THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

BBC
Fear Her

Story No. 185 If living things can become drawings, perhaps drawings can become 
living things
Production Code Series Two Episode Eleven
Dates June 24 2006

With David Tennant, Billie Piper
Written by Matthew Graham Directed by Euros Lyn
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.

Synopsis: By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.


Reviews

Heeeeeeere's Billie by John Nor 5/8/06

A common criticism that has been leveled against Russell T's resurrection of Doctor Who is that the stories never stray too far from Earth and that there is little traveling to alien planets. The scale of the series is too small they say.

Russell T has previously stated that he wanted to avoid stories set on Planet Zog, meaning that he wanted people to be able to relate to human situations. With this episode, like The Idiot's Lantern, the scale of the story is set at a single street and more specifically a single household.

This story shares certain plot elements from that earlier episode. The sinister goings-on are limited to the one street and are set against the backdrop of a national celebration. An unhappy family is the focus of the story. This episode continues the motif of unhappy families which has been appearing in some of the episodes of this season: Love and Monsters showed us a melancholy Jackie; Rose not quite being reunited with her "father" in Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel; The Idiot's Lantern with its monstrous father. In this episode the "father" is literally the monster of the episode.

This was a good solid story, with a great portrayal of the Doctor from Tennant. The Tenth Doctor's character trait of irreverent exuberance turning on a dime to seriousness was nicely illustrated here by the actor. The idea of drawings coming to life and vice versa was well done on screen and the scribble was a bit of fun. The nod to the Shining was amusing too.

The "small scale" of the episodes such as this, which deal with human emotions, far from making the show smaller actually broaden the horizons of the programme, as the universal themes reach out to anyone alive.

While the episode was entertaining, the really interesting elements were the ones that fitted into the New Series as a whole. In Season One a regular motif was the plight of a lonely alien which mirrored the Doctor's situation of being the last of his kind. This motif appears in this episode again, but in a way which examines his relationship with Rose at this stage in the New Series. The Doctor is still lonely, and Rose wants to help but will he let her?

This episode had various symmetries to the New Series opening episode Rose. The mention of "The Shadow Proclamation". Then, Rose unsure as whether to travel with the Doctor; now, Rose is sure that she wants to travel with the Doctor forever. Most subtle is the image of the Doctor holding out his hand for Rose at the beginning of the episode Rose, which is reversed here: when the Doctor mentions about the loneliness of the alien and the need for a hand to hold, Rose jokingly grabs his hand. Jokingly, but not joking.

Although there was an oblique reference in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances to the Doctor's family (he says he knows how someone feels when they say they used to be a father and grandfather), this episode has a real surprise. The discussion of families in this episode prompts the Doctor to boldly and directly state he "used to be a father".

This jolts Rose out of her assumptions about the Doctor just as much as the revelation in School Reunion that there have been other companions before her.

At the end of the episode we have an echo of how we began the Season in the optimistic sunshine of New Earth, with Rose talking about traveling with the Doctor forever. The Doctor sidesteps the conversation again: he feels there is a storm coming. Foreshadowing has been steadily increasing over the last half of the season; the Beast's ominous prophecy; Elton ruminating on what happens to people who are too close to the Doctor.

Where is this all leading? The episode titles of the next two-parter add to the gloom.

(While knowing nothing of what those episodes contain, the titles remind me of Shakespeare's Macbeth and conjure up in my mind a image of the Doctor being confronted by apparitions in the manner of Banquo's ghost, but a whole army ghosts. The Time Lords. Katarina. Sara Kingdom. Adric. Instead of proclaiming "Do not shake thy gory locks at me!", I imagine him saying "Sorry. I'm so sorry." This is just a guess!)

We will find out what happens next in Army of Ghosts/Doomsday.


Scribble me! by Joe Ford 1/9/06

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 Who's 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 Idiot's 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 week's 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 boredom. 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 won't be popular for saying this but I thought this was Billie's best performance to date. I expect all the Father's 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 Idiot's Lantern I was ready to admit I thought she worked better against Eccleston's Doctor but The Impossible Planet and Fear Her have turned all that around. Piper and Tennant exhibit a natural chemistry now which doesn't 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 Doctor's 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 Chloe's cupboard when it emanates strange noises!

Piper's 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 let's not forget David Tennant's 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 Eccleston's 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.

It's 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 Trish's house), deeply caring (stroking Chloe's 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 reveals 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. Let's 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 show's exhaustless format and juicy science-fiction style that it manages to imply these terrifying dramas in a supernatural fashion. The parent's anger in the street as they start pointing the finger at innocent people feels very real and Trish's 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 Chloe's dad screaming out that he is going to hurt her and his dominating shadow stretching along the hallway but I couldn't 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.

That's 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 child's 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 Lyn's treatment of The Idiot's 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 Lyn's 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 Chloe's drawing of her Dad coming to life.

Murray Gold's 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.


Picture Perfect by Thomas Cookson 21/3/07

This is a really good story.

It is true that in light of the big event storylines surrounding it, Fear Her can't help but seem dwarfed and mediocre because of its little quaintness. It is also true that if you hear enough people slate an episode, you start to agree with them. But I found myself watching it again after a friend gave me some feedback, letting me know that they liked Fear Her, in spite of the rest of my criticisms. The New Series episodes often benefit from a second watch after the season has come to an end. In Season One's case, some of the things that didn't feel quite right about certain stories suddenly do feel right in light of the season's themes and story arc. In Season Two it's more a sense of seeing the 'quaint' episodes in isolation from the season's up and down rollercoaster of awe and banality. Viewed in isolation from the rest of the series and it's actually quite a lovely and charming episode. I mainly complained about it being another domestic story, coming too soon after The Satan Pit and too soon before Army of Ghosts, but in rewatching it, I've come to realise that it's actually very adventurous in its own way.

