Sunday, 5 March 2017

Story 176 - Fear Her

In which the TARDIS materialises in East London, on the eve of the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympic Games. In Dame Kelly Holmes Close, they see missing persons posters for a number of children, and the householders are suspicious of strangers. Cars driving down the road stall when they pass over a hole which the council are filling in. An old lady named Maeve claims to have seen one of the children vanish into thin air from his front lawn. The Doctor notices that it is unseasonably cold in the area. Rose sees the silhouette of a girl at a window, watching them. The girl's mother, Trish Webber, is reluctant to talk. The Doctor and Rose pose as police officers in order to investigate. They see a cat walk into a cardboard box and disappear. The Doctor detects a metallic odour in the air. Rose hears a noise coming from a garage. When she opens the door she is attacked by a swirling black mass. The Doctor's sonic screwdriver reduces it to a small inert ball. Back in the TARDIS, this is found to be simple graphite, of the kind used in pencils.

They decide to go and see Trish and her daughter, Chloe. Mr Webber died a year ago, and was a brutal man who terrorised his family - especially Chloe. The girl is an avid drawer. Her pictures depict the missing children, and the cat which vanished. The Doctor suspects that Chloe has become possessed by some alien entity which has been taking what she draws. Trish confirms that the pictures sometimes are seen to move. Rose discovers that Chloe has drawn a huge picture of her father in her wardrobe, and it appears to be alive. People are becoming pictures, and pictures are coming to life. The Doctor hypnotises Chloe and learns that she has become inhabited by an Isolus child. These plant-like creatures travel through space in vast family units, and thrive on the companionship of their siblings. One of their pods was knocked off course and came to land in the street. The Isolus was attracted to Chloe as she was also very lonely. Later, on returning to the TARDIS, Chloe draws the Doctor and his ship, and both vanish.

The opening ceremony for the Games is about to begin, and Chloe decides to draw the stadium. The Isolus needs more companions. The BBC commentators are shocked to see everyone in the stadium vanish. This still isn't enough, and so Chloe begins to draw the entire planet Earth. Remembering that the Doctor had mentioned that the Isolus pod would have been drawn to heat, and that it first appeared at the time the hole in the road was being filled with hot tar, Rose breaks open the road surface. She finds the pod. It is attracted to the heat of the passing Olympic torch, and the Isolus leaves Chloe to return to it, launching itself back into space. The drawing of Mr Webber is still alive and threatening to emerge from the wardrobe. Trish helps her daughter overcome her fear of her father, and the drawing becomes inert. All the missing people are returned, and Rose sees the Doctor on TV lighting the Olympic flame. As everyone celebrates, the Doctor tells Rose that he feels a storm approaching...

Fear Her was written by Matthew Graham - best known for Life on Mars - and was first broadcast on June 24th, 2006.
It was originally being prepared for Series 3, but the eleventh episode of Series 2 had hit major problems. This was to have been an expensive episode, based around Arthurian legend, to be written by Stephen Fry. It needed extensive rewrites, and Fry was just too busy to devote more time to it. Graham's script was therefore brought forward, but to be made very cheaply - with the money being reallocated elsewhere in the series - The Impossible Planet two-parter being one of the main beneficiaries.
There is very little night filming, the locations being kept to one residential cul-de-sac and its environs. The cast is also small, and there is little CGI. All of these things will work against the story, and it has become the least liked of all the New Series episodes (at least up to the winter of 2013, when it ranked 240th place - of 241 - in the DWM 50th Anniversary poll).
The problem is, it just isn't scary. Creepy children really should be scary, but Chloe merely comes across as selfish and annoying. The absence of night filming doesn't help - it's all filmed with very flat lighting, on grey overcast days. The inclusion of dialogue about the temperature drop does not convince that the rest of London is in mid-summer. This has clearly been filmed in January / February.

The other big problem it has is the overly saccharine tone of the resolution. Real TV newsreader / commentator Huw Edwards is called upon to deliver some truly cringeworthy dialogue about the power of love, and the Doctor's lighting of the Olympic flame is clearly meant to be a punch-the-air moment, when all it does is make you want to punch the people responsible for making this instead.
I suspect that on paper this story might just stand up as okay, minus the aforementioned sweetness, but on TV it fails miserably. The best bit for me? The last 30 seconds - filmed at night - when the Doctor claims that a storm is approaching. The rest of the story should have had the feel of those closing seconds.
So, a good cast is wasted. Trish is played by Nina Sosanya, who had starred beside Tennant in RTD's Casanova. Maeve is Edna Dore, who had appeared in Eastenders for a number of years. Chloe is Abisola Agbaje. A good enough young actor but miscast - or misdirected - here.

Story Arc points: Even this is mishandled, as - inexplicably - a BBC newsman knows about Torchwood, and mentions them on air to billions of people watching across the planet. The Doctor once more invokes the Shadow Proclamation.

