She Carried the Evil Inside Her (Fear Her)

(84 comments)

Suck it, Redgrave

It’s June 24th, 2006. Nelly Furtado is at number one with “Maneater.” Shakira and Wyclef Jean, Bon Jovi, and Pink are also in the charts. In news, ummm… the United States celebrates Go Skateboarding Day. This is a real thing. I just looked it up. It’s a boring week, yes. England earn a 2-2 draw against Sweden in their last and largely irrelevant group game, setting them up for a clash with Ecuador the day after this story airs.

This story, of course, is Fear Her, the consensus worst story of the Russell T Davies era (and, I suspect, worst story of the new series were a thorough poll to be run today - I can’t think of any Moffat stories with enough sheer volume of hatred to overcome it). As ever, I don’t find the issue of why it’s bad supremely interesting. The short form is that the story was rushed and misconceived. Stephen Fry’s planned script for the second season had to be abandoned late in the process, so they grabbed Matthew Graham’s planned Series Three script off the reserve pile and put it into production quickly. Graham, for his part, appears to have had a crappy brief - he was told to do Yeti-on-the-loo style local terror with a target audience of seven-year-olds. To say that this is an awkward combination is an understatement, and virtually everything that’s wrong with the story can be traced to the basic inability to decide whether it’s a scary story or a naff cheap one for the kids, and the fact that these are a particularly bad pair of stools to fall between.

But two specific aspects of this tension are worth remarking upon. The first is Murray Gold, or, more accurately, his music. It’s become the populist choice to criticize Murray Gold’s Doctor Who scores in general. I’m not entirely sympathetic to this line of argument, but it’s not incoherent wibbling spat into the void either. Those that dislike Gold’s music usually point to two related problems. The first is that they are simply mixed too loud and too omnipresently. This is probably true, but not actually Murray Gold’s department, as he doesn’t do the final sound mixes for episodes. Still, Gold’s music is particularly prone to becoming overpowering because of the other complaint usually leveled against it, which is that it’s heavy-handed. This is also not inaccurate - Gold’s music exists largely to inform the audience how they should be feeling, and it is usually a bit unrelenting in the pursuit of that. This means that when it’s put a bit high in the mix the effect is more overwhelming even than the usual tendency towards volume over all else within sound mixing these days.

As I said, in the general case, at least, I am hard pressed to find much to complain about in Golds’s music. It’s blatant, but this is not necessarily a vice. One of the things that characterizes the new series is its relentlessly fast pace. This pace is accomplished through narrative shorthand - establishing details of characters and situations in a comparatively sketchy fashion and trusting the audience to fill in the details. Murray Gold’s music is tremendously helpful in accomplishing that, because it provides an extremely efficient means of communicating emotional tone to the audience. A few notes of Flavia’s Theme is sufficient to communicate “this is a spooky and mysterious bit.” The chirpy lilt of Clara’s theme is sufficient to cut through any amount of epic bombast and immediately communicate “and now the perfectly ordinary human is taking charge of things for a bit.” The insistent bass and piano hits at the start of “Doomsday” (the music piece, not the episode) immediately say “we’re building up towards something now.” All of this is accomplished in seconds, and without a moment of dialogue. It’s an invaluable tool to increase the density of the music, and more to the point it’s a solid use of the full scope of television as a medium. The music is often relied upon to communicate vital pieces of information. And since Gold combines that with a reasonable ear for a catchy tune (there’s not a fan alive who can’t hum “I Am The Doctor,” even if they don’t know that that’s the official name of the Eleventh Doctor’s hero theme).

Nevertheless, when it comes to Fear Her we get a bracing demonstration of how it can go all wrong for Murray Gold. His brief was clearly the same as Matthew Graham’s, namely “kids episode,” and so he covers the episode with a sort of plinky music that screams “television adaptation of The Famous Five” and not “otherworldly horror consuming a neighborhood.” And this ends up smothering the episode in its grave, keeping it from ever getting any dramatic tension. The music is working against it at every turn, saying “this is not actually a big deal at all” about every aspect of the drama. This makes the entire episode feel disposable and silly in a way it doesn’t have to. It’s the musical equivalent of that moment in Coupling where Jane declares that being a children’s presenter is easy because “you just have to waggle your head a lot and shout.” It’s making children’s television that doesn’t actually have any respect for children as an audience, and it’s painful to watch.

This brings us to the second odd moment of tension within Fear Her, which is the moment when the entire population of the Olympic Stadium vanishes into thin air, to the only minimal alarm of the television announcers, who blithely go back to covering the torch relay, and who later seem more upset when the torchbearer keels over than they were when, you know, tens of thousands of people vanished into thin air. (Notably, the torchbearer being struck by lightning was not seen as something worth investigating.) Now, I carefully cultivate a reputation for being just about the most permissive person imaginable when it comes to plot holes. On Monday I’m going to side firmly against the idea that the resolution of Doomsday is even remotely out of nowhere. But even I’m forced to admit that the Olympics coverage going on in the background of Fear Her is spectacularly crap.

Why, though? What is it about this particular bit of narrative contrivance that becomes infuriating where others get away with it? You can, at least, see how the series thinks it’s getting away with it. The usual way you paper over a plot hole is by making sure the audience’s attention is somewhere else. So the Olympics stuff is supposed to work because the audience is really paying attention to the drama around Chloe, and if the story is working shouldn’t be thinking about the imaginary Olympics going on. And while the problem might just be that nothing else in the episode is sufficiently compelling to distract from the plot holes, that’s unfair. I can honestly admit the ludicrousness of the Olympics coverage did not jump out at me on a first viewing - the cheesiness of it, sure, but not the fact that they just calmly go back to covering the torch relay after everyone in the stadium vanishes.