One thing that sets this story apart from the rest of the season is that it has a very fleshy, full-blossoming coloured look, as opposed to the frequent clinical or noir look of most of the stories this season. Something about this story just feels right. The tone is pretty consistent, and for once so are the two lead characters. I'd say that David Tennant feels much more comfortable in the role of the modern Doctor here than he does elsewhere in this season.

It's been pretty hard to put a finger on what the overall character of David Tennant's Doctor is, and on what level the audience should respond to him. When in the opening scenes of Rise of the Cybermen, the Doctor and Rose are gossiping about alien worlds, the vocabulary from the Doctor is very off, describing an alien world as "this planet thingy" and an alien being as "weird looking". It basically doesn't fit the character of any open minded space faring veteran of 900 years, but that of a very shallow, adolescent snob travelling the universe with his date in his parent's spaceship and playing 'look at that freak!' with the aliens, and in The Satan Pit, telling a bunch of frontier astronauts about an episode of Eastenders that was on five hundred years ago.

It is clear that the makers were trying to make the Doctor more like one of the kids to attract the youth element, and the traditionalist in me just wants to shout 'that's what the companion's there for, not the Doctor!' But then this is a New Series that isn't made for the traditionalists, and is it so hard to accept that they've said goodbye to what the old Doctor was all about, and introduced a fresh new modern Doctor that the masses like? They gave us a nice transitional go-between with Christopher Eccleston, who had a youth appeal but who also seemed to carry in his performance the weight of the centuries that he had lived and the struggle to recapture his old spirit and compassion and in that way managed to be new but still traditional. Maybe Tennant was the inevitable aftermath of that final swansong of the old Doctor, leaving us with a teenage Doctor who doesn't have the experience or maturity of centuries of being alive. The 40 year past of the show didn't happen, and before I start sounding like Ron Mallett, I should say that this is not necessarily a bad thing, since the Tom Baker era was one with much in the way of revisionism. Although somehow I can't see making the Doctor a verbally diarrheic snobbish teenager who likes trash TV as 'progressive'.

But then there are scenes which make Tennant come across as our old Doctor, or at least as a character with a long past, like the much praised "I'm so old now" moment in School Reunion (which some have described nicely as a 'McCoy-ism') or the "such a lonely childhood" moment in Girl in the Fireplace, and that frustrates me because then I don't know which way the series is going and I would prefer it to not be so schizophrenic in its direction. Maybe Tennant still is in the 'traditional but new' terrtitory and his contrariness of being human and yet alien, young and yet old is possibly tied in with how perhaps in each regeneration, the Doctor can take on human personality traits. For instance, the Fifth Doctor's love of cricket and his remark to Adric in Black Orchid of how he always wanted to be a train driver as a boy are unlikely to have their origins on Gallifrey, they're just quirks and tastes that come into being when the Doctor changes into a new man.

In a story which focuses on childhood, the manchild qualities of the Doctor shine here, rather than seeming like exaggerated attempts to be down with the kids. As I said, my problem with Tennant's performance was that it seemed unsettled, but here it is more buoyant. It's still kidding around stuff involving Inspector Morse impersonations, but somehow Tennant seems to feel more relaxed about it and therefore so do I, as a viewer. On reflection this is really how I'd like to see David Tennant as the modern Doctor, as someone that the youngest children can look up to as a good natured hero, a slightly geeky and over-excitable one, but one who can come into the child's world. In a way that becomes beautiful because it is actually unlike anything else you would see on TV.

And yet at the same time his old quirks are there. There's a lovely moment when he enters the family's kitchen and dips his fingers in a jar of jam and helps himself to a lick. It is subtly done and it feels like a quirk that's genuinely alien and out of step with human etiquette and he really feels like the Doctor there; I would like to have seen this more often in the domestic episodes. When confronted with one of the parents over trespassing on his lawn (nice homage to Survival here), his facetious reply also feels nicely Doctorish and vaguely otherworldly. Then of course is the scene where the Doctor first comes to the house which contains the heart of the menace and is able to play it aloof and with reverse psychology and manages to manipulate his way in.

Much like in The Idiot's Lantern, the Doctor has to deal with domestic tyranny here, and I'd say that this is The Idiot's Lantern done right. It even uses television as a medium for evil in a way that maintains the technophobia theme of the season. But it is in the Doctor's dealings with the domestic tyrant that it prevails over The Idiot's Lantern. What felt like an uninvolving peripheral side show and an opportunity for the Doctor to exhibit some inane bitchiness and humiliation towards the tyrant who felt rather too cartoonish to be a threat in the other story, here the tyrant of the house is the central foil of the drama and the soul and you actually are drawn to care about the victims and the fear they are under from the moment they reach out to the Doctor and beg for his help. In Doctor Who style, this is subverted to surrealism by having the tyrant in question be a six year old girl and the victim being the mother. "Do you want me to draw you, mum?" is quite a chilling line. Furthermore the Doctor's approach feels more traditional, as his approach to the tyrant is one of investigative understanding rather than storming in with self-righteous contempt and gloating at the tyrant's humiliation, and this actually sets up a difference of opinion between the Doctor and companion, rather than have them act like a sneering clique eager to impress one another with their bitchiness.

