Doctor Who #888: Night Terrors

"Planets and history and stuff. That's what we do. But not today. No. Today, we're answering a cry for help from the scariest place in the universe. A child's bedroom."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.3 2011.

IN THIS ONE... A scared little boy is psychically throwing things he's afraid of into his cupboard's doll house.

REVIEW: I once called this Fear Her done right, and it's hard to escape the similarities. A child is psychically trapping people from the community into some childhood artifact (a doll's house instead of drawings), and the power of a parent's love is the solution. Writer Mark Gatiss is probably not using Fear Her as a template though. It's more like Sapphire & Steel, which is a pitch I can see Moffat buying. Unlike Fear Her, the world of little anxious George follows its own, established rules. S&S had a New Age vibe that lends itself to the Whovian "fairy tale". And it's, in many ways, Gatiss' best script to date for Doctor Who, and objectively the best since The Unquiet Dead. It's incredibly atmospheric, has plenty of weird little details (glass eyes, The Shining twins, giant scissors), and teams Amy up with Rory instead of the usual split so the Doctor can have somebody (that role is filled by George's father Alex).

The story does lose something on second viewing. It's still well crafted, and its "horror", predicated on low-tech solutions (give or take) like lighting, sound and simple masks, makes for good viewing. So much of the enjoyment comes from figuring out what's really going on, however, that the experience is weaker when you know all the answers. Then, Amy and Rory walking through a darkened house feels a little longer, a little slower. The idea of a child literally making everything creepy is something all viewers can empathize with, either as children, former children or parents, so the alien solution is almost a step too far. The concept of the cuckoo is well thought-out however, and ties into George's specific fears and the episode's resolution. This is something Fear Her missed. Gatiss' story isn't perfect though. Alien or not, George is a child with crippling anxiety and OCD, so the idea that he's completely "fixed" overnight is... perhaps a bit glib. It's never that easy in real life. A human George would likely struggle his entire life to manage his emotions.

Perhaps part of the problem is that the episode ends too quickly. The dad goes from "but he's an alien who brainwashed us" to "I'll love you forever" without any transition stage, at which point everything bounced back to normal (well, it had to, or Amy would have stayed a dolly). So the Doctor's social worker skills are just a little too good. Still, Matt Smith has lots of good moments - spinning Gallifreyan fairy tales/nerd references, arguing both sides of the question of whether or not to open the cupboard, etc. Lots of manic energy, bubbling over. Amy and Rory are, in contrast, powerless victims. Rory is even scared of the dark.

SECOND OPINIONS: My original review, Fear Her, Him and the Other Thing, goes into more detail on many of the points made above, and a fair number of others.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - I'd say its WATCHABILITY is Medium-High, but if we're talking about repeat viewings, it loses much of its mystery.


Andrew Gilbertson said...

"Perhaps part of the problem is that the episode ends too quickly. The dad goes from "but he's an alien who brainwashed us" to "I'll love you forever" without any transition stage"

To me- and maybe this is just me projecting as a new dad- it was more of shock at the revelation ("Wait, he's an alien that brianwashed us?") that give shim pause- jars him, messes with his head. He takes a few moments to deal with that- but when push comes to shove, he shakes it off and says "Of COURSE you're my son, and I love you, and this doesn't change any of that! I still loved you even while I was reeling from the shock- I was just, you know, reeling from the shock, so I may not have expressed it."

In other words, to me, it wasn't a character or perspective change- just a roadblock thrown into to jar him, and then moving past it to reaffirm that the roadblock hasn't changed anything in what he felt all along.


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