On top of that, the story has at least a bit of a built-in hedge, since it firmly establishes that it’s working according to purely symbolic logic. We’ll call this the redemptive reading of the story’s other massive headscratcher of a scene, when the Doctor erases the scribble monster by just touching it with an eraser. This is not, to be clear, a case of getting a bit of reasonably complex science surrounding black holes wrong. This is getting how pencil erasers work wrong. The belief that erasers just casually wipe out material like they do in Photoshop is not some complicated matter that will go over the audience’s head. Everybody knows full well that erasers simply do not work that way. But, of course, this is not how the story is put together. The scribble monster is a child’s drawing. Its relationship with the physical medium of pencil-drawing isn’t based around literal embodiment, but around symbolism. And that’s how everything in the story works, the Olympics included. This is not inherently a problem - if you decide that this is the logic you’re using for a given story, you can in fact get away with it. In which case the fact that the Olympics commenters are just calmly spitting out plot information instead of providing a quasi-realistic portrayal of how the Olympics might reasonably be expected to go is not necessarily a problem. This is the usual way you get around plot holes, after all - by having the hole be in a part of the story that isn’t really the point. Not to get too far ahead of myself, but this is why Doomsday gets away with it - because the resolution isn’t really about how the Doctor gets rid of the Cybermen and the Daleks, but about the fact that he loses Rose doing it.

But more broadly, what works about Doomsday is that the resolution feels like it makes sense within the thematic content of the episode. We’ll discuss that in detail on Monday, but for now let’s note that the real problem with the sloppy plotting of the Olympics broadcast is that it’s there in the first place. I’ll save my curmudgeonly horror at the nature of the Olympics for some later post, but surely it’s non-controversial to point out that they add nothing whatsoever to this story. In fact, they undermine it - the decision to have the ending be the Doctor lighting the Olympic torch moves the plot away from the day-to-day lives of the people on the street and towards the grand national narrative. The ending’s an active refutation of the best bit of The Idiot’s Lantern - the Doctor’s declaration that real history is the street party and not what’s going on on television. Here the restoration of everybody on the street is irrelevant - it’s only the restoration of the Doctor that matters to the ending, and life on a perfectly ordinary street just unfolds silently and without comment in the background. Within the context of Fear Her, this is inexcusable. Fear Her spends its entire runtime trying to be everyday suburban horror, then bombastically sells it out in favor of being about how wonderful the Olympics are going to be.

And that’s why the Olympics announcements are so awful. Because it compounds this error by suggesting that even the apparent death of tens of thousands of people is less important than the image of love and athleticism represented by the Olympic flame, which is just sociopathic. Actually, you could just about rework this episode into something sane if you decided that it was supposed to be about the way in which the Olympics are used as an excuse to completely steamroll ordinary life in favor of a master narrative, but you’d need an ending that isn’t about wallowing in that. Instead we have an element of the story that doesn’t really fit, and whose internal logic is flawed in the exact same way its inclusion in the story is flawed. And that’s not a plot hole you can just swerve around. That’s a plot hole that gets at the heart of what’s wrong with the episode, not one that can be dismissed as “not really the point.”

Beyond that, what is there to say, really? That Russell T Davies’s admirable commitment to racially diverse casting leads him ever so slightly astray when he decides the black family should also be the one with the physically abusive father? That the entire episode might have worked better if the cliffhanger into the credits wasn’t more “Take on Me” than horror? This is, at the end of the day, a story that just doesn’t work. Its fatal decision came too early on, in the decision to do scary television while pandering to seven-year-olds at the same time. There’s more to say about the relationship between the series and children’s television, yes, but since I’ve got a post on Totally Doctor Who planned for next Friday this isn’t even the time for that. Elsewhere in the season weak episodes have at least been weak in interesting ways. This time the episode is weak because it was a rush job that got slapped together without thinking about it. The Russell T Davies era finally has its equivalent of The Dominators, The Monster of Peladon, The Android Invasion, or Warriors of the Deep: a story that sucks because nobody put any effort into making it do otherwise.

Oh well.

Comments

Scott 3 years, 10 months ago

To be entirely honest, I can if not forgive then not get too annoyed by the inane commentary of the sports commentators, for the simple reason that I can kind of imagine that if it were up to certain sports commentators to narrate this kind of earth-shattering event then they probably WOULD just end up resorting to inane cliches about the power of the human spirit and would still be more interested in wittering on about sport than in actually talking about the crisis in hand.

But then, I'm maybe one of two people who actually didn't actively hate "Fear Her", so.

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Chicanery 3 years, 10 months ago

You really didn't want to write this one up, did you? Fair enough, it is transcendentally terrible.

The best bit about it is that it reminds me of the first sketch of The Armando Iannucci Shows, the children's drawing of a house becoming a believably real house. Until it becomes obvious that it's made of payyy per.

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 10 months ago

I really rather liked this one, though I can't sensibly disagree with anything said here. Maybe my unbounded loathing of "Love and Monsters" just let me coast over this one, and perhaps I was too busy laughing at how ridiculous Tenant's running with the torch was to figure out how problematic it was in the episode's larger context.

Oh, and I can't hum "I Am The Doctor". Whether you like it or not.

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elvwood 3 years, 10 months ago

I'm the other one. And so is my daughter.

I loved the TARDIS arrival scene, and was on the story's side from that moment. Rose wasn't as annoying as she had been in a similar situation during The Idiot's Lantern, the children disappearing into drawings worked for me, and the style of SFX used for the animations was just right.

For the second episode in a row the ending let it down badly - I did hate the cheese of the Olympics bit, though the commentary just seemed normal for sports commentators - but here the rest of the story wasn't blighted by the end. It felt a big step up at the time.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 10 months ago

YANA.

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Chris 3 years, 10 months ago

We never see, only hear, the commentators, so two ridiculous rationales can be grabbed onto:

a) they are being controlled by The Master

b) they are aliens who feed on our emotions of pride and good will, and need to keep morale up otherwise they will die

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storiteller 3 years, 10 months ago

I don't mind this one nearly so much to hate it, but I also recognize that it's not very good. I had a fondness for it at first, because the plot reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode or Ray Bradbury short story - recognizing the potential darkness of children's inner lives and wondering what would happen if it was given real power. I even liked the fact that the alien was a child - it fit nicely with that theme and added the idea of childhood and its fears being universal. But the Olympic bit just came off like product placement for the BBC's Olympic coverage, rather like whatever American network hosts the Olympics trying to shoehorn it into their comedies.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 10 months ago

Not you too, Bob!

