The Hand of Fear
Once again, Bob Baker and Dave Martin come up trumps with a story that combines all the best features of Doctor Who in this era. 'The Hand of Fear made a refreshing and welcome comeback for two of the [series'] veteran writers,' enthused Steven Evans in the Doctor Who Appreciation Society Yearbook 1977/78, 'continuing their grand tradition of original plots, excellent dialogue and believable aliens. It also marked, [for the first time in] six years, [a] contemporary Earth story not to feature UNIT.'
The first episode revolves around the titular hand. What is it? Whose is it? And why is Sarah acting so strangely? The scenes of the possessed Sarah escaping from the hospital and making her way to the Nunton complex are all the more effective for the use of a fish-eye lens to distort the picture and make her seem uncharacteristically threatening. Elisabeth Sladen does a superb job here, causing the viewer to regret all the more that this is to be her final story as a regular. The brash and aggressive Sarah of season eleven has by this point given way to a far more trusting and likeable character. Her relationship with the Doctor has become wonderfully relaxed - mellow, even - and the interplay between them ever more naturalistic. In this story, her quips as she tries to persuade him to let her accompany him into the complex are particularly nice, as is her playful baiting of him by proclaiming 'Eldrad must live' after he has freed her of the Kastrian's influence.
If the depiction of Sarah is one of the high points of The Hand of Fear, then that of the female Eldrad is the other. From her husky voice to her remarkable costume, she presents the classic dilemma of a physically attractive woman who is also deadly and ruthless. As Keith Williams wrote in TARDIS Volume 1 Number 12, dated December 1976: 'The female Eldrad's first appearance was impressive enough - a magnificent creature, all crystalline; purple skin; glowing eyes darting sideways suspiciously.' Judith Paris is excellent in the role, and it is a considerable let-down when Stephen Thorne takes over after Eldrad's transformation in the final episode. Although Thorne makes good use of his voice - the costume allows him little scope to convey things by way of facial expression - he unfortunately sounds and acts almost exactly like Omega, the villain he portrayed in the same writers' season ten story The Three Doctors. Even some of the lines he is given are practically the same. This negative development is a shame, as Eldrad is essentially an interesting and in many ways tragic character. Misguided and egocentric, but also quite sympathetic. As Sarah says: 'I quite liked her, but I couldn't stand him.'
Tim Dollin, also writing in TARDIS Volume 1 Number 12, found the story's resolution disappointing as a whole: 'I thought we were in for a story where Eldrad would try and save her people beneath the surface. Instead we go downstairs in a particularly false lift and try and drag Eldrad across those terrible sets. They looked like something out of pantomime. Then all is forgotten about Eldrad's plight and she becomes a he... Now all that happens is that the Doctor trips Eldrad up and he falls down a hole.'
It is the last five minutes that really distinguish The Hand of Fear. As Keith Miller put it in Doctor Who Digest Number 4, dated January 1977: 'The farewell scene between the Doctor and Sarah was well acted out... Sarah's sudden flare up at the Doctor, deciding to leave [and] then saying that the "Time Lord story" was just a ruse to get her to stay [were] perfectly executed by Lis Sladen and... a fitting tribute to one of the most popular of Doctor Who's assistants.' Martin Wiggins must have echoed the thoughts of many when he wrote, again in TARDIS Volume 1 Number 12: 'I felt a little lost when Sarah left. She was the only person I could really identify with in Doctor Who, and now she's gone.'