Doctor Who: Series 6, Episode 9- Night Terrors

Originally written for TV Pixie

The Doctor with 3 Adrian Chileses

Let’s be clear right from the start: Night Terrors was good. It was polished: entertaining and creepy. Haunted dolls, childish giggles in the shadows, something nasty in the wardrobe, a small child who wasn’t what he seemed: it was the very embodiment of the traditional, kid-scaring stand alone Doctor Who episode.

So much so that it felt a bit formulaic; or possibly like a patchwork quilt drawing together elements from previous episodes. The doll’s house with its ornate furnishings and Louis XIV-y vibe brought to mind the sumptuous Girl in the Fireplace with its wig-wearing clockwork people who were (improbably) stalking Madame de Pompadour. Creepy dolls with smooth, blank faces? Check.

Not to mention the fact that the concept of a scared little child-alien has already been covered (albeit quite badly) in the Olympic-themed Tennant era episode Fear Her. Although like some kind of malevolent Rolf Harris, that particular alien chose to imprison things that alarmed it inside drawings rather than a charity shop wardrobe.

Even the London council estate setting in Night Terrors seemed rather familiar after countless Rose Tyler era episodes set in ‘EastendersLand’, as Amy described it: making it sound like some kind of theme park featuring a ride called Oblivion where you have to drink yourself into a state of near-catatonia in the Old Vic.

But for all its familiarity- and it says a lot about a programme that the concept of being trapped in a doll’s house by an alien child counts as familiar- there were plenty of unique and pleasing moments. For example, it’ll be a while before we forget the sight of East End hard man Daniel Mays fending off creepy, moon faced puppets armed with nothing but a giant pair of scissors. It was like watching a cross between Ross Kemp on Gangs and Art Attack.

It was also quite nice to see a bit of the ‘real world’ for a change. David Tennant seemed to spend the majority of his time mooching around 2009, but ever since Steven Moffat took the reins it’s been space whales one week, asteroids at the end of the Universe the next. To be fair, that’s what a time travelling sci-fi series should really be about, but nevertheless it was nice to see the Doc in a contemporary setting for a change: his ineffable oddness and eccentric charm seem to stand out much more clearly against the backdrop of a scruffy London flat than when he’s running away from Adrian Chiles-lookalike dolls in a haunted wardrobe.

Finally, the notion that George, a scared little boy, can summon the Doctor across countless light years and exploding nebula through the sheer force of his fear and belief was a lovely one. For all that the episode probably scared the bejesus out of a host of young children, at least it soothed them with the idea that there’s a square-faced superhero kids can call to their aid like some kind of effete, cravat wearing Ghostbuster.

Scary lifts, problems with bin collections, a threatening landlord, a scared child: if only we could all summon the Doctor to come and sort out our problems like some kind of intergalactic Citizens Advice Bureau. Although watching him ring through our complaints to the Council Tax office might not make for very entertaining telly.

So yes, Night Terrors might have felt a bit recycled at times, but hey: recycling’s good, right? Especially if you use elements that have been tried and tested and are known to work well. The Moffat-penned reboot has almost relentlessly reinvented the wheel since it hit our screens last year, confuddling our senses with long story arcs, endless twists, jumbled timelines, red herrings and looping temporal switchbacks.

Night Terrors almost felt old fashioned in contrast: a return to the ‘monster of the week’ era where you didn’t have to use graph paper to figure out which characters are really puppets made from psychic plastic, whose timeline we’re currently following and why half the characters are wearing Roman armour. If it didn’t mean we’d miss our weekly dose of River Song, it might be good to have a few more stand alone episodes like this to give our collective brains a rest.

 

Unfortunately for those suffering cranial fatigue, it looks like next week’s episode will be set in some kind of strange, technologically advanced fencing school with two Amy Ponds, one of whom is from the future.

They’re having a sale on refrigerated brain cooling hats on eBay: might be an idea to invest.

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About Hilary Wardle
Hilary is a freelance journalist and copywriter who writes for a wide range of websites, magazines and newspapers, including Buzzfeed, MSN, The Poke, Chortle, the Guardian and the Independent. She specialises in arts and entertainment, comedy, video games and viral content. Contact her at Hilary3@gmail.com.

4 Responses to Doctor Who: Series 6, Episode 9- Night Terrors

  1. iworm says:

    Good review of a nice episode. Agreed, it was kinda “old school” Who – all self-contained and all that. But while we enjoyed it, it failed in one critical way with my Test Audience (i.e. 8 year old boy, very-very-nearly-11 year old girl) and that was the whole “George the Alien” thing… it was whizzed by so fast that I barely caught it all myself. George was a Tensaw? Tensor? Tenzor? You tell me – seemed kinda critical all that: not really a little boy at all, planted there by space aliens, adapting to whatever he was told to do, parents rejecting him, finally accepting him – I think that pretty much whoosed over the heads here. My Test Audience didn’t really get going until we had the “Shall I shan’t I open the cupboard?” “Ooooh look, we’re in a doll’s house!” parts and then didn’t really get who, why, and so on.

    Now it’s true that a LOT of the current Who is a bit complicated and timey-wimey for younger folks – and that’s OK (I love it – more River… drool) I just feel that here we had a very child-oriented episode (and I mean that in an entirely positive way – Who should be aimed at a young audience) for a change but it failed to take the chance to fill in those “difficult” bits for the age-challenged viewer.

    Oh well – next week, as you say, looks very timey-wimey indeed…

  2. Ho ho! I agree with you! Meanwhile, fans of whatever this is might like to head over to the Internet’s first ever blebsite at http://eyevee.wordpress.com/

    It’s been proudly being the Internet’s first ever blebsite since 2006 … and I’ve got the bloody proof, you pack of thieving GETS!

    • Hilary Wardle says:

      Go away, you bumbandit. We don’t want to be a blebsite anyway, not if you’ve already sullied the term. We’ll come up with a new term, like ‘WebLog’- that’s new, right? RIGHT?

  3. I think that’s a new one, yes.

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