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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “Fear Her”

(intro to my Who blogging, please read before commenting / previous: Episode 10: “Love & Monsters”)

This is one of my favorite episodes of the new Russell Davies Doctor Who, partly for its inventiveness. It makes for a refreshing change that the “villain” is not some megalomaniacal alien who wants to take over the world for its own nefarious alien purposes, that it’s just a lonely child who doesn’t mean ill but is acting purely out of fear and a terrifying isolation.

Intentions and actions are two different things, of course: The old lady calls “evil” the feeling the Isolus, the alien child, creates up and down the street, and surely it seems that way, with the Isolus’s incredible power to remove anyone from, apparently, existence itself. And that it can do so with just a scribble on a piece of paper… that’s a power that even in the hands of someone without truly wicked intentions can be horrifying. And it is. Here are concepts of power and responsibility that are far more interesting that the usual bad-guy-just-gotta-be-bad, because it’s far less easy to assign blame for the bad things that happen or know how to stop the powerful entity.
If there’s a more traditional villain in this episode, he may be someone almost entirely absent, the person who inspired fear in the child Chloe Webber: her abusive father. His spectre hangs over everything, of course, not merely the drawing of him in the back of the closet that threatens to spring back to life, but the legacy of his abuse that made Chloe so vulnerable to alien takeover in the first place. Child abuse is certainly not a subject that Doctor Who has broached before that I can recall, and it’s fascinating to see how science fiction, particularly SF that’s generally this smart, deals with it: as a force so malevolent that it can serve as a stand-in for, you know, vile alien influence.

Just a lonely, maltreated child… and the Doctor identifies with that, and with an “empathic being of intense emotions” who misses its family. The Doctor’s snuck-in aside of “I was a dad once” — which is spoken half to Rose and half to himself as, perhaps a reminder of a past that he doesn’t want to forget — makes me wonder, in the larger context of everything that’s happening in this episode, exactly what he’s referring to. I’m of the opinion (which I’ve mentioned before) that Susan, the companion of Doctor No. 1 who called him “Grandfather,” was not actually his grandchild, but of course one interpretation of that line is that the Doctor is referring to Susan’s parent who was the Doctor’s child. I wonder, though, whether the Doctor here is referring to a more recent child who died when Gallifrey was destroyed… though of course with the length of Time Lord lives, that same child could be both Susan’s parent and have died on Gallifrey. (As for more meta extrapolations of the Doctor and parenthood, well, I’ve mentioned before too that, clearly, Russell Davies has been reading my fan fiction, even the stuff I never got around to actually writing.)

Random thoughts on “Fear Her”:

• Huggiest episode ever? It seems like the Doctor and Rose will take any excuse to feel each other up…

• “What the hell”est episode ever? The Doctor swears — if only mildly — a lot more than he used to. I’m not sure if I remember a single swear word in the old series. Though perhaps that has more to do with

• “Why is it so cold?” Cuz you’re shooting in February in Cardiff.

• Such fine control the Doctor has over the TARDIS! When they land in between the shipping containers with the door facing the wrong way, he just dematerializes and turns the ship 90 degrees. He never used to be able to do that before — a short hop was more likely to land the Doctor a galaxy away in another millennium than anything else. Which was, I believe, a way for the writers not to fall into using the TARDIS as a cheap and easy solution to a lot of story problems — you can’t hide plot points behind locked doors if the Doctor can reliably take the TARDIS on a short trip. Which says a lot about the stories the writers today are coming up with, that they’re complicated enough that there never seems to be a moment when you want to say, “Hey, wait a second, why doesn’t the Doctor just hop in the TARDIS…?”

• The Doctor’s been to Club Med? Now there’s some fanfic I’d like to write…

• The Doctor can do the Vulcan greeting! And then he does the Vulcan mind meld with Chloe. Well, we saw him do that with Reinette, too, but she didn’t get a “live long and prosper” high-five from him.

