Doctor Who (6.9): “You’re not from social services, are you?”

Night Terrors might not rank as the scariest Doctor Who ever (and to be honest I’m not sure I want them to make anything scarier than Blink or The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances) but last week’s trailer was sufficiently creepy to have Hat Jr considering watching this in daylight…

In the end, she not only couldn’t resist watching it tonight, she rated it seven out of ten. And as I write I can only hear happy sounds coming from her bedroom. Phew!

(Spoilers below the line…)

George is a little boy terrified of the sound of the lift in his block of flats (I don’t blame him either), terrified of the shadows in his room at night, terrified of monsters. Despite his parents’ seemingly sensible plan of locking anything scary in the cupboard, he’s so scared that his plea ‘please save me from the monsters’ travels right across the universe to manifest itself on the Doctor’s psychic paper.

This isn’t the first time we’ve dealt with the ‘scariest place in the universe – a child’s bedroom’ of course. When we first met Amelia Pond she was scared of the crack in her bedroom wall – perhaps that’s what planted the seeds of this idea in Mark Gatiss’s head. Night Terrors is much, much creepier than The Eleventh Hour however.

Something about the yellow-green light that bathes the half of the screen not cast into shadow perhaps? Something to do with a terrified child who doesn’t cry? George’s panicky breathing in the half-darkness? All of these things, topped off by (my personal nightmare) of a lift plunging towards the earth and those blank-faced, eye-less Peg Dolls with a childish giggle and malevolent intent.

Daniel Mays is lovely as George’s dad, Alex, and I may yet forgive him for the terrible things he did to Gene Hunt and Alex Drake in Ashes to Ashes… I’m also hoping that he’ll be as assertive with his horrible landlord in future as he was with the Doctor when he believes the Time Lord is making matter worse. (Which he is, of course. Things have to get worse before they get better when the Doctor’s in the house…)

I have to admit that I really, really liked that George is made brave enough to face his fears and only wish he’d been able to completely destroy them on his own (what a message for your kids to take to bed). But I’ll settle for Daddy (or Mummy) having the power to banish the monsters as an acceptable ending.

I know Steven Moffat offered a pre-emptory apology to parents for this one, but I don’t think he needed to (despite the freakiness of the Peg Dolls). If the message is ‘the monsters you fear in the night are only in your imagination and YOU have the power to banish them’, then good for you Team Who. If they’d put real monsters under the bed or in the wardrobe then I think there would be a lot more tears at bedtime.

A thumbs-up from Hat Towers then…

Highlights of Night Terrors:

  • Rory (taking in his insalubrious surroundings) : “No offence Doctor…” The Doctor: “…meaning the opposite.” Rory:”…but we could get a bus somewhere like this.”
  • Mrs Rossister, who’s got her new hip and is waiting for the knees, as she’ll “be up and down the stairs like Sherpa Tensing.”
  • A pants joke for the children (and some of the grown-ups too). The Doctor: “Pantophobia – not the fear of pants though, if that’s what you’re thinking. Fear of everything, including pants I suppose, in that case.”
  • Rory’s response as he and Amy come to in a dark, mysterious place that isn’t the plunging lift: (sighs) “We’re dead aren’t we? … Again.”
  • The massive glass eye in the kitchen drawer.
  • Alex (discussing what’s terrifying George): “Maybe it was things on telly, you know? Scary stuff, getting under his skin, frightening him. So we stopped letting him watch.” The Doctor (with a conspiratorial smile at George): “Oh you don’t want to do that.” I’m with the Doctor – kids should be allowed to watch Doctor Who and read (within reason) whatever they want to. (Except the Daily Mail – somethings are too monstrous afterall.)
  • You have to love the Doctor’s blase “Let’s open the cupboard then eh?” Followed by: “Nothing [scans wardrobe with sonic] … to be scared off… [his face falls] … off the scale.”
  • The Doctor explaining himself to Alex: “I’m not just a professional, I’m the Doctor. It means I’ve come a long way to get here. A very long way. George sent a message. A distress call, if you like. Whatever’s inside that cupboard is so terrible, so powerful that it amplified the fears of an ordinary little boy across all the barriers of time and space. Through crimson stars and silent stars, and tumbling nebulas like oceans set on fire. Through empires of glass and civilizations of pure thought and a whole, wonderful, terrible universe of impossibilities. You see these eyes? They’re old eyes. And one thing I can tell you Alex…monsters are real.” Alex: “You’re not from social services, are you?”
  • The Doctor examining the possibilities of the situation: “We’re inside the dolls’ house… Look! Wooden chicken! Cups, saucers, plates, knives, forks, fruit, chickens! Wood. So… we’re either inside the dolls’ house, or this is a refuge for dirty posh people who eat wooden food. Or termites! Giant termites trying to get on the property ladder.”
  • The Doctor checking his teeth (again) in the mirror – just like Vampires in Venice. Important? Or just a thing?
  • The sonic not working on the Peg Dolls… The Doctor: “I’ve got to invent a setting for wood – it’s embarrassing.”
  • What all children want to know from their parents: “Whatever you are, whatever you do, I will never ever send you away.”
  • Should we be reading anything into the Doctor’s line about “being back together again. In the flesh.”? Or is that Steven Moffat just toying with advocates of the Doctor-as-Ganger-dying-at-Lake-Silencio theory?

