The Forest of Fear, A Land of Fear, The Web of Fear, The Hand of Fear, Fear Her. Doctor Who always has plenty of fear to go around. But what causes it? What is the point of fear?
According to The Silurians, it is an inbuilt instinct, and it’s powerful. When Spencer encounters the Silurians it brings up some kind of a race memory, and it is the power of fear that throws “his mind back millions of years”. In The Sun Makers it is all a chemical reaction in the brain, which can be manipulated artificially. K9 detects a “chemical inhibitor in the air”, which “means you feel fear because it affects the human nervous system and debilitates the will”. This is an unusual experience for the brave warrior Leela, but as soon as she learns the cause she finds the resolve to carry on. That’s bravery. Planet of the Daleks has a lovely moment where the nature of fear and bravery is explored, when Codal says, “I’ve been terrified ever since I landed on this planet.” The Doctor has some words of wisdom for him:
DOCTOR: Courage isn’t just a matter of not being frightened, you know.
CODAL: What is it, then?
DOCTOR: It’s being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway, just as you did.
So this is the Doctor talking about overcoming fear, but is fear itself a strength or a weakness? In The Tenth Planet, the Doctor discovers the consequences of removing emotions from the brain, including fear:
DOCTOR: Emotions. Love, pride, hate, fear. Have you no emotions, sir?
KRAIL: Come to Mondas and you will have no need of emotions. You will become like us.
But as far back as The Daleks, fear is being portrayed in Doctor Who as very much a negative emotion to be conquered. As Temmosus says to Alydon, “you must throw off these suspicions. They’re based on fear, and fear breeds hatred and war.” In The Sensorites, Carol says “it’s only fear that makes us weak”, and the Doctor realises that fighting fear is key to protecting themselves from the Sensorites:
Try and contain your emotions. Use self-control. Otherwise it confuses the brain and leaves it wide open to an attack by the Sensorites. Look at Maitland here. Fear and inertia left him vulnerable.
As recently as The Pyramid at the End of the World, the Doctor is still talking about the crippling nature of fear:
Funny thing, fear, isn’t it? Once it rules you, you’re even afraid to admit what’s scaring you. For the record, I, for one, fully understand my weakness.
And fear can have consequences for others, because it can generate xenophobia. This is a major recurring theme in Doctor Who. In The Ark, Zentos accuses the TARDIS travellers as being agents of the Refusians, based on no evidence at all. His excuse is that his “instinct, every fibre of my being, tells me differently.” But Steven sees through that, to the real cause of that “instinct”.
STEVEN: And that, unfortunately, tells me only one thing.
ZENTOS: What’s that?
STEVEN: That the nature of man, even in this day and age, hasn’t altered at all. You still fear the unknown, like everyone else before you.
Frontier in Space is perhaps our strongest example in Doctor Who of fear causing xenophobia:
PRINCE: Draconians fear nothing, female.
JO: Well, of course you do. You fear them and they fear you. That’s why when Earthmen heard that sound, they saw Draconians.
EMPEROR: That is true. We do fear the Earthmen and they fear us.
DOCTOR: And fear breeds hatred, your Majesty. Fear is the greatest enemy of them all, for fear leads us to war.
In Four to Doomsday, Persuasion mentions his previous visit to Earth, where the “dominant emotion” was fear, and their “reception was hostile” as a consequence. As Monarch says, “one only harms that which one fears”. Wise words, coming from the protagonist of the story. Fear also causes superstition, and Death to the Daleks is a good example of that:
SARAH: What separates you from the others?
BELLAL: They have made the city their god. They worship and fear it. They even make sacrifices to it.
SARAH: Yes, we almost qualified for that ourselves.
DOCTOR: Yet you don’t fear the city, Bellal. Why?
BELLAL: Yes, we do fear it, but we don’t worship it. Our aim is to destroy it. Unless we succeed, our race will vanish from this planet.
Fear has many consequences. In Fear Her, the Doctor explains that it goes hand-in-hand with loneliness, and “they’re the big ones”, which have inspired “the most terrible acts”. His solution? “You need a hand to hold.” And as the Doctor says in Amy’s Choice, “fear generates savagery.”
Fear is such a powerful emotion, that Doctor Who villains often find a way to make use of it. In The Invasion, Vaughn builds a machine to induce fear in Cybermen, but then uses it to torture Watkins as well. In The Mind of Evil the Keller Machine generates fears in the brain, which are capable of killing the victims. In The Daemons the Master finds another use for fear, using “the emotions of a group of ordinary human beings generate a tremendous charge of psychokinetic energy” and summon Azal. Love and happiness won’t do that. He “uses violent emotions. Fear, hatred, greed.” In Frontier in Space the Master is up to his old tricks again, using “ultrasonics geared to stimulate the fear centres of the brain”, and we see similar technology being used in The Sontaran Experiment when Styre investigates “resistance to fear” in humans.
