Doctor Who #928: The Fall of the House of Gryffen

"You know why ghosts make such terrible liars? Because people can see right through them."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Feb.22 2010.

IN THIS ONE... Gryffen Manor is visited by the ghosts of the Prof's lost family.

REVIEW: This might be the first episode where I get the feeling they're at least TRYING since the pilot. This haunted house story might have played little better if it didn't follow the thematically similar Fear Itself, but taken in isolation, that's no real concern. The title references Edgar Alan Poe's Fall of the House of Usher, and pleasantly stays with Poe throughout. Starkey reads from The Raven and the concept of a lost love, appearing as a pale beauty, drawing her lover to his doom, siren-like - a major part of Poe's poetry - describes the threat from the spacetime rift well enough. A dark and stormy night and ghostly children throwing slimy ectoplasm around may seem an odd fit for science fiction, but the Whoniverse is full of horror tales, and unlike Fear Itself's menace, a scientific rationale is given for these "spirits".

And it addresses the long-running subplot about Gryffen's lost family, and from the family vids, he has reason to feel even more guilty - not only did his experiments send them away, but it seems he was less than present in their lives BECAUSE of that work. His family's doppelgangers in the story, "negatives" or ecto-simulations, use a mix of emotional blackmail and mind control, and might have been created by the shape Gryffen was consistently bending spacetime into, though it looks like they need to throw people into the rift to become more solid... There are too many attempts to explain what's going on here, probably. The show doesn't commit very well to any one term or idea, and the ending, where the faux-kids cry as their mother (so they have the same family relationships as the people they copied?) admits defeat is a little puzzling.

Though the episode does better than past efforts, the production didn't get rid of its problems overnight. In addition to the messy explanations, there's the matter of a great big sizzling rift acting up in the main foyer and no one checking it out. Gryffen is puttering around the adjoining dining room for minutes on end and doesn't notice. It's the kind of bad staging the series seems doomed to deliver every week. Scripts are one thing - and if you look at the quote up top, those can be clever from time to time - but the production itself so often feels rushed or amateurishly directed, there's definitely an important problem on that end of things.

- Better than usual, though not without its problems, The Fall of the House of Gryffen at least exploits a consistent theme and atmosphere.



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