There's something else as well. The story actually acknowledges why the Doctor suddenly has an interest in sorting out domestic tyrants as well as galactic ones. He talks of how lonely childhood and alienation is the makings of tyranny and of people growing into monsters and war-mongers, and this is another moment which hints at the Doctor's history. It feels like he's actually thinking of Davros, Morbius, the Master and Salamander as he says all this, and it provides a context for who the Doctor is now, and why he's getting involved in affairs that his predecessors would have left well alone.

Inevitably as a pre-season finale story, there's got to be some comparisons with last year's counterpart Boom Town. Like Boom Town, this is a nicely slower-paced story that allows us to relax and get used to the lead characters a bit better. It uses the TARDIS interior as a science laboratory, much like how Boom Town used it as a custody cell, and I like how it makes the TARDIS a more intimate place to be. As with Rose's mention of Justicia in Boom Town, there's also a nice ambiguous reference to the Ninth Doctor Books in that Rose subtly suggests (wow, Rose's character and subtlety? Never!) that she was once bullied, which fits in with what we read in Winner Takes All. Where Fear Her perhaps falls where Boom Town succeeds is that by this point the season finale is almost upon us and the Doctor has shown no interest in this 'torchwood' enigma that is supposed to have its full revelations next week. But that is not so much a criticism of Fear Her as a standalone.

As with Boom Town, there is again the theme of empathy with tyrants, and I have to say this is in many ways something that would rarely crop up in the old series, which tended to have more pulp definitions of good and evil. By comparison, much of Season One was driven by empathy, forgiveness, sympathy for the devil and preaching understanding. I must say, though, that one of my issues with Season Two was that all too often it felt like a redundant retread of the themes of last year's season. I find it frustrating that the most striking moments of Season Two were actually the few moments which went against that theme, whether it be The Impossible Planet's idea of true evil and 'don't trust the aliens' or The Age of Steel's shocking depiction of the heroes committing a mercy killing and a revenge killing. Fear Her however manages to still feel fresh, current and traditional.

It has been heavily slated by some fans, to the point where some have described it as the 'worst Doctor Who ever'. The main criticisms seem to weigh heavily on two particular scenes, one is the 'fingers on lips' moment and the bit where the Doctor gets involved in the marathon. I'll admit that I did feel an urge to cringe at those moments, and yet I feel that they could have actually worked for a previous Doctor. I think Sylvester McCoy could have made the 'fingers on lips' scene feel quite sinister, and likewise if Tom Baker had leapt onto the race track I don't think anyone would have passed comment on it. To my mind, it just works as a story. As with the best of Doctor Who, it is confident enough and warm enough to overcome a few duff or low brow moments, and the "I'm reporting you to the council" gag is great.

Some have dismissed this as kid's stuff, but I actually welcome that because it gives the episode its magical edge. In fact, to me, a return to innocence is most welcome in this story, particularly after the crudeness of Love & Monsters. Likewise, it is nice to see the return of the likeable Rose, in a story which actually tests her anger but emphasises her compassion and understanding winning through. It allows me to feel the slate is wiped clean from the mean streak she has exhibited elsewhere in this season.

But if there's one reason I like this episode more than any other, it has got to be the Exorcist-like scene where the Doctor has hypnotised the child and she is telling him about an alien race with alien powers and alien thought processes, and makes us believe that we are dealing with something that has far, far greater emotional needs than us, and we sympathise. And here's the thing, this all takes place in a little bedroom, and through a few children's drawings and some vivid dialogue, we are called upon to imagine this alien swarm travelling across the stars, creating its own fictional realities. This is traditional Doctor Who, where the spoken word can build an entire universe and take the viewer's imagination beyond vision. That's why I like this story, because it resists the increasingly insular and soapy focus of the new series and encourages us to look beyond our little world of self-involvement, and to me this is important, because given what we saw in Doomsday and in the more recent Torchwood episodes, Fear Her might be the last Doctor Who story in a long time to do so.

By the way, the film Paperhouse which inspired this story is well worth seeing.


Awarded the silver medal... by Steve Cassidy 2/4/07

For me, Fear Her? was the big surprise of season 2.

I was dreading it. A London setting so soon after Love & Monsters wasn't something I was looking forward to. In fact the online reviews for Love & Monsters generally concluded with "Oh yeah, and next week looks crap too...". But instead we got one of the most imaginative adventures of the series from Mathew Graham. An adventure that has cause and effect, a good script, an intriguing story, an eerie atmosphere and a few scares and, most importantly, the Doctor and Rose are likeable. Fear Her is a good example of how the budget cheapies can work in the hands of a very good director and writer.

Some people don't like it for one scene - well, two scenes. The first one is the reaction of the TV announcer (Hugh Edwards) when the Olympic stadium full of people disappear saying he is stilted and wooden. Well, he is not a paid actor and was good enough to give his time to Who so I don't think he should be damned too much. And it is interesting that he was picked, perhaps the BBC thinks he is the only one with a career left in 2012 (personally I think it was because he was Welsh). And of course there is the sickly ending where the Doctor picks up the Olympic torch and lights the flame and the Edwards' commentary about it being about "a flame of hope and love" which had TV critic Charlie Brookner reaching for the sick bucket. I wondered what else could be powered by love? How about fighter jets fuelled by love with irony-powered afterburners and armed with sarcasm-seeking missiles?

