For the 60th Anniversary of Doctor Who we revisit the story of Doctor Who, the occasional series written for the 50th Anniversary, explaining the origins of the programme.

Episode 31 - An Unearthly Series - The Origins of a TV Legend: First published 23 Nov 2013

Fear HerBookmark and Share

Monday, 26 June 2006 - Reviewed by Geoff Wessel

There's really not much to say about this one, I'm afraid.

As much as everyone complained that "Love and Monsters" was filler, I really think this one qualifies. Despite the neato-keeno background of the London 2012 Olympiad, this one was pretty inconsequential I thought. (And did we HAVE to have another episode of Daddy Issues? Huh? Did we, really?) Neat concept about the drawings, but, meh. I had an overall feeling that I'd experienced this episode before, and not just because of the seemingly shoehorned foreshadowing of the 2-part finale. Which makes it, preciesly, like this season's version of "Boom Town." Same placement in the season and everything. Replace Eccleston's revelation about seeing the words "bad wolf" everywhere with the "there's a storm coming" and there you have it, "Boom Town."

No, seriously. Back in 1996 I'd written a multi-part fanfic about a colony where a lonely child was stealing people out of thin air and into another dimension. I'd even riffed on the Doctor being able to smell something in the vicinity of where the people had disappeared (although I'd mentioned brimstone instead of graphite). Now, while it's strange that this should later turn up in an episode, it just goes to prove that there really are only so many thoughts you can have in Doctor Who.

But WAIT A SECOND. HANG ABOUT. A tiny species in a tiny spacecraft, crashlanding on Earth, possessing a human host and able to move people out of thin air into another dimension?

Frak me, this is frickin' "Evening's Empire!"

You remember "Evening's Empire," right? 7th Doctor/Ace comic strip in DWM circa 1991, written by Andrew Cartmel (McCoy-era script editor) and drawn by Richard Piers Rayner, who would go on to draw the comic that the Tom Hanks movie The Road to Perdition was based on? Infamous because it was never completed in DWM and had to come out as a comic special a couple of years later to see the completion of it?


Well, trust me, this is it. Close to it, anyway.

So, yeah, maybe there really are only so many story ideas one can have for Doctor Who anyway.

Moving on -- next episode. Yes, for all the foreboding and all that happy crap about Rose...

It seems that Ann Coulter is in charge of Torchwood.

Oh, and the other thing.

It ain't just Cybermen there. Rewatch the trailer. Distinctive laser-blast sound effects, and very distinctive way of dying seen within that trailer.

It ain't just Cybermen. I may just have to squee next episode.


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

Fear HerBookmark and Share

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.


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

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 . . .

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

Fear HerBookmark and Share

Monday, 26 June 2006 - Reviewed by Patrick Leach

Not bad at all! I think this story is probably one of those episodes that will make more of an impression on the younger viewers, but from an adult point of view I enjoyed it very much too.

We were given a very intriguing and original story, which started off very well in what seems an ordinary suburban street, but then very quickly an atmosphere of uneasiness is established as you just know something is going to happen to that child! This pretitle sequence ends very chillingly with the child’s drawing coming to life – real nightmare stuff for any kids watching.

David Tennant is as engaging as ever in his performance with Billie Piper as his “Lewis”. I assume the Doctor was associating himself with Inspector Morse?! His first scene was hilarious when he lands the Tardis so that the door won’t open, but then rematerialises again in the right place. The Doctor is certainly much better at steering his ship than he used to be! Tennant also seems to be basing his performance on a dog, i.e. he licks everything (like the wall in “Tooth and Claw”, he goes down on all fours to study the lawn, and stick his fingers in a jar of honey! Very dog-like behaviour, but a great part of his characterisation!

The most chilling part of the episode was undoubtedly the drawing of the dead father. When Rose first opened the wardrobe doors I was almost expecting her to walk inside only to end up in Narnia, but thankfully it was a bit more original than that! I think what made it work well was the fact that when he was “coming down the stairs” towards the end we only ever saw his shadow. What you don’t see is always more chilling in my opinion.

It was great to hear Huw Edwards commentating for the Olympics too!

So all in all a fine tale. Nothing outstandingly brilliant and won’t be a “classic” for me, but it was certainly a well told and original story, which I’m sure kids will have been scared of.

And of course the “next time” trailer….. oh how I am looking forward to next week!! Those lines are there yet again though:

Q: “What are they?”
A: “Cybermen!”

I don’t care though as I think it’s gonna be fab.

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

Fear HerBookmark and Share

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.

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

Fear HerBookmark and Share

Monday, 26 June 2006 - Reviewed by Simon Funnell

As fans we really can give the producers of Doctor Who a hard time. In the old days, producers got so little feedback (except ratings) that they could blithely carry on making a mess of the show (stand up John Nathan Turner) almost unfettered by fan criticism. But every now and then, you start to suspect that we've gone too far the other way. I know that lots of people hated Love and Monsters. Someone complained in the OG chat room this evening that the production team's risks had not all paid off. So what? Would you rather a bland show that DIDN'T take chances, that didn't have a go at getting outside the box. Noone complains when Joss Whedon or Chris Carter turn a show's format on its head and experiments. Who remembers Buffy's "Hush" - for my money one of the most exceptional episodes of television ever produced, or more obviously "Once more with feeling".

I write this because I can already imagine the complaints about "Fear Her". So let's get something straight: this episode was a filler, virtually a bottle show: almost entirely filmed outside on a modern estate. It can't have cost all that much to put a red light in a cupboard and get someone to shake the doors. But who cares? They've got to make some of the episodes cheaper so we can have a great finale and great episodes like the two parter set in space a few weeks back which was, for my money, phenomenal. Nobody, not Joss Whedon, not Chris Carter (stand up - Millennium!) gets it right every time. So thank God that they did something with the budget. It wasn't a great episode of Doctor Who, but it wasn't terrible. Russell's kept leaving Rose on her own this season (do you think he might be trying to tell us something?) thinking the Doctor isn't coming back. So, OK - Russell we get it.

Look, it wasn't a great episode, nor a great script. But it wasn't bad either. In fact, I was surprised at how quickly the time went when I was watching it. In fact, it was still better than New Earth, my least favourite episode of the Second Season so far. Although I'm sure that my fellow reviewers will probably slate it - I think a lot of the criticism will be unfair. This was a filler episode and I don't think anyone was pretending anything else. But who cares about "Fear Her", after the trailer for next week. It was worth sitting through tonight's episode just for the trailer!

The trailer for S1's season finale opener was pretty good, but pales into insignificance behind what I saw tonight. I wasn't planning on watching the trailer, but the moment that the Doctor Who music faded suddenly leaving behind the ethereal "Doctor" incidental theme (oooh ooh ooh oooh!) (which I LOVE, by the way - Murray Gold's music continues to get better and better) I was hooked, hooked, hooked. Rose's voice over left me breathless with excitement, fear and foreboding. I definitely saw, I definitely saw (Look away now, spoilerphobes) a dalek weapon shoot someone as clear as daylight - but whether it was from a dalek or from the Torchwood people who have stolen the technology, who knows. I'd be willing to put money on the Daleks appearing in the next two weeks. The whole thing looks fabulous, exciting and I wonder how I'm going to make it through the week. Everyone - just get over "Fear Her", you'll be panting for more RTD Doctor Who next week! I swear it!

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