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David Kalat 3 years, 10 months ago

To complain that the Olympic commentators didn't freak out when everyone disappeared presupposes they recognized that completely unprecedented event as an alien attack, instead of the wholly precedented kind of stunt or special effect that accompany Olympic opening ceremonies. The real commentators in 2012 didn't lose their minds worrying about whether the Queen was going to plummet to her death out of that helicopter, because it was understood not to be real.

If anything it seems more realistic to me that the guys in the soundbooth who are paid to utter banalties while outlandish spectacle is served up in the stadium would not be too upset over an almost incomprehensible novelty, but would get upset over the familiarity of when the torch carrier stumbles.

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Nicholas Tosoni 3 years, 10 months ago

Right--it's taken them a few minutes to fully process the disappearance of the whole stadium. Heck, they were probably waiting for David Copperfield to show up and reveal that it was all a trick!


As for "the Doctor lights the Olympic torch," there are two things I think of: 1--the Isolus spaceship is inside the torch, and 2--the Doctor's just saying "what the hell?" and having some fun.

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David Thiel 3 years, 10 months ago

The two things that I liked about this episode: the scribble monster and, controversially, the Doctor as torchbearer. The latter was just such a supremely cheeky moment that I couldn't help but laugh. And besides, the rest was so dull that it was a relief to be engaged by something.

Yes, Murray Gold's music threatens to drown out the dialogue, but as you say, that's not his doing. Overbearing sound mixes are endemic to British TV programming (and a fair amount of American stuff as well). I cannot even estimate how many times over the years I've had to respond to complaints from viewers about too-loud music beds, and these days I find myself turning on the captioning while watching nuWho.

I enjoy Gold's music because it invokes a feeling. Old-school "Who" music was okay at setting a mood, but it's not very listenable on its own, and it rarely makes me recall the specific moment from the episode in question. Gold's music is itself memorable, and listening to one of the CDs, I find myself right back in the story. (I could listen to the "Runaway Bride" track on an endless loop, I love that scene so much.)

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Andre Salles 3 years, 10 months ago

I suppose, except the commentators for the real Olympics are fully briefed on any stunt or special effect, so they can effectively cover it. The event in Fear Her, not being a stunt or a special effect, would take them all by surprise. At the very least, they would be scrambling behind the scenes to see if they missed some major part of the ceremony. Just because these things take the viewing audience at home by surprise doesn't mean everyone involved with the creation and broadcast of them doesn't know they're coming.

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othemts 3 years, 10 months ago

I got a Twilight Zone vibe from the story as well, in fact one very derivative of "It's a Good Life." Still, it was reasonably creepy and I liked the concept of tiny aliens that travel in massive groups. There's also a great comic beat with Rose and the council worker. Overall, it's a pretty run of the mill episode and the conclusion doesn't fulfill it's promise. But on the other hand I don't see it as the worst episode, nor understand why it engenders so much hate.

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Daibhid C 3 years, 10 months ago

"virtually everything that’s wrong with the story can be traced to the basic inability to decide whether it’s a scary story or a naff cheap one for the kids, and the fact that these are a particularly bad pair of stools to fall between."

And, as you allude to later, that "for the kids" shouldn't mean "naff cheap one" in the first place.

That's my problem with Fear Her, and one I find really hard putting into words. When I first saw it I honestly wasn't sure what to make of it; on the one hand I thought it was a bit to silly, on the other I thought "I don't complain about Doctor Who episodes being silly! I *hate* people who complain about Doctor Who episodes being silly, and quote the 'There's no point being grown up' line at them!" So, you know. Conflicted.

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Chris Andersen 3 years, 10 months ago

I was just wondering yesterday if you would ever do a column on the role music plays in the new series vs. the old. I was listening to "I am The Doctor" and was thinking how cinematic the music of Doctor Who is compared to the old series. The music adds to the epic feel of some episodes, but it could also be a crutch that tries to elevate source material that is really just crap.

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Daibhid C 3 years, 10 months ago

I guess it's the same gag as the Radio 4 LW cricket commentators in Life, The Universe and Anything, who react to two men materialising on a sofa, and the pitch then being attacked by alien robots, in pretty much the same way as they would to rain stopping play.

Only that worked and this didn't, possibly because it wasn't played as much for comedy.

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elvwood 3 years, 10 months ago

In general I think Murray Gold's music is excellent, though sometimes it feels like the writing leans on it too much. And yes, sometimes it's way too loud (can't remember if this is true for Fear Her so I'll have to take your word for it), but as you say that's not down to him. I would also prefer the music to be less ubiquitous - we don't need a soundtrack for everything!

I find the modern pace a bit much, but Gold's music generally helps me keep up. And yes, I can happily listen to it separate from the program (we have one of the soundtrack albums, would be happy to have more.)

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Anton B 3 years, 10 months ago

In fact the whole sequence of James Bond at the Palace up to and including the Queen's helicopter 'sky dive' was kept a total secret from all the commentators, crowd and athletes until it happened as was the exact nature of the opening ceremony with the Olympic torches lighting the eternal flame in the cauldron which constructed itself from seperate metal petals. This was the first time that this was achieved by multiple torches and brings me to the most jarring, for me, aspect of the attempt to have the tenth Doctor invade the narrative of the Olympics. Quite apart from the secrecy surrounding Danny Boyle's London Olympics opening ceremony the fact that the event was six years in the future meant there was no way the production team could know what it would look like and would almost inevitably get it wrong. Even given that it was unlikely the Doctor or even David Tennant for that matter would carry the final torch one has to ask what was the point of setting up a guaranteed-to-be-wrong prediction of the future?

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John Voorhees 3 years, 10 months ago

Well, it goes like this:

Ba BA ba BA ba BA ba ba
BA ba BA ba BA ba ba ba
Ba BA ba BA ba BA ba ba
BA ba BA ba BA ba ba ba ...

And so on.

