FEAR HER – 24th June
By Matthew Graham
Review and Commentary by Andrew Panero
I think there is one salient point about Doctor Who that we older fans (I know I’m assuming the people reading this are like me, an adult, but if I’m wrong then all I can say is ‘hi kids, I promise not to swear or use double entendres for the rest of the review’) is that basically it is a children’s television programme. I know that they put it on at seven o’clock when most of the little buggers (oops! Sorry kids!) should be in bed and the body count can be awfully high sometimes, but nevertheless it is a children’s programme.
Just as well that children’s television can often be better than the stuff they put out for adults, this episode being a case in point. The themes, social isolation, child abuse, domestic violence and abduction are certainly not childish. The picture it paints of our society at present has a nightmarish ring of truth to it. There is a scene near the beginning where the Doctor is cornered sniffing around the garden of one of the disappeared children by the boy’s father. My first thoughts were that the Doctor might be good at bluffing his way past Cybermen or fascist security guards, but he hasn’t got a hope in hell of getting past an irate parent who finds a man with a long trench coat trailing around the garden. Fortunately the psychic paper does its work and within minutes the Doctor and Rose find themselves leading an investigation into who or what has been snatching the children.
The story has more than a few similarities to last year’s ‘The Empty Child’: like that story it features a phenomenal child actor, this time in the shape of Abisola Aqbaje who plays Chloe, the lonely little girl who has been possessed by an alien life form.
The alien life form in this case isn’t a malignant entity, it is simply lost and alone; coming from a race of creatures that rely on empathy to survive in the cold of interstellar space, the tiny creature focussed on Chloe because she was also alone. The victim of her late father’s abuse she still suffered from nightmares about the time when he was alive, but her mother Trish (Nina Sosanya) did not feel able to share this with her. As a consequence she withdrew into herself where she developed a penchant for art. It is this same capacity for drawing that the creature used to entrap the children in the smart suburban street where Chloe lives.
As well as having a strong central character, this story also shares a number of other features with ‘The Empty Child’. One of these is the theme of the redemptive power of love, which is demonstrated through the rather corny use of the Olympic flame as a symbol of hope. With (famous for being Welsh) newscaster Huw Edwards providing a rather plodding commentary the message is hammered home with all the subtlety of a gorilla on steroids. The scenes connecting the episode to the London Olympics seemed somewhat opportunistic to me, something that was confirmed by RTD’s comments in the Doctor Who: Confidential. The only reason for having them seemed to be to needlessly expand the nature of the threat that Chloe and the creature inside her represented. That the creature’s travelling pod could be regenerated by the symbolic power of love as embodied in the Olympic flame, is a concept that is so flowery it makes one want to puke. But this is a feature of the new Doctor Who, which according to Matthew Graham is ‘full of heart’. Now I don’t object to greater emotional verisimilitude, but I think on this occasion this seems to have been confused with heaps of cheese and desperate emoting. A shame really because it was an excellent episode other than that.
Matthew Graham is also co-creator of last year’s excellent ‘Life on Mars’, an offbeat cop show with a time travel element. He is then well placed to write an episode for the new series as his way of thinking about the characters and the use of ‘real emotion’ as Russell T. Davies puts it, coincide with the present production team. You get a similar use of emotional veracity in ‘Life on Mars’, although perhaps less explanation of what is really going on because the programme is aimed at adults. One of the better ones at that, almost as good as children’s television.
With what you know are prophetic words the show ends with Rose confiding in the Doctor that they’ll always be together no matter what may befall them. The Doctor looks to the sky and says he can sense a coming storm. This was a nice ending I thought, a good way of linking to the apocalyptic events of the series finale. We have a preview of this at the end and it looks like it could be a corker. So far we know this involves Torchwood (strangely no mention of them this episode, though I’m sure someone will prove me wrong), Cybermen and I’m pretty sure that was a Dalek gun I heard just as someone’s skeleton was illuminated in green fire…