Public Enemy once bellowed “Don't believe the hype!” It's advice that seems to fall on cloth ears in this country, especially when it comes to gaudy festivals.
The 21st century has seen a plethora of money-burning events including two royal weddings, and a damp squib of a 60th Mrs Maj anniversary. For these kinds of occasions, the hype machine goes into meltdown, so much so, that it feels like the country's become some weird Prisoner-like world from which there is no escape. Great news for jingoistic flag wavers, bad news for small businesses who are already trying to battle through a muddy economy.
While it's not so hot at reporting concrete facts, the media is ever so good at assuming that everyone gives a damn about these inflated soirees. Bucketfuls of money are poured into this kind of folly (money which could have been spent on – ooooh, I don't know: saving a few hospitals, schools, libraries or even saving one or two people from redundancy), with little results to show in the aftermath.
Take the 2012 Olympics. While at the time, it created an illusion of the country coming together, accepting all cultures, races and creeds, six years later, today's reality paints a harsher picture of a splintered, confused wilderness brought to its knees by a Br***t that's neither wanted or needed.
Sorry, I'm in a bad mood. Watching Fear Her hasn't helped to improve the situation. Fear Her is the first Doctor Who story from Life On Mars scribe Matthew Graham, and a tale proves to be the runt of this season's litter: a lightweight, pointless snooze made very obviously on the cheap.
We're back – yet again – to another council estate, where a lonely old tinkerbell thing has invaded the body of a whispering kid who's cowering away from what appears to be the Sugar Puffs Honey Monster in her closet. Not only that, but the paucity of the budget means that the big hoo-haa over the Olympics equates to a couple of shivering extras in the street and an over-earnest voice-over from Huw Edwards (who presumably had a handy sick bucket at his side, given the awful dialogue). Where's the high-budget attempts at predicting the opening ceremony? Where's Paul McCartney looking like a constipated Auton? Where's pompous arse George Osborne fending off boos?
Mind you, all reality is null and void, considering that Shayne Ward was proclaimed to be the pop king of Britain in 2012. Which must offer some small crumb of comfort to any X Factor winner who has one or two hit singles and is then sent hurtling down the dumper. Don't worry kids – your future won't consist of flipping burgers in a greasy old dive!
Any attempt at convincing society is notably absent from Fear Her. Instead, we get a long list of clichés. The hollering council worker. The over-protective mum. The chav father. The worried old biddy. None of the guest actors are particularly impressive, although Edna Doré does do her best with her virtually non-existent part. The problem is that the Fear Her party guests are grappling with tedious, corny dialogue. Abdul Salis gets to reprise his moaning minnie act from Love Actually, while Nina Sosanya looks vaguely upset at being saddled with such a thankless task of portraying Trish.
But spare the most sympathy for poor Abisola Agbaje, who's asked to provide some form of menace as the possessed Chloe Webber. We know that she's called Chloe Webber, since she seems to say her full name every five minutes. Furthermore, she's asked to do so in a strange, wheezing hiss. Abisola's Chloe is not a grandstand performance by any stretch of the imagination, but it's the fault of the awful script which requires her to babble clichéd tripe about loneliness. Funnily enough, I thought that the possessed Chloe would have been a real hit at her school, considering she can draw pictures faster than the speed of light. Just think of the kids paying Chloe to do their art homework and go away clutching gold stars for such great work. No such luck though. Instead, Chloe spends her time scowling and sulking for most of the episode.
The idea of a kid whisking people away into the ether through childish drawings is quite a good one, albeit rather unoriginal to those who have seen cult 1988 movie, Paperhouse. The real problem is that there's no urgency or drama. Even though kids, cats and the Doctor disappear, there's a weary inevitability about their return.
Even worse is the way in which the whole problem is resolved: The lonely Isolus (see what they did there?) came to Earth in a small pod. The pod needs a mixture of heat and emotional strength for it to fly away. Which means that Rose takes the pod to a small crowd of flag waving goons, and tells it to feel the love.
Now this is possibly the most offensive aspect of Fear Her. Doctor Who has never had to resort to slushy schmaltz in order to prove a point. Sure, there have been emotional moments in tales like The Green Death, Planet Of The Spiders or School Reunion, but they were genuinely moving and beautifully written. Fear Her, however, demands that you sit with a paper bag handy in order to catch the spew. The latter part of the tale is wall-to-wall cheese, whether it's Rose imploring the Isolus to feel the love, Trish and Chloe warding off the Honey Monster with a salvo of Kookaburra Love, or commentator Huw Edwards proclaiming that the Olympic Torch is a beacon of hope and love. Or maybe it's just a bunch of wood with a flamey thing coming out of its peak.
