The Doctor receives an unlikely message – “save me from the monsters” – via his psychic paper, and follows it back to an apartment on present-day Earth, certain that it comes from someone very young. The source of the signal turns out to be a seemingly ordinary Earth boy named George, whose family situation, while loving, isn’t quite ideal. The Doctor convinces George’s father to let him find out what’s causing George’s monster nightmares, but this only reveals that George’s imagined monsters may be very real and very dangerous. Amy and Rory are sucked into the child’s nightmares, where they find other victims who have already fallen victim to the Dolls that stalk the darkest corners of George’s psyche. In the end, it’s not the Doctor, but George’s father, who holds the key to freeing everyone from this nightmare world.
written by Mark Gatiss
directed by Richard Clark
music by Murray Gold
Cast: Matt Smith (The Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams), Daniel Mays (Alex), Jamie Oram (George), Emma Cunniffe (Claire), Andy Tiernan (Purcell), Leila Hoffman (Mrs. Rossiter), Sophie Cosson (Julie)
Notes: The Doctor’s mention of “Snow White and the Seven Keys To Doomsday” is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the 1974 stage play Doctor Who and the Seven Keys To Doomsday, which starred Trevor Martin as an alternative post-Pertwee Doctor fighting the Daleks; the play was written by ’70s Doctor Who script editor Terrance Dicks, and was more recently revived in audio form by Big Finish Productions.
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: A nice departure from the slightly overblown mid-season saga, Night Terrors is a good old fashioned scary story that manages not only to return to some of the roots of Doctor Who, but is an almost-metafictional piece that any fan could love. After all, who wouldn’t like a house call from the Doctor?
Mark Gatiss, who’s been writing Who since the days of the New Adventures novels, turns in an almost perfectly-pitched script that, while it does feature an alien with extraordinary powers, really only uses that angle of the story as a vehicle to draw the Doctor’s attention. Much like 2010’s Vincent And The Doctor, Night Terrors need not have included an extraterrestrial story element at all (other than the Time Lord himself). It’s good, scare-you-behind-the-sofa stuff, but at its heart it’s basically about the fears that accumulate in the mind of a child when they pick up on signs that all is not well at home.
The whole thing could come crashing down without the right child actor as George, but in his first television role, Jamie Oram is a winner. He’s not in every frame of the story, but when we do get to see him, it’s easy to believe that this is a kid who fears the future so much that it’s driving him nuts. Now, since he’s technically an alien in human form, his fears are also generating physical manifestations that turn unsuspecting victims (i.e. folks he’d just like to go away, such as the landlord or a cranky neighbor) into creepy life-sized dolls that are scarier than most of the latex or CGI creations that have appeared in recent seasons. The first time another victim from the real world is transformed into one of the dolls, it’s really one of the most disturbing moments in the already-well-stocked pantheon of Doctor Who shock/horror scenes – more disturbing, perhaps, than The Empty Child‘s sight of gas masks morphing out of human flesh.
Night Terrors may not be the most original slice of SF ever to hit the screen – every other SF/horror anthology to hit a television has done some variation on the same basic plotline – but I did like the resolution at the end, where dad making it all better saves the day. Television in general has a nasty habit of depicting fathers as buffoons who’d rather be swilling beer and watching the game than having anything to do with their kids; I’m always happy to see an example that defies the stereotype and goes in the opposite direction. That it also happens to be a nice standalone episode of Doctor Who (a scene at the very end – which seems very grafted-on-at-the-last-minute – seems to be trying to force us to remember the Doctor’s impending “death,” and is the only hint of the season’s running plot in evidence) is just a plus.