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 10 months ago

Surely that's a sheep impersonating Jeremy Paxman.

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Ross 3 years, 10 months ago

I am entirely sympathetic to complaints about the sound mixing. There were places, this season especially, where I sometimes found it hard to make out the dialogue over the Murray Gold.

But most of the complaints about Gold's work I've heard tend toward the "Rar! Change Bad!" side, insisting that it's cheating to use music to enhance the drama, and that anything vaguely orchestral is "generic and americanized", while "proper" sci-fi incidental music should be all 80s synthesizers and theramins, because that is what science fiction sounds like.

(I like the Derbyshire arrangement of the theme music plenty, but I don't really get the claims that it is some kind of platonic ideal for how the theme music to a science fiction serial should sound)

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Ross 3 years, 10 months ago

@Anton: Yeah, and I'm pretty sure an alien spaceship didn't crash into Big Ben in 2006 too.

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Ross 3 years, 10 months ago

The music adds to the epic feel of some episodes,

I submit that there is no sequence of words in the english language that would not sound epic if you had David Hayter say them while 'I Am The Doctor' plays in the background.

(Tangentially, there's this one piece of music from the David Tennant era that I really like, but I can;'t find it on the soundtrack, and can never remember what episode it's in. It's got this really intensly Spaghetti Western vibe, and I wish I even had the music language to describe it, because it drives me nuts that I can't find it on the soundtrack.)

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Alan 3 years, 10 months ago

I just think it's funny that the end of "Fear Her" is one of the few things from NuWho that the production staff has gone to the trouble of overtly retconning out of existence, with a script written by school children no less. The "Good As Gold" webisode features Eleven and Amy rescuing the Olympic torchbearer (who is plainly not Ten) from a Weeping Angel as the non-disappeared crowds at the Olympic stadium cheer in the background. And that webisode -- written by school children -- is not remotely as full of treacly Narm as the end of "Fear Her," which I have just watched again and which is as cringe-inducing as it was the first time.

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Alan 3 years, 10 months ago

Also, just for my edification: Is "I Am The Doctor" the bit from the end of Eleventh Hour that is in 7/4 time?

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 10 months ago

I will not lie: I hate this episode. I would rather watch Time Flight. After the brilliance that was Love and Monsters this was baffling. I am not sorry. I will not watch it again willingly. That being said, the young children of friends that I have managed to get into Who seem to enjoy it, so I will happily play it for them.

Now that being said, I must admit I am kind of surprised by this entry. I was half expecting some sort of transcendent redemptive reading that made it all make sense and turn my loathing into some sort of post modern admiration. I was expecting some sort of Three Doctors-esque madness that would take me an hour to decode.

Any day there is new content on this blog is a good one. My work week is a lot better now I have entries here for all 5 mornings. This just wasn't what I expected.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 10 months ago

I hear Brian Blessed impersonating a Sheep! Where is he?!

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James V 3 years, 10 months ago

Personally, I find the single most hilariously inept moment of the episode to be the very end, when, in order to foreshadow next week, the Doctor, after forty-five minutes of Olympic cheese and crayon monsters, stops in the street, stares up at the sky making a worried face and says the single most generic "ominous" phrase in existence: "There's a storm coming..."

That part has always made me burst out laughing because...What? It comes completely out of nowhere, and is just lazily tacked on. When you consider that in the following two seasons, entire Episode 11s would be given over to setting up the finale, and they'd be some of the best episodes of the series (Turn Left, Utopia), this seems spectacularly amateurish. "There's a storm coming..." Really.

In other news, this episode provided for one of the best examples of the schizophrenic nature of fandom. Everybody hated this episode. Everybody agreed it was crap and that the Olympic torch sequence was arguably the most crap part of it. And yet, for six years, everybody crawled over themselves to insist that David Tennant had to carry the Olympic torch, because it had happened in "Fear Her." Fandom just NEEDED to have its "canon" officially vindicated, even when it was crap and they all knew it was. As the social networks would say, "I just can't even."

(Oh and of course, the best part is that in the end, the Doctor did get to carry the torch. And it was Matt Smith. Regardless of what you think of the spectacle of the Olympics, that's so poetic in its simultaneous indulgence of and "screw you" to the insane fan contingent that it's almost Holmesian.)

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Ed Jolley 3 years, 10 months ago

Or the cricket commentators from the eighth episode of The Daleks' Master Plan, whose primary concern about the TARDIS materialising on the pitch is that play will be interrupted while the Police Telephone Box is removed.

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Daru 3 years, 10 months ago

The parts of this episode I really enjoyed and found engaging were the small-scale suburban parts - especially for some reason the bits inside folks houses.
Who does not usually go there and they could have gone the whole hog with that and just left out all of the Olympics and have it only on TV but really in the background - and why not exaggerate the inanity of commentators then?

Anyways, I enjoyed the small character pieces - and it reminds me now of RTD's mooted but dropped idea of placing Tennant's finale on a small spaceship with just a family there or something (mentioned in the Writer's Tale extra chapter I think?)

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Anton B 3 years, 10 months ago

@Ross: So it never happened because of Amy's crack and the Big Bang Bang rebooted universe then? No that's to view it far too diagetically. The saucer crashing into Big Ben works because - 1. It looks awesome. I'm sorry but an alien space craft crashing through a London landmark into the Thames is far more exciting to look at than David Tennant running in his flappy coat. 2. It's happening in the 'present time' We don't have six years to anticipate it and groan every time some other detail of the Olympics build-up negates it. (believe me I know quite a few people who were convinced that the BBC would arrange for Tennant to be the final torch bearer right up till the night) 3. It doesn't give us time to process it, it's all part of the frenetic pacing of 'Aliens of London' while the torch run is just an odd bum note of an anti-climax at the end of a problematically uneven story.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 10 months ago

No, its just the platonic ideal of what the theme to THIS sci fi serial should sound like.

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jane 3 years, 10 months ago

Yes! Very tricky to play on the piano.

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jane 3 years, 10 months ago

Prometheus stole fire from the Olympian gods, carrying it away in a giant fennel stalk -- a torch. Fire is one of our most ancient symbols, standing in for Spirit -- which is where we get our hope, courage and love.

