6.9 – “Night Terrors”
The Doctor, Amy and Rory make a house call to George, an 8 year old boy who needs help dealing with the monsters in his cupboard. The Doctor meets George’s father who reveals that little George is scared of everything. When Amy and Rory (and a few other neighbours) find themselves pulled into a dolls house, The Doctor realises that what’s in George’s cupboard is indeed something to be scared of…and that George himself may be the source of all the monsters.
“Come on George,” says his Mum, “there’s nothing to be scared of”. Of course there bloody is! After all, this is an episode of Doctor Who. The fears of a child are fertile ground for horror (The Shining for example) and George is a suitably traumatised kid in this respect. Is the horror all in his head? Or are there real horrors to be faced? There’s nothing very original going on here, at least not at first. When George is scared of what’s in the cupboard we can be pretty sure that there really is something scary in the cupboard.
The episode builds up well. The nightmare 1960’s council estate where George lives is horrible enough – a place of endless concrete landings, tiny flats and piles of bin bags. There’s a scared old lady and a nasty landlord with a savage pitbull. It’s clearly a rotten place to raise a child. Daniel Mays as Alex, George’s father, is great – love for his son, despair at the difficulties that George’s fears cause, awareness of how his anxieties become even more reflected on the kid – Mays carries it all with sensitivity and strength. Jamie Oram as George is one scared little kid and all those fears are brought to life so well. Creepy shadows and silhouettes; the haunting groaning of the lift – we experience all this through George and his trauma is made very real. Andrew Tiernan as Purcell the nasty landlord and Leila Hoffman as the scared old lady don’t have huge roles, but they help contribute to the overall air of misery and fear.
Amy and Rory don’t have much to do, apart from get sucked into the Doll’s House and get menaced by lurching, silent peg dolls. The Dolls house is dark and creepy; the peg dolls with child-like giggles are scary – however, this has all been seen before. Amy and/or Rory getting chased around scary corridors is a bit of recurring theme at this point. In Series 6 they’ve been chased by the Silence in a rotten children’s home, menaced by the House in the TARDIS and the antibody things in the Teselecta. The real action takes place in the flat with George, Alex and The Doctor. Smith is in his element, able to talk to George as only a fellow kid can, yet able to bring his weighty age to Alex. These are good scenes but, again, it’s nothing terribly original and is more frightening for being reminiscent of the far less effective “Fear Her” from Series 2. It was a real worry when The Doctor finally opened the cupboard.
Fortunately, writer Mark Gatiss does pull something better out of the bag – George is not merely menaced or possessed by some kind of alien nightmare factory – he IS the alien nightmare factory! Alex’s realisation that his memories have been changed and that George is not his biological child is properly distressing; it’s George’s real fear of being separated from his adopted parents that plunges The Doctor and Alex into the doll’s house. For once, the power of love to sort it all out seems to actually make sense. George may not be Alex’s biological child, but there’s more to parenthood than just supplying the chemistry and it’s fitting that Alex embracing his son saves the day.
If there’s a bum note with this episode, it’s more to do with its placing in the series than anything wrong with the story itself. Coming after “Let’s Kill Hitler” and the Ponds losing their child, you’d think that a traumatised child would have more of an effect. Apparently “Night Terrors” was supposed to be part of the first half of the series which only reinforces my general annoyance at the clumsiness of Series 6.
On its own merits, “Night Terrors” is a solid slice of New Who, despite the poor placing in the series. The good performances all round and the creepy sets and effects all overcome any lack of originality. A positive 7/10.
Written and edited by Richard Barnes