Before I go into my review of the latest Doctor Who episode to appear on the CBC, Fear Her, I’d like to extend a big welcome to Paul at Blue Blogging Soapbox, the former organizer of the Blogging Tories Site of the Week, who parted with the Blogging Tories on amicable terms and joined the Blogging Alliance of Non-Partisan Canadians just in time for me to almost spit coffee across my wife’s laptop keyboard in surprise.
I’m honoured to have Blue Blogging Soapbox add to the diversity of the BANPC, and I hope Paul enjoys his stay, here.
On an administrative note, I’ve gone through and done a little pre-spring cleaning on the BANPC, removing blogs that were either defunct or no longer linking to the BANPC at all. The group now numbers 157, and the aggregator page is a diverse collection of opinion that I’m quite proud of.
As others have noticed, I’m still having trouble getting all members’ RSS feeds to post, and some members’ latest articles are not featuring as they should be. I’m still trying to figure out why this is, and I may experiment a little with a new aggregator package over the weekend. Thank you to everyone for their patience.
Fear Her Reviewed
When I first saw the Doctor Who episode, Fear Her, a few months ago, my impression wasn’t that good, and I was left debating with myself whether this episode or The Idiot’s Lantern would occupy the bottom spot in my season rankings. Then I watched the episode on the CBC, and my impression changed. I think the big reason for this is because I only watched the first forty minutes or so before I had to step away from the television.
Fear Her is two stories, in a way. For the first two-thirds or three-quarters of its running time, it’s a tightly plotted tale of strange events, with a diverse collection of fleshed-out characters, bolstered by some excellent performances and nice directoral touches. Rose gets a chance to carry the story, and she shows just how much she has grown as a character. Unfortunately, the last quarter or third of the episode falls apart — not in terms of plot, but in terms of execution. There are some hokey moments and poor dialogue that frankly shake me out of my suspension of disbelief, and which ultimately leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
The story is set in the near future — in 2012 on the opening day of the London Olympics, to be exact. Everybody is in a celebratory mood, except for one street where children appear to be disappearing. This isn’t your normal set of abductions, either; kids are vanishing before their parents’ eyes and everybody is terrified, and keeping silent in the hopes that the problem (which is way too big for the police to deal with) will just go away. The Doctor and Rose arrive and, of course, investigate, and they realize that the children are being snatched up by a young girl, who is planting them in her colour pencil drawings.
The plot is very much in the mould of The Twilight Zone and Sapphire and Steel — designed to creep you out with the mix of the mundane and the supernatural, and it does its job very well. Writer Mathew Graham, famous for his mystery series **Life on Mars, pens a surprisingly introspective story here, turning the action on a diverse collection of characters. There are similarities between this story and _The Idiot’s Lantern, which is also set on a particular street which is seeing strange and creepy goings on, during a particular celebration (in the Lantern’s case, Queen Elizabeth’s coronation), but the one thing which sets Fear Her apart, however, is Rose.
Fear Her neatly flips the relationships of The Idiot’s Lantern. In the latter story, Rose is swallowed up by the supernatural threat and the Doctor has to save her; here, it’s the Doctor who is swept away. This gives Fear Her an automatic advantage, because seeing the companion fill the Doctor’s shoes is something new and more interesting than what would amount to another Tuesday in the office for the Doctor. Rose does a credible job in coping without the Doctor and bringing the story to a successful resolution. There is also none of the “this time, it’s personal!” attitude that we saw from the Doctor in The Idiot’s Lantern. Rose’s worries and motivations are not forced, and that is a substantial improvement.
And Rose’s efforts are bolstered by a set of actors and a decent script which flesh out the characters of the street and make us care for them. Of special note is Abisola Agbaje who plays the young girl Chloe with sufficient menace required for someone possessed. The fact that the alien’s motivation is nothing more than loneliness is a bonus, and the story is peppered with nice moments, including the Doctor taking control of a conversation with his “Fingers on Lips!” trick, and the roadworker’s fruitless objections to Rose taking a pick-axe to the asphalt he’s repaired, shouting “I’m going to report you to the council!”.
But once the alien’s motivation is revealed, things start to fall apart. Chloe is possessed by an energy creature that is used to travelling in gigantic herds across the galaxy. Isolated from the herd (which typically numbers in the billions), it is lost, alone and desperate for company, and by granting Chloe the ability to snatch individuals into her drawings, it gets some of that company back, although not nearly enough to fill the hole in its heart. It’s refreshing to see an alien motivated by loneliness and loss rather than some cardboard evil, and the fact that the alien cannot help but escalate its attempts to co-opt “friends” is both in keeping with the character, and a very good plot point, as Chloe’s attention turns to the 80,000 people milling about in London’s Olympic stadium, and we discover that she doesn’t need to draw the individuals in order to capture them.
Unfortunately, this moment fails largely due to the episode’s inability to carry the impact of this development. It may not be fair, but a bulk of the blame rests on the shoulder of Hue Edwards who plays the voice of a television commentator in a London studio, suddenly confronted with the fact that everybody in Olympic stadium, including the commentator crews on the scene, have vanished into thin air. He is wholly unconvincing, marrying the overstretched commentary of Bob Costas with a fundamentl inability to convey his own emotions convincingly upon encountering something this unusual.
Though, to be fair, as I said to Dan, if I were the commentator in this situation, my commentary would go something like this: “Holy crap! Everybody in Olympic stadium has vanished into thin air! Carl? John? That’s it! I’m out of here! See you!” (door slams, and you hear the Simpson’s sound effect of feet running away, and a car driving off at top speed). Dan agreed, suggesting that if he were on commentary, he’d be commentating under the desk and crying for his mommy. Maybe it would have been better if the writer had taken this route, but it’s parody. And the fact that we’re parodying this moment is a sign of the episode’s failure.
The need of the alien to feel heat and love is a case of double dipping, and it tips Fear Her into such sappiness, it reduces the ending into more moments that can be parodied, despite director Euros Lyn’s valiant attempts to raise critical tension with Chloe’s mad drawing of the whole wide world on the wall of her room. When the runner bearing the Olympic flame collapses, only to have the flame picked up by the Doctor, it’s a moment too steeped in sappiness and predictability to draw out real emotion. Indeed, Dan and I laughed at that further when he pointed out that the runner was the same runner throughout the entire episode. What happened to the other runners in the relay, I wondered? Snatched by Chloe, perhaps? Again a moment of commentary as I picture the runner wondering “where are the people I’m supposed to hand this off to? Oh, well. Keep going” (twenty-six miles later) “I DIDN’T SIGN UP FOR A MARATHON!!!”
The denoument similarly has a false ring to it, as the Doctor and Rose’s dialogue tries to insert tension leading up to the season finale which debuts next week.
So Fear Her ends badly, which is a shame, because most of the episode is really quite good. The characters all have interesting stories to tell, and we really see Rose come into her own. Chloe is well acted, and the subplot of her nightmares about her abusive father is genuinely interesting. I’m left to wonder why the episode was unable to sustain itself; did the plot run out? Or is Mathew Graham unused to delivering an emotional denoument with a light hand?
But Fear Her remains internally consistent, and is clearly better than the flawed characterization of The Idiot’s Lantern and New Earth. Indeed, it’s a decent and entertaining hour of television. I’m only hard on it because I know that Doctor Who can do better.