Tuesday, November 3, 2009

4N4 - The Hand of Fear 4

This is where The Hand of Fear really flies off the rails. A large portion of the episode is spent putting The Doctor, Sarah, and an almost inert Eldrad through several different challenges and obstacle courses made of cheap, glittery scenery, before Stephen Thorne storms in as Eldrad 2.0, shouting virtually the same lines as he did as Omega in The Three Doctors before unconvincingly tripping over The Doctor's scarf and falling to his death in an abyss.

However, any faults that The Hand of Fear has displayed are completely forgotten once Sarah Jane Smith's farewell scene starts, as this is the real reason most people pine after this story. The scene, rewritten mostly by Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen, is simply gorgeous, and played to utter perfection by the leads. Sarah's final goodbye is so sweetly understated, much like her relationship with The Doctor in general. Their mutual declaration of "I worry about you." in Episode Three is tantamount to them declaring their vows to each other.

For such a subtle scene, it is still emotional to watch. Each time I watch it, I think I'm going to get through it unscathed, but when Sarah stands at the door for one last time and says, "You know, travel really does broaden the mind.", the lower lip starts to wobble. Tom Baker's wistful "'Til we meet again, Sarah." gets me every time. Every. Single. Time. Even now, while I'm writing this.

Even though we've been lucky to get Elisabeth Sladen back several times over the years since her original departure, the Tom Baker era would never be the same. The Baker-Sladen team were, quite possibly, the best Doctor-companion matchup in the show's history, with perhaps one or two challengers to that title. Baker was at the height of his powers at this time in the show's history, and most of it was based on the onscreen relationship he had with Sladen. After this, Baker's performance changed with each successive companion. The moody, intense Doctor of The Seeds of Doom was long gone by even The Masque of Mandragora, the very next story. With Sarah no longer in the picture, the connection to that Doctor is a distant memory, but Tom Baker still has a few guns in his arsenal that he'll bring out for the latter half of his era as The Doctor.


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