Ah kids. Little bastards, all of them. Give them a superpower and they'd all destroy the world in as much time as it takes to say, “I want my Happy Meal now!” It's a lesson written large and clear in Saturday's episode of Doctor Who, Fear Her.
The Doctor and Rose land in London, 2012, on the eve of the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Before the words “truncated episode length” have even formed in your mind, our heroes discover that kids are going missing from the bizarrely upmarket part of East London that the TARDIS has landed in - it's so upmarket, the council are actually filling in potholes in the road, which is something that usually only happens when the moon is in Aquarius, etc. Perhaps they've got a grant from the government?
Deciding that for this episode they're going to pretend to be police officers (focus groups have shown that play-acting works well with kids in the targeted demographic), Rose and the Doctor get a little too into character straight away and target the only black child on the estate as the obvious cause of all the trouble. They doorstep the poor kid's mum and before the words “truncated episode length” have even formed in your mind, mum has fessed up that weird things have been happening in the house.
It very quickly transpires that whatever the child draws disappears from reality and enters the drawing. So the Doctor and Rose have to fix the child before she draws the entire planet, thereby destroying the Earth. All before her first Happy Meal of the day.
Fear Her was an interesting example of how RTD and co are willing to experiment with format. While previous producers have picked a theme (eg gothic horror, comedy, hard sci-fi, invading monsters, The Master, etc) and stuck with it for entire seasons, the current overlords of Doctor Who are more than happy to mess with comedy, monster horror, psychological horror, romance and other genres, all in the space of 13 or so episodes.
Following on from the intriguingly experimental Love and Monsters, Fear Her was again a unique genre-buster, a cross between Sapphire and Steel (Drawings/photos that can capture people? Assignment four again! At least mix it up a bit guys...) and Chocky (if Chocky had been evil, anyway). If those had been the only influences to the story, it could have been a genuinely good, scary romp.
But unfortunately, there was a moral. As well as S&S and Chocky, there was an extra genre-theft, too, not one often seen on Doctor Who, and not one it's the better for, I think. Without wishing to ruin the ending for anyone who hasn't seen it, there was more than a touch of The Care Bears Family Christmas to the whole proceedings.
Yes, all the love that surrounds the Olympics saved the day. Presumably this is some parallel universe version of the Olympics in which lawyers aren't already preparing to contest the drugs tests that reveal steroid abuse, no one's grumbling that maybe Paris should have won the bid and no one's had to use the “enhanced” London Transport links needed to get to the Olympic stadium (they really will be in place for 2012. Really. Honest. All right, maybe not). A parallel universe, at that, in which someone who picked up the Olympic torch and started running with it wouldn't instantly be shot down by the trigger-happy anti-terrorist squad. It must be all that love again.
Sorry, but that is arse. Look at it from above. Look at it from below. Hold it up to the light. Whichever way you look at it, pure arse.
Apart from the arse ending, though, it was mostly business as usual. As always, DT gets more to do than CE ever did, shunting Billie P off to the side – mainly through the sheer force of DT's acting, rather than because of the script, it must be admitted. But even when DT disappears, Billie P has little to do but run around wibbling about how she can't get by without the Doctor, how great he is and if only the Doctor were here, he'd know what to do. You can tell why she might want to leave, can't you?
The episode also showed more than a little hint of “end of season”-itis, judging by the seven or eight extras that it looks like they had the budget for - or maybe the mad thronging crowds we've come to expect of such events as the London Marathon are still stuck on the Crossrail link while they finish building it.
So, all in all, a not terribly fantastic episode. Intriguing, but not brilliant and ruined by an ending that had so little subtlety, it might as well have had Prince Adam and Cringer come out afterwards to explain it.
For your further delectation and for further good points, consult these other fine reviews from the Struggling Author (more of a review of the “Next week” clip at the end, but still bursting with good points) and Behind the Sofa, as well as the official Beeb podcast. No one else seems to have reviewed Fear Her properly yet, which suggests to me that others found it equally insipid. Or maybe they're just so over-awed by it, they're taking time out to recover. We'll have to wait to see.
UPDATE: Someone liked it less than I did.
- June 29, 2006: Ah! How sweet of David Tennant
Isn't this factoid about Fear Her nice? It was David Tennant’s birthday during the filming of this episode. His mother made him the cake with the edible ball bearings on as a treat and he insisted it was put...
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