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Feature: Doctor Who (2000s)
Writer Matthew Graham & director Euros Lyn on the episode Fear Her, combining alien creatures, a solitary child, and the 2012 Olympics
Part of the joy of Doctor Who is its diversity. The show can be brilliant when it’s about Dalek invasions, a parallel Earth falling prey to armies of Cybermen, or an ancient demonic force that is imprisoned within a planet that orbits a black hole.
On the other hand, it can be equally effective when it concerns one troubled child on a housing estate. Fear Her is a case in point: a ‘smaller’ episode written by Life on Mars creator Matthew Graham, it was intended as the calm before the storm of the two final climactic episodes. Yet according to those who have seen it, this is one of the highlights of the second season.
“It’s intimate, it’s sweet, there’s a child-like quality to it, and it’s absolutely brilliant,” raves Russell T Davies. “Honest to God, it’s one of the best episodes we’ve ever made. I did go into the edit thinking, ‘I like the big ones; I love the script, but this isn’t going to be one of my absolute favourites’. And it is.”
“I’m very excited by it,” concurs director Euros Lyn. “I think it’s crept up on us a little bit.”
Fear Her is set in the future – but only slightly. It’s the year 2012, the Olympics have come to London, and away from the mêlée the TARDIS lands in a very ordinary street.
“It’s very much what happens when the TARDIS appears at the bottom of your road, rather than World War II or some exotic period setting,” says Graham. “That’s what I remember being excited by as a child – the idea that I could look out of my bedroom window and the TARDIS would be on my street.”
“It’s a setting we see all the time on television,” continues Lyn. “It’s a Brookside-style close, with red brick, very square Lego-style houses. We were slightly worried it might be a little bit ordinary, but Matthew’s writing is so brilliantly paced and his drama is so carefully worked out that you watch the episode with stomach in knots. It is genuinely tense and frightening.
“Almost all of the episode happens in daylight and in terms of its look and tone we were going for something more like Edward Scissorhands, or like Desperate Housewives. We wanted it to be bright and sunny… and then you discover there’s this little girl and there’s something very, very wrong with her. It’s a story about the rot in paradise, the darkness in suburbia.”
Troubled young Chloe is played by 12-year-old newcomer Abisola Agbaje, who had no professional experience at all before going before the Doctor Who cameras.
“She’d never done anything other than Cinderella Shoeshine with the Peckham Rye Amateur Dramatics Association,” Lyn confirms. “We did do a lot of auditions. We wanted to cast a black family in this episode, and there weren’t that many black kids coming through the regular theatrical agents. We had to go out into the community and get in touch with various groups who then introduced us to some candidates.
“I think she’s done a really good job with it. It’s not quite playing Linda Blair in The Exorcist, but it’s that intensity of performance she had to give.”
by David Richardson
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