Doctor Who: Night Terrors

Rory: 'We're dead... again!'

I had the strangest feeling during 'Night Terrors' that I was watching a Russell T. Davies produced episode, written by Steven Moffat. The script felt like a retread of 'Fear Her', yet the subject matter felt distinctly Moffatian. How odd that it was actually a Moffat produced episode, written by Mark Gatiss. For a moment, I though the Doctor had used his TARDIS to take us back in time to the Russell T. Davies era. Now there's a chilling thought.

For a bottle episode, I didn't think this was half bad. It was certainly a step up from Gatiss' more recent efforts; 'The Idiot's Lantern' and 'Victory of the Daleks' were hardly shining examples of what the show's capable of. With episodes aimed at the younger end of the demographic, it's often difficult to judge their effectiveness. I'm too old to remember what it feels like to be afraid of monsters hiding in the wardrobe (although I definitely recall believing in them), but I did find the dolls supremely creepy. They felt reminiscent of the clockwork robots in 'The Girl In the Fireplace'.

Jamie Oram did a sterling job as the other-wordly George. I loved the way he spoke; his diction was so precise that he sounded old beyond his years. I just wish I'd watched tonight's episode with a room full of nine year olds, as I'm pretty sure they'd have loved it. Thankfully, watching Smith working alongside Ashes to Ashes bad boy Daniel Mays was enough to keep the adults entertained. In fact, the strength of the acting is what kept tonight's surreal tale from descending into camp farce. I did struggle to connect with some of the more kid-friendly aspects of the episode, but Gatiss' dialogue was crisp and reliably humorous. I loved him poking fun at the fact that Rory keeps on dying. It seems even Rory's begun to notice.

It's not often I praise Doctor Who for its CGI, but I liked what The Mill did with the dolls. The elongating fingers and rapid hair growth had an unnerving effect, and reminded me of Play-Do's Mop Top Hair Shop. (For anyone who remembers the 80s.) Purcell disappearing into the carpet was perhaps a less successful effect—in fact, why was Purcell in this episode at all? All he did is demand his rent and then dissolve through the floor. He felt like nothing more than a convenient plot device to afford the Doctor and George some time alone.

I was critical of the dialogue in 'Victory of the Daleks' as it sounded too much like it'd been written for David Tennant, but tonight's dialogue bore no such weaknesses. Gatiss made an interesting comment in Doctor Who Confidential that all show writers end up defaulting to their own era Doctor, which in Gatiss' case would be Jon Pertwee, so there's probably some truth to that. Smith's Doctor is definitely Pertwee-esque, and I thought Matt did a terrific job with Gatiss' often verbose dialogue. It requires a special kind of actor to take what is essentially gibberish and make it sound like the ramblings of genius, and being around children seems to bring out the best in Smith's acting—not to mention the Doctor's paternal instincts.

This was an episode which seemed to spark a real Marmite reaction amongst my friends. (For the record, I think that Marmite tastes like shit.) My own reaction to it was more middle of the road; there were things about it I liked, and things which I was less fond of. Mrs Rossiter, for example, felt like a walking horror cliché. It was obvious what was going to happen the minute she started shouting at those bin bags. I had to laugh at the thickness of the stunt double's legs compared to Mrs Rossiter's—it was so obviously not her. Leila Hoffman's legs are like twigs.

Gatiss' love of the horror genre shone through in the script, but for me, the emotional aspect of the story felt a little too contrived. The 'you're my son' pay-off didn't move me as much as it should have. It was a lovely character moment, but it didn't resonate on an emotional level. The Doctor deducing George's identity also seemed a little too easy—he was like Sherlock Holmes on crack—but I did like the idea of the Tenza. It's always nice to have an alien threat who doesn't want to see humanity vanquished. All George wanted was to be loved—which provided a neat little solution to Claire's infertility.

There was also an issue with timing. This episode was originally scheduled to run after 'The Curse of the Black Spot,' but was shifted from slot four to slot nine. (Apparently, to provide more variety early on.) Unfortunately, this rather killed the main season arc's momentum. Neither Rory nor Amy seemed particularly concerned about Melody's whereabouts—probably because, back in episode four, they didn't even know she existed—which led to a total disconnect. (Not unlike the continuity cock-up between 'School Reunion' and 'The Girl in the Fireplace'.) Next week's episode, looks vaguely non-arc, too—though the teaser does look intriguing. Here's hoping for better things.

Other Thoughts:

—Amy and Rory were wasted tonight. Their inclusion in the story felt more like an afterthought.

—The kids' singing felt clichéd. But what are we to make of the Tenza knowing of the Doctor's fated demise?

—Yes, I did almost crap myself when Purcell knocked at the door.

—Setting tonight's story in the city made it feel more RTD era than Moffat era. Moffat usually favours a countryside locale.

—Rory complained about the Doctor's sonic screwdriver not having a setting for wood in 'The Hungry Earth' and 'The Curse of the Black Spot.'

—Loved the Doctor's face when his sonic screwdriver's reading went off the scale. He looked more terrified than George.

—Despite the flats being real, the external shots felt a little flat somehow. It almost felt like a set.

Quotes:

Rory: “Community support. Just checking on community-based... things.”

Alex: "He hates clowns."
Doctor: "Understandable."

Doctor: “One thing I can tell you, Alex... monsters are real.”
Alex: “You're not from social services, are you?”

Doctor: “First things first. You got any Jammie Dodgers?”

Rory: “That's just weird.”
Amy: “Says the time-travelling nurse.”

Alex: “We went into the cupboard. How can it be bigger in here?”
Doctor: “It's more common that you think, actually.”

