'Doctor Who' Series 6 Episode 9 - 'Night Terrors'
Written by Mark Gatiss - Directed by Richard Clark
After a triumphant return to Series 6 last week with Moffat's 'Let's Kill Hitler', Mark Gatiss has occupied the writer's chair and in rather usual fashion he has supplied fans with another warped and chilling tale - something which he does best. Like many 'Who' episodes, 'Night Terrors' has been labelled "The scariest of all time", but is this true?
The TARDIS trio arrive at a block of flats after The Doctor receives a stress call from a terrified little boy. George is scared of everything, especially the 'monsters' in his bedroom cupboard. His father Alex is at his wits-end with his son's irrational behaviour but The Doctor knows George's fears are justified as he knows that "Monsters are real..."
Last week's episode was weighted in core character drama and bridging the essential on-going story arc - thankfully Gatiss' eerie tale has left that alone for 45 minutes and given us a traditional "hide behind the sofa" 'Who'. This episode dangles fear by a string and patiently waits to drop it upon the viewer, taunting them with chills and suspense - there are no "BOO!" moments or obvious jumps, instead we see shadows linger across walls, dark figures lurking in the backgrounds and the demonic sounds of little girl's laughter that echoes through the vast and desolate location the gang find themselves in. For any child who finds house-hold creaks, the dark and light piercing through the edge of the door scary, they will have difficulty sleeping after this one...
Admittedly, 'Night Terrors' is not the scariest episode of all-time, but it is certainly tense and presents it's horror effectively and sparingly - viewers are not presented by the freaky, oversized Peg Dolls until at least 25 minutes into this tale. We see shadows and scuttling movements, but never facial features and body movements until the final act. It's also fantastic to see an episode set in present day; just because The Doctor is located in a crummy block of flats does not mean horror is lurking around the corner - one doesn't have to go 123,000 years into the future for a fright.
As well as the fear, Gatiss' script brings subtle and rather brilliant humour to his macabre adventure; during the episode's opening, The Doctor, Amy and Rory are subjected to making various house calls to locate poor little George. Having an elderly lady grill our Time Lord about transporting bin bags down numerous flights of stairs was side-splitting. For a man with such knowledge and life experience, it's great to see him have such difficultly with general tasks and situations. However, he is right about Rubik's Cubes; those things are broken.
Like a lot of current adventures, we see The Doctor have his own duties to fulfil whilst Amy and Rory are located somewhere else getting into all kinds of trouble. When the couple board a lift that plummets them into the mystery 'doll's house', they seem ever so far away from The Doctor and security, even though they are actually just inside the cupboard he's leaning against; it's a beautiful and well-dramatised juxtaposition and one this episode continually recycles.
The performances were all wonderful, with Jamie Oram as George and Danny Mays as Alex being the stand-outs. For such a young child having to carry the constant burden of being terrified, Oram gives a remarkably believable and touching portrayal; I expect to see him again on TV soon because the kid certainly has talent. Mays is one of my favourite British actors working today - he has such a presence and is able to pull off being a tough guy who's sensitive as easy as breathing. His chemistry with Oram here made a harmonious father-son relationship that wasn't tacky or cheap, it was heart-warming and honest. Mays was the perfect casting choice.
Smith was brilliant as usual and spent more time cracking jokes here than dying a lot like last week. His scenes with Alex in the kitchen were like a proper double-act; a British and more sensible Laurel & Hardy perhaps? Gillan and Darvill were fantastic too and revealed in the terror of there situation in the creepy 'doll's house', yet there was still time for Rory to come out with yet more classic lines - "Oh we're dead aren't we? The lift fell and we're dead. We're dead, again!"
'Night Terrors' was a fine example of perfect scripting, performing and above all else, timing. The frights, the laughs, the suspense - it was all timed with precision and structure. A chilling, moving and exciting tale that lit up Saturday night. "Tick Tock, Goes the Clock, Even for The Doctor"...