Sunday, 10 November 2013

Night Terrors

Not quite a misfire, but certainly an odd one and, after the exhilaration of Let's Kill Hitler, one that possibly feels a little bit flatter than it deserves. But it's a nice change of tone, first back to the domestic urban environment that we haven't seen for a long while, and then off into the ancient stamping grounds of Doctor Who, a surreal hinterland like those of The Celestial Toymaker or The Mind RobberNight Terrors does both of these rather well.

The block of flats, each one a compartment for a different occupant, a different set of values, reminds us of the cars in Gridlock and this environment, with its bins, dodgy lifts and inter-generational angst, seems just as exotic to the Doctor and the Ponds as a pirate ship, or sixteenth century Venice did. After the great grandstanding of A Good Man Goes to War, the Doctor is slowly remembering his earlier modus operandi and the notion of him making a house call, or interpolating himself between family and state, taking on the role of social worker, is an excellent and wholly appropriate one. It recalls the stories of Tom Baker knocking on random front doors during his tenure in order to watch Doctor Who with an ordinary family and melting a childs' brain in the process. It's a good example too of the extraordinary rapport the Doctor can have with children because he takes them seriously. The Doctor believes George's cry for help, and in return George trusts the Doctor.

The Other Place, the spooky realm in which Amy and Rory find themselves is also well realised, a 'sideways step in time' of the kind that was part of the show's original premise. The oddness of it, the mysterious emptiness of it, creates a unpleasant atmosphere even before the ugly and downright creepy dolls make themselves known. But it can't compete with the horrors George must confront inside his own bedroom. Poor little George's world, comprised of looming shadows and unidentifiable noises, is absolutely terrifying mostly thanks to the incredible performance of young Jamie Oram, who quivers, trembles and gasps with absolute conviction. Daniel Mays is good, too, as George's bewildered father, out of his depth and desperate for help.

Unfortunately, it's in trying to tie these disparate elements together that Night Terrors starts to fall away. I don't have any problem with George turning out to be an alien, possessed of special powers, although it does rather undermine the premise, which hints that the reasonable fears of an ordinary child might be real. But I am a bit bored of having another fantastical situation resolved by a parent demonstrating their love for their sceptical child. Okay this happens less often than I think it does (I've just checked) but the resolutions of both Night Terrors and the upcoming Closing Time feel like dim and feeble echoes of the wonderful ending to The Doctor Dances. There are episodes where love causes someone to do something that saves the day: 42 for example, or Fathers' Day, or Forest of the Dead, but magical declarations of love that fix everything should be employed more sparingly than this.


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