Sunday, 4 September 2011

Review - "Night Terrors"

"Night Terrors" was a much anticipated episode and not just because it was penned by Mark Gatiss - "Sherlock" scribe and writer of three previous "Doctor Who" stories: "The Unquiet Dead", "The Idiot's Lantern" and "Victory of the Daleks". The anticipation factor had been ramped up by having the episode described as "scary" and "chilling" - and of course it had been moved back in the schedule, being the ninth episode transmitted instead of the fourth (this delay did cause minor issues in the episode but nothing that really detracted from the story).

"Night Terrors" was very much a traditional, atmospheric story that "Doctor Who" has always done so well. Making the ordinary and commonplace scary is a definite "Doctor Who" staple - from chairs and daffodils in "Terror of the Autons" to cracks in the wall in "The Eleventh Hour" - in "Night Terrors" it's a child's bedroom. Or more specifically, a cupboard. George is a terrified little boy whose heartfelt plea of "please save me from the monsters" makes its way onto the Doctor's psychic paper - prompting the Doctor to "make a house call". The opening scenes highlight George's terror beautifully - in bed with his torch, the shadows of the toys in his bedroom are creepy, the noises from outside take on a whole new meaning and this definitely resonates with the audience. How many of us didn't dare put a foot outside the blankets at night for fear something would grab it? How many of us were scared of shadows in our rooms as children? This is the success of "Night Terrors" - highlighting our childhood fears.

The episode isn't rushed - it starts slowly and gently with the Doctor, Amy and Rory being introduced to other characters in the flats before the Doctor finds George and his dad, Alex. Amy and Rory are soon trapped in a seemingly old, abandoned house - via a runaway lift (I hate lifts - and I think it'll be a long time before I set foot in one again). The audience are quick to realise that it's a dolls house - the wooden pan, the painted hands on the clock etc - but this is where one of the small "scheduling" issues takes place. Rory is more panicky - he's much more like the early season Rory than the calmer, stable Rory we saw in "Let's Kill Hitler". It's a minor issue though and isn't important.

The Doctor talks to George and Alex about the "monsters" in the cupboard - everything that frightens George is put in the cupboard (what is it about cupboards? First, Hitler is put in a cupboard and now scary things are put in there...). Having intially thought the cupboard wasn't scary, the Doctor is somewhat surprised when the readings from his sonic are "off the scale". Some great scenes ensue between Alex and the Doctor whilst making tea - culminating in one of those wonderful speeches that was not just brilliantly written but also superbly delivered by Matt Smith. It was such an evocative moment - when the Doctor talked of "crimson stars and silent stars and tumbling nebulas like oceans set on fire" you could almost see them and when he said that he had "old eyes" you believed every single word.

In the doll's house, things get creepier - with the dolls putting in their first appearance. Flaking paint on their faces, the laughter and their slow, stiff walks were excellently realised and we were soon shown what would happen if the dolls caught up with you - the landlord being turned into one of the dolls was rather wonderful. The Doctor, meanwhile, had his doubts about George and the photograph album gave him the clues he needed. George is not who he seems (Claire, his mother, can't have children) and the Doctor and Alex find themselves pulled through the cupboard into the doll's house...leaving George all alone in his bedroom. Quickly realising they're in a doll's house - "we're either inside the doll's house or this is a refuge for dirty, posh people who eat wooden food..." - they find connections with George - the lights turning on five times, the sound of the lift etc.

In an unexpected moment, Amy is turned into one of the dolls - I didn't see it coming anyway - and then Rory, the Doctor and Alex meet on the stairs surrounded by the dolls. George is the only one who can save them - by "facing his fears" and opening the cupboard. This leads to another superb scene - George is in the doll's house too and his fear of "being taken away" and being rejected causes the dolls to advance on him. The one thing that can save him? The love of his father.

Once again, the "backroom boys" on "Doctor Who" delivered superbly. The lighting, direction, etc gave us a very atmospheric episode and the cast were all on top form. I can't speak highly enough of Daniel Mays and Jamie Oram - Alex and George respectively - both were utterly believeable whilst of the main cast, kudos to Matt Smith who once again demonstrated his remarkable ability to seem 9 years old one moment and 900 years old the next.

Overall then, a really good standalone episode that definitely had the chill factor. I know some people miss the story arc in standalones but sometimes you have to have a break - and it's good to have a traditional "Doctor saves you from the monsters" story. Of course, there was a reference to the ongoing arc with the following creepy Gatiss-penned nursery rhyme that was delivered in the dolls sing-song voices during the closing scene in the Tardis:

Tick tock goes the clock
he cradled and he rocked her.
Tick tock goes the clock
even for the Doctor.

EDIT: Mark Gatiss has just tweeted the complete rhyme:

Tick tock goes the clock
And what now shall we play?
Tick tock goes the clock
Now summer's gone away.
Tick tock goes the clock
And what then shall we see?
Tick tock until the day
That thou shalt marry me
Tick tock goes the clock
And all the years they fly
Tick tock and all too soon
You and I must die
Tick tock goes the clock
He cradled her and he rocked her
Tick tock goes the clock
Even for the Doctor.

Episode rating: 8/10

Screencaptures courtesy of "enchantedfleur"