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Doctor Who reviews: Night Terrors

REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO

An episode that scares because it cares…

Matt Smith in Doctor Who S6 E9, 'Night Terrors'

[Spoilers follow]

After the dramatic plot twists of showrunner Steven Moffat’s ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ last week, Doctor Who returns to a more standalone story with Sherlock co-creator and co-showrunner Mark Gatiss’ ‘Night Terrors’, which nonetheless proves engaging enough to make one forget about the yet-to-be resolved cliffhangers from last week (fittingly enough, concerning the Silence, among other things).

George, a boy who’s afraid of everything, calls out “Please save me from the monsters!” Psychically amplified, this message travels all the way to the TARDIS in an impressive interstellar tracking shot, finally reaching The Doctor’s psychic paper, alerting him that it’s time for “a house call.”

After The Doctor, Amy, and Rory have knocked on several doors of the council housing block, trying clumsily (and amusingly) to ascertain which house the message came from, The Doctor finally knocks on the correct door, upon which the boy’s father immediately assumes that he’s someone from Social Services, answering the father’s call for help dealing with their son’s fears.

Of course, within a few minutes, The Doctor informs him that “Monsters are real” (in the context of a typically awesome poetic speech about stars and galaxies, describing the earlier tracking shot, prompting the father’s realisation “You’re not from Social Services…”), and then sets about investigating in typically Doctor-ish style.

However, having scanned the cupboard (that’s full of things that frighten George) with the sonic screwdriver, and finding that the readings are off the scale, The Doctor has a few moments of serious deliberation. Then he somewhat entertainingly ‘argues’ with the father—well, with himself, really—about whether to open the cupboard or not. He then decides that it would be crazy, and promptly resolves to do so.

Matt Smith seems perhaps even more *established* as The Doctor in this episode than he ever has done before. Of course, he’s been brilliant since ‘The Eleventh Hour’ (and arguably the end of ‘The End of Time Part 2’, though that was only one scene, so while he was good in that one scene, it was difficult to tell exactly how good he’d be as The Doctor at that stage), and is not only one of the best actors to play The Doctor, but he also *is* The Doctor, as his immediate predecessor David Tennant was before him.

So it seems incredible to think that he’s still improving in the role, making an astounding performance even better. Or perhaps it’s just that this episode is the first standalone adventure after the awesomely awesome arciness of the event episodes ‘A Good Man Goes to War’ and ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’, a double bill which served as the half-season finale and half-season premiere, respectively. Those two episodes took the awesome and quintessentially Moffatian approach of throwing in pretty much everything, especially some dramatic revelations surrounding the identity of River Song.

Now that the insanely complicated plot dust has settled (for the time being anyway), ‘Night Terrors’ functions as essentially a standalone adventure (though not entirely, because (even just as showrunner) Steven Moffat always cleverly ties in the big picture somehow in some subtle way), and this episode has an assured grasp on the character of the Eleventh Doctor.

Despite its title, the episode is not all straightforward spookiness, though. It’s very well directed by Richard Clark, who makes use of some stylish, unusual shots, and writer Mark Gatiss tempers the chills with some very funny, quotable humour.

For instance, The Doctor diagnoses George’s condition as: “Pandaphobia. Not fear of pandas, but fear of everything. Which includes pandas, I suppose…”

(To quote Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and really, you don’t need an excuse; especially considering the similarities between the two shows): Why can’t we have an episode where The Doctor faces a cult of panda-worshippers for once? (Thank you for those nightmares…))

Some more great quotes from the episode:

The Doctor: “I used to love stories when I was your age…oooh, about…a thousand years ago. The Three Little Sontarans, The Emperor Dalek’s New Clothes…”

Rory: “Great. We’re dead. Again.”

The Doctor: “First off, I’m going to need some Jammie Dodgers.”

It’s an amusing line, but also, on reflection, calls to mind the Daleks (‘Victory of the Daleks’) and the Silence (‘The Impossible Astronaut’), some of The Doctor’s most formidable foes; implying just how serious the threat may be. But The Doctor still runs headlong into it. Because he’s The Doctor.

Guest star Daniel Mays is believable as a working-class, straightforward, yet caring father. In particular, in the moving denouement, where he reassures George: “I’m your father, and whoever you are, whatever you do, you will always be my son.”

This illustrates the Christian idea of sonship: that when someone becomes a Christian (that is, repents of their sins and puts their trust fully in Jesus’ death on the cross in their place), they’re ‘adopted’ by God the Father, who loves them unconditionally because of Jesus, and so they become effectively a son (or daughter) of God.

Also, the Christian solution to worry (and arguably the only ultimate solution) is to trust in God. This is arguably represented here by George ‘praying’ to The Doctor for help, and then The Doctor comes and saves the day. (Except it’s not exactly the same, because George is the only one who can overcome his fears. Having said that, though, it’s only because of his father’s love for him that he’s able to do so.)

Based on the (probably slightly spoilery) teaser, next week’s episode looks awesome; really stylish and very sci-fi. While Doctor Who leaps between many different genres brilliantly, it’ll be good to see an episode returning whole-heartedly to its core genre (if Doctor Who indeed has one) of science fiction, arguably the greatest genre there is.

See also:

Doctor Who complete reviews: Night Terrors

Doctor Who reviews: Closing Time

Doctor Who S6 Part 2 trailer analysis

Doctor Who fan Charlie McDonnell gets 1m regular YouTube viewers

Doctor Who: Matt Smith - the best 'Doctor' since Tom Baker?


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Comments 

 
#1 Pandaphobia? Les Carr 2011-09-06 17:19
That's pantophobia - it's a real thing.
Quote | REPORT THIS COMMENT
 

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