TARDIS File 06-09: Night Terrors

TARDIS File 06-09: Night Terrors

The Big Idea: The Doctor, Amy and Rory respond to a distress call from a little boy with a big monster problem. 

What’s So Great

  • Richard Clark’s direction is superb. Lot’s of shadows and a variety of jarring camera angles make for one disturbing estate council. And there’s that lovely shot of the TARDIS reflecting in a puddle of water. Clark even manages to add tension to the rather obvious dollhouse set up.
  • The transformation of various characters into dolls is creepy and effective.
  • Matt Smith’s performance suggests Tom Baker this time out, particularly the scene where he debates/waffles around opening the cupboard.
  • The clever irony that here is a child who is afraid of being taken away by a doctor, while most of the children watching at home (and not a few of the adults) would jump at the chance at being whisked away with the Doctor.
  • Any opportunity to showcase the Amy/Rory double act is a plus.

Some Quick Bits of Trivia: Night Terrors was originally scheduled to be fourth in running order for season six. The production team decided to switch it for The Curse of the Black Spot to better balance the tone of the first half of the season. The Doctor’s reference to his childhood tale Snow White and the Seven Keys of Doomsday is a clever nod by writer Mark Gatiss to a stage play called Doctor Who and the Daleks in the Seven Keys to Doomsday, which ran in London for four weeks beginning in December 1974. The production starred Trevor Martin as the Doctor, and Second-Doctor-era companion Wendy Padbury as Jenny, one of the companions. 

Things to Geek Out About:

  • The Doctor mentions three of his favourite bedtime stories from childhood:  The Three Little Sontarans, The Dalek Emperor’s New Clothes and Snow White and the Seven Keys to Doomsday. One can only speculate whether his tongue is planted in his cheek.
  • Jammie Dodgers are mentioned again by the Doctor (previously referenced in Victory of the Daleks and The Impossible Astronaut.
  • We’re treated to the running gag about the sonic screwdriver not being able to manipulate wood. One can’t help but wonder if a pay-off is coming.

Not to Complain, But…In some ways it’s a shame this episode was switched with The Curse of the Black Spot as an appearance from Madame Kovarian and her sliding window might have subverted some of the predictable doll house discoveries. As well, the plot point surrounding George’s parentage might have offered some interesting foreshadowing to Amy’s own pregnancy.

All things considered:  Mark Gatiss is a traditionalist. His stories are never timey-wimey, experimental or deep with complex characterization. Night Terrors is marinated in its creepy setting, taking its inspiration from shows of the past like The Twilight Zone (wandering around a doll house discovering fake items; powerful little boy), and Sapphire and Steel  (investigators exploring strange psychic energy). We also get a couple of Gatiss tropes thrown in for good measure: twin girls (which featured in his collaboration The League of Gentlemen); daddy issues (The Idiot’s Lantern); and traditional Doctor Who (as was mentioned, much of Matt Smith’s dialogue is very Tom Baker-ish).

Pairing Gatiss’ script with director Richard Clark was a wise move. Clark seems astutely aware that this is all about mood, rather than twists and surprising story beats. Most savvy viewers have guessed where Amy and Rory and the other characters are—it was never going to be a great shock. One’s enjoyment of the episode is really going to depend on individual phobias or childhood experience. Mind you the presence of an old-fashioned dollhouse with wooden accessories is a bit odd in this contemporary setting. Why exactly did such an antique exist in the cupboard? Plot-wise it’s because it needed to be exotic and ambiguous. Shame that more wasn’t done with that. Perhaps the Mrs. Rossiter could have given it to him.

One thing you can be sure of: in twenty years time a bunch of fans who saw it as kids will be sitting around in a pub taking about how a bunch of creepy wooden dolls scared the bejeezus out of them when they were seven.

Lines of the Week: Rory: “This is weird.”  Amy: “Yeah, says the time-travelling nurse.”

TARDIS File prepared by Scott Clarke

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