry Sullivan. Along with the calcified hand, an Omegan spaceship (referred to as “the Monolith”) was now discovered at the start of episode one, and became central to the storyline, serving as the location of the adventure's climax. The separate factions of Omegans were excised. Baker and Martin also introduced a new supporting character, in the form of a Time Lord named Drax. An untrustworthy Gallifreyan mechanic who wants to steal the TARDIS, Drax was conceived as a possible recurring character. He later appeared in The Armageddon Factor.
  • Elisabeth Sladen is credited as "Sarah Jane" in Radio Times. Frances Pidgeon (Miss Jackson) and Roy Boyd (Driscoll) are uncredited on-screen for part three, but are credited in Radio Times. Boyd appears only in the reprise of part three.
  • The fly that can be seen walking across Glyn Houston's brow in one scene — where Professor Watson is on the telephone — was swallowed by Elisabeth Sladen in an outtake. The insect proved to be a disruption by interfering with the sound recording.
  • This story was originally written for the finale of season 13, but there were problems with the scripts.
  • This serial was repeated in May 2011 on BBC Four across two days as a tribute to Elisabeth Sladen after her death from cancer a month previously.
  • Anthony AinleyDinsdale Landen, Glyn Owen, Patrick Stewart and Stephen Yardley were considered for Professor Watson.
  • Sarah Jane, after being released from Eldrad's influence, says "ELDRAD MUST LIVE — just testing!" This was a prank by Elisabeth Sladen meant to "corpse" Tom Baker, but it seemed so in-character that Lennie Mayne kept it in.
  • Philip Hinchcliffe felt that the first two episodes were lacking in incident and failed to give Sarah Jane enough of a role to befit her final adventure.
  • The dog in the final scene was handled by Lennie Mayne's wife, Frances Pidgeon, whom he had also cast as Miss Jackson (a character originally intended to be male).
  • Bob Baker and Dave Martin had assisted in securing Oldbury Court Power Station as a filming location, as it was very near to where they lived.
  • The freeze-frame shot of Sarah Jane at the very end was added at the request of Elisabeth Sladen. She considered it her leaving present and Lennie Mayne was happy to give it to her.
  • In the same way that Eldrad's humanoid form was patterned after Sarah, the alien's speaking voice was originally intended to be based on Dr Carter's.


  • Part one - 10.5 million viewers
  • Part two - 10.2 million viewers
  • Part three - 11.1 million viewers
  • Part four - 12 million viewers


  • Supposedly, the working titles for this story were The Hand of Death and The Hand of Time.[1] However, the production notes on the DVD release state that there were no working titles.
  • One myth posited that a real quarry explosion was filmed for the episode and the crew badly underestimated the power of the explosion A rumour persisted for many years that a camera was totally destroyed in the blast. In the DVD commentary, it is made clear that this is just a fan myth. The camera was placed in a blast-proof box and although it was buried in the explosion, it was undamaged.
  • Another contention is that The Hand of Fear establishes the rule that only Time Lords are allowed on Gallifrey. In fact, the Doctor only says to himself, "I can't take Sarah to Gallifrey", and tells her as much.

Filming locations[[edit]]

  • Cromhall Quarry, Cromhall, Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire (Quarry where the TARDIS arrives at the start of the story)
  • Oldbury Nuclear Power Station, Oldbury Naite, Thornbury, Gloucestershire (Location of the 'Nunton Experimental Complex')
  • Stokefield Close, Thornbury, Gloucestershire (Where Sarah is dropped off by the Doctor)
  • Rickmansworth Road (A412), Croxley Green, Hertfordshire (This was reused stock footage of an ambulance)

Production errors[[edit]]

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.
  • In part two, when the Doctor and Dr Carter enter the Nunton complex's Control Centre, Glyn Houston (Professor Watson) accidentally fluffs his scripted line, "We have a full-scale emergency here" — delivering it instead as, "We have a full emergency scale here".
  • In part four, when Eldrad is ranting and raving following King Rokon's message, a camera can be seen in the dark doorway behind Sarah.
  • When Eldrad is telling the Doctor about the race banks, the shadow of a boom mike moves over the wall behind Sarah (and its reflection can be seen in the wall to her left).
  • When the Doctor and Sarah are setting the trap for Eldrad, the Doctor bumps a large rock to his left, causing it to wobble noticeably.


Home video and audio releases[[edit]]

DVD releases[[edit]]

This story was released as Doctor Who: The Hand of Fear.


Special Features[[edit]]


  • Editing for the DVD release was completed by the Doctor Who Restoration Team.
  • Mistakenly, the artwork of the Region 4 release states that the Tom Baker era lasted from 1974 to 1979

It was also released as issue 43 of Doctor Who DVD Files.

VHS releases[[edit]]

This story was released on VHS in February 1996, and was the final videocassette to include the diamond logo on the cover artwork in the United Kingdom and the US. It was available for only two weeks, being deleted along with much of the rest of the Doctor Who video range shortly after. The original videocassette therefore became something of a collector's item.

Digital releases[[edit]]

The Hand of Fear is available through both iTunes and, in the UK, Amazon Instant Video. On iTunes, it is included in the Best of Tom Baker bundle, alongside Genesis of the Daleks, The Deadly Assassin and The Talons of Weng-Chiang.

External links[[edit]]