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Doctor Who complete reviews: Fear Her

REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO

Out of money and out of ideas, this is not the Tenth Doctor's finest hour...

Fear Her  (Doctor Who)

Public Enemy once bellowed “Don't believe the hype!” - advice that seems to fall on cloth ears in this country, especially when it comes to gaudy festivals. At the time of writing, it's the day before the much-touted wedding between Wills of Windsor and Kate Whatever Her Name Is. The hype machine has gone into meltdown, so much so, that it feels like the country's become some weird Prisoner-like world from which there is no escape from the hee-hawwing pair. Great news for jingoistic flag wavers, bad news for small businesses who are already trying to battle through a muddy economy.

As if that's not bad enough, next year offers not only the 60th anniversary of Mrs Majesty at the helm (see The Idiot's Lantern) but the Olympics. The middle of Summer will no doubt see the hype machine fuse itself into a heap of metal, since the media's ever so good at assuming that EVERYONE gives a damn about this event. And since bucketfuls of money have been poured into this folly (money which could have been spent on – ooooh, I don't know: saving a few hospitals, schools, libraries or even saving one or two people from redundancy), well, the hype machine must suppose that the entire population of the UK wants the Olympics.

Sorry, I'm in a bad mood. Watching Fear Her hasn't helped to improve the situation. Fear Her, the first Who story from Life On Mars scribe Matthew Graham, and a tale that also assumes that everyone will be filled with love and pride for the 2012 Olympic Games – a lazy concept which is even more airy fairy than the Land Of Fiction. It's also the story that proves to be the runt of this season's litter, a lightweight, pointless snooze made very obviously on the cheap. We're back – yet again – to another bloody council estate, where a lonely old tinkerbell thing has invaded the body of a whispering kid who's also cowering away from what appears to be the Sugar Puffs Honey Monster in her closet. Not only that, but the paucity of the budget means that the big hoo-haa over the Olympics equates to a couple of shivering extras in the street and an over-earnest voice-over from Huw Edwards (who presumably had a handy sick bucket at his side, given the awful dialogue). Where's the high-budget attempts at predicting the opening ceremony? Where's floppy haired dullard Boris Johnson riding into the ring on a giant animatronic head of David Cameron? Where's Brian May playing the dirge anthem thing on a flying trapeze? Where's Davros Flatley entertaining the crowds?

Fear Her  (Doctor Who)Mind you, all reality seems to be null and void, considering that Shayne Ward appears to be the pop king of Britain in 2012. Which must offer some small crumb of comfort to Joe McElderry, Leon Jackson and Olly Murs, who have presumably been grimly contemplating futures of tossing burgers in a greasy old dive. Any attempt at convincing society is notably absent from Fear Her. Instead, we get a long list of clichés. The hollering council worker. The over-protective mum. The slightly chavvy father. The worried old biddy. None of the guest actors are notably impressive, although Edna Doré does do her best with her virtually non-existent part. Abdul Salis just reprises his moaning minnie act from Love Actually, while Nina Sosanya looks vaguely upset at being saddled with such a thankless task of portraying Trish.

But spare the sympathy for poor Abisola Agbaje, who's asked to provide some form of menace as the possessed Chloe Webber. We know that she's called Chloe Webber, since she seems to say her full name every five minutes. Furthermore, she's asked to do so while sounding like Baron Greenback from Dangermouse. Child actors are always a bit tricky – even in the first Harry Potter, Emma Watson looks like a lost puppy dog in a Robert Plant wig, while Radcliffe spends the entire film looking cross eyed. And needless to say, Abisola's Chloe is not a grandstand performance by any stretch of the imagination, but it's more the fault of the awful script which requires her to hiss clichéd tripe about loneliness. Funnily enough, I thought that the possessed Chloe would have been a real hit at her school, considering she can draw pictures faster than the speed of light. Eat your heart out, Rolf. Just think of the kids paying Chloe to do their art homework and go away clutching gold stars for such great work.

"The Doctor's still on his universal mission to establish himself as the most slappable chump in the cosmos."

Fear Her  (Doctor Who) - TennantNo such luck though. Chloe just spends her time hissing and sulking for most of the episode, which isn't particularly rewarding for the viewers. The idea of a kid whisking people away into the ether through childish drawings is quite a good one – albeit rather unoriginal to those who have seen cult 1988 movie, Paperhouse. The real problem is that there's no real urgency or drama. Even though kids, cats and The Doctor disappear, there's a weary inevitability about their return. Even worse is the way in which the whole problem is resolved: The lonely Isolus (see what they did there?) came to Earth in a small pod – the pod needs a mixture of heat and emotional strength for it to fly away. Which means that Rose takes the pod to a small crowd of flag waving goons, and tells it to feel the love.

