Thursday, May 22, 2008

view from the panopticon- fear her

12-30-06 "Fear Her"

"I’m being facetious, aren’t I?" --The Doctor

I didn’t exactly expect to like this when I read the premise, but it actually wasn’t a bad episode. Not the shining gold of the season, but better than "Idiot’s Lantern" and certainly better than "Love & Monsters." I think the title’s audacious, and it isn’t your typical monster story either. I just wish it didn’t get so cheesy at the end.

The episode starts off with some strange music which permeates throughout the rest of it. I think I’ve gotten used to it by the end, but it’s kind of a distraction at first. We’re introduced to a fairly normal London street, looking basically contemporary, with a lot of women with baby strollers. There are kids playing soccer on the front lawns, and an elderly woman, Maeve, looking slightly confused. The direction gets very dramatic as we do a complete 360° (actually, several) around her. I can’t decide whether this is too much or just enough to create a level of suspense. Suddenly we see Hugh Grant’s secretary from Love Actually (aka Nina Sosyana) looking worried. A strange figure is watching the street from her house. Maeve admonishes the father of the children playing soccer, "Get ‘em inside!" They’re not safe. The father demurs; he’s watching them, they’re perfectly safe. "It likes it when they’re playing!" Maeve says, in increasingly frightened tones. Upstairs, in the Webbers’ house, the figure is a small girl, drawing. She reproduces the boy across the street perfectly with colored pencils, and then he disappears. We’ve got that she’s captured him by drawing him.

I like this concept. Drawing is something that seems to be a primal human means of expression (cave paintings, for example), and perhaps because I’m an artist the thought of capturing something by drawing it is very interesting. I think the primary reason for drawing is to express, but a secondary one (at least until the invention of photography) was to keep a record of the things around us, people, places, objects. In a sense, keeping a record of them made them our own. So this whole idea that an alien can use energy to capture objects and people from time-space isn’t really that far off from theory. Even though the Eighth Doctor admonishes not to find patterns that aren’t there, I think I’m beginning to see a theme for this season: being trapped. Trapped in TV, trapped by drawing, trapped in a black hole, trapped (forever) in a parallel universe. I don’t know what this means exactly, other than another observation on the Doctor’s aloneness, his being trapped in a sort of solitary confinement. Or I could be reading into it too deeply.

There’s a funny moment where the TARDIS parks and re-parks so that the door can actually be opened (where is this filmed? Again, it looks really familiar). I saw an avatar not too long ago that had a picture of the Tenth Doctor and it said, "Keep the tie." I thought to myself, when does he ever ditch the tie? Bingo. Here. Anyway, as the Doctor and Rose walk out of the TARDIS, Rose notices a poster of Shayne West, who I understand was last year’s X Factor winner? Ha! Like he’s going to be around in 2012. So, the Doctor reveals that they’ve landed in 2012 London for the Olympics, which again may be something of an audacious choice of setting on Mathew Graham’s part. (By the way, when I was in London June 2005 I talked to people on the Tube who didn’t want the Olympics because it was going to cost so much money. It was the opposite in Paris in April 2005; the Parisians really wanted it. So I was shocked when it was announced London had gotten it.) The Doctor waxes nostalgic for past Olympiads, including the very first ancient Greek ones, lauding some athlete’s "legs like pipe cleaners" and then extolling the virtues of cakes with "edible ball bearings" on them. Rose finally gets him to shut up by noticing that the street is very quiet, even though the flags everywhere indicate their gearing up for the Olympic torchbearer to pass through. The Doctor notices it’s unseasonably cold.

They run into Kel, who also appeared in Love Actually (!) who is a council road repairman. He tells Rose that the street’s been "bonkers"; there are missing children posters all over, all of the children missing in the last week or so. There’s a funny smell, too, and the Doctor runs off to the soccer goalpost where the boys were playing before the one disappeared. He leans down and stretches out his hand. "Hmmm," he laughs, "tickles!" The father appears, wondering, "Hey, what’s your game?" The Doctor’s being delightfully facetious: "Snakes and ladders? Er . . . squash?" Rose and Kel run up; the Doctor explains that he’s a policeman and Rose is his new recruit. "She looks less like a cop than you do." The psychic paper does its job, but the father, Maeve, Kel, and other parents, including Mrs. Webber, start arguing amongst themselves. For an amazingly long amount of time. The parents accuse Kel of being somehow responsible for the children’s disappearances, which he of course denies. It isn’t this Doctor’s style to shout, "Oi! A bit o’ hush!" Instead, he puts his finger to his lips, which everyone slowly mimics. It’s a strange sight to see a bunch of adults perpetrating, but if that’s what it takes to get everyone quiet . . .

