Sunday, 4 September 2011

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.


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?"

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