...a blog by Richard Flowers

Monday, June 26, 2006

Day 1999: DOCTOR WHO: Fear Her


Daddy Richard has been very busy at work this week doing tax forms which are so unbelievably interesting that I will not shock you with the details. Fortunately I have now knocked him back into the right shape and so he can tell you about Doctor Who this week again:

Alex immediately seized upon the fact that this is "The Idiot's Lantern" but done in the modern Doctor Who way: they almost form a Trad/Rad pair, both concerning the theft of identities through an unusual medium during a huge patriotic celebration. But while the earlier story played very much on the strengths of old Doctor Who – period setting, chases and building gadgets – this week stirred up a much more Sapphire and Steel eerie atmosphere and laced it with New Who emotional connection. Where the Wire was driven by megalomaniacal greed, the isolus (aesolus? eyesolus?) was motivated by loneliness and a child's temper.

"Fear Her" is as much about 'her fear' as ours. Chloe has lost her father, lost him to a violent and drunken man long before he got himself killed in a car crash. But she's lost her mother too, lost her to silence. And into that empty place comes another 'lost soul', the fallen isolus who grants Chloe the powers to snatch new friends, but also to unleash the nightmare that still haunts her.

The father in the wardrobe may be Doctor Who's first genuine wardrobe monster. Added to the Clockwork Robot under the bed in "The Girl in the Fireplace" and it seems that Russell T and team are on a mission to reawaken all the childhood terrors.

Rose and the Doctor worked well as a pair again this week, a likeable double act each contributing skills to their investigation: the Doctor knowledge and Rose insight. It was nice to see them comfortable with each other but not so excluding of other people, as they have been on occasion this season. The Doctor's sudden shift of mood as, like the weather, he turns to stormy comes as more of a surprise this week than it might have done in others. Though possibly some more foreshadowing would have helped as it was just a little bit: "By the way, Rose, the season finale two-parter starts next week!"

Adding to the "let's drive the fanboys nuts" column: "I was a dad once". A perfectly natural remark that gets a great reaction from Rose and if anything adds to the character mystery.

There's more than one way of being a Dad, of course, as readers of Lance Parkin's "Father Time" are quick to remember. And this neither confirms nor denies anything biological. It doesn't have to refer to Susan's parentage – though that's the obvious inference, it's not necessarily the right one – and hasn't the Doctor stood in loco parentis for an awful lot of his companions?

And, of course, the dad theme resonates back to Chloe's nightmare. Here the Doctor is presented as "the good father". He even gets to be in the "my daddy at work" picture. Unfortunately for him.

The Olympic Games element was less successful.

It's easy to see how they wanted to split up the "present day" stories of "Love & Monsters" and (by the look of the trailer) "Army of Ghosts", and also how the Olympics would present themselves as another in the series series of Great British landmarks. But the story was very focused and contained in the close (which didn't need to be Dame Kelly Holmes Close) as a particularly suburban nightmare of missing children and the "big events" rather took us away from that.

The small crowd of extras gathered at the end of the close and the newsreader on News 24 never managed to convince us that we were part of the huge Olympic crowd, indeed only served to emphasise that we were not really there. It made the Olympics feel tacked on, rather than integral to the plot, which is unusual for the normally deft hand of this series.

And it has to be said, all the saccharine of "this is a torch of hope, a torch of love…" had us reaching for the insulin before the diabetic shock could kick in. Does anyone remember the ending of "Ghostbusters 2"? Well, it wasn't actually as bad as that, but the moment when the Doctor runs up the red staircase to light the Olympic flame was definitely looking longingly in that direction.

That big threat to the Olympic Games detracted from the smaller, but more intimate and so more important threat of big bad dad "coming to hurt you, Chloe".

Coincidentally, we had the chance to chat with some of what you might call the Doctor Who glitterati (Big Finish, not BBC Wales) after tonight's episode and found some of them a little downbeat about it (while generally more favourable about "Love & Monsters" and enthusiastic about the two part "The Satan Pit"). Saccharine, as above, was the main cause for complaint, added to the odd caustic remark about both acting and music being turned up too loud occasionally. (Much praise for the music in "The Satan Pit" – especially the silent bits!)

The 2005 series set a very high standard for what we expect from Doctor Who now, but it also did it on an increasing curve – front loading the dodgier episodes like "Aliens of London" and keeping the home run on a constant high. (Yes, even "Boom Town".)

This year with episodes as awesome as "Tooth and Claw" and "The Girl in the Fireplace" at the beginning of the season it's just that much harder to keep the quality going upwards. Having said that, we should also bear in mind that once we've seen the season finale we may find ourselves, like last year, reassessing with hindsight all that has come before.

Which reminds me: great trailer!

Next week: When Worlds Collide…


Anonymous said...

Just to say that your notes on Doctor Who are one of the very few things worth reading about the series. They increase my enjoyment of the episodes. I think the current season is lacking momentum (maybe Christopher Eccleston's leaving last year focused the public's mind towards a definite and inescapable outcome), but the quality of the current episodes falls into the same range: from very good to outstanding (Tooth and Claw, The Girl in the Fireplace, The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit, Love and Monsters).
Wish I had something cleverer to say. Keep writing and I 'll keep reading and maybe dropping a note.

Paul Gregory said...

I too think these summaries are the best and I don't really look for any other reviews.

Well spotted on the Idiot's Lantern parallel.

I considered the Olympics parts worthy of a bronze medal in shark-jumping; they were entirely un-necessary.

Yes, there were not enough crowds on the street. It should have had barriers, policemen and people camped out from much earlier in the day. Crowds don't just suddenly turn up.

I think its worthwhile remembering that this episode was written at short notice to replace Stephen Fry's episode. This is a shame as the core concept could have been much better if it had longer to ferment.

Millennium Dome said...

Awww (blush)

Thank you both very much, those are some of the nicest things said to me about my diary :)

I agree about teh FOCUS of the first year - perhaps Mr Russell T Vision did better last year when he had 16 years to dream up his story arc, and was a bit STARTLED when he got handed TWO more years to do as a REWARD!

Also a good point about the SHORT NOTICE - that may explain some of the lack of the usual polish