Thursday, 7 August 2014

Night Terrors written by Mark Gatiss and directed by Richard Clark


This story in a nutshell: The Doctor is on the case to banish the monsters from a little boys cupboard…

Nutty Professor: I love the idea of the Doctor jettisoning universal threats and spending an evening dealing with the domestic fear of a little boy who is scared of monsters in his bedroom. Sometimes he can get so caught up in his adventures he forgets that the most frightening thing in the universe is the terror that exists in a little kids room when the lights go out. It does him good to remember it is the people that make the universe so special and to jettison all the noise and bluster and just help one person. It's nice to see the Doctor can’t quite charm everybody, especially not grumpy old dears with bad knees. Matt Smith has never been more likeable than he worms his way into Alex’s flat and offers to do his best for George. I really like the scene where the Doctor has to convince himself to open the cupboard and uses Alex as a sounding board, changing his mind three times. It reminded me of a similar scene in The Twin Dilemma (don’t flinch!) when the sixth Doctor was all bravado about saving ‘the children’ and then talks himself out of it and then (with a little help from Peri) decides to soldier on regardless of the danger. Smith plays that manic indecision so well – mind you he practically plays everything so well. Ooh he’s still doing those cute air kisses. Love that.

Scots Tart: It was whilst I was watching this episode that I realised that when we aren’t focussing on their domestic lives (marriage and the birth of their daughter which to be fair does account for a large portion of their time on the show) that Amy and Rory are actually quite dull characters in their own right. This is the first time for an age (The Doctor’s Wife) that they have stepped from the TARDIS and had an adventure that doesn’t affect their personal lives and they have very little to contribute beyond wandering around the dolls house and being a little jumpy. There are no character quirks to rely on, it's just two people walking around in the dark. That might sound a tad harsh but when you compare this to Donna who spent much of the first half of The Silence in the Library wandering around in the dark then Amy and Rory just don’t have the personality to compare. It was the same in the Silurian two parter last year…they didn’t contribute a great deal, they were just sort of there. The most memorable thing Amy does is turn into a rag doll, so only interesting after she can no longer contribute anything. Nice one.

Loyal Roman: Was Rory in this story?

The Good: How nice to start an episode without a ‘previously on…’ two minute recap. It’s a small thing but there was a time when these reminders weren't necessary and people were just supposed to tune in and enjoy the story. With this we know this will be a standalone episode or at least for the most part. A good sign. The director manages to make those flats look at once both artistic and stylish in a cubist sort of way and astonishingly mundane and depressing. The long shots are very impressive because it actually looks like some kind of mirrored special effect whereas good lighting and clever camera positioning makes a very normal location look alien and easy on the eye. I love the tiny OCD touch of the light having to be turned on and off five times because it feels very real. I used to have little rituals like that with my mum when I was younger. Looking at very normal occurrences from a child's point of view, seeing an old lady walking home as a hulking shadow breathing heavily past the window is something episode should have done a lot more of because there is incredible creative mileage in it. The old woman being pulled into the bin bags reminds me strongly of Robert Holmes work at its most playful (Terror of the Autons especially) because the sequence is both very creepy and insanely silly. Full marks for those oversized, lumpy, barely finished dolls heads with ragged hair and terrifying slits for eyes. When you add in the dirty clothes, their unnatural jagged movement and speed and you have a very scary monster that can be mimicked in the playground. The transformation scenes are terrifying, the director stressing the wrongness of the change with the creaking of wood, the sprouting of hair and the little girl giggling to welcome their new mannequin.

The Bad: Some child actors have it (Tommy Knight was exceptional from his first moment in The Sarah Jane Adventures and Lawrence Belcher hit all the right emotional notes in A Christmas Carol) and some don’t (Angie and Artie are to come) and it is pot luck choosing the right ones for particular parts. Unfortunately Jamie Oram is definitely a case of being very sweet but not being able to bring anything to the screen (compounded by this episodes Confidential that showed him boasting about how good he is compared to the adult performers but then we were all little tykes at that age, weren't we?). Why exactly was there a glass eye in the draw? I feel like such a bastard saying this because after seeing all the work that went into making it happen on Confidential the effect of Purcell being sucked into the carpet looks decidedly naff. Sorry guys. Having the kid turn out to be lost alien from outer space guts the story of its feeling because now it isn’t a tale about the Doctor being drawn to a lost little boy who is scared of the monster but instead it is two aliens being brought together magnetically. For a second George is the menace and not the menaced which makes a mockery of the early scenes. Watching the Doctor and Alex dance about jerkily like Thunderbird puppets whilst George keeps repeating ‘please save me from the monsters’ like he is trying to memorise his times tables is the antithesis of the rubbish bag scene – it's not funny or scary, it's just a bit embarrassing. Because of their overexposure by the end of the episode all the things that were potentially creepy at the beginning of the episode (the lift, the cupboard) are a little same old, same old. Getting George to face his fears is exactly how the story should have concluded by Gatiss goes one step further by including a woefully smothering dollop of emotional syrup that gets in your every orifice until you are bleeding treacle and retching at the telly. ‘You are my son and I will never, ever send you away!’ What a shame that music didn’t die away and they both turned to dolls. What a farcically twee ending. This is exactly the sort of thing the classic series would never have attempted and they did stage some remarkably tiresome climaxes. Shockingly this isn’t the last time that paternal love saves the day this season and the next example is even more of a joke.

The Shallow Bit: I’m not sure if it is because he playing the very appealing role of a struggling father or just his cherubic, boyish face but there is something very attractive about Daniel Mays as Alex.

Result: This kicks off a run of three relatively standalone high concept episodes and is the weakest of the three because it doesn’t have the emotional kick of The Girl Who Waited or the constant innovation and development of The God Complex. There is a great idea at the heart of Night Terrors (being trapped inside a dolls house) but once that has been revealed it is pretty much all atmosphere and running about and very little substance for the second half of the episode. Low key isn’t always a bad thing but here it feels positively insignificant and matters aren’t helped by the choice of child actor who fails to convince in every scene. The director works overtime to create some suspense and to his credit the imagery is very strong, both in and around the flats and especially once we enter the skewed world of the dolls house. Matt Smith’s Doctor is a joy to watch but Amy and Rory are about as vacuous as they have ever been and are showing signs of having outlived their usefulness. There are some creepy moments in Night Terrors (the dolls are a real fright) but if you skip this one you are hardly missing out on anything special and by the end (especially that vomit inducing injection of syrup at the end) I had lost interest: 5/10

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