Tony Fyler lets his artistic side out to play.
The fan reaction to Flatline has been overwhelmingly positive, and rightly so – it was a fundamentally creepy idea, realised with a good amount of CGI slithering, and arty effects. It also delivered a great “shrinking Tardis” gag, and then turned it very serious, showed us that human beings can be just as unpleasant as some of the multiverse’s oddest creatures, and – perhaps just a little heavy-handedly? – tried out the idea of a female Doctor. So – plenty of big ticks along the way there.
But it’s tempting, with my Devil’s Advocate hat on (yes, it’s a real hat. The Eleventh Doctor’s not the only one around here who’s a sucker for hats – some of us had Stetsons and Fezzes before they were cool you know…), to mention that the last time the Doctor faced art that came to life, it resulted in Fear Her, universally decried as the worst episode in the whole of New Who. So what went right this time?
Clearly, what went right was that it was a fundamentally creepy idea, realised by a good…
But I’m going to suggest the difference is also in the tone of the show. The new, darker tone of the show. After all, the central idea of Fear Her was creepy too – a child draws you, and you’re trapped forever in a paper world. The effects, while perhaps not as slickly realised as those in Flatline (although that effect with the couch is going to come back to haunt us in just a handful of heartbeats), weren’t in any sense actually bad. And the threat was arguably greater – young Chloe Webber was, it was darkly hinted, an abused child, gifted with the power to put away anything that frightened her. She disappeared the Olympic opening ceremony, let’s not forget, compared with a bunch of random humans on a Bristol estate.
But the tone was oh so different. The tone was aimed at younger audiences – hence Chloe was a young girl, drawing young girl dreams and nightmares. The Tenth Doctor was still in possession of his cheeky grin, and there was a degree of cheese in his picking up the Olympic torch and running with it. It all meant that while the threat was serious, it never really hit its dramatic target, and many of the viewers felt it was almost Junior-Who-by-numbers, a kind of tonal misfire that was rare from the office of Russell T Davies.
Tonal misfires have, perhaps, become more of an accepted fact of the Whovian’s life these days, for all that we’re spoiled rotten by episode after episode of rock solid future-classic Who (certainly Series 8 has seen perhaps a solid handful of such stories). And with Flatline, the tone was ramped up to “scare the pants off ’em”. The comedy business was largely dispensed with early, but then the pulse of fear and creepiness kept repulsing – bodily systems laid out in two dimensions on walls, slithering surfaces, the scene of the graffiti art-people turning round (which will stand the test of time – it’s in the same league as the Sea Devils emerging or the Cyber-tombs opening in terms of the chills it delivers) the flickering lights in the tunnel, the three-dimensional hand from nowhere, dragging people to their death, and the weirdly zombie-like advance of the Boneless, leading to the Angry Eyebrows, the adjusting of the Doctor’s outfit, and his roaring self-definition as “the man who stops the monsters”.
No tonal misfires there. Not a one. Well done all round
So what’s the point? The point, really, is that it’s time to let Fear Her out of the penalty box. It’s suffered enough.
With the successful rendering of Flatline, the core ideas of the earlier story have been vindicated, and if we accept that showrunners are going to have off days, rushed days, days – like we all have – when our best doesn’t quite make it through, but something gets done and finished – then Fear Her is nowhere near as bad as we remember it to be. The Boneless and the Scribble Monster are just a successful tone meeting apart.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk