Finally, seven minutes into Part Three of Four, we meet the villain. Eldrad, at last, lives. Up until this point, there have been some reasonable ideas, but nothing has really been seen to happen since the quarry exploded at the start of Part One. It’s largely been the Doctor (or Professor Watson, or King Rokon) explaining things that are happening offscreen: the destruction of Kastria; Eldrad’s regeneration; nuclear unexplosions powerful enough to make a chair fall over.
It’s a good job Judith Paris is so good as the unexpectedly feminine Eldrad (they’ve been ‘he’ up until this point). She’s almost birdlike, twitching, watchful, suddenly darting to life. She’s also a very good dissimulator, and the Doctor seems to half believe her story of a planet caught in the war between two powerful alien races that condemned her to death. Having a villain on the back foot is great: normally it’s the Doctor at a disadvantage, but here Eldrad has to plead for help, show mercy when Watson tries to shoot her, and even gets to travel in the TARDIS. The cliffhanger of her getting shot with a javelin wouldn’t have worked if she’d been a bellowing bully.
Interestingly, Eldrad and the Kastrians also seem to have heard of the Time Lords, ‘pledged to uphold the Laws of Time and to prevent alien aggression’. The Doctor himself mentions that he can’t take Eldrad back to the moment of her exile as it would breach the First Law of Time (distortion of history). I think the point is to set up the end of the serial, but inevitably, the Time Lords have been an increasing presence in the series since Terrance Dicks invented them in 1969, and by this point it sounds like practically everyone in the universe has heard of them.
This episode is probably the best of the serial so far because there’s enough incident to occupy the A-plot. There is no B-plot (unless you count the bizarre focus on Watson’s home life and the endless scene after all the main characters have left of him wondering what people will think and what will become of his career). Understandably, the focus is on maximising the Doctor and Sarah’s final minutes together, with a scene that’s as cute as anything Pertwee and Manning got:
SARAH JANE: I worry about you. Look, anyway, who found that thing?
THE DOCTOR: You did…
SARAH JANE: Exactly.
THE DOCTOR: Yes, but
SARAH JANE: But what?
THE DOCTOR: I worry about you.
SARAH JANE: So, be careful.
THE DOCTOR: We’ll both be careful.
SARAH JANE: Fine.
This is very sweet. While it’s largely a bit tiresome, in some of the incidentals (the Doctor’s relationship with his friends; his preference for speech and diplomacy over guns and bombs) The Hand of Fear understands what makes Doctor Who tick a lot better than The Seeds of Doom.
Next episode: The Hand of Fear – Part Four