Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Doctor Who 6.09: "Night Terrors

“Today we're answering a cry for help from the scariest place in the universe. A child's bedroom.”
-The Doctor

“Night Terrors,” written by head writer Stephen Moffat’s “Sherlock” writing/producing partner Mark Gatiss, was definitely one of this season’s weaker entries. Overall, it was a slightly better version of the second series episode “Fear Her,” in the sense that it had somewhat better guest cast performances and better creepy visuals. I think the biggest problem I had with the episode was that it had no connection to the overall season arc. Now, I think stand-alone stories like this are important for a good season of “Doctor Who.” I’ve certainly been one of those viewers lamenting Moffat’s stated desire for more two-part episodes and cliffhangers. That being said, I think that even standalones need to pay attention to what has come before and where the characters should be emotionally given what has happened to them recently. A plot involving helping a small child should have a huge, huge effect on Amy and Rory, given that they just had and lost their newborn daughter and saw the sociopath she becomes as a young woman. But no. All we get is Amy complaining about the mundaneness of the latest location in which the TARDIS has deposited the group, and at the end of the episode, Amy and Rory seem quite happy at the prospect of their next adventure when the Doctor asks them where they want to go. You’d think when given a choice of next destination, they would want to look for Melody, but they don’t.

The episode takes place at a creepy, dreary apartment complex, most likely a council estate. A mother, Claire, is trying to put her young son, George, to sleep. He requires an elaborate bedtime ritual, including patter about putting things he’s afraid of in the cupboard and turning the lights on and off five times. As his mother leaves, George starts repeating “please save me from the monsters.” Somehow, across time and space, the Doctor receives this message, and he, Amy, and Rory decide to investigate. Amy’s a bit disappointed that they aren’t going to see a planet or something historical, but she and the rest of the group start knocking on apartment doors anyway, looking for the scared child. This is one of the better sequences in the episode. The trouble Amy, Rory, and the Doctor get into while canvassing is pretty amusing. George is looking through his bedroom window, and he hears Amy and Rory joking about letting the monsters gobble him up. The Doctor sees this, but he doesn’t mention it to his companions. Instead, he tells them to go investigate another floor of the apartment building. Amy and Rory get into an elevator to follow his instructions, and the elevator goes into a free fall. Not long after that, a pile of trashbags appears to gobble up an old lady who had also scared George.

The Doctor enters George’s apartment by pretending (with an assist from the psychic paper) to be from social services. I will say that this plot at least gets to showcase how well Matt Smith works with child actors. The Doctor talks to George about his fears and goes to open the cupboard in George’s room, which freaks George out. There’s a knock on the door before the Doctor can actually open it, though. It’s the landlord, and he’s being very threatening towards George’s dad, Alex, as the two men have a bit of an argument over money. To soothe George, the Doctor uses the sonic to make all of Georges toys move around. When George is good and distracted, the Doctor scans the cupboard. He doesn’t like what he finds, and he tells Alex that the monsters George has been afraid of are real. This makes Alex angry, because it’s validating George’s behavior instead of trying to correct it, and he tries to kick the Doctor out. The Doctor doesn’t leave, though, and Alex begins to realize that the Doctor really isn’t from Social Services.

Amy and Rory wake up in a strange room in what appears to be a very old house. They think they may have somehow slipped back in time. It’s quickly apparent that the explanation isn’t that simple, though. This really creepy house has a lot of items that are clearly fake. There’s a “copper” pan that is actually made out of wood, a lantern with a lightbulb flame, and a huge glass eye. The old lady who was gobbled up by the trashbags appears in the creepy house, too. The old lady, Rory, and Amy all hear the sound of odd (and creepy) child’s laughter. Rory opens the door from which he and Amy are hearing it (silly move, Rory), and a very creepy, rather large doll is standing there. It doesn’t move when Rory and Amy are looking away like a Weeping Angel would, though. That was kind of disappointing. One other creepy denizen of the apartment building has to join the group in the creepy house. The landlord who had been threatening Alex earlier gets absorbed through the floor of his apartment. Rory and Amy run into him, and they watch as he gets turned into a doll. Thankfully, Rory and Amy have the good sense to run after seeing that.

Back in the apartment, the Doctor finally makes the decision to open the cupboard. There’s nothing unusual there- just some toys. The Doctor then starts asking Alex questions about George and the day he was born. Alex can’t remember any details about that day, which is odd, to say the least. Then Alex suddenly remembers that his wife, Claire, cannot have children. The Doctor then, naturally, wants to know who (or what) George is, but before that conversation can happen, George has the Doctor and Alex sucked into the cupboard. The Doctor and Alex are now in the creepy house, too, and the Doctor realizes it’s the doll house he saw in in the cupboard. I like that he’s the smartest man in the room for once. That hasn’t really been the case all that often since Ten turned into Eleven.

Amy and Rory have tried to barricade themselves in a room for protection against the dolls, but the barricade isn’t holding. Amy thinks up a new strategy. She thinks they should surprise the dolls by suddenly opening the door and running through it. They execute the plan, and Rory successfully gets away, but Amy is turned into a doll. And she’s the damsel in distress yet again. How original. Elsewhere in the house, the Doctor, still actually being smart, realizes that the cupboard is a psychic repository for all of George’s fears. He doesn’t have time to theorize much beyond that, though, because a doll approaches. Luckily, the Doctor and Alex are smart, and they run away.

The Doctor calls George into the cupboard, thinking George can make it all stop. It doesn’t stop right away though. Everything is still quite wonky, and Amy is still a doll. The Doctor realizes that George is a type of alien deposited with a human family, kind of like how some birds lay their eggs in an existing next. George was afraid he was going to be abandoned by his new family. Alex hugs George and promises that he won’t abandon him, and everything goes back to normal. I thought it was highly odd that through all this, Rory and Amy show no feelings about not being able to see their own small daughter. I guess they decided not to look for baby Melody because they don’t want to prevent the creation of River, but it would have been nice if that had been made explicit, and even though it’s the right choice, there should have been some evidence that it caused them pain.

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