Posted by Jo the Hat

5 Comments

Filed under Dr Who

5 responses to “Doctor Who (6.9): “You’re not from social services, are you?”

  1. inkface

    Well said. This was indeed a terrific, if Coraline-eque scary, episode.

  2. The episode was beautifully directed, but the story itself fell quite flat (and gets worse the more I think about it).

    I’ve written a bit about what I see as the central problem with the Ponds this season, and would love your thoughts on the matter.

    http://theoncominghope.blogspot.com/2011/09/problem-with-ponds.html

  3. Interesting post, theoncominghope, and certainly is something that I’ve been wondering about. I didn’t mind the “must get out of this creepy house” stuff with the Ponds as I didn’t think it made them particularly passive (they hadn’t even had time to explore the whole house before the dolls showed up, followed by the Doctor). However, I do think your wider point holds true, and we need a bit more action from the Ponds. I agree that Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan are making it work because they’re great and they have fantastic chemistry, but I think it would have worked better if all of this half of the season was the TARDIS crew desperately searching for Melody and encountering other things along the way (they could easily have had Amy and Rory thinking “Please save me from the monsters” might have come from Melody and insisting the Doctor check it out, for example, setting up for a one-off story).

    I worry that the kidnapped baby storyline is now resolved with the idea that they “brought up” Mels standing in for raising their actual daughter (don’t really see how they could have Amy and Rory parenting a baby on the TARDIS without significantly changing the show, so this allows River to be their daughter and yet not have to show her childhood), and I think that this absolutely doesn’t wash. It feels emotionally false that Amy and Rory aren’t looking for Melody all the time. They’re good people who love each other (I have no trouble at all believing in the Ponds’ relationship and marriage – they’re adorable together), and I can’t imagine they wouldn’t be tearing the universe apart to find their daughter and save her from being turned into a weapon. Especially after the “WHERE. IS. MY. WIFE?” bit at the beginning of A Good Man Goes To War (something that felt absolutely emotionally true). Still loving the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimeyness of Moffat’s tenure (so much fun to try to puzzle out what’s going on!) and the writing is still so sharp and funny, but beginning to worry that people might be right about his lack of heart.

    A few people have suggested that Amy’s passivity is part of the ongoing story and will be resolved – not sure I can really accept that. Flesh Amy in part 1 of this season was fine, but you can’t do that too many times. Right now I don’t really feel that I could say for sure what the “real” Amy is like (you have to show us the “real” person , so if it does turn out that this is some sort of “fake” Amy again, I’ll struggle. After this episode, I have wondered if Amy will turn out to be a “Tenza” (?) – in season 5, the Doctor keeps telling Amy she doesn’t make sense, that she’s special, she’s different – and the explanation that she’s special because she grew up next to a time crack with “the universe rushing through her head” really doesn’t feel enough to me.

    Anyway, re Night Terrors – it was a nice little episode, one for the children more than the grown-ups, I think. I loved Daniel Mays, as always, and was glad for the many parents across the land who had to try to get their kids to sleep that the monsters weren’t real and a hug from daddy could sort it all out. Probably would have given me nightmares if I was under 10, but luckily as an adult I was able to sleep soundly, only to have nightmares the next night about Appropriate Adult, the Fred West drama.

  4. Wow, that was quite the essay I wrote there, wasn’t it? 🙂

  5. Tim

    I’m a bit late catching up on this one after my holiday, but this episode just didn’t work for me even though the dolls were fantastically scary. It reminded me a bit too much of Fear Her and I couldn’t quite swallow the schmaltzy “love will conquer all” resolution (must be all that sugar).

    Not bad, but not great – agree with theoncominghope that it felt a bit flat. Some lovely moments and one-liners though.

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