Doctor: “Oi! Listen, mush. Old eyes, remember? I've been around the block a few times. More than a few. They've knocked down the blocks I've been round and rebuilt them with bigger blocks. Super-blocks. I've been round them, as well.”

Doctor : “I can't just plump for Brian, like I normally do.”

Doctor: "Wood! I've got to invent a setting for wood. It's embarrassing.”

Amy: “Was I...?”
Rory: “Yeah!”

Doctor: "Claire. How do you feel about kippers?"
---
Also posted at The Time Meddler.

13 comments:

Josie Kafka said...

I liked this one more than I usually like the stand-alones. But perhaps that is because...

[Should I confess it? It's so shameful.]

...A large cockroach currently lives in my kitchen. I am a very, very clean person. I love bleach, scrubbing, and taking out the trash. So I am horrified that this awful monster lives in my kitchen, wriggling his six feelery legs with impunity every night.

The cockroach is so scary that neither my cats nor I enter the kitchen between the hours of 10pm and 4am. It's horrible, having such a frightening place in one's own home. I really felt bad for George, and I'm surprised my own horror and despair haven't called out to the Doctor's psychic paper.

On a slightly more sane note: I'm glad to know this episode was meant to have aired earlier. The Doctor's comment that the three of them were back together "in the flesh" at the end would have been great foreshadowing if this were an earlier episode; airing now, it just felt like a tasteless joke.

Oh, and, by the way: fabulous review, Paul.

shawnlunn2002 said...

I hate to admit it but I was really disappointed with this one. The stuff that bothered me, like the way Amy and Rory were treated like spare parts really bothered me.

It does get better on repeat viewing but eh, a low point for the series IMO.

WAKE UP said...

I rather enjoyed the episode. Not stellar, but creepy, clever and occasionally moving: vintage Who, in other words.

"Smith's Doctor is definitely Pertwee-esque." - Interesting point. Come to think of it, I see him as like a winning combination of Pertwee's reserve (and occasional rage) and Tom Baker's wackiness. Not something I would ever have thought would work, but he does pull it off beautifully. Let's hope he pulls out some Pertwee-style martial arts skills soon. All that expertise must be lazing away somewhere in his brain; let's see some more sword fights with the Master.

Like Josie, I noticed the "in the flesh" thing; in fact, it made me wonder if we were going to see another Flesh-related fake-out (pertaining to the Doctor himself, perhaps). Also, it's a minor point, but it feels like the Doctor has been asking people to "trust me" a lot lately. I know that's more or less what he does, but I've learned not to overlook these things with the Moff as showrunner.

Stephen said...

Hitler's still in the cupboard....

Paul Kelly said...

Hitler's still in the cupboard....

Hilarious! The most bizarre comment I've read in ages :D

Paul Kelly said...

Josie, my neighbour's cat loves eating insects. I'm sending him round. He's called Leo, is a massive ball of fluff, and once ate a bee the size of a golf ball. Just send him back when he's done. He's my only means of pest control.

Josie Kafka said...

Send him along, Paul. My intelligent cat is starting to crumble under the pressure, my stupid cat is perpetually confused, and I would rather chop off both my little toes than come within 5 feet of those feelers. We could use some reinforcements.

You have bees the size of golf balls? Like in "The Unicorn and the Wasp"?

Juliette said...

I think this episode was totally ruined by the move in the schedule - not only do I agree that for some reason I just couldn't summon up emotion for Thingy's paternal moment with George, but it threw into sharp relief the fact that Rory and Amy are behaving in a very blaze way about the fact they're not going to be able to bring up their daughter (being school friends with her absolutely does not count).

Paul Kelly said...

Right, Josie, I've sent Leo off to pack. So far we've got catsup (alcohol for cats), catatonic (a tonic water for the Catsup, but just for cats), catalan (so he can connect to the internet), catacombs (to get the knots out of his coat), a catcall (to phone home) and a catholic (in case he wants to eat an ice cream). I've told him to leave his catalogue and his catabolic at home. He'll never get them through customs.

And of course we have bees the size of golf balls. Bee fluff back-combing is all the rage in these parts.

Nick said...

"Despite the flats being real, the external shots felt a little flat somehow. It almost felt like a set."

Surely that was deliberate, no? I thought Richard Clark did a great job emphasising how claustrophobic that housing estate was, emphasising compartments, rectangles, boxes, ect. reflecting both the cupboard/lift/dollhouse imagery, but also the way that the characters were closed off from one another (particularly the distance between father and son, and the buried/boxed off memories). I thought it was one of the more stylish directorial efforts the show's seen this season.

Minor quibble, but how was this episode a bottle episode? There was location shooting, extensive set work (I counted about six different sets, which is pretty big for the show's minimal budget these days), plus the expensive doll costumes (of which there were a lot made) and special effects.

Paul Kelly said...

Hiya, Nick. Compared to the three regenerations scenes we've had so far this season (episodes 1, 2 & 8), the Siren (episode 3) and the extensive use of CGI for The Flesh (episodes 5 & 6), I'd say the CGI in this episode was minimal. This was also our first "home" episode of the season. No trips to Utah. No trips to Cornwall. No pirate ships. No TARDIS graveyards. No outside of the universes. No birthing chambers, Sontarans, Cybermen, or Silurians. Just a block of flats, a stripped out Dyrham Park and a few people dressed as dolls. I'm not saying they made no effort at all. Just that, comparatively, this was a much lower budget episode.

Felipe said...

...termites, giant termites, trying to get on the property ladder. Hilarious.

Not a bad episode, although that father/son moment may have given me cavities. George is quite the little actor.

Aly said...

"Also, it's a minor point, but it feels like the Doctor has been asking people to "trust me" a lot lately. "

Didn't we just learn in last episode that rule #1 is: The Doctor lies. ???