In the modern Olympics, the fire is relayed from the point of origin -- at a site in Olympia, Greece, where Hera's temple used to to stand -- all the way to the site where the games will be held. Man steals fire from the gods, taking it by torch from the World Navel to the Ordinary World. In the final alchemical act, the Torch (a male symbol) unites with a cauldron (a female symbol) to bring the metaphor full circle.

Naturally, Doctor Who has to invert the story somewhat. Rather than man stealing fire from the gods, a trickster god steals fire from men, in order to make sure the Divine Spark (the Isolus) can ascend to the heavens.

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Ross 3 years, 10 months ago

It's happening in the 'present time'

No. It's not. That's why I picked it. It's explicitly happening a year in the future.

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jane 3 years, 10 months ago

One thing this story gets absolutely right is the monsters.

Rose, who was hiding in another cupboard a short while before, finds the Monster in the Wardrobe. And this is kind of where it all comes together, not just for the episode, but for the whole kitten caboodle. The monster is formed through childhood trauma. For Chloe, it's an abusive dad, but that's just one particular. There are all kinds of trauma to childhood, and they get locked away in the subconscious mind -- stuck in the cupboard, in other words.

When Chloe and her mum ward off the closet monster at the end, Rose is stuck on the other side of the door. This makes dramatic sense -- because Rose has been "monstered" by juxtaposition; she's the one who was hiding in the cupboard. So there are two sides, the angel and the beast, you can't have one without the other, and it makes for some proper foreshadowing of the finale. Yes, Rose is a Monster.

Now, something else about that final scene. Chloe's dad is dead. So is Rose's father. So not only does the episode foreshadow Rose leaving the series, it does it in a way that brings her back to her original childhood trauma, which is the loss of her father. Chloe and Trish confront the Father at the end, and this mirrors what will happen with Rose and Jackie, who will finally have to deal with Pete.

Daddy Issues

So, backing up, there's a bit in the TARDIS where the Doctor's jerryrigging some kind of technological steampunk ball, and he and Rose are talking about the Isolus. Rose is very negative about it, pointing out how it's caused a lot of suffering, how it's misbehaving, throwing temper tantrum -- kids need to learn they can't always have it their own way. The Doctor takes the other side, how it's lonely, and how he can sympathize, even while noting they can be "little terrors." And then he drops a bombshell: He was a dad, once.

Rose has Daddy Issues, and now it becomes clear that the Doctor is, in some way, a surrogate father for her. And yes, this has a very nasty entailment given the romantic subtext of their relationship, but then, this is an episode about childhood trauma. Not to say that the Doctor is a molester, not even to say that Pete molested Rose, but rather that the Doctor (and in a sense, the show of Doctor Who) is something that can drop out of the sky to heal that kind of trauma.

Think about Love and Monsters. Elton's childhood trauma is the death of his mother. It's something he "forgets," something that gets stuck in his subconsciousness. And that trauma is coincident with his very first encounter with The Doctor. All which is to say, Doctor Who has adopted a very Jungian take on monsters, the "interior" perspective in contrast to allegorical monsters, like Daleks standing in for Nazis.

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jane 3 years, 10 months ago

(cont.)

Scribbles

The first monster Rose encounters is also hidden behind a door -- the Scribble Monster. She says, "Maybe it was a mistake... I mean, you scribble over something when you wanna get rid of it. Like a... like a drawing. Like a... a child's drawing."

So the thing about childhood trauma is that it is like a wound to the soul. It's the Original Flaw, or better yet an Untempered Schism, a rupture, a rift. When Chloe scribbles it out, she's very angry -- this is primal anger, borne of the frustration of being rendered powerless, which is a key component of abusive situations.

You scribble something over because you want to get rid of it -- or you stick it in the cupboard. But that doesn't get rid of anything. It just covers it up, making it unseen. All this does is make it more powerful. Trish only makes it worse. She wants to put the father behind them, refuses to talk about him -- Chloe learned to put dad in the cupboard from her mom, and what that does is to increase her sense of being alone.

This makes her ripe for the Lost Isolus -- a name that sounds an awful lot like Isolated. But look at this monster -- it doesn't look like a monster at all. It's a floating white flower (designed with Invasion of the Body Snatchers in mind) but it's really like an Angel, an angel who not only whispers of friendship to Chloe Webber (Webber -- someone who makes webs, who makes connections, and Chloe, from the ancient Greek for "young green shoot") but can actually make it happen, albeit monstrously.

She makes it happen by drawing people out of existence, and into the imagination.

Narrative Shenanigans

Now for some meta-meta, since the Doctor gets monstered into one of Chloe's drawings.

Chloe Isolus has the power to draw someone out of the real world and put them into her art. This is a narrative power. The monster has the power to transform not just the real world, but the world of Television, and turn it into a different kind of picture.

The thing about the Doctor is that he also shares this power. Earlier, we saw one of the children Chloe caught in her web, who was feeling so alone that Chloe drew in a cat to keep him company. The boy didn't have the power to do that on his own. The Doctor, on the other hand, does have this power. Chloe didn't draw the Torch, the Doctor did -- by sympathizing with the monster, he partakes of its power. He reasserts control of his own narrative.

So, getting back to Rose. When the Doctor gets trapped in the drawing, she ends up having to take on the Doctor role. To be the Doctor is to be an Angel and a Beast at the same time -- hence her ending up in a cupboard, or smashing down a door with a pickaxe (evoking The Shining), yet also helping Chloe and Trish to finally face the monster of the father not through fighting or violence, but through a Song -- and they do so while holding hands, which is what the Doctor and Rose are always doing.

The next, logical entailment of the Doctoring of Rose is that she take control of her own narrative. This is exactly what we get, not just in the next episode, but right at the end of this one, when Rose becomes the voice-over Narrator for the preview trailer.

No wonder the story leading into Fear Her had to be Love and Monsters, which is all about meta, and all about becoming our own narrators. Telling our stories, then, is the key to healing the wounds of childhood. Which is what this episode points out is one of the reasons why the current incarnation of Doctor Who even exists.

