Unusually low key episode works until the last lap.
`Fear Her` feels like it’s come from somewhere else, that it was written for another project or as a short story and somehow found its way into the 2006 version of Doctor Who for which it just seems a bit out of place. Only Matthew Graham knows if that is the case but unfortunately it has gone down in history as the dud of the season which makes it sound like it’s awful. Which it isn’t. Parts of it are quite intriguing and it has the rare distinction of being a genuine mystery that the Doctor and Rose have to solve by deduction; an aspect Graham’s script acknowledges with their jokey detective banter.
There’s something of the Sapphire and Steel about the premise, though in place of that show’s spooky old buildings we’re in the middle of a modern Close with yellow bricked houses and daylight. It’s difficult to escape the feeling that the episode would have been better set at night in older houses.
Of course watching it now means there is the unfortunate 2012 Olympics opening ceremony sub plot. Even a decade ago it seemed rather ambitious to try and mount something like this yet strangely unambitious to imagine such a generic looking ceremony. Then the real ceremony was one of the best things ever so this version now looks even worse than it did ten years ago. Shame they can’t re-release it with snippets of the skyscrapingly brilliant real ceremony in it. It is an awkward fit anyway as if someone – perhaps Matthew Graham or maybe RTD- thought the story was too small and needed to chuck in a stadium full of people to up the ante but this story really doesn’t need it.
`Fear Her` has more than enough ideas if confined to the Close itself. While skirting the plot of the film Paperhouse, the story is unusual for the series which had by now established itself as using big gestures to make small but important points. Here is something more subtle. The Isolus (or however you spell it) is lonely without its fellows so is kidnapping people through 12 year old Chloe Webber. There’s a lot of mileage here and some interesting material about family relationships and how after a seismic event people don’t talk to each other properly. The pace is slow but involving and when the pencil scribbles attack Rose you imagine you’re in for a surreal climax. They almost do it too- the sequence when Chloe and her mum cower against the locked door as the manifestation of the deceased but nasty Mr Webber threatens to become a corporeal menace is powerful but somehow the metaphorical torch is dropped as literally as the actual one.
Though intelligently devised, Matthew Graham’s plot seems to be hinting at things it can’t really develop when it comes to the absent father. He is a barely mentioned character and if I’m interpreting it correctly, it is because the Isolos is controlling Chloe that she is able to manifest her terrible memories of her father in the form of some sort of psychic force projected through her drawings. Graham does however make a refreshing alien come to life though you do wonder if the Isolus is so lovingly dependant on others would it really cause all this danger and distress?
Visually this was obviously the lets save money episode but it just goes to show what you can do with lighting, sound effects and a big fan. You don’t always need to see the monster to know it’s there. Sure rattling cupboards are a bit clichéd but they always work. The speeded up drawing is also a highly effective tool. There’s some well measured performances too; young Abisola Agbadje manages Chloe’s moods adeptly while Nina Sosanya is very good as her mother. There’s a believable cut and thrust about the neighbours too. Messrs Tennant and Piper are full of chemistry. It’s a pity that such a promising scenario is abruptly over powered by all the gimmicky Olympic stuff.
Tardisode: Is the introduction to a fictional programme called Crime Crackers in which a melodramatic presenter asks for our help in finding the missing children. It’s actually quite funny.