I thought for the first five minutes of this episode that it might be hurt by following up another down-to-Earth episode with Love and Monsters but those fears were soon dissolved when I was dragged into this powerful, quite brilliant in its own way, story. And whilst there are influences here, notably the Excorcist, the Shining and even Doctor Whos own Deadstone Memorial, it manages to subvert all of these and become a genuinely smashing episode in its own right. It is so bizarre, I seem to be enjoying all of the not so popular episodes this year (I adored Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel and Love and Monsters) and having difficulty with what the majority thinks are classics (The Idiots Lantern was trad Who but far too dull and The Satan Pit was a major disappointment after a stunning first episode in The Impossible Planet). Fear Her is (judging by the Outpost Gallifrey poll) another episode which has divided viewers but personally I thought it was very necessary, it brought the focus back on the Doctor and Rose (especially Rose), it provided some real scares after last weeks lighter episode, it hinted at greater drama to come in the coming weeks and most importantly, it managed to be a deeply serious episode, almost an adult drama without losing its audience to stifling borderm. For what is the sleeper episode of the year, the one which bides time whilst we wait for the finale that is no mean feat.
I probably wont be popular for saying this but I thought this was Billies best performance to date. I expect all the Fathers Day fans will crawl out of the woodwork and bludgeon me to death now but everything she did in this episode felt effortless, and after all of the smugness and jealousy Rose has radiated earlier in the season it is just wonderful to see her back to being supportive, resourceful and hugely entertaining to watch. Come The Idiots Lantern I was ready to admit I thought she worked better against Ecclestons Doctor but The Impossible Planet and Fear Her have turned all that around. Piper and Tennant exhibit a natural chemistry now which doesnt feel forced by the scripts (unlike say the beginning of New Earth) and their detective work at the start of this story is fabulous to watch. Rose gets to be intelligent without stealing the Doctors limelight and exhibits a personality of fun without forgetting that it is a very serious situation they are trying to solve. I loved the sense of curiosity she had, especially after she opened the garage and was attacked by the scribble she never learns and like the rest of us cannot resist pulling open Chloes cupboard when it eminates strange noises! Pipers performance when trying to egg the truth out of Trish whilst trying to stay sympathetic is very sensitive and her anger towards Chloe when the Doctor is stolen from her is palpable. I love that they gave Rose a chance to shine on her own before she bows out in the finale, her struggle to find the spaceship, to get it home and then save Trish and Chloe from the monster in the closet sees Rose at her all time best. If you ever wanted to know why Billie Piper won best actress in the BAFTAs last year watch Fear Her again and soak in her naunced performance.
But lets not forget David Tennants contribution, which is (as ever) vital to make the episode work. Not to repeat myself but just three episodes ago I was ready to declare Ecclestons Doctor my favourite of the two, simply because Tennant did not seem to take the role as seriously and goes a bit crazy too often for my liking. I genuinely think Tennant has found his niche now, of all the episodes to convince me that he really is the Doctor I have always loved Fear Her was the one. Its that mix of eccentric and serious that Tom Baker mastered so beautifully that Tennant has exacted now, unpredictable as hell, crazy about life, desperately trying to help others and uncomfortably close to his best friend. Tennant is such an attractive man and his zest and energy just adds to that attraction. He is supplied with line after line of acidic wit in this episode that just adds further charm. He is reminiscent (talking absently to himself), manipulative (using his words very carefully to work his way into Trishs house), deeply caring (stroking Chloes hair as she talks of her possession) and yet surprisingly awkward when trying to appeal to Chloe in a childlike way. My mother pointed out that it is fascinating to watch Tennant in the role because every week he reveal something new about his character, a fresh emotion is peeled away which makes the character so rewarding and (considering his spec as a 900 year old alien who travels through time) believable. His revelation that he was a dad once is almost skipped over it is so brief but it opens up a world of possibilities.
I thought that setting the episode in one street would limit its potential but Matthew Graham (creator of the excellent Life on Mars) proves me wrong. Making this such an intimate and believable setting only served to highlight the horror of the situation. Lets not forget that this episode deals with some very frightening (and real life) horrors such as children being abducted and abusive fathers. It is only due to the shows exhaustless format and juicy science fiction style that it manages to imply these terrifying dramas in a supernatural fashion. The parents anger in the street as they start pointing the finger at innocent people feels very real and Trishs quiet terror at the thought of her dead husband is genuinely frightening. Simon thought the climax of the story was going too far for the show, having a manifestation of Chloes dad screaming out that he is going to hurt her and his dominating shadow stretching along the hallway but I couldnt disagree more, it is refreshing to see the show pushing its boundaries and daring to frighten its audience this much. I would imagine any home where abuse is the order of the day found this unbearable but it is worth reminding the outside world that behind closed doors these terrorising things do happen.
Thats not to say that there is no imagination here. It would be easy to rely on real life dangers and forget about the SF angle but Graham mixes the two effortlessly and whips a surprisingly potent script. There is more than a touch of the X-Files episode Scary Monsters here (where a childs drawings of horrid things come to life) but this feels more magical and yet more clinical and thus more real. I adore the scribble monster, what an excellent idea and seeing the boy in the picture run towards the camera screaming is an amazing concept. Chloe later on drawing the Doctor and the TARDIS cranks the suspense up brilliantly and suddenly we are presented with astonishing visual of the stadium full of spectators suddenly, inexplicably empty. Great, great ideas. The red-lit cupboard screaming abuse whilst Chloe hurriedly scribbles a picture of the Earth on the wall is a very memorable climax too, as usual there has to be a worldwide threat but what an imaginative way to do it! I can think of a few repeated Earth-in-danger ideas the show has toyed with ad nausem but this is something entirely original.
I feel I must compliment both Euros Lyn (the best looking director on the planet) and Murray Gold. I was pretty hard on Lyns treatment of The Idiots Lantern, not because he did a bad job, on the contrary it was effortlessly executed but unfortunately the script was totally schizophrenic and thus so was the direction, switching from domestic drama to film noir to horror in the blink of an eye. Fear Her is a much tighter script which knows exactly what it is focusing on and Lyns direction is extremely tight, milking the horror on the everyday street for all it is worth. The climax was especially effective, Lyn not shying away from the drama and squeezing every bit of horror out of Chloes drawing of her Dad coming to life. Murray Golds contribution to this show is largely debated and whilst I am mostly in favour of his style I understand that he does milk the sappiness and drown out the action at times. So it pleases me to see how much he understands the tone of this story, mostly cranking up the tension with some very scary music but also pushing us towards the climax as Rose has to fight on her own.
Fear Her surprised me a great deal just like Boom Town did this time last year, it was not the forgettable filler I was expecting but instead turned out to be one of the most thoughtful and desirable episodes of the entire year. Given its limited setting it is shockingly scary in places, hugely imaginative and achingly poignant. Not only that but it might just be the most adult drama Doctor Who has served up in many a year.