I'm being faectious. I enjoyed Fear Her. Above all, it's a good Rose story. Father's Day was the ultimate Rose story but this runs a good second. She gets plenty to do here, as she spots the missing children posters first, finds the Isolass pod, and helps Trish and Chloe to defeat the monster lurking at the top of the stairs. The frequency with which Rose saved the day whilst the Doctor was incapacitated in Series One quickly became irritating, but since it has become a rarity in Series Two, it serves as a reminder of just why she originally made a decent companion. And she is a pleasure here, the sheer shock of the Doctor's disappearance is wonderfully played by Billie Piper. Her anger that this silly little girl may have stranded her in 2012 on her own is stunningly portrayed. I thought at one point she was going to thump Chloe Webster, and the audience may have cheered her if she did.

David Tennant does good work as well. His speeches are overcooked as usual but when he tones it down and does serious he becomes very impressive. His appreciation of the Isolass's power is quite effective, and seems perfectly in character, and Tennant plays the role with more restraint . The Doctor gets some genuinely amusing moment, including his response to the question, "What's your game?" which quickly peters out and he mutters, "I'm being facetious, I... there's no call for it." I also smiled at his response to Rose's, realization, "The girl!" which is "Of course! What girl?" Best of all however, is the Doctor's calming of the residents and in particularly his reassurance of Trish, as he walks into a frightening situation and immediately takes charge.

The central idea, of a little girl who can turn people into drawings, fits perfectly into the Doctor Who format, and in the tradition of the classic series, there's a handy technobabble explanation about ionic energy on hand to explain it. For the most part, this is more interesting rather than creepy, although the roars of "I'm going to hurt you" from Chloe's monstrous picture of her dead father manage to be unsettling at times, especially during the last five minutes of the episode.

Then the mystery of Chloe's powers is removed and the episode becomes rather less eerie, but gives way to themes of loneliness, with the Isolass having empathized with Chloe because they are both lonely children, and the Doctor sympathizing with both of them because as he tells Rose, "I know what it's like to travel a long way on your own." This is exactly the sort of emotional realism that Russell T. Davies usually shoves clumsily into the series, but here, in the hands of Matthew Graham, it works really well, with both Chloe and the Isolass feeling almost as much like victims as the children (and later adults) drawn into the pair's fictional world.

The climax has Rose racing against time first to find and reactivate the Isolass's pod before Chloe finishes drawing the world, and then to help Chloe and Trish unite to exorcise the spectre of Chloe's father. The moral of the story, that everybody needs a hand to hold, isn't particularly revelatory, but for the most part it's a cheerful message that generally manages to avoid being nauseating. Abisola Agbaje puts in a very fine performance as Chloe, managing to alternate between menace and vulnerability as the script demands. Abdul Salis has a good comic turn as a council tarmacklayer and his scenes with Rose are very amusing. Rose Tyler is at her best when she is dealing with people on her own level.

To be frank, this isn't what we needed straight after the lamentable Love & Monsters. We needed to be distracted by a tale set away from London. But they were saving the SFX budget for Army of Ghosts/Doomsday. Those new estates of semi-detatched houses set in the shadow of Canary Wharf that have sprung up over the last five years are a good enough location for domestic horror. I've seen the future and it is certainly is Barrett homes. Fear Her will never top the tree as the favourite of the season but it doesn't plumb the depths of some of the Russell T Davies efforts. And I haven't mentioned the words 'Paperhouse' in the entire review. The whole adventure passes muster. It's a good, creepy, modern thriller and the Isolass are a good, original monster.

I like Fear Her, but I can't say it's one of my all-time favourites. In Olympic terms it was a rank outsider who comes up on the inside lane and doesn't quite get the gold. A silver medal? Well, that's still pretty good. Better then we all expected.


A Review by Ron Mallett 15/5/07

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. It was supposed to be like Doctor Who meets The Exorcist and instead it was sort of like a demented episode of Sesame Street wherein all the plot holes and leaps of logic could only be filled in by the largest joint in history.

Written by Matthew Graham, the episode suffers both from bad writing and bad production. It feels like it's been written by committee and what ideas do come through do not gel at all. The most truly annoying aspect of this story, aside from the tediously improbable premise, was the little girl. The supposed "alien" voice sounded like just what it was: a little girl putting it on. Couldn't we have had at least a synthesised daemonic voice of some kind? All it sounded like was that she was in dire need of a throat lozenge.

And this story's obligatory grimacing moment was the Olympic torch scene. Even the last little forced introspection about a storm approaching was ripped directly from the penultimate season one X-Files episode. It really was Boom Town all over again. If it looked cheap and unimaginative, that's because it was.

I've seen porn better made than this... actually I've seen student films uploaded on YouTube of a higher quality. The only reason I must watch the rest of the season is for the morbid fascination value in finding out exactly to what depths the series can fall.


A Review by Finn Clark 22/5/07

It's quite sweet. It's also the most domestic Doctor Who TV story ever, making Father's Day look like a Bond movie. It's so focused on one small street that the Olympics look as big as an alien invasion. Even the books never did this, with only The Deadstone Memorial to date even coming close. (I don't count books like Happy Endings and Return of the Living Dad, which may be focused on single villages but are heaving with aliens and time travellers. English villages are the Doctor Who equivalent of Stephen King's American small towns in the middle of nowhere.)

Its people feel like real people. Cal the council worker is delightful, and extraordinary in Doctor Who for being so normal. "When you've worked it out, put it in a big book about tarmacking." He also had me in stitches with "I'm reporting you to the council". Also the people in the street felt real, even the walking cliche of the old woman whose dire warnings keep being ignored. In its own unflashy way, this episode is well played and fantastically cast. Abisola Agbaje is particularly impressive as Chloe Webber, doing solid work in a key role. Never take good performances from child actors for granted. Consider that cringeworthy moment at the end of School Reunion, for instance.

