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Monday, 26 June 2006 - Reviewed by Steve Manfred

This review is going to be a bit strange in that I really quite enjoyed this episode, but at the same time, I feel that a key mistake has been made regarding the season as a whole. "Fear Her" has a lot in common with the other episode that was made in this production block with this production team, which was "The Idiot's Lantern." Both have alien happenings going on in an ordinary London street... both have one of our regulars being removed by the villain halfway through (so that the other actor can move over to the other episode and carry it the rest of the way)... both involve the Doctor and Rose intruding into an ordinary home to confront the menace... both take place next door to a major historical event (Coronation and 2012 Olympics)...and both have a nasty dysfunctional father that's part of the problem. It all feels rather like the unfortunate parallel-plotting problem that beset season 25, where we had "Remembrance of the Daleks" and "Silver Nemesis" using much the same plot, with one of them being an all-time classic and the other an all-time silly story, except this time I think the order is reversed and the gulf between their quality isn't as big. And yet the comparison is invited because they're so close to each other in this season, and though "Fear Her" is the stronger episode, it almost feels like it should be weaker because "The Idiot's Lantern" tried to do it first, only not as well. (It's even got that other season 25 trademark of the creepy little girl.)

Where "Fear Her" scores over its sibling episode is how the characters in it seem much more real and believable, and how it manages to keep the action going and come up with a few inventive twists along the way that "Idiot's" didn't as much. For example, there is the conversation on the street between everyone in the neighborhood where they all start blaming each other for the missing children. There's real concern and fear and lashing out here of the sort I would expect to see in this situation. The way the Doctor and Rose get into Chloe's house is also more real than their simply barging in like they did in "Lantern," by simply baiting the mother who really would like some help and almost leaving until she finally invites them in. The motivation of this week's alien is more inventive too, how it's just a child that needs love for itself and heat for its ship, and doesn't really know how to go about getting them, and so it literally makes it's own friends since it thinks it's stuck there. The Wire was just hungry. And the thing doesn't just sit there and wait for the Doctor to beat it either... it counterattacks and takes him prisoner like everyone else, giving Rose a good scare at the same time. And just when we think it's all over, the dad drawing is made real and threatens Chloe and her mum. There was also more to the investigation in the first twenty minutes than there was in "Lantern"... this seems to be turning into my theme here... "like 'Idiot's Lantern', but more."

Along the way there are a number of nice character moments between the Doctor and Rose of the sort that were a bit forgotten about in the first half of the season but have been making a comeback since "The Impossible Planet." One of these is Rose doing the deducting for once and the Doctor having fun watching her do it. Another is the moment when Rose is hearing the noise in the garage and tells herself "not gonna open it... not gonna open it" before she actually does open it. Best of all is her discussion with the Doctor in the TARDIS about what kids are like, which leads him to reveal to her that he was a father once. This completely throws her for a loop, but he doesn't notice and before she really knows it they're back where they were before... but that's still there as something she knows now and is yet another thing that she hadn't begun to think about him. And with this I think we can see a very subtle story arc that has actually been running right the way through the whole season and which I expect to really come to a head in the finale, where she's slowly realizing that there's more to this man than she had bargained for, and I suspect this will be something that eventually drives the final wedge between them.

This episode does have flaws of its own not related to its being in the same season as "Idiot's Lantern." One of these is a logical problem I have with the Olympic torch run sequences. After the 80,000 people all disappear from the stadium, would they really have kept the torch run going like they did? Surely they'd have stopped it as soon as the news got out for fear of the same thing happening to those watching the run! Another thing I didn't much care for was how about halfway through it goes into Chloe's house and then stays there for too long a time, and we get Chloe and the Doctor explaining the whole plot to us during the "Exorcist" scene rather than having it shown to us through a process of discovery. This might have been down to the amount of time there was to find the answer in the story and the budget on this one, but I really do feel it's breaking the "show, don't tell" rule of visual media here. A scary way to have done this would've been to spend a brief amount of time actually in the drawing-world, but I gather the budget wouldn't run to all that animation. Still, this is a rule best not broken and it needed some more thought to avoid it. Another problem is simply how bog-standard the little-girl-gets-possessed-by-an-alien idea is by now, though this is somewhat rescued by the different type of alien it is and its motivation being loneliness rather than conquest or destruction.

Thinking positive again, there were a lot of other little moments that gave the show a lift. The ones that come to mind are:
The gag of the TARDIS door landing up against the bin and the Doctor having to rotate the ship 90 degrees to be able to get out.
The "heat" puzzle on the street and how the tiny pod went for the freshly-laid tar. Quite nice.
The Doctor getting prickly feelings in the back of his hand when he got near the points where the kids were taken. Was this meant to be a call-back to the similar feelings he got in "The War Machines" way back in 1966?
The guy who lays the tarmac was fun, and how he's excited at the end when Rose has saved the pod and stops and thinks "what did you do?"
The scribble monster! I would've loved a lot more of these actually. Maybe they could've had a bunch of these attack the people in the stadium, rather than have them disappear, and then afterwards they could've claimed that it was all part of an elaborate opening ceremonies stunt.
Yes, it's sappy and saccharine, but I loved the conceit of the Doctor picking up the torch and lighting the cauldron at the opening ceremonies. Had he just done it to do it, I think I would've hated it as some seem to, but the fact that the pod was still in the torch and needed a bit of a hint from him to get back into space makes it legitimate. This also brings to my mind something I recall from the closing ceremonies of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, and how it seemed they wheeled out every single Australian-born celebrity the world has ever heard of and dredged out every Australian cliche, no matter how overdone or outdated, and put it on display for all the world to see and enjoy again. They even had a man singing "Waltzing Matilda" at one point, for crying out loud. When I think of that and of what we've seen here in this episode, I can't help but think that either the opening or the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics could very well have a "Doctor Who" moment or sketch or staged event of some sort in it, being as it is, one of Britain's top TV exports to the world. Perhaps a flotilla of Daleks will attempt to attack the ceremony and the Doctor stops them or somesuch thing. And David Tennant, if you're reading this... consider...all you need to do is match Tom Baker's longevity record and you can maybe do the scene in "Fear Her" for real in 2012.

And one not-so-little positive... David Tennant and Billie Piper really did very fine work this week, both with the extra chemistry they seem to have found with each other in these last few shows, and also with how they related to the guest characters.

Now, overall, this feels like it should be a 7 out of 10 episode, but that's what I gave "The Idiot's Lantern," and I think this is noticeably better than that was. I feel like I should go back and dock a point or two from "Idiot's" seeing as this episode played the same game better than it did. So yes, 7 out of 10 for "Fear Her," and a revised grade of 5 for "The Idiot's Lantern."

And as for the season as a whole, I really don't like that two of the stories turned out so very, very similar. One or the other should have been scrapped or postponed to next season, and if it were me, "The Idiot's Lantern" would've been the one I pushed or torpedoed. I appreciate the production difficulties that said that two episodes had to have such similar settings, but look back at "The Ark in Space" and "Revenge of the Cybermen" and see how different those two stories turned out to be while maintaining the setting. I hope this is a lesson that is learned for next season.

FILTER: - Television - Series 2/28 - Tenth Doctor