Monday, 26 September 2011

Retail Therapy

Doctor Who
Closing Time
Series Six, Episode Twelve

We weren’t exactly jumping for joy when we saw the Closing Time trailer.  Both of us liked The Lodger, but we had no desire for a sequel.  The idea of an episode sans Amy and Rory wasn’t entirely welcome, as the Doctor’s been getting increasingly gloomy and mean lately.  And, Cybermen?  Stompy, humourless, ridiculous Cybermen?  Surely not.

We might as well end the suspense.  We liked it.  Turns out it was much needed alone time with the Doctor, and thank God, we still love him.  In general we haven’t had this much fun with Doctor Who since Melody Pond was just a couple of silly unrelated words.

Russell T Davies and Toby Whithouse have copped plenty of flak for this, but Gareth Roberts’ episodes in particular are often outright dismissed as ‘fun’.  We think that’s unfair.  Fun is underrated, and not as easy as it looks.  With Series Six getting increasingly complicated and melodramatic, we’ll take all the fun we can get.

Some of the jokes are a bit obvious, not to mention overdone – the old ‘We’re not a couple’ gag is neatly inverted, but then dragged to a slow death, along with the interminably cute ‘I speak baby’ routine and the Doctor’s funny-at-first ‘Shh’ powers – but we really don’t mind.  This year has been so heavy and (dare we say it) disappointing that a so-called ‘fun’ episode makes all the difference, especially just before the inevitably headscratching finale.  Frankly, we needed it.

It’s refreshing to have the Doctor do some actual investigating for once.  (Although his initial determination not to do anything is all gold.  ‘What is it?’  ‘Nnnnnothing.  Didn’t even notice that, for example.’)  Going undercover in a shop is a great idea – and a gentle borrow from School Reunion – but Roberts thankfully doesn’t over-do it.  It’s an excuse to put the Doctor among kids, where he’s in his element, and it’s great to see him effortlessly win the trust of his colleagues while poor Craig flounders.  (Also, we have to mention the bit where he strokes that plastic dog.  No particular reason, it’s just great.)

Despite the zany premise, Closing Time isn’t all nonstop comedy.  This is the Doctor’s last adventure before the (supposed) end, and it’s full of superb Doctorly contemplation and conflict.  That stuff’s riveting, despite the fact that the Doctor obviously isn’t going to snuff it next week.  (Sorry, Steven.)  And this being Matt Smith, even the funny bits are tinged with complex, seemingly subconscious emotions that frankly we could watch all day.

He hasn’t got much to work with – wacky James Corden, a sleeping baby, Amy and Rory at a distance – but he still turns in a beautiful performance bubbling with all the best his Doctor has to offer.  The fact that he’s done this more than once this year makes us absolutely certain this is our favourite Doctor.  We could not love this guy more.

As for Craig, we weren’t desperate to see him again but he makes a good double act with Matt Smith.  The Doctor’s more comfortable with him than he is with Amy or Rory because there’s less baggage, and that’s fun to watch.  (And thank you, Craig, for pointing out that generally it’s the extras who get killed off, not the companions.)

Also fun to watch, in a sharp break with tradition, the Cybermen.  Neither of us likes the metal morons much, as let’s face it, they’re less interesting Daleks on legs.  But Closing Time puts them in the shadows, broken and a bit desperate, and we like them a lot better that way.  At least, we did once we dislodged the mental image of what that Cyberman was doing in the dressing room.

Plus we finally get to see Cybermats.  This is great news for the nerds/loyal fans, and for everyone else there’s Craig’s line, ‘Don’t have a go at me just because I don’t know the names’.  What do we think of the angry little paperweights?  They’re a bit creepy, a bit funny.  We like them.  (The Doctor calls his one Bitey.)

Alas, as much fun as we’re having, there must be an actual plot, and this one’s not going to trouble the Hugo committee.  Still, we love the smallness of a bunch of ratty Cybermen trying to rebuild from nothing, and we don’t really comprehend the fanboy rage about the Cybermen being reduced to appearing in a small-scale comic episode.  (To this we say, in our best Danny John-Jules voice, ‘Reduced?’)  You can have an episode with one Dalek, and you can have an episode with a small bunch of Cybermen.  We’ve seen more than enough Invasion Of Earth stories for the time being.