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encyclops 3 years, 10 months ago

If I recall correctly, the first time I saw this episode a good chunk of the scenes involving the Olympics were truncated, because my friend's VCR (I know!) had screwed up. That might help account for why I don't hate it.

But I don't like it very much either, and can't really disagree that it's a low point. I can't think of too many episodes I like less, though "Daleks In Manhattan/Devolution of the Daleks" is down there, along with "Idiot's Lantern" and "A Town Called Mercy," and quite honestly probably "The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People" too. If you strapped me to a chair and asked me to choose one of those to watch right now, I'd really have to spend a lot of time thinking it over.

I actually think the raw elements of "Fear Her" are at least interesting. I like the "Survival"-esque feel of the suburban setting, the relationship between the mother and the daughter, the legitimately horrifying abusive-father-monster, the trapped-in-drawings threat, even the concept of the Isolus -- I think it was Jane who said a few entries ago that it's the execution that's flawed more than the concept. I'd agree it's the Olympic bits more than anything that leave me cold. I'd honestly prefer this to base-under-siege nostalgia any day. Been there, done that.

Murray Gold's music, though...I don't remember it being particularly bad here but I don't remember it being particularly good in most episodes, so yeah. It's the times: its overbearing ubiquity seems inspired by the Harry Potter films, where the music is even more irritating. I will say I don't hate all of it, though; I agree it's well done in "Doomsday" and I really like Clara's theme a lot. "I Am the Doctor," though...ugh.

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Mark Johnson 3 years, 10 months ago

Ross, I think you are talking about the Doomsday theme. A lot of acoustic guitar at the beginning and some electric toward the end.

Not sure if we are allowed to post YouTube links here, but a Google on "Doctor Who Murray Gold Original Television Soundtrack: Doomsday" will probably get you to the piece I am thinking of.

http://youtu.be/kq-DhjidQxk

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BerserkRL 3 years, 10 months ago

The real commentators in 2012 didn't lose their minds worrying about whether the Queen was going to plummet to her death out of that helicopter, because it was understood not to be real.

Not real? Are you suggesting that Her Majesty would deceive her subjects? Well, that makes me glad I live in a democracy where I can trust my government not to deceive me.

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Scott 3 years, 10 months ago

Do you remember what episode / scene it appears in?

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BerserkRL 3 years, 10 months ago

I love Murray Gold. But I'm personally glad that the 2013 iteration of the opening theme has added a touch of Derbyshire back in.

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Scott 3 years, 10 months ago

"one has to ask what was the point of setting up a guaranteed-to-be-wrong prediction of the future?"

"We don't have six years to anticipate it and groan every time some other detail of the Olympics build-up negates it."

One could ask / say this of any work that is set in the relatively distant future, though, since almost all predictions of the future are guaranteed to be wrong in one way, shape or form, and the further out they're set, the more unexpected details arrive to negate it. Mondas didn't show up in 1986 either, but despite having twenty years of anticipation and negation I don't recall much groaning about that.

Basically, it was a Doctor-as-hero moment. That's all. Not necessarily the best or most successful, I'll grant you, but I'm not sure they really need any more reason than that. Particularly since outside of the credulous, those who maybe need a bit of a reality check or those going "wouldn't it be kind of cool it...?" I'm not sure anyone watching "Fear Her" was seriously expecting that a fictional Time Lord or the actor who played him would show up to light the torch on July 27 2012 any more than the people watching "The Tenth Planet" way back in 1966 would have believed that cybernetic invaders from a duplicate Earth would show up in 1986.

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Scott 3 years, 10 months ago

Personally, I find the single most hilariously inept moment of the episode to be the very end, when, in order to foreshadow next week, the Doctor, after forty-five minutes of Olympic cheese and crayon monsters, stops in the street, stares up at the sky making a worried face and says the single most generic "ominous" phrase in existence: "There's a storm coming..."

Particularly since the 'storm' in question happened about four-six years previously. Technically he should be ominously intoning "There's been a storm..."

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Scott 3 years, 10 months ago

See, without wanting to get too far ahead, that sounds like it would have worked much better than what we got, seeing as there was a clear conflict in "The End of Time" between trying do the 'heroic near-epic save the universe and everything in it with oodles of ominous foreshadowing of the Doctor's fate' style regeneration of "Logopolis" and the 'small, intimate, the Doctor goes all out to save one person' style regeneration of "The Caves of Androzani" that (IMO) didn't quite gel together.

But then, RTD-Who was always more satisfying when it was focussing more on the everyday rather than when it was trying to be big and epic and mythic.

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Chadwick 3 years, 10 months ago

The Idiot's Lantern could have gone the way of Fear Her if the Doctor decided that at the moment of defeating The Wire, he had to make it to Westminster Abbey to replace the Archbishop of Canterbury and perform the Coronation Ceremony himself.

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Anton B 3 years, 10 months ago

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Anton B 3 years, 10 months ago

'Night Terrors' revisits the child/alien-puts monsters in the cupboard trope but to no greater success. Where it fails and 'Fear Her' succeeds is, I think, in the totally relatable horror of the abusive father against the 'you wouldn't see these anywhere outside a horror story' faux Victorian dolls in their dolls house.

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Anton B 3 years, 10 months ago

I'm really not making myself clear am I? It's not about 'the Doctor being a hero' it's about 'Doctor Who' as a trope invading a narrative and creating a resonance. In the case of both 'The Tenth Planet' and 'Aliens of London' the narrative is body-invasion in 'Fear Her' it starts well as parental abuse but then decides it's the London Olympics. One is brash and unnerving, another is irreverent and disturbing the last is just embarrasing. My point about the prediction of the future was not about its inaccuracy but rather its lack of imagination and vision. Later we will see 'Waters of Mars' present a much better way of using a possible future as a mise en scene and no, of course no-one will be groaning when Bowie Base doesn't happen. As to the rest of 'Fear Her' - I rather like the story of the abusive father-monster I could do without the clumsy attempt to anchor the narrative within a real but not-yet setting.

