Sometimes, when you just ask for help strongly enough, the Doctor makes a housecall.
And when he does, you better get your toys lined up and your cupboard full of creepy monsters—’cause the monsters are real.
This is a story written by Mark Gatiss, the Who-master of classic horror and putting little kids behind the sofa. It’s as universal as it is extraordinary—all children have ways of coping with the terrors that hide away in their bedrooms. And that’s what makes Doctor Who more than just a kids’ show: I still get creeped out by shadows in my bedroom, every adult does every now and then. For kids, Mark Gatiss has written a story to tell them that bedroom scares aren’t to be ashamed of, and a story for parents who remember and who maybe need reminding that kids shouldn’t be belittled for their stories and their fears. Because this little boy is special; and the Doctor reminds us that imagination, even for the scary stuff, isn’t a bad thing.
Alex, his dad, portrayed by the magnificent Daniel Mays (The Bank Job, Ashes to Ashes), is clueless. He doesn’t understand what his son is so terrified of, why the coping strategies don’t work, and why he won’t talk to his parents about what’s really frightening him. When the boy’s fear are amplified so strongly that his psychic message ends up thumping the Doctor in the cravat, the Time Lord and the Ponds go investigate. Except the Ponds end up in a dodgy lift taking them into a miniature doll’s house where they’re supposed to be turned into peg dolls along with the bastard landlord and a weird old lady—they just had to be in there, didn’t they? Also: something scary in a child’s cupboard—Fear Her, anyone?
When the Doctor and Alex finally resolve to open the cupboard, they get sucked in, too—and you know it’s Saturday again when Rory faces facts about them possibly being dead, again—, and it isn’t until the very last second that George manages to face his fears and stop the advancing dolls. Speaking of: Amy gets transformed a lot! Flesh avatar, giant robot replica, peg doll… and next week, there’s going to be two of her, too. Again. Spoilers! But the dolls and the creepy things are only his second-worst fear: it’s his parents rejecting him that made everything worse, and the Peg Dolls used that fear to make the poor boy so irritable that his parents in turn became more suspicious.
Since the Internet has that weird habit of demanding more filler between the arc episodes and then bashing the filler, I’m going to try and be nice, but there is one criticism I have to make: Slow-motion? Really? Slow-motion in the scene in which the Dad heroically pushes the dolls out of the way to get to his son and promise him that, whoever he is, whatever he is, he loves him and will never send him away. It is a great scene, and touching, but that bit of slow-motion ruined it a bit for me, to be honest.
The idea of an alien boy as a cuckoo in a family somewhere in the universe is very interesting, though—why this family? Perhaps the little alien child sensed the despair and drifted close to them because they were searching for someone to love just as much as he was.
The main work was done by Matt Smith, Jamie Oram, and Danny Mays in this episode, from bonding to quarrelling to improvising over a fridge and then trying to find their way around the doll’s house. Although George’s fear remains a bit one-dimensional, Jamie’s good, and Alex’s confusion is credible and touching. Matt Smith does a great job at showing how the Doctor handles such a thing. It’s a small cast, this time, focusing on the dynamics between three main characters to show how the Doctor, though he looks so young, can be more of a wise old grandfather while solving the mystery. He gets Alex to trust him, as he always does, and gets through to George when they’re in gravest danger.
Of course, the Doctor’s going to pop back in for puberty—always a funny time! Ha, imagine that, the Doctor’s as a guide through hormonal confusion… then again, no, I don’t want to imagine that. Gives me tingles.
Anyway: an enjoyable episode all around, though the pacing seemed a bit off sometimes, and I could have done without the landlord harrassing Alex for money, and the old bin lady as supporting characters, it would have brought the family into sharper focus. Then again, the trouble brings out the several ways Alex is eternally put-upon, and I might have complained about the script leaving out the background of living in a council estate. Oh, everyone’s a critic. Never you mind, I liked it. Night Terrors is a nice tune to hide behind the sofa to.
Next: The Girl Who Waited.