There are logical holes, because it’s the Cybermen and virtually nothing they do ever makes sense.  They do at least partially explain why Craig would make a good Cyber-Controller (hey, they’re desperate), and they’ve completely changed how they convert people into Cybermen before now, so it’s no particular shock that they’ve suddenly taken to gluing them together over people’s bodies.  We do object to the ‘emotional influx’ being enough to blow them up on the spot, but it’s happened before.  Blame Tom McRae for setting that dipstick precedent.

As for Craig’s heroic Daddy moment at the end… well, it’s a direct repeat of Night Terrors.  It’s cheesy, and it’s downright stupid to blatantly rehash a plot from three episodes ago, and it makes no sense, but what can we say?  It’s a lot better than Night Terrors, and for all we know it’s part of some over-arcing parent theme that’ll tie up nicely next week.  (No pressure, Steven.)  We’re tempted to forgive all just because of Matt Smith’s hilarious epilogue, blurting info-dump at clueless Kelly for demonstrably no reason.  It’s cheeky, but we laughed.

Then the Doctor leaves, and all the fun we’re having not wading through the arc comes to an abrupt end, as the arc crashes in and shouts, ‘DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME!  ME ME ME!’  Thanks, because we really needed that.

Actually, hard as we try, we can’t forget about the stupid arc.  (It’s like the Doctor says: everything we find out makes less sense.)  We don’t object to it poking its nose in – it worked fantastically well in The Almost People – but it has to intrigue us, not bash us over our heads.  This scene is rushed, extremely silly, and about as subtle as Monty Python’s foot.  What were they thinking with those ‘witness statements’?  Why is River surprised by any of this?  What have the Silence been doing all this time, besides laughing evilly?

With only two minutes of screen-time, Alex Kingston and Frances Barber have to ramp up their performances; they come across as a total simpleton and a panto villain respectively.  Add the ridiculously on-the-nose sing-song from (urgh) Night Terrors and we’re already dizzy from rolling our eyes.

But you know what?  None of that’s Closing Time’s fault.  Steven Moffat almost certainly wrote this bit, so blame him.

We like Closing Time.  It’s intended as fun, and fun was had.  It has a handful of really effective moments, like the Doctor nearly bumping into Amy and Rory, and the self-contained story makes us nostalgic for Series Five.  We had a great time.  Alas, our time has run out, we can’t put it off any longer: we must watch the finale.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Faulty Towers

Doctor Who
The God Complex
Series Six, Episode Eleven

Between us, we’re a big Toby Whithouse fan.  Not because of Being Human; no, we’re basing this entirely on his two previous Doctor Who episodes, because we’re rational adults like that.  So with The God Complex, we were all geared up to make it a hat-trick.

Damn and blast.

What is it we like about Toby Whithouse’s episodes?  Is it the plots?  Ahem, no.  Sorry, Toby, but we’re still baffled by the vats of Krillitane-killer the Krillitanes lug around, which somehow double as IQ-enhancers for kids, not to mention the 10,000 fish people still swimming in Venice.

No, it’s dialogue and character where he shines.  The God Complex is no exception.  We laughed a lot, particularly during the bit where the TARDIS team meet their co-habitants.  ‘Amy, with regret, you’re fired.’  ‘Our anthem is called Glory To, insert name here.’  ‘In two days it never occurred to us to try the front door, thank God you’re here.’  ‘Big day for a fan of walls.’

It’s not all Matt Smith, either.  One of us loved Gibbis, the other fell for Rita.  David Walliams is reliably funny but also deliciously dark as the frequently-invaded alien, and Amara Karan gets away with all sorts of clever, witty dialogue whilst still feeling like a real person.

Arthur Darvill is his usual effortlessly brilliant self, despite the unsettling joke about Amy clobbering him, and did somebody mention Matt Smith?  Funnily enough, another of Toby Whithouse’s strengths is writing for the Doctor, and The God Complex is a Doctorfest.  From his whimsy at finding ‘the most exciting thing [he’s] ever seen’* to his no-nonsense ‘I think you should come with me’, through his sympathy with the Minotaur and his total willingness to torpedo Amy’s beliefs to save the day, this episode pretty much runs the gamut.  It may not be his most successful outing, as he winds up misleading two people to their deaths, but frankly we can’t blame him for not knowing what the hell’s going on.  (Although that is a bit of a Whithouse-ism.  Don’t worry, the Doctor will save the day… or you’ll all die.  Whoops.)