Now this is possibly the most offensive aspect of Fear Her. Never in Doctor Who, has the programme had to resort to slushy schmaltz in order to prove a point. Sure, there have been some emotional moments in tales like The Green Death , Father's Day or School Reunion , but they were genuinely moving and beautifully written. Yet for some reason, Fear Her demands that you sit with a paper bag handy in order to catch the spew. The latter part of the tale is wall-to-wall cheese, whether it's Rose imploring the Isolus to feel the love, Trish and Chloe warding off the Honey Monster with a salvo of Kookaburra Love, or commentator Huw Edwards proclaiming that the Olympic Torch is a beacon of hope and love. Or maybe it's just a bunch of wood with a flamey thing coming out of its peak.

But hey, guess who's carrying the torch? Well, it could only be The Doctor, who's still on his universal mission to establish himself as the most slappable chump in the cosmos. So prior to this, he'd been temporarily erased from existence by Chloe Isolus. When the other cartoons are restored to humanity, the various people go and hug their loved ones. The Doctor, meanwhile, decides to leave Rose waiting and wondering, while taking it upon himself to be the final torch bearer. And of course, doing so in the most smug, annoying, whooping and hollering fashion possible. What if Rose hadn't been watching the TV? She'd have been curled up in a Union Jack flag in a sobbing ball.

"The scripts in David Tennant's first season are all trying to steer him in the wrong direction"

Fear Her  (Doctor Who) - 2012Mind you, the Tenth Doctor's still been hugely irritating throughout Fear Her, which seems to be par for the course this season. It's strange, I've noticed in the past how various other Doctor actors practically hit the ground running. Tom Baker was The Doctor from the moment he pondered on spinning mice. Jon Pertwee was the suave man of action once he'd escaped from his hospital bed and wondering where his shoes were. Even Christopher Eccleston made a great first impression. But poor old David Tennant isn't really given that right, since the scripts in his first season are all trying to steer him in the wrong direction. He seems to be constantly fighting a battle against terrible, overwrought dialogue and this hyperactive manchild character. So in Fear Her, we get the silly “Fingers on lips!” scene, the aforementioned torch gurning and of course, the bad John Thaw impersonation. Now I'm all for people bellowing “LEWIS!!”, as long as it's done well – bit like people who can impersonate Jimmy Savile well. But The Doctor clearly can't do impressions to save his life. Perhaps he should pay a visit to Jon Culshaw when he's got a free moment in his 500 Year Diary?

Actually, despite all these thorns in the side, there are some notably good moments for the Tenth Doctor. The bit when he sticks his fingers in the jar of jam is a typically alien moment. He's quietly authoritative when trying to suss out the motivations of the Isolus. And there's a welcome return to that old Doctor-y wisdom when he's quietly reasoning with Rose about how everyone needs a hand to hold in the TARDIS. See, when the production team give The Doctor a chance, Tennant deservedly gets his moments of glory. And as I've said before, they'll largely tone down the silliness and goofing around from the next season, leaving Tennant to really make his mark on the part.

Other than that, there's very little to commend in this story. The production values aren't exactly stellar, and even director Euros Lyn is struggling to breathe some sort of life into the lightweight script. I'm thinking that he was probably confused at having to direct two very similar types of story in the same production block. Both this story and The Idiot's Lantern are pretty much peas in an Isolus pod. Both concern big, patriotic events with flag-waving hordes. Both concern a killjoy alien trying to hijack the event for their own selfish needs. Both stories feature the masses being sucked into the ether by the angry alien. Little wonder that Lyn's direction is largely undistinguished this time around – also ponder on the fact that Lyn had to film this in the freezing winter months of January and February. You can see the freezing breaths escaping the extras' mouths at times.

I do like the ending though. Just when you think that the story's going to end on a happy clappy note, The Doctor ominously notes that “A storm's coming”. At which point, the spooky “Oo-wee-oo” Rose theme kicks into gear over a shot of exploding fireworks in the sky. See, that's great drama in a nutshell – spooky predictions and long, solemn faces (leading to the impressive teaser for the big season finale).

But it's too little, too late. Fear Her is a dull plod that relies on syrupy sentimentality rather than good ideas and well thought out drama. It's devoid of good ideas, good characters or even a tangible menace. In fact, not only do we hear the sound of the Honey Monster (which is actually supposed to represent Chloe's nasty father), but for some reason I'm always reminded of that bizarre Frosties advert whenever I watch Fear Her – you know, the one with that over-excited kid who skips around singing that the cereal's gonna taste great (while introducing the novel concept of eating a cereal from a plate rather than a bowl). It's that same sense of over-wacky cheesiness that permeates Fear Her like a rancid smell of off milk. With its gooey schmaltz and ultimate boredom, I guess that Fear Her does sum up the prospect of the forthcoming Olympic Games quite well. It's just a shame that that's all it does.

 

John Bensalhia limbered up for this mammoth task with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work here.

Check out John's previous Doctor Who review, Love And Monsters

Read more Doctor Who articles at Shadowlocked


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