In a back alley that looks suspiciously like one later used in Torchwood, the Doctor and Rose find more of the weird smell and of residual energy that makes the Doctor’s "manly arm hair" stand up. At the Webbers’, Chloe is drawing and drawing. Her mother gently suggests that she might want to do something else, considering she hasn’t been sleeping very well. Chloe impatiently pushes aside her mother’s concern, saying that she’s busy. "Have you seen the TV?" Mrs. Webber asks brightly. She tries to interest Chloe is the Olympic preparations, but Chloe reiterates that she’s busy and is not to be disturbed. "Unless you want me to draw you, Mum." Mrs. Webber is seriously freaked out, and script writers everywhere take note: there’s hardly anything worse than creepy kids. The boy in Chloe’s drawing is "moaning" for companionship; Chloe begins to draw a cat she sees outside. In the street, Rose notices the cute fluffy cat. The Doctor thinks she’s talking about him—"Thanks, I’m experienced with back-combing"—until he notices the cat too. He scrunches up his face in distaste. "Not really a cat person." Which contradicts a) the Sixth Doctor, who loved cats; b) the Ninth Doctor, who stroked a stray in "Empty Child." But at least he explains it based on the events in "New Earth." The cat disappears into a cardboard box. Chloe admonishes all the captured people in her drawings, "You don’t know what it is to be alone!" Frustrated, she scribbles on her paper.

Rose and the Doctor split up. Rose hears something banging around in a garage (gaaaaiiiiir-AGE). "Not gonna open it," she says. Of course she does open it and gets attacked by a scribbly-monster. The Doctor saves her by zapping it with the sonic screwdriver. (The special effects are done more effectively than you might think.) "You killed it!" "It was never alive." They take it back to the TARDIS to analyze it. It’s graphite. "Like a kid’s scribble," Rose deducts. The Doctor even sexily congratulates her on her deductive reasoning skills. They approach Mrs. Webber, offering their help. She’s at first reluctant, but by use of reverse psychology, they are called in to assist. Mrs. Webber explains that Chloe’s recently lost her father. "I’m sorry to hear that." "You wouldn’t be if you’d known him." One of those kinds of dads, eh? (I’m reminded for some reason of Dear Frankie: "Frankie wasn’t born deaf. It was a gift from his dad.") Mrs. Webber reiterates that Chloe’s good in school, a bright, if somewhat solitary child. "Right now she’s not herself."

Rose excuses herself to the loo, by which she really means Chloe’s room. Chloe’s not in, but her room looks a lot like mine, ie, that there’s stuff all over the walls. Heh. Rose notes this with some astonishment, then gets scared by a rattling closet with a scary devil-man drawing inside. Downstairs, Chloe’s getting food from the fridge. The Doctor introduces himself and admits that he’s "rubbish [at drawing]." He tries to get her to live long and prosper, but she’s ready to go back to drawing. She starts up the stairs when Rose screams. Everyone comes after her, and she explains about the man in the closet. Turns out Chloe’s been dreaming about her father terrorizing her. Mrs. Webber orders the Doctor and Rose out, but the Doctor notes that, "Who’s going to believe you?" other than them.

They go back downstairs, where the Doctor starts randomly eating jam. An alien’s taken control of Chloe and is giving her the power to abduct people from reality. When they get back upstairs, the Doctor does his mind-meld again (and he could get sued for that, I think, my Egypt Centre training getting the best of me). He wants "parley, according to the Shadow Proclamation—"

Jack Sparrow suddenly walks in the room. "Who the hell are you?" the Doctor asks. "Did someone say parley?" Jack Sparrow asks. "Hold on a minute, do I know you?" the Doctor asks. "Don’ think so," Jack Sparrow says meditatively, stroking his moustache. "Is this a wedding? ‘Cause I love weddings." "Can we keep him, Doctor?" Rose asks, looking appreciatively at the pirate. The Doctor scans Jack Sparrow with his sonic screwdriver, who staggers about the room drunkenly. "This can’t be right," says the Doctor. "Someone’s hijacked his fandom and brought him here. Not the first time this’s happened, either." He jabs his finger authoritatively at the writer. "Who gave you permission to insert other characters into this episode review? Did you have too much sugar?" The writer doesn’t reply. "I don’t care if you think this meta-fictional thing is cute. I warn you, if you don’t stop I’m never going to wear my glasses again!" Jack Sparrow disappears. Rose pouts. The Doctor hmphs.