Ah yes, the plot.  ‘Make a hotel scary’ was Steven Moffat’s brief, and Toby Whithouse hasn’t quite done that.  It’s full of scary things, but not in an over-arcing, The Shining kind of way.  Each room contains something scary, meant for each individual person trapped there.  This is a neat idea, but unfortunately it translates as everyone besides them being visibly unafraid of it.  We can (almost) understand poor Lucy being terrified of that guy in the (awful) gorilla suit, but what’s in it for the audience?  The premise keeps subverting itself, with the Doctor smirking at a room full of catty women, and Rita talking to that clown.  On top of that, the characters stop being afraid the moment they leave the room; then they’re possessed, and off we go with the kooky possessed acting.  The episode doesn’t seem to be trying.

Especially with Murray Gold’s supposedly creepy muzak, which sounds like most of the comedy music he’s done in earnest over the years.

I really liked the muzak, especially the way it kept, creepily, turning itself back on.  One of my favourite parts of the episode.

But anyway, back to the plot.  People are brought here to be frightened, and when they’re frightened they retreat to the thing they believe in, and the Minotaur feeds on their faith.  Except their specific faith (religion, superstition, whatever) is immediately transmuted into believing in the Minotaur.  All of a sudden they know they’re going to get munched, and they really like the idea.  They also sort of get over their fears, in some cases.

Complicated much?  Not to mention abstract; what is faith?  If something as sketchy as believing in conspiracies could really make you feel better about your fears, how can Rory possibly have no faith in anything?  We doubt anyone has no belief in anything, but this is a guy who spent 2000 years protecting his girlfriend, his love for whom is supposedly strong enough to rip through time.  There’s something he’s going to believe in quite strongly, don’t you think?  Sort of, faith-like?  (And anyway, doesn’t a person with no faith present a possible way to defeat the Minotaur?  Why bring it up if it’s totally irrelevant?)  How the hell does disrupting the faith of one person shut down the program and kill the Minotaur?  How come the Minotaur wants to die and is fine with someone killing it – which is terribly convenient – but also can’t control its 'instinct' to kill when the episode requires it?  Virtually everything to do with the Minotaur is 24-carat nonsense.

And that’s not all.  Matt Smith has to do a lot of info-dumping, like his chat with the Minotaur**, but there’s not enough actual info.  How did the TARDIS get here?  ‘I dunno, something must have yanked us off course.’  Why is the Minotaur in a floating prison with an endless food supply that indiscriminately abducts anyone in the universe?  Because its followers ‘got all secular’.  As explanations go, it’s like reading a first draft.  And not a very clever first draft.

And then there’s the really stupid stuff.  The Doctor knows the rooms are out of bounds, and even says so, so why does he think it’s a good idea to hide in them?  How does tricking the Minotaur even work, considering the whole place was created for its benefit?  Whose bright idea was it to leave Howie with the surrender monkey?

So… why did we like it again?

Well, besides being really funny and stuffed with wonderful character moments, it’s got That Ending.  This is the moment where the Doctor decides to send Amy and Rory home.  Do we like it?  Yes.  It’s seeded through the episode, with Rory talking in the past tense, the Doctor ‘interviewing’ a new companion, that companion dying and the Doctor realising Amy’s faith in him is dangerous.  (Not to mention the running theme this season of the Doctor distancing himself from them, particularly last week, with Rory having more reason than ever to want out.)  It came as a bit of a surprise, but it still felt perfectly natural***, again thanks to the dialogue and the beautiful performances.  We don’t think it’ll stick, as these things never do, but for the chance to see a few companions leave the TARDIS and live actual normal lives (rather than joining UNIT or Torchwood, or starting some other adorable mini-Doctor organisation), it’s a risk we’re willing to take.

And before that is something even better: the Doctor telling little Amelia that she’s there to feed his vanity, and they ‘need to see each other as [they] really are’.  Does he really mean it?  We think so.  It might be on loan from The Curse Of Fenric, but Matt Smith sells it beautifully, and so does the reliably wonderful Caitlin Blackwood, sat there not saying a word.  How amazing is she?  The script is well up to the actors’ standards, boiling this whole sequence down to two words: Amy Williams.  Good Whithouse.  Have biscuit.