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Ross 3 years, 10 months ago

I thought I remembered, but every time I think I have it, I go back to check and it turns out not to be it (Usually turns out to just be All The Strange Creatures again). I'll probably have to sit down and watch the first five years of the show over again. I'm fairly sure it's one of those "The Doctor returns in triumph after everyone thought he was dead" scenes, which I suppose narrows it down to about 75% of all episodes.

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Nyq Only 3 years, 10 months ago

"This story, of course, is Fear Her, the consensus worst story of the Russell T Davies era (and, I suspect, worst story of the new series were a thorough poll to be run today - I can’t think of any Moffat stories with enough sheer volume of hatred to overcome it)."

Personally I hated Victory of the Daleks far more than Fear Her.

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landru 3 years, 10 months ago

I think you might be entirely right about this one, but I can't bring myself to "hate" it. I guess that's the point, I forget about it almost immediately. Unlike "Monster of Peladon" (I kind of like the other classic era stories you think are clunkers) I can gloss over "Fear Her" because of most of the reasons you mentioned. In fact, it seems a bit like "Rose" to me ... it has that cheesy, kids TV quality. More like SJA.

It's a story of moments, but not of merit.


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Alex Antonijevic 3 years, 10 months ago

This episode does have a few moments I really like, such as the TARDIS landing where the Doctor finds the door up against shipping containers and he has to go back in and rotate it to get out.

Also loved the scene with Rose and the garage. "Not gonna open it..." She knows there's something dangerous in there and she's definitely fighting with herself about it.

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jane 3 years, 10 months ago

I dunno. I think the production of Night Terrors is more consistent and slick, from Richard Clark's direction to Gold's score. And the bit where Amy gets turned into a creepy doll, after advocating violence as a means to dealing with them, makes for some nice commentary (not to mention continuing a season-long theme of her "monstering.")

The other significant difference is that Fear Her wears its metaphors on its sleeve. The monster in the closet is the abusive father; the Isolus is the fear of isolation. It's easy to make sense of, but if these aren't your issues they won't resonate as much.

With Night Terrors, the child is the alien; he hasn't been co-opted by something else, so as an identification figure for children there's no escape. It's a coming out (of the closet) story, pretty easy to see, but because there's no direct allegory, the metaphor can apply to all kinds of identity issues.

This is a pretty general difference between Davies and Moffat -- in the latter era, there's a lot more repression going on with the characters, and overcoming that repression is often a key feature of character development. This fits in with one of Moffat's overall themes, which is the exploration of Identity, a voyage of self-discovery.

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 10 months ago

See, I found that Fear Her didn't really work because of the tone problems that Phil discusses in his main essay. It uses this very strange and meta-textual horror element to form its villain (and that monstrous version of her father that Chloe created is genuinely scary) and takes the disturbing step of having a child be the conduit of otherworldly power, but articulates it through a tone that uses cheesily obvious symbolism in the Olympic announcers and corny comic relief characters like the road repairman. The characters were all so simplistic that they didn't measure up to the maturity that the story's conflict required. This is a story about a family coming to terms with its violent past.

However, I thought Night Terrors succeeded because the characters were never pitched in this simplistic style. The conflict was about a father trying to understand why his son was frightened of him, learning to be emotionally open enough that he can express his feelings to his child. The weirdness there is that the child himself is an alien, and so his hodgepodge of children's toys from various sources makes sense. He's trying to learn how to be a child, and is terrified that he'll be found out. Their neighbourhood is rendered with much more nuance than the one in Fear Her, and the tone remains unaltered throughout.

I really appreciate Jane's redemptive reading of the episode, but Phil is also right that the tone problems of the episode mess with its delivery of what it wants to say.

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 10 months ago

And we wrote our replies simultaneously again.

Brilliant point as well, Jane, about the difference between Davies and Moffat in terms of their character journeys. I find it a little ironic that it's the straight male bloke-ish writer who vocal parts of the internet thinks hates women who tends toward the self-discovery/coming-out themes.

Of course, that makes me just as much of a stereotyper for presuming the gay writer is by nature better suited to coming-out stories.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 10 months ago

But Victory does not have the raw amount of hatred that Fear Her does.

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Ross 3 years, 10 months ago

I think that technically, I also hate Victory of the Daleks and The Bells of St. John both more than Fear Her, in that I actively disliked those, while Fear Her didn't evoke much emotion of any sort from me. I didn't hate Fear Her: that would have required that I care about it at all.

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5tephe 3 years, 10 months ago

Look, I agree with Phil that this is the weakest episode in the season, and for all the reasons he states, but the other explanation for the inane commentary is the idea that the commentators just had no idea what was going on, and fell back on their stock in trade.

Anyone watching the broadcast could have been forgiven for thinking that the broadcast had just switched to a recording of the stadium when it was empty, rather than assuming that 50,000 had just ACTUALLY disappeared, and further assuming that those people were therefore dead.

And nowhere is it implied that the commentators are physically within sight of the arena (on fact, they didn't disappear, so...) and not simply sitting in a television studio talking into microphones while watching the video feed. Kind of likely, in fact.

And that's what I instantly assumed when they made those bland, inappropriate comments. It can even be read as yet another level of the mundane within the events: not the reaction of the country to an unimaginable horrror they have all just witnessed, but the very human reaction of two of the most mundane of the people watching.

Still a naff episode, of course. I just never thought it was the two lines from the commentators that was spoiling it.

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Doctor Memory 3 years, 10 months ago

This is the consensus worst story of the RTD era?

No. A thousand times no. I would rather watch "Fear Her" on an infinite loop for a decade than ever see "The Doctor's Daughter" so much as a single time again.

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ferret 3 years, 10 months ago

*sniff* *sniff* ...Petrichor! (cue end credits)

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ferret 3 years, 10 months ago

Agreed - I find Fear Hear incredibly dull, dull enough that it saps the energy out of me required to actively hate it. The Doctor's Daughter is a very different kind of awful.