The alien in Chloe Webber doesn’t care about Shadow Proclamations. It loves Chloe Webber and isn’t going anywhere. "You’re lonely, I know," the Doctor says. The alien reveals itself as being an Isolus, a creature with a strong empathic link. The mother of the species produces billions of seed pods. The creatures depend on their strong familial ties to survive through their long maturation phase. "Don’ you get bored?" Rose wants to know. "We play," the creature explains. The Doctor notes that they create worlds for playing. A bit like the Brontës, lonely children too who delighted in their imaginary play on the moors, escape from dreary boarding schools and a cold, paranoid father. This Isolus was separated from its brothers and sisters when its seed-pod crashed on Earth. It was attracted to the heat in Chloe’s window. The Doctor’s sympathetic, but insists "it’s wrong" to inhabit Chloe’s body. The Isolus asserts that it enjoys its host, for Chloe, too, was lonely. Mrs. Webber winces. The Doctor suggests that he’ll find the Isolus’ pod and that’ll allow it to leave Earth and find its family. This is a lot of exposition in a small space, but again, I think the idea’s pretty fresh.

As the Doctor and Rose head back to the TARDIS, Chloe sees the Olympics on TV—someone holds up a Welsh flag!—and decides, of course, that she’s going to capture all of the spectators so she’ll never have to be alone. "It’s desperate to be loved," the Doctor says. Rose is skeptical. No doubt she recalls the Gelth and how the Doctor was wrong and she was right. She remembers how mean kids can be. "I sympathize [with it]," the Doctor says. "But you’ve never had kids," Rose points out. "I was a dad once," he mutters. Rose is like, huh? He doesn’t repeat what he said, but for me it’s the best part of the episode. No one ever mentions Susan anymore, and I hope that little comment made all the teeny-boppers’ heads spin. The Doctor asserts that people alone in the universe "need a hand to hold." He grabs Rose’s hand, though she clarifies she was pointing to something. As they go off to find the pod, Chloe puerilely starts drawing the TARDIS and the Doctor. They disappear. Rose is on her own.

She finds Kel again, who is repairing potholes. She’s not interested in his road-repair manifesto—"put it in a book about tarmac"—but wants to know if anything unusual happened six days before. He recalls filling in a pothole nearby, and Rose takes "the council axe" from "the council van" and starts digging up the pothole. It’s clear that Billie Piper’s not used to handling axes, but she throws herself into the attempt. "What’s that?" Kel wants to know. "It’s a space ship!" Rose gushes. LOL. Chloe has already drawn the entirety of the Olympic crowd. "Thousands of people have just gone," says the bewildered commentator. Is that the Cardiff Millennium Stadium? Hmmm. The music gets way out of control as Rose races to show Chloe the pod. The Isolus isn’t interested. It’s not stopping at the Olympic crowd; the whole world is next. The drawing of the Doctor points to what I guess is the Olympic torch (the Doctor was right; he is rubbish at drawing; I’d totally beat him in Pictionary).

Fortunately the torch-bearer is running through the street right at that moment. Rose throws the pod into the flame, which jump-starts it. The Isolus tells Chloe it loves her and leaves. The world is saved. All the captured people start reappearing. Rose gives her puppy dog face and wonders where the Doctor is.
Unfortunately, since the Isolus had the power to make real people into drawing, it also seems to have the power to make drawings into real people; such is the case with Chloe’s dad, who starts coming down the stairs, monster-under-the-bed-style. Chloe and her mother are trapped in the house. They start singing the Kookabura song and the nightmares go away. Maeve sees Rose on the street and thanks her for her help. But where’s the Doctor go to? Why, he’s carrying the flame to the Olympics. Oh dear. I believe that’s one of the cheesiest things I’ve seen on the show. Anyway, after his Olympic run, the Doctor returns with Rose to watch the fireworks in the sky. She rather naively declares, "We’ll be together forever, don’t you reckon?" The Doctor makes no promises; he’s distracted by an approaching storm . . .

Since I’ve written way too much about this already, I’ll just say it wasn’t a bad episode, but the end was kind of a let-down.

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