As an aside, surprisingly for what's ostensibly a children's series, the classic series hardly ever used child actors. Of course this makes perfect sense from a production standpoint. Children are obviously far less experienced than adult actors, aren't full-time professionals and can't even work the same hours. Oddly, in this department as in one or two others, the Cartmel era foreshadowed Russell T. Davies. There are probably more McCoy stories starring children than in all the preceding eras put together. On the one hand there's... ooooh, The Mind Robber, Castrovalva and maybe a scene with young Kassia in Keeper of Traken, or is that only the novelisation? An Unearthly Child and Mawdryn Undead show us schools, but with older teenagers rather than kiddywinks. One could also count The Dominators or The Claws of Axos, but that's a real stretch. However the McCoy era gave us Delta and the Bannermen, Dragonfire, Remembrance of the Daleks, Greatest Show in the Galaxy and Survival.

New Who, however, has given us young Rose and Mickey in Father's Day, the Empty Child two-parter, School Reunion, The Girl in the Fireplace and now Fear Her. And that's without counting cameos like the family in Army of Ghosts. I admire this. It makes a lot of sense on all kinds of levels to bring children into the show, although so far they've made better monsters than heroes.

Here in particular, it lets the story go places that wouldn't be the same with an adult Chloe. Again Doctor Who is taking deliberately silly ideas and making them real. The scribble monster, the animated drawings, the dead Dad in the closet... I also appreciated the fact that it doesn't blindly romanticise childhood. There's that TARDIS scene between the Doctor and Rose in which the latter's slagging off kiddies.

In its own delicately understated way, most of this is a lovely story. I don't even mind the "power of love" ending. It's logical and right, given the nature of the monster. No, 'twas the Olympic flame sequence that had me screaming, and even that's basically the fault of the TV announcer. He delivers some lines so purple as to choke you, although even that is hardly unrealistic. Sports commentators never go over the top, no sir. It's their job to oversell the shebang, making the Olympics into a bigger deal than the Second Coming. If you think about it, that ghastly commentary is probably what you'd really hear if those events happened live on TV... but sadly such gritted-teeth rationalisations don't make the moment any less painful.

In fairness, these things are all subjective. I'm sure many viewers thought that sequence was perfect. Um. I'm happy for them.

Not for the first time in New Who, the story's best bit of imagery is in the pre-credits sequence. Tooth and Claw had kung-fu monks, then here we have animation. I'd have loved more of that, but the episode as it stands doesn't need it. You'd want an animated subplot with the Doctor's adventures in scribble land or something, which might have been cheaper than you'd think. You can do all kinds of things these days with Flash or computer treatment of live-action footage. I'd have certainly enjoyed that more than the Olympic flame sequence. Ah well.

Another thing that lacked subtlety was the voice in the wardrobe. It's not working on any level but the big shouty one. However, in a way I felt 'twould have been the cheap option to make suggestions of sexual abuse that would go over the heads of the children in the audience. It would have been a step into TV Drama Land, in which nine out of ten missing parents have been murdered and nine out of ten missing children have been kidnapped and/or become drug-addicted underage prostitutes. I particularly appreciated the restraint given the fact that less than a month previously we'd had another abusive father in The Idiot's Lantern. More interesting to me is the question of whether that's really Chloe's dad in there. Has the real man been resurrected or is that just a caricature, drawn from Chloe's subjective memories? I think a better angle would be to play up the sadness of the latter. Real people don't think of themselves as monsters, yet this man's daughter ended up seeing him as a screaming hate-filled beast. You could take that somewhere almost heartbreaking.

There's a lot to admire in this story. Such a miniature is riskier and often less memorable than the straightforward crowd-pleasing "stompy monsters and gun battles". I think mostly it works surprisingly well, and perhaps better than it deserved to. Bad direction or bad acting could have made this unwatchable. Apart from the Olympic sequence, I think my only quibble is that the story could have used more layers. If you're going to do something this mundane and down-to-earth, you need to paint the characters that much more richly and truthfully. Giving the episode a deeper level of subtlety and insight into its characters could have made it truly memorable and a highlight of the season.

It's still good, though. I love the idea for the monster, while Tennant and Piper are endearingly playful. I like it, but I don't feel it quite does enough to pull itself up from the pack. Eccleston's episodes were all memorably distinctive. Tennant's episodes are less so. If you think about it, this episode could have been almost as special as Boom Town or Love & Monsters. That's a pretty tough criticism, though. Fear Her may be a draft or two away from greatness, but in its own modest way it's still gentle and sweet.


A Review by Terrence Keenan 29/7/07

It doesn't leave much of an impression, does it?

Fear Her does have an intriguing premise: a lonely little girl who will do anything to prevent that, even snatching other kids into her drawings. Locking things into one neighborhood, one that's pretty and neat and normal adds to the underlying creepiness.

And yet...

Fear Her feels like it's marking time until we get to the Grand Finale of season two. The bits with the Olympics, despite being well integrated into the episode, have that "tacked on from high above" feel to them. Not to mention a new potential winner in the "Worst Who Moment, Ever" category (Tentacle and Olympic Flame).

Billie Piper is really good here, and does manage to carry most of the episode. Tennant is off; I found him annoying. The guest cast are all right, but no one really stands out.

I wish I had more to say about Fear Her. It works, but doesn't really stick in the mind.


A Review by Joseph Gillis 9/10/07

This episode was cringe-worthy in my opinion. Absolute and utter rubbish. It was a total waste of money for a Stephen Fry script that would have been much better than... this. This even makes Trial of a Time Lord look absolutely awesome, it was so bad.