So where does that leave us?  A scary episode that isn’t scary – again – with a plot that requires buckets of explanation to work properly, but doesn’t have enough actual buckets handy.  Still, in-between the rubbish there’s some great acting, lovely writing, and a sound emotional ending.  And that’s what we’d forgotten about Toby Whithouse.  He’s good with character and great with dialogue, which is just about enough to distract us from his generally horrid plots.  And that’s sort of okay.  We’re mostly in it for the character development anyway.

* Even though he sees reproductions of Earth pretty much everywhere they go.

** We suppose we should mention the Minotaur, and the way it obviously parallels what’s going to happen to the Doctor.  So there, now we have.

*** Although don’t bother saying goodbye to Rory, will you, sure he won’t mind.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Rory's Choice

Doctor Who
The Girl Who Waited
Series Six, Episode Ten

In Doctor Who, the rules of time travel can be a little… hazy.  Some things you just can’t change.  Some things you can.  And some things you can't, except for when you decide to anyway, which may or may not have consequences.  Got all that?*

Then, just when you're making sense of it, along comes The Girl Who Waited with a new spin on things.  Some things you can change, but what if they don't want to be changed?

Amy is trapped in a fast timestream, so she waits for rescue.  She waits for 36 years.  But that's no problem: just go back and rescue the Amy from 36 years ago, and Bob's your uncle!**

Except Future Amy doesn't want to be erased from existence, crappy life or no.  Bob is definitely not your uncle.

We like this.  It's a logical worst case scenario version of The Eleventh Hour, where the Doctor's lateness irrevocably mucked up Amy's past, and here results in an entire misspent life.***  Amy is unwilling to let him wave it away with a sonic screwdriver and a smile, and quite right.

Old Amy has a perfectly valid point: thirty six years of her life will be erased.  As bad as it might have been, there’s no way of telling if the new version will be any better.  Also, erasing the thirty six years will erase the Doctor's mistake.  Perhaps Amy wants the Doctor to live with the consequences for once, no quick fixes, no magic wands, just Old Amy and a guilty conscience.  Big surprise, he feels differently.

This episode is very good to Amy and Rory, and about time, too.  No more ambiguous hints about Amy and the Doctor: this love is so strong, it can rip through time.  (And yes, we love the bit with the Macarena.)  Of course, Rory’s always great, but this is the first time in two years we’ve felt anything for Amy.  What a relief.  Karen Gillan is amazing.  She's convincing as her furious older self, hiding a forever love for Rory under anger and abandonment.  She's convincing as her younger self, trying to convince her counterpart to let go and give it up for love.  Scenes of the two thrashing it out could have been boring, but they're in safe hands.  Plus, she’s super pretty.

But what is Amy without Rory?  Like we said, Rory's always great, but Arthur Darvill's non-stop gem of a performance here deserves a repeat.  We love him.  Plus, the glasses are adorable.

It's a good-looking episode.  The white set is a SF staple, it’s obviously really cheap but it looks cool, especially against the TARDIS.  The director gets the most out of it, particularly when switching between red and green rooms.  It's an oldie, but a goodie.

That being said, STOP FILMING IN THE ARMADILLO – it’s the most recognisable building in Britain! 

The Armadillo?

The Wales Millennium Centre.

I'm not sure the, er, Armadillo is the most recognisable building in Britain. The Welsh might think so, I suppose.

I think it is.  From the inside, I've never seen anything like it.  Couldn't possibly ever mistake it for anything else.  Most buildings are pretty generic on the inside.

Looks kind of like an airport terminal.

No it doesn't. It looks like an armadillo.  It's all sloping and bronze.

I suppose.  But then I didn't think of the Millennium Centre at first.  I, uh, thought of New Earth.  Is that bad?


The slow motion sequence at the end goes on a bit - was the episode running under? - but there are a lot of nice camera shots, sticking two people’s faces in the frame and it really works.  Especially if some of them are super pretty.

Shame about the robots.  They actually look fine, until they start walking.  Seriously had enough of slow shuffling polite monsters now.  And how rubbish are they?  They have an incredibly basic understanding of phrases, Star Trek style (no one told me there were aliens, therefore you’re definitely lying, even though I am capable of scanning you and seeing you only have one heart), and their own hands short them out, along with artwork as thin as a poster.  Worst design ever.