But hey, guess who's carrying the torch? Well, it could only be the Doctor, who's still on his universal mission to establish himself as the most slappable chump in the cosmos. Prior to this, he'd been temporarily erased from existence by Chloe Isolus. When the other cartoons are restored to humanity, the various people go and hug their loved ones. The Doctor, meanwhile, decides to leave Rose waiting and wondering, while taking it upon himself to be the final torch bearer. And of course, doing so in smug, annoying, whooping and hollering fashion. What if Rose hadn't been watching the TV? She'd have been curled up in a Union Jack flag in a sobbing ball.
Mind you, the Tenth Doctor's still been hugely irritating throughout Fear Her, which seems to be par for the course this season. It's strange, I've noticed in the past how other Doctor actors practically hit the ground running. Tom Baker was the Doctor from the moment he pondered on spinning mice. Jon Pertwee was the suave man of action once he'd escaped from his hospital bed and wondering where his shoes were. Even Christopher Eccleston made a great first impression.
Poor old David Tennant isn't given that right, since many of the scripts in his first season are trying to steer him in the wrong direction. He seems to be constantly fighting a battle against terrible, overwrought dialogue and a hyperactive manchild character. In Fear Her alone, we get the silly “Fingers on lips!” scene, the aforementioned torch gurning and a rubbish John Thaw impersonation. Now I'm all for people bellowing “LEWIS!!”, as long as it's done well. But the Doctor should maybe think about paying a visit to Jon Culshaw when he's got a free moment in his 500 Year Diary.
Actually, despite all these thorns in the side, there are some golden moments for the Tenth Doctor in Fear Her. The bit when he sticks his fingers in the jar of jam is a typically alien moment. He's quietly authoritative when trying to suss out the motivations of the Isolus. Plus, there's a welcome return to that old Doctor-y wisdom when he's quietly reasoning with Rose about how everyone needs a hand to hold in the TARDIS. When the production team give this Doctor a chance, Tennant deservedly gets his moments of glory. As I've said before, they'll largely tone down the silliness and goofing around from the next season, leaving Tennant to really make his mark on the part.
Other than that, there's very little to commend in this story. The production values aren't exactly stellar, and even director Euros Lyn is struggling to work his magic on a lightweight script. I'm thinking that he was probably confused at having to direct two very similar types of story in the same production block. Both this story and The Idiot's Lantern are peas in an Isolus pod. Both concern big, patriotic events with flag-waving hordes. Both concern a killjoy alien trying to hijack the event for their own selfish needs. Both stories feature the masses being sucked into the ether by the angry alien. Little wonder that Lyn's direction is largely undistinguished this time around. Also ponder on the fact that Lyn had to film this in the freezing winter months of January and February. You can see the freezing extras developing icicles on their chins at times.
I do like the ending though. Just when you think that the story's going to end on a happy clappy note, the Doctor ominously notes that “A storm's coming”. At which point, the spooky “Oo-wee-oo” Rose theme kicks into gear over a shot of exploding fireworks in the sky. See, that's great drama in a nutshell – spooky predictions and long, solemn faces (leading to the impressive teaser for the big season finale).
But it's too little, too late. Fear Her is a dull plod that relies on syrupy sentimentality rather than well thought out drama. It's devoid of good ideas, good characters or even a tangible menace.
The long-lasting problem with Fear Her is that it acts as a template for much of the Moffat era. Too many stories of his time rely on lightweight Cbeebies-style froth, twee sentimentality, and of course, that old Everybody Lives chestnut which undoes any threat or problematic scenario with a click of the fingers. I'm not sure if Moffat is a fan of Fear Her, but considering that all these dramatic lead weights can be traced back to this story, I'm guessing it's more than likely.
Best put this one in Isolus-ation and skip ahead to the thrilling season finale...
* I've reviewed the William Hartnell & Patrick Troughton tales on my blog. Meanwhile, my ebook guides on the Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker & Peter Davison stories not only include reviews but lots of other extra stuff too. Look out for my guide to the Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy & Paul McGann Doctors early next year.
JON PERTWEE ERA - £3.86
TOM BAKER ERA VOL 1 - £3.07
TOM BAKER ERA VOL 2 - £2.51
PETER DAVISON ERA - £2.98