The only good points in the episode were David Tennant and the Dalek foreshadowing at the end. Everything else, however, sucked. Rose came close, but her stupid dialogue was annoying. Billie Piper has become more annoying as the series progressed, but this episode did try and do a turnaround with her character. The villain, a little girl, was so unthreatening and cliched that a battery-dead K9 could have beaten her (no offence to the robotic dog). And the happy ending... god, don't remind me why I hate episodes with a happy ending (The Idiot's Lantern was disappointing because of this)!

Absolute disappointment and an utter load of rubbish. If you missed this episode, you're very lucky to have - unless you were waiting for the preview at the end of the episode, which you should definitely watch!


Just Ignore Her by Ben Kirkham 1/9/08

It seemed like such a great idea at the time, didn't it? Getting Matthew Graham, co-creator of that brilliant series, Life On Mars, to write a Doctor Who story. Well, in theory - because Fear Her is flat, dull, badly acted and completely boring. It has no atmosphere, fails to build up a sense of threat, and becomes the new series' cure for insomnia.

Let's deal with the good points first. The TARDIS materialisation at the beginning is quite clever (I've always wanted to see that happen!) and the conclusion when Rose temporarily loses the Doctor allows her to show some of the colours she's been missing since Series One. Also, there's that tantalising bit in the TARDIS where the Doctor offhandedly states "I was a dad once." That's the single moment this forgettable adventure will be remembered for.

The rest is just bad. First off, Chloe Webber. Abisola Agbaje is a sub-standard child actress, and this is the greatest failing of the episode. Chloe should be the most absorbing character in the story. Instead, she's just irritating. She never convinces once, even when the Isolus is speaking through her. Even that song is annoying. The only interesting thing about her is her relationship with her abusive father, which gives the episode its most distinctive and fascinatingly terrifying idea. The rest of the cast are wooden and wander around the story like unbelievable stick figures. The direction is also flat, a surprise coming from the usually excellent Euros Lyn. The lack of atmosphere is ironically quite noticeable. Every single episode of the new series, except this one, has atmosphere - no matter how bad the story may be. This just feels odd.

Added to all these problems is, and it really pains me to say this, the Doctor. During Series Two, David Tennant struggled to find his feet (not really a criticism; look at Patrick Troughton's first few stories and see how long it took him to settle down). Here, Tennant is playing the mad, nutty Doctor. He can't get the balance correct. His best moments are undoubtedly the quieter moments, such as when he first talks to the Isolus. But he spends the first fifteen minutes just irritating with his speakingridiculouslyquicklysothatnoonecanmakesenseofwhathessaying. It's strange watching him like this now because we know that when he is at his best, he's one of the best Doctors. By Series Three, he'd perfected his approach.

I suppose we must be charitable to this story when we remember its genesis. Fear Her, along with Tooth and Claw, was one of the last commissioned scripts from Series Two, after Stephen Fry became too busy to work on his script. The quick turnaround must have made it difficult to fine-tune Fear Her. This could have been a strong episode of the series, never the best but good enough to be counted as a success.

A friend and I recently concluded that Fear Her is the worst episode of the new series so far. Don't let it happen when you take over, Stephen.

And as for Huw Edwards...


Pen to paper by Nathan Mullins 22/4/09

Fear Her is an episode you can really get your teeth into. Sure, it's not one of the best the new series has delivered but, now and again, these light-hearted episodes are just what the Doctor ordered. Some people despise this episode, due to the performance the girl who played Chloe Webber gave; I think the performance she gave was all right and the overall episode isn't all that bad. There are good points and bad points that altogether prove that an episode that isn't going to be a classic can still be worth the fuss.

When we first hear that familiar sound of the TARDIS materialising, and the Doctor getting the landing wrong just reminds me of Ace's comment in Ghostlight... "Your still a lousy parker" in their first scene together in the episode. The build up, especially where the Doctor talks on and on about his visit to the very first Olympics sets the tone and also tells you something about what the storyline might be about, as does the banner representing the fact the Doctor and Rose have arrived in 2012, where the London Olympics are due to come in another four years. As both the Doctor and Rose enter the small community, where, at first glances, they spot the poster telling of the missing children. I suppose that's rather frightening really and although its not an alien that is completely evil or round the bend, it's something that every parent wouldn't want to happen to their children.

What I also like about this episode is that the creature drawn to Chloe Webber was in fact just like her. Just as lonely as her. I felt that was a good twist as it wasn't drawn by evil that is normally the case but because the alien itself (Isolus) has such a human emotion as feeling lonely, it just wanted to have some company and that I suppose mimics the Doctor and why he travels with Rose. Since the show returned, there's been a running theme of loneliness concerning the Doctor and why he travels with someone in time and space.

I also liked the Doctor's comment in the TARDIS when he states quite firmly to Rose, "I was a dad, once" which the show hasn't really touched upon before. Only these days have they had such episodes, based on the Doctors family and whatever happened to them in the Time War. Chloe Webber's father was another 'something' that I rather liked, though I feel that the series is concentrating too heavily on family issues and isn't moving on... Though I have to say that in recent years, since series four, the series has certainly gone on and moved on from such issues.

David Tennant and Billie Piper are terrific. I liked Rose in this episode better that many of the other episodes she had been in during that particular series. Though, I did like her in School Reunion and the following episodes after Fear Her. I never expected anything less from David Tennant. His Doctor continues to shine and paves the way for a good future ahead.

