Doctor Who 6×09: Night Terrors
“Night Terrors” is true to its title, but may suffer for its broadcast after the mid-series break. Following on the heels of “Let’s Kill Hitler” there’s a sense that the episode exists outside series continuity, much like “The Curse of The Black Spot.”
Therein lies the problem. While Mark Gatiss has written a delightfully frightening gothic confection, this series of DW is not kind to its stand-alone episodes. With so much momentum in the series arc, anything that doesn’t push that arc forward is a bit of a let-down. Which is a shame, because this is objectively one of the most creepifying episodes of Doctor Who I’ve seen in a long time.
Gatiss’ script, directed by Richard Clarke, takes shadows on the wall and things that go bump in the night and makes them truly worth the gut-wrenching fear they inspire. The Doctor (Matt Smith) is making a, “House call.” George (Jamie Oram) is home alone with his dad, Alex (Daniel Mays) in their flat. While George’s chant of, “Please save me from the monsters,” may be strong enough to carry through the vortex to the Doctor, it’s the cupboard in his room that scares the Time Lord. After all, “Monsters are real.” Mays and Oram are pitch perfect but there’s really not much for them to do within the story. A scared little boy and his equally scared (for different reasons) and conflicted father take a back seat to the realm in which his nightmares live. I won’t spoil it completely, but the set design, dressing and props departments have done something very special in NT. Making a set both frightening and funny is a masterstroke.
As all companions are an audience proxy, Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) are here the eyes and ears within the nightmare. It’s evident that Rory is a seasoned companion from the sheer resignation as he asks, “We’re dead again, aren’t we?” I think my biggest complaint about the episode as a whole, is that there’s so little interaction between the Doctor, companions, and guests. It almost feels like the Doctor is in one episode with George and Alex, while Amy and Rory are in an altogether different episode.
While the Doctor puzzles it out, referring to George as a, “cuckoo,” the resolution of the episode peters out. It’s too easy a resolution, and the audience already knows that there’s not really anything at stake as the malevolence of what we’ve seen lurking in the shadows is undercut by knowing the cause of it all. Lacking a real villain, unlike Gatiss’s previous scripts “The Unquiet Dead” and “The Idiot’s Lantern,” the first half of the episode ratchets up the tension and the second half lets it crumble.
I wound up being disappointed with the episode as a whole, and yet. . . One thing I’m prepared to swear: if Mark Gatiss ever writes a horror script that doesn’t pull its punches, I won’t sleep for a week.
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