I’m perhaps inclined to be overly forgiving of a Mark Gatiss episode. I’ve admired his television work and novels for some time, his A History of Horror documentary series is the best overview of horror film history I’ve seen, and he wrote what I consider one of the best Doctor Who stories ever. And so while there are a few flaws in this episode, I find it hard to say that they hurt the episode overall, partly because I like Gatiss, but also because, despite those flawss, this is the episode where it feels like we’re back on track a bit.

Scaring children has always been part of the show’s DNA, intentionally or not, and a recurring theme since 2005 has been to take something that isn’t scary and make it horrifying. It seems only natural that eventually we would get an episode that not only continues with that theme, but also makes itself explicitly about a frightened child. It’s interesting that Gatiss makes the relationship between the father and son in this episode both the thing that lies at the heart of the boy’s fears but also the means of resolving the threat. It feels like something of a call back to “The Idiot’s Lantern,” another Gatiss episode that had the relationship between a father and son at its center. Most of the efforts to plumb realistic emotional depths on the show tend to fall a little flat, as if the “drama checklist” is being gone down, but it mostly works here, perhaps because it is used to resolve the conflict.

Most of the flaws then are in the little details. The supposedly menacing dolls end up looking rather cheap and unspectacular, like something out of the “wobbly corridor” era for the show. Mileage varies greatly on the scariness of dolls in the first place, but it’s hard to see how tatty looking plaster mascot heads are particularly unnerving. What little scariness there is to be found in a dollhouse populated by albino bobbleheads is somewhat undone, though, by the revelation that the boy is not, in fact, a boy, but an alien. An alien whose psychic powers are causing all the things that are scaring, well, him. It’s a circular sort of story, which mostly works in context, but the notion of the boy being an alien or that he is the cause of the problem are enough. To combine them into one plot point feels like gilding the lily somewhat.

8 Responses to “Night Terrors”
  1. matthew says:

    The more I think about this episode, the more it falls apart. But watching it is a mindless escapist Who romp with some terrific Matt Smith moments (the making of tea scene) but Amy and Rory are relegated to running down corridors for the length of the episode. It was nice, though, to get a standalone episode that doesn’t feature an ever-shrinking cast of people related to Amy Pond. It was almost a breath of fresh air to get away from an increasingly convoluted and silly mythology surrounding River.

  2. Bully says:

    Well, at least in the last ten minutes River Song didn’t appear and expertly solve every mystery, and then talk about oceans and lakes and then disappear again.

  3. Jeffrey says:

    The “cheapness” of the dolls seem to be deliberate, at least according to the Confidential episode. For what it’s worth, I thought it worked really, really well. (Brrr.)

  4. Bill D. says:

    The dolls spooked me, and they had my wife absolutely terrified. She hasn’t been that wigged out by a Who monster since “Blink.”

    But yeah, this had some weird issues here and there, but on the whole, it was probably my favorite episode of the season so far. It probably helps that I have a son not much younger than the kid here, and one who’s a bit of a fraidy cat himself, so it tugged at all the right heartstrings for me.

  5. Bill D. says:

    Oh, and meta Rory was, as always, awesome.

    “We’re dead, aren’t we? The lift fell and we’re dead. We’re dead. Again!”

  6. merchantfan says:

    I found the dolls a bit scary, especially with the mask. But it was a bit weirdly placed. Especially when he was all: “are you alright now?” to Amy and Rory at the end and they were like “except for the doll stuff, okay” except that they JUST lost their baby to horrible people and I doubt any weird regeneration-friend stuff would be that much comfort. They seemed a bit to chipper at points because of that.

  7. Greg S. says:

    I find this cast endlessly entertaining, but the plot of “all this wierd stuff has happened because the kid is an alien who can cause all this weird stuff to happend” a bit on the nose and boring.

  8. Eli says:

    So, when the Doctor was animating the toys, I couldn’t help hearing “Trumpy! You can do stupid things!” Maybe that’s just me though.

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