Fear Her in the Post-Moffat Era

(I won't use spoilers for The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang in deference to my North American brothers and sisters, so proceed with confidence.)I was revisiting the much maligned Fear Her from Doctor Who's second series for other projects, and it struck me that is was due for reevaluation. A lot of fans consider this episode the very worst New Who ever offered, and while I wouldn't go that far (there are some strong bits featuring the regulars), I'll agree that it'll probably never be anyone's favorite. But why does it garner so much vitriol when it's basically a fairy tale in the style of Moffat's most celebrated stories?

Because it really isn't.

Moffat's fairy tales work for a very specific reason. Though some of the trapping are "magical" and "nonsense", he always tells you the rules well before you get to the climax. The Weeping Angels, for example, are a crazy idea, but you accept them because we're told the rules early on, and those rules are never broken. The stories are internally consistent even if they might seem atypical of Doctor Who at large. With Moffat, reveals aren't "ah-HA, you didn't know that...!" but rather "remember when we said this, well, ah-HA!" Everything is earned because it's been embedded earlier in the story. Even the things you don't at first buy make sense by the end.
Not so Fear Her. On the surface, it could be a Moffat story. We have a lonely little girl possessed by a lonely little alien who literally captures on paper anyone she draws. It's a storybook idea. It's a fairy tale. Why doesn't it work as well as, say, The Girl in the Fireplace? And the answer is that it's not internally consistent. It breaks what few rules it actually establishes.

Even given the fact that technobabble rules are far less effective than things like "don't blink, if you blink you're dead", Fear Her does give us rules we can understand. If Chloe draws something or someone, it is transported to an "ionic holding pen". The paper seems to act like a window to that pocket dimension and the characters can move within it (though there's a perception filter effect to it, it happens in the corner of your eye). The Isolus usually use this space as a sort of virtual reality to amuse themselves as their little pods coast on stellar heat and love. Chloe/Isolus can also draw something and allow it out of the VR world, like the scribble creature and Chloe's abusive dad. When the Isolus leaves, everything taken returns to the location where it was taken. But if those are the "rules"...

Why does Chloe imply the taken kids are all together, but also feels the need to draw a cat with Dale because he's lonely? If the Isolus draws its strength from love, why does it cut Chloe off from friends and family? How does the Doctor draw an Olympic torch on his piece of paper (as a clue, not as a sign that the torch had been taken)? When the Isolus leaves, why are the VR creatures let loose instead of returned to the pocket dimension or rendered harmless drawings? If the Isolus loved Chloe, why would it leave her such a parting gift? These are not "earned" because they come out of the blue (unlike the location of the pod, which is telegraphed to the point of making it a non-issue).
And they're not the only things that aren't earned. The torch bearer suddenly collapses for no reason. The Doctor apparently knew it was going to happen, because he's right there to pick it up even as the commentator ridiculously claims that the Olympic dream is... dead! Even the end that hopes to foreshadow the events of Doomsday ("there's a storm coming") comes out of nowhere. Just another magical revelation that isn't set up in the episode in the least. The story falls apart at a very basic level, but it's not because of the premise, it's because the writer didn't work out his premise thoroughly. Or so the Moffat stories have taught me.


Jeff R. said...

If "Fear Her" isn't the worst new who outing, then what is, though? The Season 3 Dalek stories?

Also, consistency isn't the whole of the story. After all, Moffat was able to get away with completely inverting the Angel-survival formula in Flesh And Stone, in a way that really made no sense at all...

Siskoid said...

Worst New Who episode is a debatable thing, but for me personally, it's Voyage of the Damned. Evolution of the Daleks is pretty close though.

As for Flesh and Stone, I'd have to watch it again to see just HOW Moffat gets away with it, as you say, but it did seem earned at the time.

Radagast said...

Thanks for not only clarifying what's wrong with Fear Her, but also what's right with the Moffat tales. I'll keep that in mind next time I feel the need to respond to criticism of his work (not that it should normally need defending).

Siskoid said...

It's Doctor Who fandom.

Divided and often absurdly spiteful. There are people who hated hated hated the best episodes Series 5.

That said, I'm happy to say I like every iteration of the Doctor. Not blind to their weaknesses, but Doctor Who is generally better than Not Doctor Who.


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