Review of Night Terrors
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.
I'm not a fan of the horror genre, and last week's trailer did not inspire me. Further, given that Mark Gatiss's scripts have been very hit-or-miss for me (loved The Unquiet Dead, was so-so about The Idiot's Lantern, and abhorred Victory of the Daleks), I was rather apprehensive about what all that boded for the quality of Night Terrors. Although it wasn't my all-time favorite, it was much better than I'd allowed myself to expect.
I think perhaps I am the target market for the level of horror the Doctor Who team aims to maintain. In other words, I can handle about as much as the average eight-year-old. A little tension is good, but more than the predictable "boo!" moment upon opening a door, drawer, or what-have-you makes me too uncomfortable to watch. Thus, the horror factor in Night Terrors was just about perfect for me. Nothing truly unpredictable ever came of one of those instances, and the scene in which the landlord succumbs was just oogy enough to give me the creeps. (I had a moment of cognitive dissonance there, too - I first thought the shot of his hand morphing was Rory's going all Auton on us again. That didn't make sense, but the visual similarity was striking.)
Aside from these rather typical Who features (scaring the crap out of little kids with cool-looking monsters), the story had several elements that we've seen woven throughout the Moffat era: fear emanating from a child's bedroom (The Eleventh Hour), a crack in the wall (Series Five; check the early scene when the old neighbor lady is walking down the hall), and old people as source of fear (Amy's Choice), to name the most obvious. I suppose in this child-heavy series, we're supposed to start wondering more about the Doctor's own parenthood and where his cot comes in. However, I was happy - for once - to be enjoying a story for itself, without any other Context getting in the way.
Really, whether or not the episode was going to fly hinged on the performance of Jamie Oram (George). He was brilliant throughout, being a believably scared little kid, including things like the blinking-too-often facial tic. Similarly, dad Alex (played by Daniel Mays) nailed the pained, conflicted parent expressions, from the besotted one while looking at pictures of his little boy to the of-COURSE-I-love-you! one at the denouement (which must surely strike right at the hearts of all adoptive parents, whether or not it reaches their children).
Our leads were all on form, too, starting with the Doctor being a weird combination of an adult who wants to comfort children yet feels inadequate and a childlike ball of indecision himself. Rory and Amy do their standard gig, as well, and as always I love Rory's little gems ("the lift fell, and we're dead. ... We're dead. Again!"). Even Murray Gold's score - a form of character, too - plays its part well, including a sort of menacing almost-complete version of the "nyah nyah" melody reminiscent of the little girl in Remembrance of the Daleks to build suspense when the Doctor first suggests opening the cupboard.
I'm still undecided on what I think of the Doctor's flashbacks to clues he took in but didn't process. It smacked of The Eleventh Hour, and I didn't really care for the sequence in that episode. These were much less disorienting for the viewer, so for now I'm going to give them a qualified stamp of approval. At least they weren't strange enough to remove me from the action.
Only as I sat down to write this review did thoughts about how the episode fits in with the series story arc started to worm their way in. First, everyone seems to be emphasizing Rory's profession this series: Strax highlights it with his dying words in A Good Man Goes to War; it's a plot driver at the end of The Curse of the Black Spot; and here, Amy mentions that he's a "time-travelling nurse." Maybe I'm making something of nothing (neither the first nor last time a blogger has done so), but it seems like one of those "somethings" Moffat likes to slip in.
Speaking of which, here we are in yet another alternate universe of sorts, inside the cupboard. At the very least, it's an alternate version of reality (though it doesn't hold a candle to what appears to be in store next week). It's a bit like alt-realities cropping up around Donna all the time - where's this going? Are those who believe it's all leading up to Omega as this series' Big Bad (as even I once speculated myself) onto something? Could be. I'd love that, though I remain somewhat skeptical.
The other thing that stuck out to me, though, was the fact that - just like the signal animating Flesh Amy through the first half of the series - George's message reached across space and time right inside the usually-impenetrable TARDIS. Now either the TARDIS is allowing such things in of her own accord, or this is an unusual occurrence. Take that with the Doctor's comment near the end of the episode about how it's "good to be back together again - in the Flesh" (perhaps it was a lowercase f, but it's fun to speculate that it's not) and we might have something else to consider. Maybe this whole timeline's an alt-reality - or a dream (remember the Dream Lord?) - or even Omega's own version of reality set to trap the Doctor (was he truly "blown away" when the TARDIS exploded last series?).
Whatever the case, in retrospect, there will undoubtedly be lots of things to point to here, even though I'd rather just remember Night Terrors at its loveliest: a simple stand-alone episode about the nature of love and family.