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Published on September 6th, 2011 | by Andrew Reynolds

Night Terrors Reaction

Here we are again, transported into a doll’s house containing the collective wisdom of all critics concerning Saturday’s episode Night Terrors and ironically it’s transportation that’s gotten most of them a-clicking on their keyboards.

Pull up a wooden armchair as here’s a little history lesson: Night Terrors was originally supposed to be the third episode to air in this conjoined season of Doctor Who however Steven Moffat decided that the first half of Series 6 was too dark and moved Night Terrors to the position it now occupies.

Some may argue that Steven Moffat had his own dollshouse of collective fears and bundled The Curse of the Black Spot inside in the vain hope that it would go away but that would be mean.

Sharing concern for the causal viewer Assignment X decided to view the episode as  a ‘get out of jail free card’ to the overall arc of this half of the season:

“For millions of viewers that don’t bother with behind-the-scenes details, they’re watching it after Let’s Kill Hitler so they’re watching an Amy and Rory that should be reacting in a manner that fits this part of the narrative arc.

And since the production team moved the episode, they should have fixed it to properly suit the position in which it’s running.

At least for this week, we have a bit of a “get out of jail free” card. Between the knowledge of where this episode was meant to go, and the very telling reference to “flesh” at the end that would have teased the Ganger story that was to follow it, perhaps it’s better if we simply pretend this week is a flashback to earlier this year.”

With the parameters of just what relationships in, around and because of the TARDIS changing there were never going to be a series of convention answers to the quest for Melody Pond – and it could be argued that the quest itself is over because Mels was for a long time raised by the Ponds (sure, it’s not tucking her in, attending her Parent’s Meeting and generally being all “Mumsy”).

It’s unlikely this will be the last we hear of it but you can see why the production team felt that it was okay to let it take a back step for this week.

Or maybe not if your Buzz Focus who had this little gem hidden in and amongst its praise for the emotionally charged climax where the Doctor empowers Alex (Daniel Mays) to accept his child no matter what:

“But, add that thrill to the fact that The Doctor also convinces George’s father to love George because his is still his son, perception filter or not. That’s a double-gut punch, since I’m pretty sure The Doctor will soon call on Amy and Rory to do the same thing when it comes to River Song. (Hence, the theme!)”

When is a stand alone episode better than another stand alone episode? When its metaphorical content becomes too much of a distraction and detracts from its more appealing qualities, argues, TVGeekArmy:

“I think that somewhere during production, someone, somewhere decided the show needed more of an edge this season; they needed to lead big. But the season was already mostly filmed, so they wrote an episode with pirates and stuck it at the beginning of the season. The problem then was that the cliffhanger had to fall on episode 7 and they had to pull an episode back. The only candidates were Night Terrors and The Doctor’s Wife and clearly they weren’t moving Neil Gaiman’s episode any close to all this River stuff than it already was… After all, how many wives can one Doctor have?

We can only hope that at least for the DVD set, they’ll move this episode up to its rightful place, where the episode can breathe a little better and the rest of us, concerned less with the scheduling of the BBC and more with the adventures of the Doctor, can enjoy the episode’s strong points a little bit more.”

Its not an entirely convincing argument – if anything the change between the two would be even more jarring if The Curse of the Black Spot was placed at this juncture – the tonal shift from the absent pirate father and the accepting father of Night Terrors seems to fit better with Let’s Kill Hitler and the production schedule has been edited to fit its purpose.

Doctor Who - Night Terrors

The one voice that chose not to dwell on location, location, location was the largely negative Monsters and Critics (with a name like that you’d have thought they’d have loved it) who felt dissatisfied with the explanation as to how little George (James Oram) managed to get a message to the Doctor in the first place, hanging their entire review around the episode’s lack of clarity and its reliance on sci-fi fans to do the leg work for it:

“The start of the episode sees the Doctor and friends pick up a distress call from a child. However, there isn’t really a satisfactory explanation for how the kid was able to reach out across time and space in order to reach the doctor.

Even later on, when the child is revealed to be some sort of alien.

No explanation is forthcoming, which for me is probably the lynch pin where this episode rises and falls because it depends to much on the science fiction audience to assume the explanation as being some sort of psychic phenomenon.”

For the most part, the episode got the balance of just how much ‘technobable’ you needed to keep the story moving even if the psychic paper/perception filter explanations are becoming a little trite.

So, what reviews did Mez Burdett find?

Well to begin with, The Shropshire Star gave Night Terrors some very positive feedback:

Doctor Who was back on form this week: scary, well-written, very funny – “Have you got any Jammy Dodgers?” – and offering plenty to keep the little ones in fear. And it actually engaged the viewer rather than simply trying to beat him or her into submission with razzle dazzle. I blubbed, and that’s a sign that the episode has succeeded in what it set out to do.”