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Callum Leemkuil 3 years, 10 months ago

I'd have to disagree about the commentators when the stadium disappears. The commentator's job is to narrate the sporting events that happen, and my impression was that he simply had no idea what just happened. If you were a commentator and you saw a stadium full of people suddenly disappear, I doubt the first thing you would assume is that everybody had died. I thought the blank shock was a pretty decent portrayal. The reason he's more upset about the torchbearer falling over is because he can actually comprehend what has just happened.

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storiteller 3 years, 10 months ago

Yes, that's exactly the Twilight Zone episode I was thinking of! In terms of Ray Bradbury, the story is The Veldt from The Illustrated Man. Creepy as could be.

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storiteller 3 years, 10 months ago

Personally, my most hated story is Planet of the Dead. I think it's partly because my husband and I had raised expectations - everything else was available on Netflix instant, whereas we had to get the DVD for that and Waters of Mars - but I found watching that episode to be miserable.

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Triturus 3 years, 10 months ago

I tend to have 'indifference ratings' rather than 'hate ratings' too. IMO the word 'hate' should never be applied to a TV show. Unless that TV show is Lost.

Mind you, I fell asleep half way through Victory of the Daleks when it was first shown, and I didn't care. I only got round to rewatching it last month, and its narcoleptic properties have only slightly faded with time. So VotD scores very highly on the entirely arbitrary Triturus Sleep Scale than any other episode, including Fear Her.

I think Fear Her is mostly OK but by crikey the Olympics stuff is rubbish.

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Anton B 3 years, 10 months ago

I totally agree with your response jane. Night Terrors is the better story but Fear Her has the scary daddy which is PROPER scary, I would imagine, if you're a child. I don't want to attempt a Freudian analysis but isn't the father figure the first potentially hostile human a child encounters?

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peeeeeeet 3 years, 10 months ago

And since Gold combines that with a reasonable ear for a catchy tune (there’s not a fan alive who can’t hum “I Am The Doctor,” even if they don’t know that that’s the official name of the Eleventh Doctor’s hero theme).

Reasonable, but somewhat derivative; "I am the Doctor" always sound to me heavily reminiscent of one Troels Folmann's pieces from Tomb Raider: Legend. I can't seem to put my fingers on it at the moment but I think it's from towards the end of the England level. Folmann might be my pick to replace Gold since their styles are not dissimilar but Folmann is overall the more sophisticated of the two.

And most things become catchy if you hammer then home enough. That's my biggest complaint about Gold's recent work - we hear variations on the same themes too much. Using leitmotifs is fine and dandy, but familiarity killed the cat, or something. All that said, I thought The Name of the Doctor was perfectly scored, so he can pull it out when it matters.

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Triturus 3 years, 10 months ago

In 'first world' countries, the most likely order of potential encounter, and hence hostility, is presumably:
1) the mother
2) the midwife
3) the father

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Ross 3 years, 10 months ago

Wouldn't "Whoever's catching" come ahead of the mother in developed and undeveloped countries alike?

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Triturus 3 years, 10 months ago

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Triturus 3 years, 10 months ago

Oh, and 'whoever's catching' has to be Schroeder, surely :)

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Daru 3 years, 10 months ago

Aye - don't want wanna get too far ahead but you are right about the tension between the everyday and the mythic.

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T. Hartwell 3 years, 10 months ago

"And most things become catchy if you hammer then home enough."

There's a quote from Sondheim I love, in which a woman had come out of A Little Night Music saying "Wow, that "Weekend in the Country" sure is a catchy song!", to which he replied "That's because you just heard 11 choruses of it!"

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T. Hartwell 3 years, 10 months ago

42's my least favorite by a longshot, in that it's so utterly predictable, derivative, and just flat-out dull. The worst thing Who can be for me is unimaginative, and 42 delivers on that in spades.

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sleepyscholar 3 years, 10 months ago

The idea, of course, coming from the story Marianne Dreams, televised as something like "Escape Into Night" (which I saw being filmed: it terrified me!) and subsequently made into the movie Paperhouse.

I think that also inspired the Ogri from The Stones of Blood.

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Nicholas Tosoni 3 years, 10 months ago

You might not like "42," but MAN, does the Doctor ever get put through the wringer.

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Nicholas Tosoni 3 years, 10 months ago

BAAAAA-ROOOONIIIIIK!

Thank you; thank you...

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Scott 3 years, 10 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 10 months ago

Unnoticeably late post: If you want to get really meta about it, the Tenth Doctor lighting the Olympic Torch while the announcers are specifically obsessing about the torch rely can be understood as the tremendous ego of the Tenth Doctor as a character warping the show itself around him, distracting us from the actual centres of the story, Chloe and her mom.

But I would never recommend getting quite so meta.

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Scott 3 years, 10 months ago

Never mind; was a bit grumpy and sleep-deprived when I wrote that. Apologies and ignore me.

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Henry R. Kujawa 3 years, 9 months ago

I have absolutely NO memory of this episode. At all.

Is it possible that the Sci-Fi Channel somehow just SKIPPED this one entirely and didn't even bother showing it?

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Katherine Sas 2 years, 9 months ago

Great reading, Jane - those are pretty much the reasons I like this story, too (occasional moments of awkwardness aside).

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Katherine Sas 2 years, 9 months ago

"The ending’s an active refutation of the best bit of The Idiot’s Lantern - the Doctor’s declaration that real history is the street party and not what’s going on on television. Here the restoration of everybody on the street is irrelevant - it’s only the restoration of the Doctor that matters to the ending, and life on a perfectly ordinary street just unfolds silently and without comment in the background. Within the context of Fear Her, this is inexcusable. Fear Her spends its entire runtime trying to be everyday suburban horror, then bombastically sells it out in favor of being about how wonderful the Olympics are going to be."

I would agree with this if the focus of the ending was about athletics and the restoration of the Doctor, but I think the focus is on the Doctor's restoration of the Isolus. He only gets involved in the Olympics plot to get it back to space. That seems to me to be in line with the Idiot's Lantern theme - the Doctor making sure to focus on the small and ordinary life, albeit the life of an alien, not a human.

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