Doctor Who series 6 episode 9: Night Terrors

Neil Humphries asks whether Mark Gatiss has managed to atone for his series five sins…

 

4 stars

 

 

Air date: UK 3 Sept, 2011, BBC One

 

Fortune favours the bold, so they say, and much good luck has befallen Mark Gatiss, quite rightly, during his impressive and versatile career. So his audacity in calling his first Doctor Who script since Victory of the Daleks, Night Terrors, wasn't overly perturbing. Good on him for the brave choice. But the anticipation of this new slice of Gatiss Who, was undoubtedly accompanied by some niggles of concern.

 

We all remember the story of Victory, what little of it there was, and what effect initial viewings had on that minority audience we call fandom: all that screaming, those cold sweats, terrible flashbacks, and even bed-wetting in some cases.

 

The Doctor investigates in Night Terrors

How disappointing it must have been for the programme's makers to discover that few of these responses had anything to do with anyone being frightened - quite the opposite, in fact. It is even said that those viewers who hid behind the sofa that night, did so only in shame or to check their underwear for signs of incontinence after seeing the new hunchbacked Daleks side-on for the first time. Victory was badly executed tosh.

 

But enough of these old grievances. Could Night Terrors live up to its name more than its predecessor had? The answer, for the most part, is yes, thank goodness. The fact that it is a better piece of television is apparent very soon in the proceedings, Terrors being both directed with aplomb by Richard Clark and played well by a top-notch cast.

 

Particular mention should be given to the nicely judged performances of Daniel Mays as anxious parent Alex, and Andrew Tiernan as Scary Landlord and loather of Bergerac repeats, Purcell. Jamie Oram is also good as spooked-out George, the latest in a long line of kids in Doctor Who since Lord Moff took over.

 

Although the tale gets progressively darker, particularly during the scene featuring the nursery rhyme singing peg dolls, there are many counter-balancing, amusing moments, in what must be Gatiss's funniest Who script. The comedy moments come thick and fast, from the moment the Tardis lands in the enclosed setting of the apartment block (very Sapphire and Steel), and the Doctor, Amy and Rory start knocking on doors, only to be confronted by all sorts, right through to the fate of Leila Hoffman's Mrs Rossiter.

 

Matt Smith is, quite simply, pitch perfect. He's on fire, even during the interplay scenes with Daniel Mays. All that energetic dialogue about whether to open George's toy cupboard, or to leave it well alone, was simply brilliant. As was Michael Pickwoad's visually rich set design, with the two main apartment interiors made into things of beauty by deftly executed set dressing, coupled with the transfixing use of a mélange of greens and browns. Lush!

 

The peg dolls in Night Terrors

But the ending lets the story down, somewhat, by a reliance on the fantastical conclusion - a device used too often as an easy way out in sci-fi drama. If this were an episode of Lewis, the conclusion of the plot would have to be considered, plausible and supported by a scattering of fair clues. This being Doctor Who, we have the Doctor being innately intuitive, plucking some random knowledge out of the ether, which solves the problem and saves the day in a nonsensical, often twee, fashion, that's usually just a bit too convenient.

 

But this is hardly new. When the show returned with Rose in 2005, the Doctor happened to have a handy test tube of anti-plastic in his pocket to defeat the Nestenes. 35 years before, he simply reversed the polarity of something or other to beat the blighters.

 

So let's forgive Night Terrors its OTT twist and love-conquers-all ending, and just enjoy the old fashioned nature of what is a not-half-bad DW tale. You may have to suspend your disbelief while watching, but after nearly 50 years with this show, we ought to be used to that by now.

 

Neil Humphries

 

 

Doctor Who: Night Terrors
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