Website Nerd Bastards (are you sure about that? – Ed) found that the episode had an enjoyable “metaphysical” level as well:

“Though it does pack one hell of a creepy monster payoff in the end, a big part of what makes “Night Terrors” so effective is the way it makes the source of fear an almost intangible thing. The monsters exist in shadow only, and often only as theoretical things, for much of the episode… Night Terrors is not just about the reality of monsters, but about the importance of them, and about that age-old Doctor Who tenet that you can find something strange just about anywhere, including your cupboard.”

However, Kasterborous favourite Maryann Johanson of website Flick Filosopher was not impressed by Night Terrors at all:

“So the little boy — who is, to be fair, adorable — is actually an alien. Which gives him the power to really, actually put the things that scare him in the cupboard…even though the Doctor tells us several times that “monsters are real,” there are, in fact, no real monsters at all, just things that are scary to a small boy but that are nevertheless nonmonstery that he puts in the cupboard. There’s nothing, it turns out, to justify the Doctor being so terrified of what’s in the cupboard.”

Pop culture website After Elton was generally happier with the episode’s more tender moments:

“I love the gentleness Matt Smith can bring to the screen, particularly when he sits on George’s bed making his toys ding! and whir! with his sonic screwdriver so George can’t hear his dad arguing with the landlord… I think Gatiss found the perfect balance between pathos and peculiarity this time… I went from chewing my fingers to brushing away my tears when Alex fights off the dolls and says, “Whatever you are, whatever you do, you’re my son. And I will never, ever send you away.”

Meanwhile (writes Christian Cawley) the episode garnered easily debunkable overnight figures of 5.5 million, again around 30% of the available audience, but Night Terrors did see a chunk eaten at it from the Ant and Dec-fronted Red or Black gameshow. We expect that figure to increase by around 3 million when other viewing methods are factored in.

So a mixed bag in the reviews and reaction to what was an enjoyable episode that could really have been broadcast at any point throughout the series…

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About the Author

Everyone has a favourite Doctor and mine - just for his honesty, his fairness and his ability to not notice the Master's awful, awful disguises/anagrams (Sir Gilles Estram!?!) - has to be the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison. The stories didn’t serve him as well as his acting served those stories.




5 Responses to Night Terrors Reaction

  1. Rick Lundeen says:

    It astonishes me that people still complain about certain things like the child’s message getting to the Doctor way out there a couple galaxies over. Amazing? Unbelievable? Yes. But that’s Doctor Who. I’d think folks would learn by now that with this show, anything is possible. My only complaint would be the ongoing sound issues. The episode was fast paced as usual but with incidental music and the running around, once again, I couldn’t clearly hear the Doctor’s explanation of exactly what the kid was—I eventually got it but sometimes it’s really tough to hear what they say sometimes.

  2. January Lost says:

    I was not terribly impressed with this episode. I didn’t mind it was a standalone. After the drag-race through the Pond family story of last-week, it was actually refreshing.

    While I could really rant for awhile on it, I think it’s best to say two things. 1) I’m in complete agreement with Maryann Johanson, and find it strange that such a qualified writer would overlook that. 2) There was nothing terrifying to my inner-boy about being inside a pink dollhouse with the raggedy-haired Peanuts. Now, toss in a wooden snoopy or pig-pen… and you might have had me. :P

  3. Drew Fleming says:

    I agree whole-heartedly with Rick about the music. If Mr Gold had held off a bit and let the creepy bits breathe then the episode would have been all the better for it. And maybe it’s just me but I find inner city housing estates at night far more terrifying than giant dolls.

  4. Gruff says:

    Hmmm. Suppose it could grow on me like other MG efforts have in the past. But, again for a one off it could have done with another 10 minutes to save rushing the conclusion. Agree with comments regarding sound, I lost the explanations of George’s origin. The peg-dolls are a great design and idea for a monster, I thought.

  5. ChrisL says:

    I loved the “look” and the “feel” of this episode as well as the ability of Matt Smith to provide such depth of character to The Doctor.

    Unfortunately that’s probably the sum total of the things I liked about “Night Terrors”.
    I for one don’t empathise with Mr Moffat’s continued insistence that the scariest place in the universe is a child’s bedroom. He tried to convince me of this during his promoting of “The Eleventh Hour” and tries to again in his pre-show comments for this episode. I’m sure he’s done so on other occasions as well but I could bevwrong on that.
    Anyway, I may have been exceptionally lucky as a child but my bedroom was the furthest thing from scary you could imagine.

    For me this episode was too similar to “Fear Her”, which was one of the lowest points of the Davies/Tennant era (IMHO) and seemed not only pointless but totally anachronistic. I appreciate the difficulties in placing a stand alone episode into such a strong story arc as the one we are currently enjoying, but that is why they employ executive producers and such like isn’t it?
    Surely if an episode is as out of place as this one and Black Spot were then shouldn’t they have the courage to drop them from the series entirely? This should have been ironed out during the commissioning stage when the whole of Series 6 was being mapped out.

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