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Doctor Who – A child’s bedroom is the scariest place in the universe

No River Song this week, but we did get scary dolls and creepy lullabies sung by British children. Basically, pure nightmare fuel.

- Season 6, Episode 9 - "Night Terrors"

Earlier this week, Deb posted a poll about the best werewolves on television. Other Clackers brought up the characters of True Blood, Vampire Diaries, Being Human (UK and US). Being the Whovian I’ve become over this glorious summer of Netflix and BBCAmerica, I put another lycanthopic character to the table — Queen Victoria from the 10th Doctor’s run. Non-Whovian Carla said, and I quote, “There’s a werewolf on Doctor Who? This show sounds crazier and crazier.” Yep, Doctor Who certainly has a cornucopia of genres wrapped up inside it. In just the 21st century reboot alone, we’ve seen werewolves, alien vampires, evil statues and clones, just to name a few. And while often the show is about spaceships and robots and timeheads, sometimes it’s about a scared child, a haunted house and a man with a blue box who only wants to help. “Night Terrors” is the later.

We haven’t seen too many modern day Earth episodes during Matt Smith‘s run, and I wasn’t completely sure about this episode before I saw it. Now I’m very glad it was included in the season. As much as I’m liking the overall storyline of the season (yes, I am in the pro-River Song camp), it was good to take a breather with a stand-alone episode. At the same time, the episode dealt with the relationship between a parent and child, which I have a feeling is going to come up later in the season with Amy and Rory’s own relationship with their daughter. Daniel Mays‘ performance as Alex the dad was unexpectedly deep.

Matt Smith and Mays play off each other well, and I especially loved Smith’s quippy dialogue. Of course, this is the same cleverness we’ve come to expect from the 11th Doctor, but the dialogue is especially delicious when played off this normal person who doesn’t know him very well.

The whole mood of the episode is super creepy. The colors were vividly dark, if that makes sense, with the yellowish white walls really making an impact. There’s also a strange amount of light in the child’s bedroom for so late at night, which just adds to the creepiness. And seeing the Doctor scared out of his wits takes the creepiness to another level. The moment he scans the cupboard with the sonic screwdriver, he gets this look on his face like he’s truly terrified. That doesn’t happen way too often, which makes the stakes that much higher. The room’s width getting smaller and smaller as the cupboard pulled it in was a really cool effect. And really, anytime you include giant, zombie-moving antique dolls with British children’s voices singing nursery rhymes, you’re going to give your audience the heebee-jeebies. The dolls gave me a very “Are you my mummy?” feel to them, mostly in their reproduction. It’s not as effective as in “The Empty Child,” but still some serious heebee-jeebies.

There were some nice twists this week, some that I figured out quickly (the dollhouse) and some that snuck up on me (the truth about George). Something I’ve noticed from showrunner Moffit is the theme of not-quite-human humanoids being loved all the same. This is where Daniel Mays’ performance really shines. Amy actually getting caught and transformed was a nice change of pace … plus with that idiotic plan of hers, she kind of deserved to get caught. If “we’ll run at them because they won’t expect it” actually worked, I would have been very disappointed. Usually the companions have this invisible wall of untouchability story-wise, and while I knew she’d get turned back to normal, it was great to see the writers not protect her from harm for once.

Best of all, “Night Terrors” brought back one of my very favorite aspects of the show — the psychic paper. I am so excited to see the Doctor use his psychic paper again. If I recall, the last time it was shown  was in the last Christmas special, when it tried to tell a lie too big (“I think you’ll find I’m universally recognized as a mature and responsible adult.”). I guess the Doctor hasn’t needed to go undercover as much this season, but I’m just glad to know the paper isn’t broken. Doctor, please starting using it normally again!

This wasn’t a totally stand-alone episode — at the end, “Night Terrors” ties itself back to the Doctor’s death. I have no idea how the season finale is going to go down, but I’m sure in a few weeks I”ll be kicking myself for not figuring it out earlier.

All the best quotes:

“He needs help.” — Claire
“He’s got us.” — Alex
“He needs a doctor!” — Claire

“No offense doctor–” — Rory
“–Meaning the opposite.” — The Doctor
“But we could get a bus somewhere like this.” — Rory
“The exact opposite.” — The Doctor

“We’re dead, aren’t we? The lift fell and we’re dead. We’re dead, again.” — Rory

“Maybe it was things on the telly, you know? Scary stuff getting under his skin. Frightening him. So we stopped letting him watch.” -Alex
“Oh, you don’t want to do that.” — The Doctor

“We… we went into the cupboard. We went into the cupboard. How can it be bigger in here?!” — Alex
“More common than you think.” — The Doctor


Photo Credit: BBC

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Categories: | Doctor Who | Episode Reviews | Features | General | TV Shows |

One Response to “Doctor Who – A child’s bedroom is the scariest place in the universe”

September 4, 2011 at 3:36 PM

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.