So, all in all, one hell of an episode that had its ups and downs and had a good plot and some interesting ideas that didn't go to waste.

"I'm coming to get you, Cloe Webber..." Cloe's father


Fear Her? Why, Exactly? by Scott Williams 26/8/10

Possibly in joint position with Boom Town for being the worst serving of an adventure since the series' return in 2005. Mediocrity abounds in this story - and it is never more obvious than in its dull Brookside Close setting. There is obviously nothing wrong with setting a story in a quiet, residential street. In fact, it has worked extremely well in the past, present and no doubt the future. But this street, along with its residents, was just dull. Look back to similar settings in Survival or all the scenes set within Rose Tyler's Powell Estate. They were impressive, you could identify with them because they were real. Not so here, unfortunately. There just seemed to be something soap-opera-ish about it all.

Let me start with what I personally felt worked in the story's favour:

  1. The elderly lady who knew something was up. The only interesting character (besides the regulars) that made an impression on me. She should definitely have played a bigger part in the narrative.
  2. The doodle! Great effect and a really interesting idea that never reached fruition. Sadly.
  3. The very last scene where the Doctor senses that a storm is approaching. A nice bit of drama and tension at the end on an episode that was otherwise devoid of such things.
  4. The pre-credits sequence! It promised sooooo much and had such potential. But it's unfortunate that one of the whole story's highlights appear even before the opening credits)
Now for what I personally disliked:
  1. Chloe Webber: not the worst child actress I've ever seen but certainly not very good either. When she was possessed she just seemed like what she was: a kid pretending to be possessed. No threat or eeriness at all. The Exorcist this is not!
  2. The Dad in the closet (apparently meant to be frightening or something). Just came across as a badly drawn scribble on the wall.
  3. The mother was instantly forgettable.
  4. Possibly the worst offender of all was that cringe-worthy scene of the Doctor with the Olympic Torch. I hate sport as it is and this scene just gave me one more good reason to genuinely have a true disgust for it all!
The episode was called Fear Her. I have absolutely no idea why. I genuinely have been more afraid of the contents of my bowels after I have emptied them!!! Not even the Doctor disappearing affected me that much. To be fair though, Billie did a great job holding the episode together in his absence.

To say this episode was terrible would be a massive injustice. As with The Idiot's Lantern, both stories are watchable and enjoyable but never manage to tick all the boxes of a truly brilliant Doctor Who story. Even the worst stories have redeeming qualities and entertainment value. The saddest thing about these episodes is that they hold so much potential that you are left not with a thought of something like "wow, that was fantastic", but rather a sense of "wow, that could have been something fantastic". Nothing is perfect and it is our job, as part of Doctor Who's enduring fandom, to nitpick and complain about all the stuff that really is important to us, but is probably not important or is loved by the majority of other fans. That is what makes this show unique: its ability to divide opinion. To stir these kind of emotions and feelings. To create discussions and debates that stretch back to its humble beginnings in 1963 to this very day.

I don't like this episode. But my rubbish might be another's treasure. And that is what counts!


A Review by Jamie Beckwith 12/9/12

It's easy to be a cynic and the London 2012 Olympics offered plenty of opportunities for this. I fully admit for the last 7 years I dreaded the coming of the games and did so with the easy cynicism of being a Londoner and having the opportunity to moan about how much it was going to cost me in taxes and how the tube lines and their antiquated infrastructure was going to collapse with the influx of all the visitors to London. It got so bad that I even planned a holiday so I'd be out of London when it happened and would be able to sit smugly thousands of miles away and watch everyone else suffer instead.

Of course, as it happens, whilst I did escape London (and had a jolly nice holiday), there wasn't anything catastrophic to escape from. The games went well, the tubes ran on time, and everyone really enjoyed themselves. And so it is with Fear Her. We're so used to looking down on it, considering it the filler until the big climax of the story where we've been promised the Doctor and Rose will be split apart for ever (Sheesh, is this Doctor Who or EastEnders?) that we forget to enjoy Fear Her simply for what it is and on its own merit.

There are plenty of plus points to this story. The opening is suitably creepy and intriguing as it slowly draws you in to the mystery of the missing children and the lone figure watching ominously from the window. When the drawing of the kid comes to life, it's a damn fine moment and a great hook for the pre-titles sequence overall. It's certainly more enjoyable than moody Army of Ghosts/Doomsday, info dumping to the audience from a Norwegian beach.

I appreciate I'm probably in a minority here, but I actually don't think Abisola Agbaje is a bad child actress. Okay sure, she's not Caitlin Blackwood, but I think she does a good job of distinguishing between her normal self and the Isolus-possessed Chloe. As the Isolus-voiced one, I also think she portrays the loneliness and scared confusion of the alien pretty well. It's an imaginative concept too, an alien used to hearing the voices of billions, confused and scared by the silence.

The scribble monster is a neat idea and a good clue for the Doctor to get an idea of what's happening. Nina Sosanya probably deserves a much more meatier role, but as Trish she helps provide the viewpoint of normalcy which neatly counterpoints the spookiness going on under her own roof. Consider also that when all is said and done Doctor Who is primarily a children's show (yes it is!), its willingness to nonetheless touch on more mature subjects, like the child abuse backstory, is acceptable in this context and highlights the real monsters out there.