Tardisode: A segment from a TV police bulletin called "Crime Crackers", about the child disappearances in Dame Kelly Holmes Close, with the presenter inviting the public to call in if they have any information. We then see a wardrobe, inside which there is a pair of glowing red eyes, and a gruff voice says "I'm coming...".

Overall then? Terrance Dicks used to say that his main job as script editor on Doctor Who was to make sure that people weren't watching the Test Card on a Saturday evening. Fear Her isn't quite as bad as the Test Card, but not by much. The Test Card was certainly creepier.
Things you might like to know:

  • After references to Spock in the first series (The Empty Child), the Doctor here gets Chloe to make a Vulcan salute - reinforcing Star Trek as fictional in this universe.
  • The Doctor tells Rose about his family - stating that he was a father once.
  • It was hoped that Kelly Holmes would cameo as a torch bearer, but she was working on the Dancing on Ice series at the time. The street was named after her instead.
  • For the real 2012 Olympics, current Doctor Matt Smith really did carry the torch over a short stretch of Cardiff Bay. Unbelievably, a small section of fans wanted David Tennant to light the flame at the Olympic stadium - thus making the conclusion to Fear Her a reality.
  • Two possible story titles that went unused: "Chloe Webber Destroys The World", and "You're A Bad Girl, Chloe Webber".
  • This is one of those rare stories in which no-one dies.
  • Graham initially came up with the idea of an alien that removed all the beauty from the world, but it was Russell T Davies who suggested drawings and paintings coming to life.
  • Graham claimed that he had received a lot of positive comments about the story from children, and it was them he was aiming it at. He dismissed the negative views of the adults, saying it wasn't aimed at them. All well and good, but what happened to "the children's series that adults adore", eh? A good Doctor Who story pleases different age groups at different levels, and should be constructed as such.
  • When trying to come up with a name for his main character in Life On Mars, Graham asked his son - who came up with the surname Tyler, after Rose's name.
  • There's an advert on a wall for Shayne Ward's greatest hits album. Ward won the X-Factor in 2005, and had that year's Christmas No.1. At the time of writing, nearly 5 years on from the summer of 2012, he has yet to release a greatest hits package.
  • And Papua New Guinea did not surprise anyone in the shot put at London 2012.


  1. I don't think it was "unbelievable" that some fans wanted Tennant to light the Olympic Torch. It's all a matter of how the show is(or rather used to be) presented.

    (I notice you also referred to "this universe" ....)

    Science Fiction is supposed to always be set in THE universe. Not a "Whoniverse" or a "Wellsverse" or anything else that comes from American comic book logic.

    Famously, Star Trek fans demanded, and got, NASA to name their first Shuttle "Enterprise". Because it had been stated in a Star Trek episode that the first NASA Shuttle was called 'Enterprise'. Had it been called anything else, the show would no longer have been consistent with reality.

    Doctor Who too was supposed to take place in THIS world. That's why alien invasions of Earth always took place in the future, or in some remote rural area where the tales of locals could be dismissed.

    That really is also the crux of the infamous "UNIT Dating Controversy". The stories were always intended to take place in THIS universe, but in the future. Setting them in a "Whoniverse"(ugh!) in the present or even the past makes them lose all of their impact.

    Why was The Dalek Invasion of Earth so moving? Because that's OUR London. In the future. Not some "alternate universe" London. Same thing with the Cybermen in The Invasion. It's not an invasion of a "fictional Whoniverse London", it's an invasion of THE London. In the future.

    Of course, Davies had already crossed that line with his Aliens of London/World War III, and the whole "Harriet Jones, PM" stuff. However, even despite this, there were still people who wanted to try and make Doctor Who be something that exists in the fringes of the real world, rather than some American comic book that moves and makes sound.

  2. As you can probably tell I am not a fan of this story, so what I was trying to say (unsuccessfully, obviously) was that of all the stories that might actually pan out in some kind of reality, this wasn't the best one we (or, at least, I) could have hoped for... Everyone's trying to find a new Ninth Planet in the solar system, but I'm still hoping for a Tenth one that someone will call Mondas.
    The correlation between what we see in the programme and the real day to day world has always been tricky. Pertwee / UNIT in the 1980's was still a goer until "Mawdryn Undead" came along and fixed everything along a "time of broadcast" timeline. We also have the problem of "Ambassadors of Death" with its multiple manned missions to Mars, that simply doesn't fit with a number of subsequent stories.
    Of course, we now have things like Big Bang 2, so perhaps we the viewers were included in that. My childhood memories of the 60's and 70's were changed. Britain did lead the space race but then it all got altered, so you and I and the history books have never remembered it.
    RTD missed a trick when he pushed Series 1 forward just the one year. Had he gone further, then all the invasions etc might have still been future-possible, but one year just wasn't enough.
    I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on the wider continuity issues of non-TV Doctor Who. I've read some of the books, and listened to some of the audios, but by no means all, and I tried to read an early edition of Lance Parkin's Ahistory and was almost hospitalised by the effort. Do keep commenting.