The Doctor Who Companion

Get your daily fix of news, reviews, and features with the Doctor Who Companion!

Doctor Who’s Horror of Fang Rock: Just Where is Fang Rock?

When the TARDIS brings the Fourth Doctor and Leela to the fog shrouded island of Fang Rock, they soon find themselves having to fight alongside the lighthouse keepers and survivors of a shipwreck against the Rutans. The old enemies of the Sontarans are looking to convert Earth into an outpost in their war and one of the Rutans have crash landed off the South Coast of England.

But where exactly is Fang Rock? There are few clues littered throughout the story that helps us narrow down where the fictional island would be and can hopefully give us a smaller area to narrow things down.

The first clue is when the TARDIS lands and the Doctor has been trying to take Leela to Brighton. Presumably he’s trying to bring her to either the Pier or Pavilion, both of which would have been around in the time period this story is set, which strongly hints at the early 20th Century. Of course they soon discover that this is in fact nowhere near Brighton and go to the lighthouse for help because the TARDIS got a little lost in the fog.

Our second clue is that the ship that crashes — with Lord Palmerdale, Adelaide Lessage, Colonel Skinsale, and the ship’s boson Harker on board — was carrying the passengers to Southampton where they would board a train to get to London; there, Palmerdale could carry out his sale of secrets. Anyone who lives along the south coast will tell you that Brighton is nowhere near Southampton: it’s a good two hours away on the train, so, even if the fog had spread far out to sea and not just around the lighthouse, for the ship to be by Brighton, Harker and the rest of the crew must have gotten completely lost.

So we can safely rule the coast off Brighton out and move our search further west. Namely to the Southampton area. Southampton has its own docks, the remnants and area of which you can still see on the journey into Southampton train station (it looks lovely). In the early 20th Century, it was Southampton where the ill-fated Titanic would set sail from in 1912. So we can safely say that Southampton docks was where the ship in Horror of Fang Rock was headed. Nowadays, one might wonder why they were trying to get to London from Southampton when places like Brighton and Portsmouth would be quicker journeys, but it was an international dockyard so it would make sense in the early 1900s to take the journey from there.

Our third clue comes when Adelaide says that she regrets ever leaving Deauville which is a port in France. Looking at Deauville on Google Maps and zooming out, you can see which parts of the South Coast Deauville lines up with. The Isle of Wight is right in front of it and behind that, my home of Hayling Island with Portsmouth next door. However, there are no small islands around The Isle of Wight, Hayling Island or Portsmouth, but we can now start to rule places out.

In nautical miles, which I’d assume Harker and the crew would have been using, the distance between the Isle of Wight and Southampton is 10 nautical miles, which rules out that as the location for Fang Rock. It’s 12 nautical miles between Portsmouth and Southampton. Hayling Island doesn’t have a port, just a small ferry that travels between Hayling Island and Portsmouth — which incidentally drops you off near Frazer’s Gunnery Range which was one of the main locations for The Sea Devils. Given the little bit of a further distance, I would hazard a guess at it being between 13 to 15 nautical miles to Southampton from Hayling.

Let’s go back to the line about being five miles from Southampton docks. In nautical miles, five turns into three miles. The only thing around the area of Southampton that I’d predict would be that distant is Calshot Castle, which was built in Southampton by Henry VIII. It stands on a piece of ground that pokes out into the water but is firmly attached to the main land. However, Southsea Castle, which is near me, has a lighthouse, and Calshot didn’t until a little while ago — that was built near the lifeboat station so I doubt when author Terrance Dicks wrote Horror of Fang Rock, Calshot would’ve had a lighthouse.

Really, it’s impossible to go any further up into Southampton water because it gets narrower the closer to the docks that you get. Also around the docks, the water goes into the River Itchen which would be far too narrow for a ship the size of the one that crashes onto Fang Rock. Nowhere around the island does the set design imply that there’s land nearby. I would, then, hazard a guess that Fang Rock is situated somewhere in the Solent, between the Isle of Wight and Gosport/Lee-on-Solent. I would argue that it isn’t between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight because of the sea forts which reside there and that everywhere else the water is either too narrow for a small island or too near anything else on the South Coast.

I think we can safely narrow the location of Fang Rock to an area of the Solent where Southampton is north, Lee-on-Solent is East, the Isle of Wight is south, and Calshot is West.

But who knows, maybe one day we might discover a mysterious island in that patch of water where there are legends of a mysterious beast who lurks on the rocks…?

Jordan Shortman

Doctor Who’s Horror of Fang Rock: Just Where is Fang Rock?

by Jordan Shortman time to read: 4 min
%d bloggers like this: