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Monday, 26 June 2006 - Reviewed by A.D. Morrison

Matthew ‘Life on Mars’ Graham has – while surely attaining the accolade of most unimaginative and flat title in the series’ 28 year history – delivered a refreshingly subtle episode, empowered considerably by the directorial restraint of Euros Lyn. Fear Her benefits considerably from following the appallingly silly Love and Monsters, and comes off better all round than the overly crammed and ill-developed Idiot’s Lantern, the episode with which conceptually it shares most in common.

Both Graham’s and Gatiss’s episodes heavily borrow from the creepy oddities of PJ Hammond’s Sapphire and Steel, and significantly from one particular story of said series, the fourth assignment canonized as ‘The Man Without a Face’ in S&S fan circles, in which a faceless entity traps people inside photographs: Lantern used televisions for this purpose and Fear Her uses a child’s drawings. Simply due to the fact that Graham gives a satisfactory explanation as to the ontology of its extra-terrestrial picture perpetrators – an intriguingly ‘sensitive’ and ‘empathic’ fairy-like race, nicely realized as tiny celestial jellyfish with equally miniature space-pod to match – and their unusually innocent motives, and that Lyn directs unpretentiously (a world away from his slanted-angle pretensions in Lantern – a style only ever successfully managed in the noir-ish Happiness Patrol – and with an element of suspense, Fear Her is the more successful of the two S&S-inspired episodes. Graham also borrows from the first S&S adventure and its themes of nursery rhymes as incantatory catalysts for supernatural/alien manifestations; a theme also prominent in the fourth S&S storyline. The creepy suggestion of a phantom father appearing – in this case also a dead one – via his shadow hovering on a wall is also strongly reminiscent of the – more sinisterly shot – apparition in said S&S story one, but it again works well here in Fear Her, tapping into the worst of children’s fears: the impostor parent. As in S&S story four, the main protagonist(s), The Doctor, is eventually trapped in a picture, manipulating his own entrapment to suggest a solution to his human companion (as do Sapphire and Steel when trapped in a photo). But Fear Her still succeeds by the skin of its teeth as being something worthwhile and interesting in its own right via its inspired play on the sometimes sinister innocence of children’s pictures, and the opening animation is a striking image which sadly wasn’t used enough throughout the episode – in fact, the only similar moment was when Rose noticed the face on a drawing had changed into an angry expression on a second glance. I felt these strikingly distorted pictures weren’t featured enough which was disappointing, but the bizarre attack of the giant scribble was a nice diversion halfway through and the Doctor seemingly rubbing out a tangible object was a clever touch.

But Fear Her also borrows heavily from the ingenious plot of The Tomorrow People’s early classic, The Blue and the Green, in which an alien disguised as a schoolboy paints bizarre pictures of his home world whose colours change periodically, manipulating the emotional behaviour of the onlookers from passivity to aggression. Roger Price, creator of said series, possessed a prolific and highly original imagination which was sadly frequently let down by poor acting and production standards (in some cases, ‘poor’ being an understatement: superb and inspired though most of the Tomorrow People plots were, their realisations were mostly home-made production-wise and sometimes the show, with its predominantly juvenile cast, resembled a ludicrous medley of Doctor Who and Why Don’t You?). But The Blue and the Green is widely regarded as his best storyline and its potent influence is tangibly echoed in Graham’s episode. The weird ontology of the entities in Fear Her is also uncannily reminiscent of the Denjali in TB&TG: while the former channel their gestalt-like empathetic synergy through human innocents and their drawings, the latter travel and migrate on human brainwaves, culminating in their swarming away from Earth on the power supplied by the human race falling asleep and dreaming. Yes, quite bizarre indeed, but thoroughly original. Graham’s – unconscious? – plagiarism manages to justify itself through the highly affecting use of children’s distorted drawings, as opposed to Price’s use of garish planetary abstracts. If Who stories are going to be derivative then they may as well be derivative of inspired sources, and so far this season the choices have been well made, producing in Tooth and Claw, The Girl in the Fireplace, (to some extent) Idiot’s Lantern and Fear Her, some of the most imaginative concepts to come out of the series in a long time. Season 28 reminds me, with its jarring but oddly complementary mixture of conceptual innovation and peripheral nostalgia (Sarah Jane, K-9, Cybermen) of the massively under-rated and misinterpreted Season 20 (wherein reunions with Omega, the Brigadier, the Timelords, the Guardians and legion companions and enemies – i.e. Five Doctors – intermingled with highly imaginative concepts such as Manussan archaeology, sailing ships in space, and the uniquely dissected character of Visla Turlough).

With its blatantly contemporary suburban setting and vanishing children/youths, Fear Her most closely resembles Survival, last story of the original series; but these similarities are only ostensive, its plot and concepts being very different to Rona Monro’s script. It’s also really refreshing to have an episode focused on a different family to the Tylers for a change. The young girl’s performance is well-balanced and to be honest in some scenes she comes across as less of a kid than the Doctor himself. The Doctor’s effortlessly childish and fun-loving persona is still rather irritating in places, however, Tenant gets enough ‘serious’ moments to carry the story along to its fairly satisfying conclusion. Even his torch-carrying at the Olympics is ultimately justified by his using the flame to catapult the aliens’ pod back out into space.

Criticisms aside – and there are a fair few more that I don’t think it’s really worth going into, as they are quite minor ones on the whole – Fear Her is a pretty strong episode, nothing spectacular, but certainly more enjoyable and satisfactory than its conceptual cousin, Lantern. One does tend to feel often with the new series that some episodes only just miss the mark due to lack of subtlety in direction and atmosphere, and Fear Her eschews its full potential mainly due to speeding through its strengths (i.e. the animations, the shadows on walls etc.) rather than exploiting them fully; but then it’s difficult to create and sustain a truly chilling atmosphere when up against the clock (so far only Empty Child and Impossible Planet have managed this, both significantly two-parters – Unquiet Dead (screaming lady) and Tooth and Claw (pre-transformation scenes of the black-pupiled lycanthrope) were forced by similar time restraints to go more for the shock tactic, though both expertly done). Fear Her gives it a good try and succeeds on its own levels, delivering a plot which fits its 45 minutes pretty well and doesn’t promise what it can’t deliver. Having said that, while I watched fairly engaged throughout, I kept thinking to myself ‘yes, that bit’s straight out of Sapphire and Steel, but atmospherically it’s still not a patch on it’. But it was a good effort.


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Monday, 26 June 2006 - Reviewed by Angus Gulliver

That's more like it! After the disappointing filler episode we are back on track. I enjoyed "Fear Her" a lot, and if it felt at times more Sapphire & Steel than Doctor Who there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that once in a while.

The Doctor and Rose travel to London for the 2012 Olympics, he quipping that the last time the Games were in London the opening ceremony was so good he had to go back and watch it twice. But strange things are happening on a residential street close to route the Olympic torch will take. Children and animals are disappearing, and it all seems to have something to do with a little girl who stays in her bedroom drawing pictures.

The Doctor and Rose both investigate, clearly having fun and playing Inspector Morse and Lewis games. The Doctor senses some sort of energy on the street, whereas nobody apart from an elderly lady seems to have noticed anything - apart from the obviously missing kids.

It is Rose who notices something odd about the girl peering out of her bedroom window, and we are treated to a frightening scene with Rose alone in the girl's bedroom realising there is something unusual inside the closet...

Cutting a fairly long story short, the girl herself isn't evil, nor is the alien that has in effect posessed her. It simply misses its billions of siblings and has been taking the children and pets in an attempt to feel their love. The Doctor, himself captured in a drawing and unable to directly help Rose realises this and manages to communicate via the drawing that Rose needs to find the entity's space ship and introduce it into the Olympic torch so it feels the love of the thousands upon thousands of fans.

Here is my only quibble with this story, the climax was over too quickly. Otherwise Euros Lyn's direction was more impressive than his last outing (The Idiot's Lantern, complete with strange angles) and paced well. Visually the effects were superb, especially the scribble monster created when the girl gets angry and simply scribbles on paper in frustration.

Not on a par with 'The Girl In the Fireplace' or 'Tooth & Claw' but a thoroughly worthy story, and the climax gave Rose perhaps her last triumphant moment before the final two-parter. The teaser clearly hints at trouble ahead for her which contrasts with the up-beat tone of this story.


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Monday, 26 June 2006 - Reviewed by Calum Corral

I think this episode represents part of the problem of the second series to date. While I enjoyed it all the way through, I felt it lacked the gravity of last season and some of it was a bit tired. Another dreary housing estate, another mystery alien in a run of the mill household, and instead of Rose disappearing this week, why don't we make the Doctor disappear. It just seemed to be a bit like The Idiot's Lantern all over again - except set in 2012 with a more modern approach.

I thought the premise of the girl and cartoons coming to life was a bit dull and not really all that scary. We have had some utterly brilliant episodes in the series so far but this just could not excite me, and while the ending was marvellous with the Doctor running with the Olympic torch, the general idea behind the story seemed somewhat flimsy.

The story just seemed to lack a sparkle. There have been some cracking episodes so far but I think we could have seen the return of a few more of the Doctor's old foes. While Russel T Davies rightly wants to introduce some new terrifying monsters, he should remember that the Cyberman and Daleks have been very successful, and I am sure bringing back the dastardly Ice Warriors or even the Yeti and the Great Intelligence would be fascinating, and capture the appeal of a new generation. These monsters were great for a reason - they were well created and suitably scary!

Fear Her just never seemed to get going and lacked general purpose and direction. Even the Doctor's Tardis arriving the wrong way round was a bit odd? What was the point in that? The reason probably is that it has never happened before but even so, pointless.

On the plus side, the end of season finale looks fantastic.

