As with all Doctor Who DVD releases, The Hand of Fear features a number of well-produced extras that flesh out the production history of the episodes. The commentary by Baker, Sladen, co-star Judith Paris (who plays the reconfigured Eldrad in an early female form), co-author Bob Baker, and producer Phillip Hinchcliffe is an excellent place to start for first-time viewers and longtime fans; all except Paris are also featured in an informative 50-minute featurette titled "Changing Time," which illuminates the warm working relationship between Baker and Sladen, as well as her reasons for departing the series. An 11-minute videotape clip from the U.K. children's show Swap Shop featuring Baker and Sladen before the broadcast of The Hand of Fear is also included, as well as the now-standard photo gallery, text-only commentary, and PDF of the 1977 Doctor Who Annual and Radio Times. --Paul Gaita
The Doctor hypothesizes that the hand, originating from a silicon-based lifeform, is alive and is using radiation to regenerate itself. That does explain why Sarah comes out of the radiation chamber alive and well despite being exposed to enough radiation to kill a school of whales. But who or what is Eldrad?
There is a scene when the director of Nunton, Professor Watson, phones his wife and tells her in a calm voice that he may be delayed. He lies that there is nothing wrong and to kiss the children for him. This is when it looks like the facility might undergo meltdown. At the end of the call, his expression is one having resigned to the fact that he might well die before the day is over. This is Glyn Houston's best part in his role as Watson.
The crystalline costume for Eldrad is quite a beaut, which is clearly a blue-gray body suit with crystals and metal pieces attached to resemble a clump of jewels at various points. Judith Paris's portrayal of Eldrad retains the alien nature of this being, down to the voice. As Eldrad has been an alien exiled from Kastria and sentenced to obliteration, something that didn't succeed, the obsession of paranoia, in not trusting people, is well-acted. And the sight of a hand moving by itself isn't something one sees everyday. As Sarah says, "Careful, that's not as 'armless as it looks." Harmless, armless,... right.
The one thing that may throw fans is the farewell between the Doctor and one of his longest traveling companions. In contrast to the Third Doctor being shattered when Jo leaves him, here, the Fourth Doctor's not too emotional goodbye is a bit questionable. Then again, Tom Baker and Liz Sladen reworked that part of the dialogue themselves, so who knows?
The scenes in the nuclear plant, mainly episodes 2 and 3, are the bright points of The Hand Of Fear, as it's fast-moving and tense. Indeed, location filming was done at the Oldbury Nuclear Power Station in Avon, where the people there were enthusiastic in helping out the production team. Things slow down in the last episode, but it's an all right story.
The episode kicks off by making fun of the series itself: the TARDIS materializes in what looks like yet another rock quarry --Sarah immediately concludes that they have once again gone astray and landed on some remote alien planet. The joke is, of course, that they have in fact arrived in present-day England...in an actual rock quarry!
The first half of the story plays out in the present day, with the Doctor interacting with ordinary everyday characters in a hospital, a pathology lab, and a nuclear reactor complex --certainly no clue is given as to the long-ago and far-distant goings-on of the planet Kastria and the fate of its people. Eldrad goes from being a fright element that possesses people (in two cases, to their deaths), to an actual multifaceted --even passionate-- character who elicits some audience sympathy, then finally into a stomping, shouting, villain who only dreams of conquest --the sort of shallow character with which Sarah and the Doctor are altogether too familiar, thank you. Perhaps the Kastrians knew something about themselves and their nature that Eldrad was never willing to accept?
Of course this episode is critical to the overall Doctor Who story arc because it features Sarah Jane's departure; hands-down she is the most popular traveling companion in the series' history to date, and rumors of her exit actually make a few headlines and the evening news. Sarah certainly gets put through the ringer in her swansong: she is nearly crushed to death in a rockfall, she is possessed by an alien intelligence and nearly triggers a nuclear reactor meltdown; she is shot at, dodges alien traps and pitfalls with alarming regularity, and even must endure the indignity of being "re-hypnotized" by the Doctor all over again. It is little wonder that after departing Kastria, she snaps and launches into a long-overdue angry tirade. Actress Elizabeth Sladen improvises this "rant" with such petulance that the audience is clucking in total sympathy by the time she storms out. Not one of the greatest Dr. Who episodes of all time, but definitely one of the best of the Tom Baker era.
Switch to the quarry, a bit of an in-joke after all of the Pertwee years where the quarry seemed to become an almost required set. It is ironic too that the alien story element is actually a silicon based lifeform!
In the last Sarah Jane Smith story, I believe that she was the longest serving of the Doctor's companions, the story involves regeneration of an alien life-form through the consumption of radiation from a nuclear power station despite military intervention which, as always, is ineffective. The story is reminiscent of the old horror movie of the hand which has a life of it's own but in a different way. The alien life form when recreated has a strange beauty and a believable tale to tell convincing the Doctor to return it to it's own planet.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, the usual story of treachery and deceit is relived again with an interesting transformation of form once again and a twist in the tale.
This story is not apparently as dark a tale as the others under Philip Hinchcliffe's excellent production. On closer inspection however, this is a story of genocide, but it is not really explored sufficiently. It is also like the Egyptian theme of 'Pyramids of Mars' and the story of Horus and Osiris. A stunning contrast to the 'Masque of Mandragora' which precedded it and to the 'Deadly Assassin' which followed it, this is certainly an interesting story.
Just one thing, it always irritated me about Elisabeth Sladen wearing those Andy Pandy overall things.