One of the great things about Doctor Who is its variation in tone, genre, and pace. It’s how it can go from the high-adrenaline, exciting confusion of a Steven Moffat written episode, to a more slower-paced, traditional story-led episode, and appeal to different sections of the audience.
Night Terrors, penned by Mark Gatiss, was definitely a slower-paced, stand-alone episode. Like Gatiss’s previous Who episodes, it was simple yet slick, creepy in places, and full of pastiche and nods to 1970s horror films and tv shows. I think Mark Gatiss is a talented writer, and I’m a huge fan of the League of Gentlemen, so I’ll always have a soft spot for him, but I just think his Doctor Who episodes, except for The Unquiet Dead, tend to be rather predictable and uninspiring. That’s not to say they are bad, although the less we say about the Victory of the Daleks the better, it’s just that they feel a little stagnant, and this is highlighted even more so now that Moffat is the show-runner.
But I just have to accept that this episode wasn’t made for me. I know it was liked by plenty of other Who fans, old and new. For those that complain about the complicated series-arc, this was an episode for them to enjoy for what it was. And I’m sure it frightened and entertained children in equal measure.
Doctor Who Episode 9 Review - Monsters Are Real
There is a reason why Night Terrors perhaps felt out of place, and that’s because, well, it was out of place. This episode was originally intended to air in the first half of the series, somewhere before The Rebel Flesh. We don’t know the exact reasons why it was moved, maybe Moffat felt there were too many “dark” episodes in a row, although the episode that replaced it was The Curse of the Black Spot, which was also set at night.
The moving around of the episode would certainly explain Amy and Rory’s indifference in finding their daughter Melody, because of course, when this episode was filmed their daughter wasn’t born yet. And also, at this point Amy is a ganger and not the real Amy Pond, hence the Doctor’s line “Back in the flesh”, which instead of a neat little foreshadowing now sounds like an insensitive dig.
Night Terrors felt similar to the Series 2 episode Fear Her, except this one didn’t seem like it was a sixth form college video project. Night Terrors was beautifully shot, I love when the dank and dreary can be made dazzling, and the shots of the block of flats looked incredible. But it was similar to Fear Her in concept; a child has a psychic ability to control things based on their fears and imagination - and both episodes featured something evil lurking inside a cupboard.
The Doctor has always had a connection with children, the original target audience of the show was children, and this episode was all about the fears children have, and how to help them. Little George’s cry for help travelled through the stars and the galaxies, and reached the Doctor on his TARDIS. “He needs a Doctor,” his Mother says, and that is exactly what George is about to get.
George, a seven year old boy, lives with his parents in a block of flats in London, and he is terrified of things that go bump in the night. He is spooked by old toys, he thinks the old woman next door is a witch, he is even afraid of the noise the lift makes.
When George is scared of something he locks it away in his cupboard, it is a ritual that he and his parents have set up to control his fears, this also involves switching the light on and off five times. The Doctor, posing as the social services, tries to get to the bottom of George’s fears, at first trying to cheer George up by impressing him with gadgets, like his sonic screwdriver. But when the screwdriver can’t pick up a read on the cupboard, the Doctor starts to become fearful himself, as he tells Alex, George’s Dad, that “George’s monsters are real.”
Meanwhile the Ponds have taken a lift to hell, “We’re dead — again!” Rory says, in a self-depreciating nod to the many deaths Rory has had during his time on the show. But the Ponds aren’t dead, rather they are trapped in what turns out to be a freaky dolls house, complete with wooden pans, glass eyes, and painted on clocks. Oh, and some walking, talking, living dolls, that look like Chuckie on steroids!
Gatiss is good at coming up with sinister looking monsters, I’ll give him that. The dolls were genuinely unsettling, and the transformation of the other characters from humans in to porcelain monstrosities was very well done, and probably got a fair few of the children watching locking themselves in the cupboard!
It soon became apparent that George’s fears were being held captive inside the dolls house. The old woman, that George believed was a witch, was sucked in through a pile of rubbish, which I thought was a metaphor for her acting ability. The evil landlord was sucked in through the carpet. And the Ponds were brought there via the lift, but why was George afraid of Amy and Rory? Well, earlier in the episode when Amy and Rory walked by George’s window he overheard Rory saying “Maybe we should let the monsters gobble him up”.
Even though the episode was fairly safe and straight-forward it did have a nice twist with George turning out to be some kind of alien, a Tenser the Doctor called him, a creature that seeks out a home and can adapt itself to its surroundings. Alex remembers that his wife Claire wasn’t able to have babies of her own, a fact that had been all but erased from his memory. George just wants to be wanted, but he is scared that his parents want to send him away, and this aggravates his other fears, which he can physically lock away inside of the dolls house - a psychic repository as the Doctor puts it.
Amy is turned in to a doll, again this would have been a nice reference to Amy not being the true Amy had this episode aired during the first half of the series. I wonder if we will be seeing Amy dolls (not those kind of dolls) in Toys R Us this Christmas.
The Doctor and Alex are sucked in to the dolls house as well, and find themselves surrounded by the evil dolls. It isn’t up to the Doctor to save the day this time, it is up to George and his father, and acceptance, the acceptance of fear and love. Alex battles the dolls and protects George, telling him that he is his son no matter what he is.
Everything is returned to normal, almost as if it was all a dream, and the Doctor and the Ponds go on their way, successful in their house-call.
As I said, it was a stand-alone episode that was slightly slow-going but told it’s story well, and had convincing monsters. There wasn’t anything to get my teeth stuck in to story-arc wise, apart from the reminder of the Doctor’s date of death at the end of the episode. I personally think that this episode would’ve worked better in it’s original slot within the first half of the series, and perhaps on the DVD release it will be returned to its intended spot.
The preview for next week’s episode was madness, I have no idea what is going on, it was like Amy was stuck in a sadistic version of The Cube! Again, that is the beauty of Doctor Who, how it can flip pace week to week and continuously deliver entertaining television.
by Martin Holmes
The Impossible Astronaut Review: http://bit.ly/esSJmD
The Rebel Flesh: http://bit.ly/k6qbKl