‘Black Archive #53: The Hand of Fear’

❉ “Ideas are powerful and can last far longer than physical horrors” writes Hannah Cooper. Eldrad Must Live! 

They might seem apparent choices of subject matter given the story’s title, but nonetheless Simon Bucher-Jones provides an interesting examination of both hand(s) and fear in The Hand of Fear. In this Black Archive, we are presented with a convincing argument for the power of hands across human culture and the numerous ways in which fear is created in the story.

The significance of the Hand in the story is taken by the fact that Eldrad is able to become whole from it. We are taken through examples of the depiction of the human hand in art, from cave paintings to Michaelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel, The Creation of Adam, and even the cover of the Target novelisation of The Three Doctors, before moving through the significance of hands in religion, philosophy and science.

I was particularly struck by the essay’s assertion that hands are “the interface between our consciousness and the exterior” and therefore are, aside from the eyes, “special in a way that no other extremity or exterior part of the body has been”. I frequently found myself pausing my reading and putting the book down as I felt drawn to stare at my own hands in wonder; I’d never given such thought to that internal-external connection before and found it a fascinating way of considering what the hands could really represent for humanity.

Having established the power of hands, we can be easily persuaded of the link between hands and fear by the time we reach a discussion on horror. If a hand has power, then severing someone’s hand represents the removal of that power, while possessed hands hold power over the rest of the body and a severed hand on its own still poses a threat. Numerous horror media are drawn upon, demonstrating the established culture that The Hand of Fear was following on from at the time of its production. There is a concerted effort to see what may or may not have influenced the production team, including writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin, as well as identifying the origins of several tropes of hands in horror.

Yet the essay also goes on to demonstrate how the story largely uses fear in other ways, and not necessarily with physical threats. This digs a bit more into why we humans can consistently find the same things scary. Ideas are powerful and can last far longer than physical horrors. There is an interesting discussion on the power of memes, of “infectious beliefs”, and how “Eldrad must live!” falls under this.

Another chapter explores the specifics of an aspect that is, if not quite a fear, then more of an uncomfortable horror: that which comes when confronted with something as ancient as Eldrad, forcing us to contemplate enormous stretches of time and our own relative insignificance as mere dots on the universe’s timeline. Bucher-Jones argues that Eldrad’s desire for domination from Kastria should never be a realistic threat and this leads into a great look at how Doctor Who had begun to subvert mythical-style figures in this period of the show’s history.

The fourth chapter feels the least connected as it highlights several issues in the text with topics that include gender and believability. Questions like “Can the Hand survive a fall from a million miles away?” are explored well but briefly here, with the essay moving on quickly.

In the Appendix, Bucher-Jones gets his teeth into some more real-world science as he attempts to identify exactly where in the universe Kastria is. It’s a challenging task, not least because “hardly any of the [programme’s] authors ever bother to understand interstellar, or even intra-solar-system distances”. There is little to go on on-screen, but an examination of Eldrad’s capsule and various calculations based on snippets of dialogue enables the book to go into a fantastic level of depth. The careful and measured explanation of these scientific elements also helps ensure that even those of us with a limited understanding of astrophysics can follow the argument as he presents the possibilities for Kastria’s real location.

While the Black Archive series can give new or renewed appreciation for stories, this edition has also ensured that I’ll never look at hands in quite the same way again. Ideas are powerful, and I was pleased that those presented here gave me so much to mull on.

❉ ‘The Black Archive #54: The Hand of Fear’ by Simon Bucher Jones is out now from Obverse Books, RRP £3.99 – £8.99. Buy Black Archive books from the Obverse Books website!

Hannah Cooper has spent the last few years travelling back in time to visit numerous TV programmes and she occasionally returns to the present day to write about them. Her work can be viewed at backintimefortv.co.uk and she can be found on Twitter as @MrsSimonTemplar.

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