Fear HerBookmark and Share

Monday, 26 June 2006 - Reviewed by Billy Higgins

As with Love and Monsters, this episode smacked of “end-of-budget filler” and, compared to the lavishness of Episodes 5 & 6, 8 & 9 and (I think it’s safe to assume) 12 & 13, well, it didn’t compare, did it?

However, money (like size, or so I’ve been reliably informed) isn’t everything, and you can still tell a good story without big-name casts or CGI. So, was Fear Her a good story? It certainly had a good central idea – children disappearing from the streets after being drawn by a possessed 12-year-old girl, with The Doctor and Rose called in to investigate. By “called in”, of course, I mean the TARDIS landing casually in the next street and, hey presto, another instant adventure! As I’ve said before, still not much room for foreplay in New Who (well, not the 45-minute version anyway) it’s wham, bam, let’s get down to it.

That’s the nature of the beast these days, but it is rather like going straight to the chorus of the song without the intro. That said, there were some good, scary moments as The Doctor and Rose closed in on Chloe’s secret, and Rose being attacked by a “scribble” was a clever idea and well-realised. The nightmare “Dad” in the cupboard played on a traditional fear of monsters lurking in the cupboard, and was another “behind the sofa” moment for those of that ilk.

However, there were also large sections of the episode when my mind went wandering, and one of the problems here was little affection for this week’s guest cast. No particular problem with the actors, but New Who does attempt to build up characterisation, and that’s very difficult in this short format. Here, I suppose there was an allusion to domestic violence, but I think the point – if they were trying to make one, might be guilty of over-analysis here – was rather lost. And didn’t we kind of do all this in The Idiot’s Lantern anyway, which wasn’t a million miles away from Fear Her in overall concept either?

I have a suspicion that the 2012 setting was chosen purely to realise the scene of The Doctor picking up the Olympic torch. And OK, why not? It was a bit cheesy and, personally, it was more likely to make me wretch than weep, but it was a bit of fun, and was a reasonable way to wrap up the story.

In truth, it rather started and finished without me caring too much about what was going on. I didn’t hate it – I NEVER hate Doctor Who – but it’s reasonable to compare it to other episodes, and I couldn’t put it above many, if any, this season.

Fear Her was reminiscent of a Sapphire and Steel episode (no bad thing) but the suburban setting, the vanishing children and even the cat actually reminded me more of Survival, which was one of my favourite McCoy stories (admittedly, it’s not a huge list) and which had actually had more depth to it than Fear Her. It really needed more time to build up the mystery, and allow the story to develop. As no fan of the 45-minute format (I’d rather see 10 episodes at an hour in a series, or five two-parters and three one-parters in the current shape) and feel we’re not getting the most out of some good stories – this being a case in point. What are the chances of a single episode ever winning a season survey, do you think?

As ever, no real quibble with the quality of the writing. I’m a big fan of Matthew Graham’s Life On Mars, and I thought there was some good material in Fear Her, especially for the lead actors. And plus points were decent performances from David Tennant and especially Billie Piper. The latter is so good, she could easily carry the lead in a series. And, the better the material, the better her performance. It hasn’t always been the best for her this season, but that hasn’t been Piper’s fault – she’s been terrific, and is really every bit as much a star of the show as Tennant.

Probably the clearest example of my lack of enthusiasm for Fear Her was that the best thing about this episode was the closing scene and the thrilling trailer for the first part of this season’s denouement. It was absolutely terrific and, even the most casual of viewers is bound to make a return date for Army Of Ghosts based on that. Fear Her was the calm before the oncoming storm and, like the calm, we’ll probably quickly forget it – but I think we’ll always remember the storm . . .