In London in 2012, the Tenth Doctor and Rose Tyler set off to the 2012 Olympics, only to find terror in the most ordinary place.
At the time of writing, it’s been a difficult week to be a Doctor Who fan, with further information coming to light with regards to the allegations about Noel Clarke, including some that took place during the production of Doctor Who. To lift my spirits this week, I’ve got -checks notes- Fear Her to review this week. This is certainly a story with a poor and sadly deserved reputation as being one of the weakest stories in Doctor Who history, hampered by being a low-budget story, poor central guest performance and a feeling that the script could have done with another pass through by a script editor.
I’ll talk about the positives first, as there are not too many here. There are some nice moments where the story shows glimpses of potential, such as Trish and Chloe singing “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree” towards the end of the episode which is a touching moment between mother and daughter which this story lacks for most of its run time. There are some good jokes, such as the TARDIS initially landing the wrong way round, which I am amazed had never been attempted before and the ‘council axe out of a council van’ bit. Whilst the execution of the Isolus is a bit flawed, I quite like the fact that it isn’t a malicious alien, it is just trying to help somebody who is also lonely. Finally, Rose is at her most effective and impressive after the Doctor disappears, which is great in comparison to the Doctor and Rose in the rest of the episode, but we’ll come to that it in a bit.
One of the biggest problems the story has is that it has two elements with quite jarring tones: the fun romp around the 2012 London Olympics and the domestic abuse Chloe and her mother are obviously attempting to recover from. The difference in these two stories creates narrative whiplash as the story veers from one to the other. Whilst it is admirable and rather sweet that Matthew Graham wrote a story that he believed would appeal to his seven year old, it does mean that we have a rather childish story tackling some quite serious subject matter which had also been touched on earlier in the series with The Idiot’s Lantern, and while Gatiss’ story is by no means stellar, this does not have anything new to say on the subject. It does have the benefit of not rowing back on the impact and importance of abuse at the end. The idea of characters being trapped in drawings is an interesting and potentially terrifying one but the story doesn’t really do enough with it. We know that the drawings move, but there’s no real explanation as to how life works whilst the characters are trapped in the drawings or how the Doctor is able to draw the Olympic Torch. The story also ignores its own rules when the characters start reappearing from where they disappeared from and Rose mopes about the fact that the Doctor hasn’t miraculously turned up, despite not disappearing in the street. The writing seems quite unpolished in places, especially the Doctor’s nonsensical ramblings at the beginning of the episode and Trish and Chloe talking to one another in their first major scene, where dialogue feels particularly stilted and forced, and plain cheesy in other moments. Huw Edwards is a renowned news anchor, but even he cannot sell some of the absolute rubbish dialogue he has to spew about the Olympic Torch, or convey the urgency when the stadium full of people disappears due to poor dialogue. The whole Olympics element of the story doesn’t really work, especially as the two plots don’t really overlap that much and the story would not lose much from this element being cut out and we would lose that awful section at the end with the Doctor lighting the Olympic Torch, which just feels like the show trying too hard to create an iconic moment.
Admittedly, a lot of this story’s problems are down to the fact that it is clearly a low-budget story that was put into Series 2 at the last minute. Disappointingly, we are unable to see any of the Isolus’s victims actually disappear, particularly evident when the cat has to enter the box to disappear, but elsewhere done by Euros Lyn moving the camera so that the character about to vanish is out of shot. The direction feels largely bland and uninspired, borrowing horror tropes like the hand at the window, and the lack of budget feels blatant and in your face. I haven’t even mentioned the scribble monster, which ultimately just feels like a lame and throw away threat, defeated by a combination of the sonic screwdriver and an eraser. Say what you will about some Dalek or Cybermen stories, I don’t think we’ll ever see a threat dismissed quite as easily as this. Something that does frustrate me about this story is the setting of 2012 London, as there is no attempt to create a near-future vibe to sell that it is 2012. The show previously has not been afraid of making predictions of what the life will be like in the near future, even if that means getting predictions wrong. This story, aside from an early joke about a pop star on a world tour makes no attempt to convince the audience that the Doctor and Rose aren’t actually in a council estate in 2006, which is another reason why the Olympic setting makes no sense.
You know what, they keep trying to split us up, but they never ever will.
Never say never, ever.
Nah, we’ll be alright, you and me. Don’t you think? Doctor?
Something in the air. Something’s coming. A storm’s approaching…Rose Tyler and the Tenth Doctor
With David Tennant, Billie Piper and Nina Sosanya in this story, it is safe to say that there are some fantastic actors working in this production. However, by and large, none of them put in a good performance here, in no small part down to the weakness in the writing. The Doctor and Rose largely come across as smug here, especially when they are pretending to be detectives, especially when they are trying to gain entry to Trish’s house, and the two just spend the episode glancing lovingly at each other. It still frustrates me that, even having met a former companion of the Doctor in School Reunion, Rose still thinks that she is an exception to travels with the Doctor coming to an end. What is the point of the earlier episode if not to teach her that she is one in a very long line of companions? That being said, Piper is good once the Doctor disappears and actually does something rather than flirting with the Doctor, however, by the end of the story Rose has reverted to her previous behaviour. It is frustrating, especially after seeing how well written Rose is in Series One in close comparison to how much her character suffers in Series Two, playing the infatuated Rose, and I particularly hated the delivery of her line “whose going to hold his hand now?” when the Doctor doesn’t immediately return to her side. Nina Sosanya plays Trish as a rather relaxed mother, even when she suspects that there is something amiss with her daughter. There is no chemistry between her and Abisola Agbaje that make the audience believe that they are actually related, and as mentioned above, they have some of the most unnatural and stilted dialogue of all. It’s difficult to know whether Agbaje’s performance is poor or down to the script, but she does seem to be particularly wooden which doesn’t help. I don’t want to be too harsh on her, as she was a child at the time and I understand that she did not continue acting after this, but I think the writing and the directing lets her down, as it does with the rest of the cast. The decision to have the possessed Isolus voice just be Chloe talking in a harsh whisper is laughable rather than creepy, which is what I assume everyone involved in the production was going for.
Verdict: A poor story that could have done with some trimming, Fear Her is sadly one of the weakest episodes in the show’s history. If you want to watch a good episode about artwork coming to life, watch Flatline instead. 2/10
Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Nina Sosanya (Trish), Abisola Agbaje (Chloe), Edna Dore (Maeve), Tim Faraday (Tom’s Dad), Abdul Salis (Kel), Richard Nichols (Driver), Erica Eirian (Neighbour), Stephen Marzella (Police Officer) & Huw Edwards (Commentator).
Writer: Matthew Graham
Director: Euros Lyn
Behind the Scenes
- Working titles included Chloe Webber Destroys the Earth and You’re a Bad Girl, Chloe Webber.
- Originally intended for Series 3, it was moved to Series 2 when a script from Stephen Fry fell through.
- In 2012, there was a petition for David Tennant to light the Olympic Flame as part of the opening ceremony. Whilst this did not happen, Tennant’s successor (and incumbent Doctor in 2012) Matt Smith did participate in the Cardiff leg of the Olympic Torch relay.
- Nina Sosanya would go on to appear in the Big Finish audio play Aquitaine.
Tough one – but possibly Trish and Chloe singing.
You just took a council axe from a council van, and now you’re digging up a council road. I’m reporting you to the council!Kel
Previous Tenth Doctor review: Love & Monsters
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