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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

‘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

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