Sunday, June 25, 2006

Sketchy At Best

Prefect SlogBetter. From last week's Blue Peter competition winner, Doctor Who has improved its game to bring it in line with the standard of entry for Tony Hart's Vision On gallery, apparently choosing to draw (ha!)inspiration from Paperhouse(1988) - a movie I've only seen bits of, but one I now want to watch in order to see if it's any more creepy and effective than Fear Her.
It's not that Fear Her was bad. It's just that it was such a huge improvement on last week's Love & Monsters that it achieved the distinction of being remarkably average. Not just ordinary, but extra ordinary. And the trouble with anything that average is that it doesn't penetrate nearly as deeply as anything excellent (The Empty Child, say) or dreadful (take your pick) and leaves you with not much you can say about it.
So there we have it. Fear Her.
Oh, all right then, I'll make an effort.
Somewhere in there was a good story. A kid has the power to capture people and things in her drawings (cool) and to bring her drawings to life (also cool, but not a flip side that's explored to any satisfactory degree in the episode). It's because the girl's been possessed by an alien (so-so) that's out to secure as many friends for itself as possible because it's lonely (awww - actually a nice and fairly novel bit of motivation for an alien 'menace'.) (And I use the word 'menace' loosely, because there's actually very little of it in evidence here.)
With that to play with, the episode does manage a steady build-up, with a mystery that's allowed to develop at a well-judged pace - not something we get to see a lot of in Doctor Who these days - and even delivers some sense of menace from the drawing in the cupboard, the fact that it's a portrait of the girl's father leading the imagination along genuinely and uncomfortably creepy lines.
Working against it, all the time, is the pedestrian setting and, not just that, the pedestrian approach to shooting that setting. There's a complete absence of atmosphere. And the menace fails to materialise, in part because the only real monster on offer stays in the cupboard.
Okay, it does break out towards the end, but by then it's all a bit too late and we've been lulled into the belief we've been watching an especially sleepy episode of some X-Files/Eastenders crossover. An impression reinforced by the inclusion of Frank Butcher's Mum from the UK's number one soap. I wonder, if the producers more time working on Doctor Who stories instead of struggling so hard for all this relevance to contemporary audiences, might we begin to see something better and something more like, well, Doctor Who. And making it a bit more Eastenders doesn't ground it in reality, it just grounds it in Wolford.
For some reason, there's also this whole Olympic Games thread running (ha) throughout and we're left to wonder why, until the end, when the Doctor takes up the torch (torch - Torchwood?) and yours truly starts hunting around for a sick bag. Far too lame for track and field.
There were nice comic moments - the TARDIS materialising the wrong way around, with the Doctor unable to get out - and there were nice character moments - "I was a dad once", the Doctor says. But there's nothing, least of all the Olympic torch, that can possibly make this episode shine. Even the nicely judged (relative to what we've seen in this series) story development falls down like a - like a paper house (haha) when we fall once more into explanation territory, somewhere in the middle. There's nowhere near enough story here for two parts, but the Doctor has to know all about the aliens in order for this to meet its 45 minute deadline, and sitting in a bedroom talking about aliens might be what Doctor Who fans do when their show isn't on, but it doesn't make for great viewing or storytelling.
At which point, I'm sorry, I get tired and I'm sure there's more I could say, but I just don't have the energy or inclination. Fear Her is an instruction and obviously that's what we're meant to do, but it's about what you'd expect from the tell-don't-show approach. Which is especially ironic in an episode that, to begin with, at least made efforts in the other direction.
In the end it all boils down to one word: 'meh'. Or, as we say these days, it's all a bit Idiots' Lantern.
As something of an epilogue, the trailer for next week's would have excited some interest but for the fact that I'm a little tired of Doctor Who being used as a promotional vehicle for its own spinoff series (they're making this thing called Torchwood, by the way, did you know?) and the return of the Cybermen just manages to rub salt in the two-part wound that was Rise Of The Cybermen and Age Of Steel. They set that bloody thing on an *alternative Earth*. They could have had the Cybermen *win*, for crying out loud. Then, when they return, they're actually a bona fide, all-conquering menace, and we've a real reason to fear them. As it is, I'll just have to hope someone manages to override my emotional inhibitor chip so that I can be induced to care.


TimeWarden said...

"Paperhouse" is only very loosely based on children's novel "Marianne Dreams" by Catherine Storr and nowhere near as interesting as its source.

Stuart Douglas said...

You're being far too kind Simon - that was utterly and completely worthless television, from the giving the plot away teaser to the saccharine-coated ending.

Awful, awful, awful, awful (i think I need some more medicine now nurse)

SAF said...

I think perhaps you're right, Stuart. By inflicting the shite that was "L&M" on me in the previous week, they created the illusion that this was better than it actually was. It was a cruel trick and I won't fall for it again!