Doctor Who: Night Terrors
(1 episode, s06e09, 2011)
The Doctor makes a house call.
It’s nighttime and time for little George to go to bed. Unfortunately, he’s afraid to do so. His mom flips the lights five times to ward off evil and tells the boy to put his fears in his cupboard. He also whispers a plea to the heavens, “Please save me from the monsters,” before he heads to bed. While George’s parents worry that he needs a doctor, the plea reaches the psychic paper and the Doctor sets a course.
The TARDIS materializes on the street below and the Doctor and the Ponds head up to find George’s apartment. As the group splits up, they encounter several interesting characters including the elderly Mrs. Rossiter, landlord Jim Purcell, and a mother and her creepy twin daughters. Every one of them are suspicious and slam the door on their traveling visitors.
George overhears Rory joking about the monsters eating the kid, but the Doctor notices when George peeks through the window. The Doctor sends the Ponds on a wild goose chase while he goes to meet George alone. The Ponds end up in an elevator that plummets to the ground and spirits them away. Similarly, Mrs. Rossiter is taken away as she’s consumed by a garbage pile.
George’s father Alex mistakes the Doctor for a social worker. Alex insists that George is “scared to death of everything” and explains that they established the tradition of putting everything scary into the cupboard. When George startles at the sound of the elevator, he meets the Doctor. The Time Lord takes the opportunity to ask about the monsters.
The Ponds wake up in the dark. Rory thinks that they’re dead (or that they’ve time traveled) but they’re really in a dark and rather peculiar house. They find an electric lantern and a wooden pan designed to look like a copper one. They also find a giant glass eye in a drawer. As things get curiouser and curiouser, they get even more unnerved, especially by the strange giggling.
The Doctor tries to communicate with George, even to the point of opening the cupboard before a knock at the door interrupts them. Landlord Jim and his dog arrive to badger Alex about the money he owes, offering the Doctor the chance to use his sonic screwdriver. This both comforts George and allows the Doctor to scan the cupboard. What the Doctor finds in the scan rattles him. Jim leaves and Alex offers to open the cupboard, but the Doctor tells him to stop. George’s monsters are indeed real.
Alex is furious at the Doctor’s actions, but the Doctor is not swayed.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Rossiter is revealed to be alive in the mysterious house. The Ponds look for a way out but only seem to be getting closer to the eerie giggles. They open a door and find a child-like wooden doll with a large Funko Pop-like head. As they walk away, the doll creaks to life.
The Doctor finally decides to open the cupboard. When he does, he finds a host of items but nothing nefarious. At the same time, Landlord Jim is swallowed by his apartment floor. The Doctor has a bout of inspiration and quizzes Alex about George’s birth, but Alex can’t remember it. In fact, he blurts out that Claire can’t have children.
The answer lies with George.
The cupboard springs to life with bright lights, pulling the Doctor and Alex into the mysterious house. There, the Ponds watch as a creepy doll transforms Landlord Jim into a similar doll. The Doctor recognizes the house as a dollhouse, a psychic repository for all of George’s fears, and starts looking for a way out with Alex in tow. Luckily, Alex finds a pattern in the lights: They cycle on and off in fives.
Amy is captured and transformed by the dolls. The dolls also find the Doctor and Alex, but the sonic screwdriver is useless against wood. As he and Alex run, the Doctor realizes that George is a Tenza, an alien species that are like cuckoo birds. They find foster parents and adapt perfectly into what their parents want as their child, and George instinctively sought out Claire and Alex because they were unable to have kids. When something startled him, he started this subconscious cycle of fear.
The Doctor pleads with George to end the cycle, but he realizes that the fear is based on Alex’s rejection of George. When George calls for help and the dolls swarm him, Alex instinctively springs into action and promises to protect him. This breaks the cycle and releases the captives.
The Ponds arrive in the elevator, Mrs. Rossiter emerges from the trash pile, and Landlord Jim wakes up on the floor with his dog. As Claire arrives home from work, she finds Alex and George laughing and giggling with the Doctor. Claire is amazed at the change, but the Doctor asks her to trust him. The Time Lord reassures Alex that everything will be okay before reuniting with the Ponds and returning to the TARDIS.
As they set a course for their next destination, the time and place of the Doctor’s death appears on the monitors, accompanied by a nursery rhyme:
“Tick, tock, goes the clock, even for the Doctor…”
On the one hand, this was a fun little story with a neat twist. Unfortunately, that twist comes with one of the weakest but most often employed tools in the Steven Moffatt era’s arsenal: The Doctor being the smartest character in the room.
As I’ve said before, the story loses its power and magic when the answers are just handed to the audience, and this is no exception. There were no indications in the narrative that George was the source of the problem aside from the five-light pattern. There was also no introduction of the Tenza or any other “cuckoo bird” analogues, making the revelation about George simply something that the Doctor yanked from thin air (or any applicable orifice). The same can be said about the dollhouse setting.
In fact, I checked. The Tenza have never been mentioned before this story, and they have never been mentioned again to this point. (And, no, the mention of Sherpa Tenzing wasn’t relevant at all.)
It’s not smart storytelling. In fact, it’s lazy, sloppy, and irritating. Part of the fun in any mystery is the ability for the audience to solve it. Without the very basis to reach the revelation, the audience is merely along for the ride.
There were some minor bright spots. As a fan of Poltergeist, I liked the parallel when the Doctor and Alex are sucked into the cupboard. I also liked how George’s message on the psychic paper was so strong that it persisted and both Rory and the Doctor could read it.
I also liked the fanciful listing of the Doctor’s favorite childhood tales: The Emperor Dalek’s New Clothes (a play on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes), The Three Little Sontarans (a play on The Three Little Pigs), and Snow White and the Seven Keys to Doomsday (a play on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the 1970s stageplay Doctor Who and the Daleks in Seven Keys to Doomsday, and the 2008 audio adaptation Seven Keys to Doomsday).
But, in the end, these little nuggets of fun can’t override a terribly constructed story. Especially one that insults the audience by pulling the rug out from under them.
Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”
UP NEXT – Torchwood: The Blood Line
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