So.  We like Amy, Rory, and Amy-and-Rory.  We like the moral dilemma and the look of most of it.  But we're not sure about the Doctor.

First of all he's got some funny ideas about kindness.  There's a lot to be said for quality of life over quantity, and apparently it's entirely up to Rory to notice that stuff, despite the Doctor being the universe's biggest humanitarian.

Secondly, after an episode spent setting up that Old Amy is a person too, the Doctor decides she's ‘not real’ and that's that.  Is he just preserving the timeline, does part of him want to conveniently get rid of the Amy that hates him, or is this about guilt, for Amy's past and for doing it all over again?  Saying ‘She's not real’ doesn't make much sense for the Doctor, who'd probably assign human rights to a sausage roll.  Is he trying to convince himself as much as Rory?****

Although it’s obvious from the start that Old Amy ain’t gonna make it, we’re really not sure what we’re supposed to get from the ending.  Old Amy wants both her and Young Amy to survive.  The Doctor tells her it’s possible.

And we know bigger paradoxes have worked in previous Who.


There's an obvious one, which involved making the TARDIS red instead of blue, but even so, it IS possible.


The Master?  Murdered the human race with the decendants of the human race?

That involved turning the TARDIS into a Paradox Machine. 

He turned the TARDIS red.  

It was a Paradox Machine.  The plot deliberately dealt with how that paradox was going to work.

Clearly the TARDIS is capable of controlling paradoxes then.

Clearly?  That was the Master for a start, and the TARDIS 'hates' paradoxes.

Says the Doctor.  Turning the TARDIS red/into a Paradox Machine was for a really big paradox.  This is only a little one.  So just make one corner red.

So is the Doctor lying to get her on side, or does he only realise it's not possible after the glasses short out, leaving him with no way to break the bad news?  Honestly, we doubt it's the latter.  He refers to Amy as ‘the nasty Amy’ to his TARDIS, he mentions lying, and when Rory asks him outright, he avoids answering the question.  It just cuts away at the end – what are we meant to take from that?  Is this poignancy or the writers copping out?  We're really hoping this situation will have echoes later on, but you never know with this show.

It doesn't help that this is almost a Doctor-lite episode, with Matt Smith stuck looking on in the TARDIS.  That'd be fine if the episode really was about Amy and Rory, but it's more about the tough call he makes, and the way he goes about it.  We don't know if the Doctor's reasoning is valid, because we don't see it.  And even if it is, which is probably is, why then does he stare Old Amy in the eyes and wait just long enough so he can slam the door in her face?  Why make a choice, then foist it on Rory, manipulating someone he knows is sensitive and kind into thinking it’s his fault?  Old Amy actively has to take the decision away from Rory to save him from the Doctor.  And then the Doctor sits there and actually waits for her to die before he leaves and rewrites time.

Rule one, the Doctor lies.  So does his catch phrase have to be ‘Trust me’?

Just what is this episode trying to tell us?  Amy trusts the Doctor, and wastes thirty-six years in a living hell; then the moment she trusts him again, he slams a door in her face and leaves her to die, before then erasing her from history.  I think what I’m getting here is ‘Don’t Trust The Doctor’.  Considering how manipulative he’s been this year, I wasn’t about to.  Someone hurry up, don a spacesuit, jump in a lake and take the bastard out.*****

Still, it's a very interesting idea and the actors give it their all, though it drags a bit in the end.  Somehow I doubt it's a big hit with the kids, with its emphasis on relationships and paradoxes, not to mention the shuffling Robots Of Dull.  Anyway, despite the moral minefield, I like it.

I don't.

* We're looking at you, Episode 13.

** The characters fathom what's going on much quicker than we did.  It should be an instantly understandable premise so you can concentrate on the emotions, but there's a lot of wiffly science and technobabble getting in the way.  Something about three levers?  And the Doctor’s theories on whether a timestream can be rewritten change every thirty seconds.

