As we all know, there’s a lot of good television out there right now. I’ll be the first to coin this phrase, but I think we’re in a “Golden Age” of TV as it were. It might be an argument for which in our sphere are the best shows, but there’s really no argument that even the very best programs have a few episodes that are undeniably awful. It’s a law of averages! This is where this column comes in. Once a week, I’m going to go through a fantastic or beloved television show and watch or re-watch the episode that’s generally agreed upon to be the worst they ever did in an effort to see if it is indeed as bad as everyone says.
To begin with, I thought I’d expel almost no energy and do the show I write about more than any other – Doctor Who. For this, I’m only looking at the new series, from 2005 to the present, mostly because there were a LOT of crappy stories back in the olden days. I also really don’t want to/don’t have time to watch “The Twin Dilemma” again, which has routinely been cited as the worst of the first 26 years.
According to the most recent Doctor Who Magazine poll, which had readers rank every story, new or old, from best to worst, the lowest ranked new series episode, by a large margin, is Series Two, episode 11, “Fear Her.” The episode sits right in between “Love & Monsters,” another quite-low ranking episode, and the two-part finale “Army of Ghosts/Doomsday” which saw the tragic departure of Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) from the series.
To be 100% honest with you, I had only ever watched “Fear Her” once before, on my initial go-through of the series. I didn’t think it was especially awful, but certainly felt no need to watch it again. Other episodes, like “The End of Time,” I actively hate and if it were my list, I’d put those well below “Fear Her.” But “Fear Her” is the one that gets the most derision, so it’s that one I watched. Before watching it for this column, I have to say I think this is the only Doctor Who episode I’d only ever seen the one time. How bad could it be?
I’m not gonna lie to you guys. This is a BAD episode. I’d sort of built it up in my head that it couldn’t possibly be as bad as everyone says it is. Like I said, I hadn’t watched it more than once but it was forgettable. It also doesn’t help that the episode was made back in the early Standard Definition days of the show, and way before the special effects became feature film quality. I always forget that that’s the way the show was before it became HUGE. Anyway, I can’t say that’s why the episode is bad, but it certainly doesn’t make me like it any better years later.
Okay, let’s talk about the episode. This is one of the annoying breed of Series Two episodes where just throughout there’s lots of lovey-dovey glances and asides that the Doctor and Rose have with each other. To use a phrase from the ol’ 1980s, gag me with a spoon. This happened a fair amount in this series, mostly just to make the farewell between the Doctor and Rose more tragic by the end. (That goodbye was completely undercut by her coming back in Series Four of course, but that’s entirely beside all points.) Again, this isn’t indicative entirely of this episode, but it’s window dressing and doesn’t help.
“Fear Her” was written by Matthew Graham, a long time TV writer who had just become hot stuff from having created the fantastic Life on Mars, a show that mixed science fiction with police procedural and a good helping of interpersonal dramedy. Unfortunately, “Fear Her” utilizes none of these elements and instead, I guess, attempts to become a neighborhood comedy cum family drama. It falls incredibly flat. It’s also set in 2012 during the Olympics, six years ahead of time, but with the exception of that happening in the background, it has nothing at all to do with the games. It’s just an excuse for the stupid Doctor-lights-the-torch finale. DUMB DUMB DUMB.
I’ve been beating around the bush. The episode is about, really, a little girl, Chloe Webber, who gets a tiny alien jellyfish in her mouth that possesses her and makes anything she draws disappear. So, when she draws neighborhood kids or what-have-you, they disappear. For what reason? We have no idea. This alien apparently can make that happen. It’s a immature young alien who got separated from its family and clings to Chloe because she similarly is a lonely girl, and had a rough childhood. It’s heavily implied that Chloe’s dad, who is no longer alive, was very abusive and she’s drawn a huge, ugly drawing of him on her closet wall. The Doctor reckons that this creature needs to find its pod to go home but the pod needs heat in order to make it go wherever it needs to go. After the Doctor gets disappeared, Rose has to find all the stuff herself, which she does, just as all the people in the Olympic stadium disappear (soooo she drew all the individual people, but not the stadium itself?) and just as Chloe is about to finish drawing a picture of the whole Earth.
Stuff I hate about this episode, besides that which I’ve already mentioned: 1) the little girl actress isn’t the best, which isn’t her fault at all, but they decided to make her just whisper loudly to indicate when the alien is talking through her. 2) There is a graphite squiggle monster. I’m going to type that again: there is a graphite squiggle monster. A monster made of graphite squiggle. That the Doctor picks up and can erase with an eraser. 3) Why the hell do they never leave that one little stretch of neighborhood, and where is that meant to be in proximity to the Olympics? I’m damn skippy any such neighborhood near enough to an Olympic stadium in 2012 was absolutely teeming with people, not just maybe 30 lookie-loos. 4) Why and how can this alien do what it does? 5) If she draws the Earth, she will also disappear because she’s on that planet, right? 6) If the drawings returning people back to where they were means the spell is broken, why would that lead to the drawing of her dad doing the same? She didn’t make the dad disappear, did she? 7) Rose begins whining about the Doctor not having come back yet at probably the 30 second mark of him not being back yet.
Is anything good about this episode? Not really. There’s some funny word-vomit from Tennant which is always fun to watch but generally it’s just a whole lot of nothing. This episode was the result of another script, one written by Stephen Fry that was ultimately never produced, having been postponed and a cheap script needed to be written very quickly. Boy, does it ever show. This is one of the least thought-out stories of Doctor Who ever, and it really looks like it cost $0.35 to produce. Is it the worst episode of Doctor Who ever, though? I still think there are worse ones than “Fear Her,” but I will probably never watch this episode again.
And there we have it. Not too painful, right? We’ll all have some fun with this going forward, I hope. Let me know in the comments below what other TV shows and worst episodes thereof you’d like me to cover. We’ve got a lot to choose from. And who knows? Maybe I’ll come back to these shows multiple times if I get enough discrepancy.