The call went out: articles about David Tennant and the 10th Doctor. I’m not the biggest fan of that particular Doctor but someone had to take one for the team, and so, after much discussion, the task has fallen to me to take a look at an episode of Doctor Who that is allegedly so bad that it’s worthy to be called the worst of all time.
Okay then, let’s get this over with!
Let’s start by looking at the story’s central premise. The Doctor and Rose arrive in an estate where they meet a lonely child with an abusive father, while ahead of a major national event an alien starts making people disappear, with one of the TARDIS duo being among the victims. Sound familiar? It should. This is basically the same plot from The Idiot’s Lantern earlier in the same season. I know this was written hastily to replace a script by Stephen Fry that fell through (what a shame, I reckon a Fry-penned episode would’ve been good) but that’s no excuse for writer Matthew Graham ripping-off another episode from the same season! At least he redeemed himself in series six with The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People but I wish he’d tried something different here so he didn’t need redeeming in the first place.
Speaking of inexcusable decisions made in the making of Fear Her we have to discuss the setting during the 2012 Olympics. Now when the episode was in production it was only just after London was confirmed to be the host for the sporting event so you can understand a major British TV institution like Doctor Who marking the occasion… but can someone please answer me, what does it actually add to the story? Oh yes, that’s right. It adds this:
JUST NO!!! DON’T DO THAT!!! BAD DOCTOR WHO, BAD!!!
Cheesy and corny moments are par for the course when you watch this show, but come on, there’s a line and this crossed it!
So now, let’s take a look at the villain. Chloe Webber is strongly implied to be a victim of abuse from her now-deceased father. Just look no further than the way she draws his picture or the fact that she hides it away in her wardrobe so that she doesn’t have to look at it. Listen to what he says when he comes to life:
“CHLOE, I’M GOING TO HURT YOU!”
The abilities granted her by the Isolus (Isolus = Isolated, get it? Not even Terry Nation was as obvious as that!) are about as creepy as it gets, gifted with the ability to get rid of anything that she wants just by drawing a picture of it. At one point she makes an entire stadium filled with people disappear in the blink of an eye (The moral of the story is don’t blink; can I watch that episode instead?) before setting out to do the same to the entire planet! It all sounds very dark and disturbing, the sort of thing that would have dear Mrs Whitehouse and her Clean Up Television brigade up in arms, but the tone is about as far removed as is possible to be.
In fact, I struggle to think of a more light-hearted story in the entire history of the show than this one. I think this may be because the whole thing is very colourful, and I mean colourful, enough that while watching it you want to either turn down the brightness setting on your screen or pause to go grab a pair of sunglasses. It’s completely out of place when your main supporting character is an abused child. It’s a tonal mis-step, something that Doctor Who does so rarely, which only makes it that little bit worse when it happens. Even such abominations as Love & Monsters, The Twin Dilemma or In the Forest of the Night could at least get that one thing right and they’re my all-time bottom three!
To see just what I’m trying to say take a look at what passes for a threat in this story by watching this clip:
BUT despite that…
Sharpen your pitchforks and light your torches now because it’s time to point out why despite all these many MANY flaws Fear Her is not the worst episode ever. There are much worse examples, I actually name-dropped three of them earlier. One thing that does it a disservice is where it sits in broadcast order (coming after the actual worst Doctor Who story of all time and before a finale that repeatedly goes out of its way to make you hate Rose while wasting the potential of its Daleks Vs Cybermen premise) making the whole thing seem even worse by association.
But that’s not a true defence, just a reason why you may have been somewhat unfair to Fear Her in the past. Consider the concept of people being trapped inside a drawing; you’ll notice that it’s a very scary idea if you truly think about it. It’s a shame that Fear Her is a low-budget episode because otherwise it would’ve been interesting to explore that aspect of things more.
The biggest plus I can come up with for Fear Her is actually something many fans of Doctor Who forget. This is a show for all the family. Everyone from your baby cousin to your 80something grandmother to everyone in between can sit down and watch Doctor Who and all of you will get something from it. For those of us who are more mature we must remember that not every episodes should be The Zygon Inversion or Heaven Sent because the younger audience members or casual viewers will probably get more enjoyment out of something light-hearted than they will from the more mature stuff. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. This is Doctor Who by the numbers for kids and, considering the emotional rollercoaster of a finale that comes next, something light-hearted was the way to go. Society has changed; the kids of 2006 were not as tough as the kids of 2016.
That’s the thing you see, with Doctor Who you never know what you’re going to get week in week out and that is, in my opinion, a good thing. If you can appreciate that Fear Her is a more light-hearted bit of fluff and that not every episode of this show has to be a mature grown up drama then Fear Her has a lot to offer. It bravely tackles the impact of child abuse head-on, it’s lots of fun, it’s got a cute cat in it and, perhaps best of all, it uses a better 2012 logo than the one we actually got in real life.
Whatever you may think about Fear Her, I recommend that you watch it again anyway with an open mind. It’s better than you remember. If you only have something bad to say just remember what the Doctor says:
FINGERS ON LIPS!!!
When he's not obsessing about Doctor Who whilst having I Am The Doctor play in his head, Dr. Moo can usually be found reading up on the latest in Quantum Physics. As you do when you're a physicist.