• The Doctor calls Rose, as his “cop partner,” “Lewis.” Methinks the Doctor is an Inspector Morse fan.

• Great quotes:

“I’m not really a cat person. Once you’ve been threatened by one in a nun’s whimple, it kinda takes the joy out of it.”–the Doctor

“What’s your game?”–suburban guy
“Snakes and Ladders. I’m quite good at squash — well, reasonable… I’m being facetious. There’s no call for it.”–the Doctor (Tom Baker would never have apologized for being facetious.)

“Look at the hairs on the back of my manly hairy hand.”–the Doctor

(next: Episodes 12/13: “Army of Ghosts”/“Doomsday”)


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
posted in:
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  • PaulW

    Interesting you seem to enjoy this episode, one that a good number of fans didn’t take much to.

    And you keep threatening us with fanfic but never come through with it. I’m starting to question your fanfic kung-fu…

  • Ryan H

    I can see why some people aren’t too hot on this episode. Nothing universe shattering or character defining happens in it. It’s just fun. This is the status quo that all the other episodes imply. Rose and the Doctor doing their thing, enjoying every minute of it and getting some fun nods to history on the way. The Doctor picking up the Olympic torch? Priceless.

  • MaryAnn

    The fanfic is coming, I promise.

  • JSW

    The Doctor also implied that he’d been “a father and a grandfather” during the Empty Chile/Doctor Dances two-parter back in season 27.

  • Mike Brady

    There’s a lot that I like about this episode, but I have to admit that it really grates on me when Chloe/Isolus does the whole forced-whisper thing. It sours the episode for me, which is a shame because it is otherwise very fun.

    I was actually just thinking about this episode the other day after coming across an article about cars having trouble starting near the Empire State Building (but starting after being pushed a block or two).

  • MaryAnn

    Yes, some of us have noted that thing about the Empire State Building, too. I’m thinking the Daleks left something behind when they were all over the place in the 1930s…

  • mischief

    The problem with the Doctor’s new precision is that it turns off whenever the writers want it to. If he can turn the TARDIS, why couldn’t he land in New York when he didn’t want to see the coronation? Why couldn’t he deliver Rose back home a day after she left and not a year — and not even know it?

    The old plot device of his never being precise was at least consistent.

    This episode, OTOH — its only issue was that we listened to so much of the Olympic announcer blather. Which is entirely too accurate for my taste.

  • MaryAnn

    I suspect the TARDIS has motives of her own, sometimes, in landing the Doctor where she wants him to be…

  • boz

    in this series the doctor (maybe) has pinpoint accuracy from the beginning. first episode where ninth doctor ask rose to be a companion and then he dissappears and reappears a moment after.

    in this case we can come up with an answer though. we know that inside and outside of tardis are dimensionally different. so lock inner tardis, rotate outer one, then lock outer one and rotate inner one.

    but of course real answer is simpler, writers.

  • MaryAnn

    In this series the doctor (maybe) has pinpoint accuracy from the beginning.

    Isn’t that what I said? [Looks back up to what I wrote.] No, I guess I wasn’t clear. though I thought it was a given: when I talk about how things used to be on the show, I’m talking about pre-Russell Davies, and especially the eras of the 1970s and 80s. Not Christopher Eccleston.

    My goodness, you newbies, with your short sense of the show’s history. Some of us have been fans for a quarter of a century… :->

  • boz

    Well I understood what you said before. The thing is I can’t be sure about this accuracy thing. As mischief wrote before, it’s random. What I explained was just a way to preserve suspense of disbelief

  • as a long-time DW fan, i think that the Doctor’s recent control over the TARDIS is due to his obvious upgrading with various parts from more recent TARDIS models and other time and space travel equipment (probably obtained during his involvement in the Time War). this control is mitigated only by the TARDIS’s manipulation of him. he has fine control over turning the TARDIS around in this one because the TARDIS *wants him to be there*…

    think too much about Doctor Who? oh yes, i so obviously do.

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