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Monday, 26 June 2006 - Reviewed by Adam Leslie

The Doctor Who team have a second stab at The Idiot Lantern – on the eve of a huge public spectacle, people are disappearing from a suburban London street while a shady family member covers up the truth; meanwhile a disembodied alien visitor plans to use the television broadcast of the spectacle for their nefarious ends, and the Doctor and Rose enjoy a tea party and lay down the law in other peoples’ homes – and pull it off a little more memorably and with more confidence.

And like the Impossible Planet two-parter, this is a mish mash of imported ideas: Twilight Zone episodes ‘The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street’ and ‘It’s A Good Life’, The Shining (“Danny’s not here, Mrs. Torrance”), and, probably most blatantly, Bernard Rose’s underrated 1988 chiller Paperhouse, in which a bedridden 10-year-old girl’s drawings come to life in her dreams, providing her with a real-life playmate and a demonic absent father figure who stalks her through her surreal nightmares.

As with The Idiot Lantern, the running time meant that the end was rushed and somewhat trite. There was an appalling howler in the shape of the BBC News 24 commentary, which was stammering over the disappearance of 80,000 spectators one moment, then narrating the progress of the Olympic torch the next. I really think that the Olympic torch might be a little irrelevant at that point. Some of the humour was a bit silly, and I’m really not sure about Doctor 10’s enthusiasm for the Olympics in general (try picturing Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker or… anyone else running with the torch with such gusto).

Having said all that, the programme did actually work for me. The themes were scary and well-handled, David Tennant was very confident and had some great presence, and two of the early gags were genuinely laugh-out-loud funny (the TARDIS door joke, and the line about the Earth being the only place in the galaxy that bothered to invent edible ball bearings) By and large, even though The Idiot Lantern was terrifying in parts, I would have preferred to have seen this show take precedence over the earlier adventure with something a little more original in TIL’s place.

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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 . . .

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Monday, 26 June 2006 - Reviewed by James Tricker

Phew- a welcome return of the show known as Doctor Who after last week’s strange interlude. A brief word, however, about last week: despite my disliking of Love and Monsters, I was absolutely delighted to be proved wrong about the audience figures for the episode which were actually up on the Satan Pit, and it is even better news that the figures for Fear Her are an improvement still. I shall refrain from further alarmist concerns about viewing figures therefore. As for my hasty and uncharacteristically blunt review of episode ten, I should perhaps praise RTD for provoking in me the sort of reaction that made me type what I did. But whilst accepting that the number of reviewers prepared to give the experiment the benefit of the doubt outweighed those who weren’t, I still cannot find it in me to change my opinion of the episode itself. I have praised RTD stories I’ve enjoyed and sincerely hope he will again produce the goods with the season finale, but if episode ten is the future rather than just a one-off, I would contend that the show’s future would be short-lived.

Fear Her, however, was something of a little gem ( or is it that I am just relieved that we are back on track after last week ) written by the man who brought us the highly enjoyable Life on Mars. This appeared to draw ( no pun intended ) on various sources, including Sapphire and Steel ( again! ) and most notably the Exorcist, where yet again we have the premise of something potentially evil lurking in suburbia, although the story is no less entertaining because of this. I didn’t find the collection of neighbours particularly animated or convincing but I suppose I’ve been slightly spoiled by the brilliant cast assembled for episodes eight and nine which made this lot suffer by comparison.

This was an episode that returned Rose to the role of the saviour of the day but this time coming as it did as an exception rather than the norm it didn’t irritate me or appear to undermine the credibility of the Doctor to the extent that it did in the last season because there it seemed to happen with monotonous regularity. In this story her powers of deduction, began in the Idiot’s Lantern before being unceremoniously cut off in their prime by the Wire, are extended and she gets a chance to do a convincing Jack Nicholson impression with a pickaxe. By all accounts she enjoyed it and it shows- perhaps the episode was named after her? I can sympathise with those who have felt her character has been treated rather unevenly this season to say the least but I felt that they got it about right for this story.

There is much to scare the children here. The kids who have become confined within the paper that Chloe has drawn them on can still show their anger at being trapped, so that their facial expressions on the paper can change; and the evil Dad lurking at the back of the wardrobe- the very stuff of nightmares. It was a nice touch to have the residual energy lingering on and still posing a danger even after the alien threat is ended by the location and subsequent charging up of its spaceship. And so Chloe and Trish, together, have to confront their fears and defeat the energy- this could have been a blunt and unsubtle “ Doctor Who takes on domestic violence” piece but instead is handled in such a way that it feels fully part of the story.

As for the Doctor conveniently stepping in and running with the Olympic torch this to my surprise didn’t annoy me and I actually found it quite funny, but perhaps this was because it caught me on a high of post Love and Monsters relief where usually I might have cringed.

And then the scene is set for the RTD finale, not so much because of the Doctor’s warning of trouble ahead, of something sinister approaching, but because of his refusal to ratify Rose’s assertion that nothing can split them up. “ Never say never” is all he will say. Looks like Rose’s dream of that shared mortgage is in jeopardy.

A welcome return to form, Fear Her scores a solid 8/10.