Saturday, 3 September 2011

DOCTOR WHO 6.09 - Night Terrors

Scanners indicate an absence of spoilers

Now Mr Mark Gatiss surely need no introduction to followers of the TARDIS, as he wrote The Unquiet Dead, The Idiot's Lantern and last year's Victory of the Daleks, was the eponymous star of The Lazarus Experiment, and author is the author of several Doctor Who novels and audio plays. And indeed, he's no stranger to fans of cult television in general, as one quarter of the League of Gentlemen, co-star and co-creator of Sherlock, and numerous roles in the likes of Spaced, The Quatermass Experiment and Nighty Night.

And after the Daleks meet war movie homage of the last series, he's back on spooky ground! And Mr Gatiss does scary rather well, as he demonstrated with the eerie mini series Crooked House, which pleasingly continued the BBC tradition of televising ghost stories at Christmas. And I am sure I am not alone in being a bit creeped out by the pictures of the strange doll-like figures before the episode had even aired.

Now ultimately, how effective this episode will be for you, depends on how you feel about creepy old dolls.
Personally I'm not a fan after being traumatised at a young age on hearing a version of this old chiller. Hence I found there were eerie moments aplenty in this episode. Plus the haunting sound of old fashioned songs sung by child voices also never fails to raise the hairs on the back of my neck.

However the actual story is fairly simple and straight-forward, looking almost basic after last week's plot explosions. However this is a story all about the atmosphere and emotions, and an uncluttered narrative full of spookiness and dark ambiance was a refreshing change of pace after the high octane madness of Let's Kill Hitler. Indeed, even if the dolls and decaying Victoriana don't push your fear buttons, you may well still be pleased with this little tale for it has a traditional beginning, middle and end format with none of that  time-wimey mucking about.

Also it was also refreshing to see a story set on present day Earth, as this is the first time we've been back since The Lodger last series! And the fact that it seemed a novel location only goes to show how well the Moffat tenure has moved the Doctor back to exploring space and time after the earthbound feel of the Davies years. Additionally however, what Night Terrors does rather well is to make the familiar unsettling. It's full of well observed little touches that may well transport you back to the days when bed time was an unwelcome prospect as you knew that as soon as the light went out, the toys in your bedroom would cast bogeyman-shaped shadows on the walls...

And it's good to see the Doctor tackling a relatively small scale local threat for a change. We don't need mind bending paradoxes and the universe blowing up every week. Indeed for those types of tales to work, we need the smaller scale stories in between. Hence with regards the scope of the tale and traditional storytelling, Night Terrors felt like a classic series tale in many respects, and that's not a bad thing at all.

 However it's not totally old school though as it does have the emotional warmth that the show again when it returned in 2005 too. However it's prime focus is still the story rather than tugging at the audience's heart-strings in a contrived fashion as the new version of the series has been wont to overdo at times. Also Night Terrors felt like it fitted it's running time perfectly - I didn't feel like this was a story that would benefit from being a two parter or felt overly rushed.

So all in all, quite a successful blend of the new and old, which is just as it should be...  Indeed, to invoke a shared childhood memory, this episode was like the perfect bowl of porridge. Not the stuff of banquets or haute cuisine, but at the same time, sometimes you know there's nothing more satisfying than porridge - when it's not too hot and not too cold, it's just right...


theoncominghope said...

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.

Jim Moon said...

Thank you for the comment :)

I think one of the downsides of a simple tale like Night Terrors is that being quite concise in its plotting it doesn't bear the weight of much scrutiny.

To use a variation on the metaphor I closed on, Night Terrors is a beans on toast kind of episode - and simple but enjoyable but afterwards you do think 'hey I could have jazzed this up with some cheese, a fired eggs, maybe some bacon...etc.' And you certainly wouldn't want it for every meal ;)

After some further thought, I would say that there are some weak spots in the narrative, namely that the father is portrayed as seeming almost cross with George in the early scenes (making him seem a little like a bad dad), and secondly the Doctor's identifying what George really is was a little out of the blue.

So then while I stand my remarks that the story wasn't too rushed, at the same time it could have benefited from another ten minutes. As I have remarked before I think the show would suit an hour long running time, which you allow the kind of little moments and character scenes which would strenghten a lot of stories. As it is from watching Confidential it would appear that such material is often written and filmed but cut out to fit the 50 minute run time.

As for the Ponds, on reflection you can tell this story was originally scheduled for the first half of this series. It's clearest with Rory who is the earlier version (klutzy and panicking) rather than the more mature version who lamps Nazis and threatens Cybermen on their home turf. It also explains the lack of fall-out from the events of last week.

The Martians Are Here said...

I love reading your reviews almost as much as watching the Doctor. :) One thing I am struggling with though is with the second half I am just not getting excited. I want to be, I really enjoyed the Silence, the Gangers and a Good Man goes to war. However this season, we have seen main characters die/appear to die so often it's just hard to feel like they are under threat. Amy being changed into a doll, well we know it will be fixed and besides I am a bit trauma'd out where the main cast are concerned. I like the big storyline but I feel like it's drowning everything out and making life harder for an episode like this than it ought to be because it's a good one. A good part of me wants the storyline to end so the doctor can just get on with exploring the universe ala Christopher Ecclestons doctor. That isn't going to happen though, next year will be bigger and better heading into the fiftieth anniversary. That said kudos to Moffat and Co, they are being bold and taking the Doctor where he has never been before and you can't fault the results, Dr Who is getting a much bigger audience especially in the US. Ultimately that's what he is paid to do. Enjoying the Moffat era, he is doing it his way as will who-ever sits in the seat after him but if I had one small request for the "Moff" can we not kill off a cast member a week... There are other ways to put the characters in peril.

Jim Moon said...

Thank you sir :)

I agree about the killing of characters - but we have had a run of five episodes now where Rory HASN'T died in some form or another... which I believe is a world record for him :)

But seriously messing with mortality of the TARDIS crew is in danger of becoming as much of an ongoing leitmotif as global threats to planet Earth were in the RTD era. And like that trope it's very effective once in a while but on a regular basis becomes somewhat stale and an excitement killer.

As for the on-going plot lines, I'm suspecting this second half may well play out more like the usual story arc after the mammoth answering session of Let's Kill Hitler. However second guessing Mr Moffat is a dangerous game! However I am planning to do an article weighting up the serial aspects of this series after the grand finale...