Doctor Who #977: Nightvisiting

"Alien invasion or teen angst?" "Teen angst is a pejorative phrase."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.29 2016; very close to Halloween in both date and story.

IN THIS ONE... An alien entity visits the gang in the guise of dead loved ones.

REVIEW: Despite the ickiness of the monster, which is a kind of gore, we may finally have a winner on our hands in terms of story, character, tone and theme. Though a sweet montage of Tanya's parents meeting, having a child and parting through tragedy begins the episode, giving emotional context for what is to come, it doesn't just cater to Tanya (in the way the previous episode perhaps focused too strongly on Ram alone). Nightvisiting's theme of needing human contact runs through each of the cast's stories, whether that's Ram and April hooking up, Charlie inviting his boyfriend into his room, or Quill's innate loneliness (I think she only acts disgusted by the group's bond, but really longs to be included - hey, maybe she can get the same feeling from a gun). The monster, a Lovecraftian Elder God of a thing, essentially feeds on that need, manipulating people through their grief and itself hungry for a corrupted form of that contact.

The episode's other theme is the play between reality and illusion. Quill has a cute moment where she wonders whether The Hunger Games novel she's reading is something that actually happened, but it ties into the main dilemma of the story. Is the Lankin presenting the actual souls of the dearly departed, or are the human shapes on the ends of its tentacles merely lures, albeit telepathic ones. While the normies out there are falling prey to the Lankin, the Class have seen too much to be so easily taken in. Ram runs from faux-Rachel and Quill questions then attacks her sister's avatar. April and Charlie are spared the horror (she isn't grieving and he wasn't actually close to his parents; they fail to materialize). The A-plot is all about Tanya achieving closure about her father's recent death on the day of its 2-year anniversary, and she definitely has seen too much to at once accept what she's seeing at face value, nor reject it outright. She wants to believe, but can't help but question, and in the end, having noted that anger and bitterness give the Lankin an indigestion, she feigns embracing her father's "ghost" only to give it all her anger at the unfairness of his death and the accidental betrayal it represents. It weakens the monster, but does not destroy, so Quill drives a bus through its tendrils and pulls fake dad out of the window, releasing the tension with an amusing action finale. The play on real/fake spreads to Matteusz laying with a fake boy - there's irony there.

But the real victory is still Tanya's, who not only defeats the monster, but finds the closure she needed without surrendering it to the Lankin. She does this by embracing the paradox of her situation - missing her dead father and yet being angry at him for leaving. Real people have a central paradox, I believe that, and the best fictional characters should too. Writer Patrick Ness recognizes that as well. Not only is this an exploration of a contradiction in the human condition, but that's the whole point of April talking about at once embracing her father by playing his music AND condemning him for the drinking problem that led to his incarceration and her mom's disability. The "always at war" speech doesn't feel very natural, but I get what Ness is trying to do (and it's not as bad as the unnecessary explanation of the title she's saddled with).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - The show delves into human nature with a bizarre threat, and while not exactly perfect, it's the best episode yet. We also learn a lot of juicy tidbits about most of the characters.

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