Sometimes generating fear and using it as a weapon doesn’t even require fancy equipment. In The Visitation the Terileptils simply dress their robot up as the grim reaper:
I have always found fear an excellent tool.
Then, in The Five Doctors, Rassilon is able to create “strange fears and mysterious forebodings” in the minds of the Doctors and his companions, because his “mind is reaching out to attack us”. But it can be ignored:
Fear itself is largely an illusion.
In The Satan Pit the creature is manipulating people to create fear and use it as a weapon against them:
DOCTOR: That thing is playing on very basic fears. Darkness, childhood nightmares, all that stuff.
DANNY: But that’s how the devil works.
DOCTOR: Or a good psychologist.
In both The Awakening and The God Complex fear is something that can be used as an energy source and fed off of. This is relatively straightforward in The Awakening, but in The God Complex we are back in the realms of fear creating superstition, because the Doctor’s first guess that “it feeds on fear” is actually not quite the whole picture. The minotaur actually feeds on faith generated by the fear.
In the Eleventh Doctor era we get a running theme of the Doctor actually being the cause of fear. In The Pandorica Opens he is imprisoned in the Pandorica because he is “the most feared thing in all the universe”. In The Doctor’s Wife, the Doctor plays on that reputation:
HOUSE: Fear me. I’ve killed hundreds of Time Lords.
DOCTOR: Fear me. I’ve killed all of them.
This theme comes to a head in A Good Man Goes to War, when River delivers her big speech to the Doctor about how he has used fear as a weapon, and how it will be used against him:
You make them so afraid. When you began, all those years ago, sailing off to see the universe, did you ever think you’d become this? The man who can turn an army around at the mention of his name. Doctor. The word for healer and wise man throughout the universe. We get that word from you, you know. But if you carry on the way you are, what might that word come to mean? To the people of the Gamma Forests, the word Doctor means mighty warrior. How far you’ve come. And now they’ve taken a child, the child of your best friends, and they’re going to turn her into a weapon just to bring you down. And all this, my love, in fear of you.
But this is Doctor Who, and of course it’s not going to approach a theme with overwhelming negativity. In fact, right back at the very start we learn about a silver lining to fear, in An Unearthly Child (the episode appropriately titled The Forest of Fear), because fear brings people together:
Fear makes companions of all of us.
…and in that big moment in Genesis of the Daleks when the Doctor agonises about whether to wipe out the Daleks or not, he echoes these sentiments:
You see, some things could be better with the Daleks. Many future worlds will become allies just because of their fear of the Daleks.
Sometimes fear is not just a bad thing that has a silver lining. It can be a positive emotion. For a start, it keeps you alive in dangerous situations. As the Doctor says in The Time of Angels, “Scared keeps you fast. Anyone in this room who isn’t scared is a moron.” And in Oxygen: “Fear keeps you fast. Fast is good.” Fear is not always irrational either, even when we think it is. In Silence in the Library we discover the source of our fear of the dark:
Almost every species in the universe has an irrational fear of the dark. But they’re wrong, because it’s not irrational. It’s Vashta Nerada.
The Doctor himself is far from being immune to fear, although he has faced so many enemies that it is a rarity for him to feel afraid. His first ever regeneration is enough to inspire fear:
TWELFTH DOCTOR: Why are you refusing the regeneration?
FIRST DOCTOR: Fear. I’m afraid. Very, very afraid. I don’t normally admit that to anyone else.
In Planet of the Spiders he must face his fears again:
Is that fear I can feel in your mind? You are not accustomed to feeling frightened, are you, Doctor?
…and in Arc of Infinity it is his fear of failing his companions that he must conquer:
DOCTOR: How, how can, I must save Tegan. It was my fault, so how, how can. Destroyed. How can the Mara? It was my fault.
DOJJEN: Steady your mind. Attach to nothing. Let go of your fear.
A theme of Season 26 is the Doctor helping Ace to face her fears, taking her back to the house that terrified her as a child in Ghost Light, and helping her to bring her emotions to the surface and deal with them in The Curse of Fenric:
DOCTOR: Love and hate, frightening feelings, especially when they’re trapped struggling beneath the surface. Don’t be frightened of the water.
The Doctor is certainly wise when it comes to dealing with fears, and as we find out in Listen that goes right back to his childhood, when Clara teaches him all about fear. It’s one of the most beautiful speeches ever written for Doctor Who, and here it is:
I know you’re afraid, but being afraid is all right, because didn’t anybody ever tell you? Fear is a superpower. Fear can make you faster and cleverer and stronger. And one day, you’re going to come back to this barn, and on that day you’re going to be very afraid indeed. But that’s okay, because if you’re very wise and very strong, fear doesn’t have to make you cruel or cowardly. Fear can make you kind.
What is Who? Fear.
…until the next article in this series, in which I will try to illustrate why it is actually something else altogether. RP