*** Thirty six years doesn't actually feel that much, considering Rory waited two thousand years, but whatever.

**** Because that’s just what the Doctor's personality needs.  More guilt.

*****Another week, another episode, glad there’s no River Song, infuriated there’s no mention of Melody.  Since it’s now apparently possible to see someone’s future and then change their past so it never happens… go and save your daughter maybe?  Just a thought.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Fright Lite

Doctor Who
Night Terrors
Series Six, Episode Nine

Mark Gatiss has said the scariest place in the universe is a child’s bedroom.  We’re not sure about that.  Surely children’s bedrooms are safe, and it’s the stuff outside that frightens them.*  But if Mark Gatiss wants to prove it, go ahead.  All he has to do is show us a scary bedroom.

We didn’t notice one in Night Terrors.

Oh, there are some creepy archetypes, like the dead-faced dolls, the threat of being painfully transformed, and that old cheap-shot of children laughing and singing, which is meant to be scary just because.  But it’s window-dressing.  Night Terrors hasn’t got a scary bone in its body.  It’s all about love and being a kid.  It’s cute.  The doll’s house is the scariest thing here, and it’s completely irrelevant to the plot, seemingly only here because we are promised monsters.  On and on they go about monsters.  But in the end, there aren’t any.

George is terrified of everything, right?  He’s scared of lifts because they make a sound like breathing, and he’s scared of the old lady across the way because he thinks she’s a witch.  But it’s just his imagination, which we’re not privy to.  All we get to see is the ordinary boring stuff that we know, from the first minute, isn’t really out to get him.  Ooh, terrifying.

It’s a shame George makes his ‘Save me from the monsters!’ plea before anything remotely monster-like happens.  And his prayer is answered licketty-split by the Doctor, meaning he hasn’t even got long to wait before whatever-it-is gets sorted out.  Phew!  Meanwhile George sits in his bedroom dispelling any scary imagery with a high-powered torch.  The whole setup is as terrifying as a haunted house full of night-lights.

Then the Doctor and co. arrive** and engage in some very funny door-to-door investigation.  We like funny, and we love the Doctor and Rory being funny, but is five minutes into a scary episode really the best place for a comedy setpiece?  And we love watching Matt Smith’s Doctor try to fit in with humans and fail noticeably, but this is meant to be the scariest place in the universe, not The Lodger, so what’s with all the comedy male bonding?

Anyway, the Doctor callously packs Amy and Rory off on a subplot holiday, and concentrates on solving George’s problems.  Not bothering to ask how a child’s random wish managed to cross the universe, the Doctor… um… er…

This is where we get sleepy.  Night Terrors sets up its soggy premise and then lurches very slowly towards the ending.  There’s no middle.  The characters just talk and ponder what’s going on, most egregiously in the Doctor’s ‘big terrible universe’ speech, which despite the wonderful efforts of Matt Smith is still a leaden, overwritten piece about nothing.

(And about that: why is he telling Alex any of this?  The Doctor doesn’t normally need to share his life story to get people on his side, and there’s no reason for someone like Alex to believe it.  To us it just looks like a failed Big Doctor moment that detracts from his appeal rather than enhancing it, not to mention another big steal from The Lodger.)

So what are Amy and Rory up to?  After a creepy moment in a lift, which made us wish Mark Gatiss had written an episode about a scary tower block instead, they find themselves in a mysterious dark building.  Rory’s reaction – ‘We’re dead.  Again.’ – is absolute gold, and we love it.  It’s great to see companions build on their experience with the Doctor, and Rory’s second guess – they’re stuck in a different time-stream to the Doctor – is another hit.  But fundamentally there’s nothing for them to do, so it’s boring.  No amount of torch lens-flare and childish sing-song can enliven it, and the revelation that they’re in a doll’s house is one big duh.  There isn’t even an element of danger, as the moment Amy gets turned into a doll the savvy viewer knows everything’s going to be fine.  We’re not idiots.

Meanwhile back in George’s unscary bedroom, Matt Smith is doing some funny back-and-forth about opening the cupboard, and oh just get on with it.  It transpires that George isn’t like all the other boys, which frankly we’d guessed what with spending no time with him at all, and the Doctor and Alex are then trapped uselessly in the cupboard.

