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A Day On Fang Rock: Doctor Who Season 15 BFI Event for The Collection’s Release

It’s getting much more difficult nowadays to get tickets for any Doctor Who screenings, including the Riverside events. However, while grabbing a BFI ticket is nigh on impossible, my friend Maria always has quite good luck so we were able to go to and see one of the best classic Doctor Who stories around — Horror of Fang Rock.

For those who have never been to a BFI event, they are excellently conducted screenings. The BFI is a short walk from Waterloo Station so it’s ideally placed if you have to come to London from quite far away like I do. Of course, it wouldn’t be a trip to London without something going slightly wrong and as normal, the train unions had organised another strike to take place at the same time (seriously do they not know how important Doctor Who is?!) and then engineering works were going on which meant that a journey that should’ve taken an hour and a half actually took me nearly three hours — I crawled into London with just 10 minutes to spare. So racing across London like a madman, I was bit out breath when I got to the BFI and found my friend Maria waiting for me.

Fortunately though, we weren’t late and got into the screen before the event began, which as usual starts with a quiz about what you are about to watch — in this case, the upcoming Blu-ray set for Season 15. We were then treated to a nice trio of interviews, firstly with Mark Ayres who has re-mastered the sound for this boxset. Ayres described how he’ ha’s created a brand new 5.1 surround sound mix, from a story which had very little background music to begin with. His work makes the new edition of the story feel even moodier than the original; and giving it a new fog horn sound means that it reverberates through the speakers. All his hard work creates a much more immersive story, which successfully makes you feel like you’re trapped in the lighthouse with the rest of the cast.

Frank Skinner was then invited up to the stage to talk about the serial we were about to watch as well as his own memories not only of the story but also of the writer, the late great Terrence Dicks. He said about how strange it was that he lived near the writer when he was younger and never got the courage to go and speak to him about his time on the show; that’s why he cherished getting the chance to create his documentary featured in a previous box set about the life of the writer. Horror of Fang Rock is one of his favourite Doctor Who stories, reminding him of something from Agatha Christie, taking the remote location of And Then There Were None and giving it a Doctor Who twist. He also said he was pleased that now his son was getting into Who too, so getting to share it with him at somewhere as brilliant as the BFI was very special to him.

I have to say that I understood what he meant by that: Horror of Fang Rock was one of the stories I would watch with my late father. We both loved Doctor Who and anything horror related and Fang Rock was a story we would always watch towards Christmas time as it seemed to suit that time of the year perfectly. So getting to watch it on the big screen, surrounded surprisingly by more fans who hadn’t seen it than had, felt very special — like I was getting to watch one of my favourite stories for the first time again. The new special effects, digital remastering, and new soundtrack would have been lost on my father who wouldn’t have understood what any of those words meant but I like to think he was there with me too, watching one of our favourite stories together.

The final little interview was with Chris Chapman who works as the head VFX artist. He spoke about the new effects and model for the Rutan creature, which makes it look a lot more real than it does in the original; however, he explained that there was a fine line to be walked because the new effects don’t replace the originals, but are done in a way that looks like how the original creators would’ve done if they had the budget. He also brought along the prop for the new Rutan which is made out of an Ikea lampshade and quick-setting putty. It was a brilliant look, which keeps the original jellyfish design but makes it look even more bulbous and alive; it was great to get to interact with the prop later.

As for the story itself, what can be said that hasn’t already been said? It’s a terrific story, where characters meet their demise in quite a shocking and gruesome way. Not all of them deserve their fate but by the end of the story, it’s only the Doctor and Leela who are left alive. The restoration work done on the story was tremendous, especially the clearing up on the picture. I never noticed before that Leela pokes some dead fish with her knife when she’s hunting the Rutan or the ominous green glow that follows her and the Doctor when they are looking around for the creature in the third episode.

I was particularly surprised by my friend Maria’s reaction to it. She said she was glad that it was only four episodes because she’d started to feel increasingly claustrophobic watching the story and in a way, that’s the highest compliment this version of the story can get. The upscale, the new soundtrack, effects, tremendous performances from all the cast, and a tight script from Terrance Dicks… You feel just how cramped and uncomfortable the isolated location really is.

Following the screening of the story, Pete McTigue (author of the trailers we’ve been getting for these Blu-ray sets) and Louise Jameson spoke about bringing back Leela and the Time War and how the scene felt like a cut-scene from The Day of the Doctor and how happy Louise Jameson was to come back onscreen. We did also get the sad news those that these trailers might be taking a break because they are surprisingly expensive to make and some of the planned upcoming sets have a number of main stars who are sadly no longer with us.

Louise Jameson was then joined by guest stars John Abbott and Annette Woollett who played Vince Hawkins and Adelaide respectively. Of course, the conversation quickly turned to the slap Leela gives Adelaide, which got a huge laugh and round of applause when it happened. It’s not a stage slap: Woollett wanted the reaction to be real so got Jameson to give her a proper whack! Woollett also had some kind words concerning the director, Paddy Russell. Russell is a director we know shockingly little about; here, we learned that she was an incredibly collaborative director and wanted the actors to come to her with suggestions to make the final product, so that everyone has contributed. Horror is an incredibly tense piece of work and Russell deserves all the credit she can get.

For Maria and me, the next thing to do was our first Quiz of Rassilon. There were a number of rounds: one concerned identifying the characters in a Scream Queens round, then a sheet of images and we needed to name the characters, a round about Season 15, the recent 60th anniversary and The Church on Ruby Road. We excitingly came second! I think the gin I was drinking helped considerably; if only I’d have been able to do my maths GCSE with a glass of gin next to me… And then we sat around and chatted with Doctor Who fans, including a rather tipsy conversation about K9 & Company!

It was another fantastic BFI event and a great way of getting people excited for the upcoming boxset which does feature some brilliant elements. You’ve got the introduction of K9, the eerie Fendahl, and a story which features one of the best cliffhangers of all time — Sontarans invading Gallifrey!

Doctor Who: The Collection — Season 15 is available now.

Jordan Shortman

A Day On Fang Rock: Doctor Who Season 15 BFI Event for The Collection’s Release

by Jordan Shortman time to read: 6 min
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