Many of the valid criticisms leveled at this story apply just as equally to Season 2 as a whole, so to make Fear Her the whipping boy for the nauseatingly self-satisfied relationship between the Doctor and Rose is unfair in the extreme, ignoring the far worse Tooth and Claw (no, we're really NOT amused), the cringe worthy "cat fight" with Sarah Jane in School Reunion, and the petulant pouting as the Doctor cavorts with Madame de Pompadour. The ending is pure cheese as the Doctor grabs the torch, but presciently it captures the good cheer the games really did bring, even to a curmudgeon like me. I'm sure all the kids who were watching at the time were cheering the Doctor on.

I'm never going to say that Fear Her is the greatest episode of all time. It's not even the greatest episode of Season 2. But I personally would rank it higher than New Earth, The Girl in the Fireplace, The Idiot's Lantern and Love & Monsters, and still ahead of many other Tennant episodes from The Lazarus Experiment to Planet of the Dead. It's a fun little piece. If you leave the cynicism at the door and instead chow down your edible ball bearings whilst ignoring how annoying David Tennant can be when he's not reigned in on the whole "Cor Guv Ain't Everything Brill!" schtick, then this is a perfectly decent way to spend 45 minutes.

Go on, give it the Bronze.


Fingers on lips! by Evan Weston 13/9/14

If we're being perfectly frank here, and I like to think we are, Fear Her is decent filler. I'm going to say a lot about it in the next six or seven paragraphs, and we'll analyze and critique the acting and the story and the production and the characters and all that, but this story doesn't ever seem designed to be anything but the episode that fills out the BBC's quota before the two-part finale. It's probably the least-ambitious story we've encountered so far, and so I find it hard to judge the episode solely on its merits. However, subsequent seasons provide far better filler material, and Fear Her certainly doesn't achieve anything more than it wants to.

We start in a small just-outside-of-London street at the start of the 2012 London Games, and immediately something is up. It seems kids are being snatched from the street, and there's this creepy girl that's taking them into her drawings, and... let's wait half the episode for the Doctor and Rose to figure out what we already know. This is a common problem in a lot of villain-of-the-week shows, but Doctor Who has always been good about keeping the audience and the characters fairly in line. When we know something they don't, it's either to convey irony or to create tension/horror. In Fear Her, there's no reason for us to know that Chloe Webber is kidnapping the kids. Of course, we don't know why she's doing it, but we don't need the Doctor and Rose to waste 15 minutes getting to where we are. It's filler inside filler.

Of course, the actors make it at least somewhat interesting. We're getting near the end of the Billie Piper era - and I'll be sure to give her a proper send-off in the Army of Ghosts/Doomsday review - but she's really good in this episode, showing off how far she's come as a companion. At the start, Rose is resourceful but childish and insecure, only succeeding in her eponymous episode out of dumb luck. Now, she's a fully developed detective, channeling her resourcefulness to save the day even without the Doctor. The best thing about Fear Her is that it lets Rose play hero at the end, and while she does so in the far-superior The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, she isn't entirely on her own there. Piper plays this Rose as confident, then shaken to the point of nearly striking a child when the Doctor is taken and finally as the clever, charming hero we know her to be at this point. It's quite a turn in what's been quite a run for the actress.

David Tennant gets a bit less to do here, and he's on cruise control throughout. The reason Tennant lags slightly behind Christopher Eccleston and Matt Smith in the title role is his inability to lift a mediocre episode into being pretty good. It's difficult to picture episodes like Boom Town and The Long Game earning B-minuses with Tennant playing the Doctor. This isn't necessarily Tennant's fault - Eccleston is a generational talent and Smith isn't far behind - but he's clearly not the actor his predecessor or successor is, and it shows here. The guest turns are relatively unexciting, with the exception of young Abisola Agbaje as Chloe, who manages to pull off creepy and sweet at the same time. Character actor Abdul Salis gets a fun comic turn as tarmac worker Kel, as well.

Still, nothing that's going on is of much interest. Once the Doctor and Rose get wise to the plot, we learn that Chloe is possessed by something called an Isolus, which is separated from its four-billion-strong pack down here on Earth. Multiple problems are presented here - even getting past the tackiness of the name "Isolus", the creature's obvious innocence isn't juxtaposed against anything meaningful, and so we feel like we've hit a dead end. The Doctor getting snatched is an interesting twist, but it never feels like Rose won't save the day. The inevitable Davies-stakes-raising is extremely forced here, with Chloe literally drawing just a picture of the Earth on her wall to needlessly morph Fear Her into an apocalypse story. There's also the abusive-father angle, which exists only to provide the episode with an obvious villain and to give the characters some depth. It's transparent and it's lazy.

In fact, Matthew Graham really isn't cut out to write Doctor Who at all, and it shows. You've got so many cliches here: the old lady who can sense the supernatural danger, the kids who get kidnapped doing completely innocent things, the aforementioned Hail Mary character development and, worst of all, the incredibly hokey ending to the proceedings in which the Olympic torch is required to heat the Isolus' spaceship. I mean, good grief, man! The Davies era is known for some unnecessary British nationalism, but this is easily the worst it gets. And then you've got Tennant with that stupid smirk on his face lighting the torch at the opening ceremony. Beacon of hope and love, my God. Beacon of vomit, if you ask me.

There's nothing spectacular about the rest of the episode, either. The production and direction are standard and there aren't any other interesting characters; there isn't even a strong Torchwood reference, just a "storm is coming" ending tacked on at the last minute to connect to the finale. Fear Her limps to the finish line on poor plotting and execution, with only Billie Piper and a somewhat-interesting premise to keep the eyes open. This is the fourth story in Series 2 that's worse than the worst from Series 1, and, unfortunately, the show's quality tends to reside here and not at the previous level for the majority of its run. Still, as filler, I suppose it could be worse. I guess.

GRADE: C