Here the Doctor and Rory just bump into each other and the Doctor doesn’t react, even though he has no idea what has happened to his friends or that they were in dire peril, and then he impotently shouts ‘listen to me’ in the vain attempt that George can somehow hear him, which he somehow can***

Apparently George is a Tenza****.  That means he’s an alien that floats around looking for willing parents, then adapts to become part of the family.  The Doctor likens him to a cuckoo, but we’re not sure about that.  Cuckoos replace and kill your young.  Alex and Claire didn’t have any young, so how is this similar?  Considering we’re supposed to want Alex to embrace his son (although he obviously loves him from the start, so no big change there), isn’t it a bit dodgy comparing him to a psychotic bird?

It’s probably supposed to be a heartening case for adoption, but all this information is spewed so quickly and so late (and complete with dodgy cuckoo metaphors) that we’re left feeling like Alex, stood there gawping and confused.  It’s a nice moment when father and son embrace, but it barely scratches the surface of what’s going on here.  What about Claire?  Is Alex going to tell her the truth about George?  Does George know he’s not a real boy?  It’s a very Doctor Who concept, that you can love someone even if they’re an alien, and we like it, but it’s not given the weight it deserves.

The plot’s just muddled.  Why does there need to be a doll's house, if it’s doing the same job as the cupboard?  Why are there living dolls, and why do they transform people into other dolls?  Why did George’s parents think it was a good idea to metaphorically put all his fears in the same room as him?

But all that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  What really bugs us about Night Terrors is what it does with Amy and Rory.

The last episode saw them halt the search for their daughter.  That’s improbable enough to begin with – Steven Moffat’s mishandling of that storyline has reached stupefying levels, leaving us wondering if we’re even the same species as Amy and Rory, let alone understanding their actions.  And this week, one episode later, they rush to the aid of a child.  You know, like that thing they lost.

You’d think this might spark some parallels with their own situation.  It might even rescue some of the doldrumy scenes in the doll’s house, the same way Neil Gaiman used Amy and Rory’s personal demons to turn running down corridors into sheer character development.  But no.  Amy and Rory don’t notice any parallels, they don’t ponder any significance.  Rory even sits through Alex’s impassioned speech about never sending his beloved son away without blinking.  Mr Having A Family Is His Dream?  It’s particularly hard to believe that Rory could watch a father’s love for his child and not respond, because Arthur Darvill is on fire this week, every mannerism lights up the screen and he really makes the most of his dialogue, so why doesn’t Rory react here?  How, in an episode that seems entirely relevant coming after the loss of Melody, did no one think to make the connection?  It should have been the entire point of the episode!*****

After that there’s a nothing scene of the gang sitting on a wall, which could and should have made room for some epiloguey cool-down, and then Amy has the nerve to say she can’t think where or when to go next.  If that doesn’t sound totally insane coming from someone whose baby is a hostage somewhere, then you’re one of the lucky people who gets where Steven Moffat is coming from, and should probably seek counselling.

Despite it all, Night Terrors isn’t that bad.  At this point we’re quite partial to anything that doesn’t have River Song in it, and it’s not Mark Gatiss’s fault that the wretched arc makes this episode look thoughtless and dim.  The plot’s a reheated Fear Her via The Lodger, but we’ve seen worse.  It’s at least funny in places, and although it may not have been a good idea to make it funny, what with it being intended as scary, funny’s good.  We like funny.

Stay tuned for the final moments when, in a masterstroke of trick photography, we are sneakily reminded of the Doctor’s impending fate, via the brilliantly sly technique of shoving it in screen-hogging close up for no reason whatsoever.

* Although as it turns out, the entire point of George’s ‘monsters’ is that they are from outside.  So how is his bedroom the scariest etc. etc.?

** Apparently the Doctor hasn’t made a house call in a while.  Hmm.  Doesn’t he visit people and solve their problems every single week?

*** The ‘listen to me’ line is glorious at the end of The Pandorica Opens, as we get to see a completely new side of the Doctor, but in this trite scene it doesn’t work at all and even detracts from that wonderful Series 5 moment.

**** This is surely a deus ex machina: there’s no way the audience can figure it out, it’s not based on anything set up earlier, and there’s no reason for the Doctor to take thirty-five minutes to come up with it.  It’s a familiar Doctor Who cheat, but a cheat nonetheless.

***** Apparently Night Terrors was swapped with another episode, meaning this was not meant to follow Let’s Kill Hitler.  To this we say: we don’t care.  It follows Let’s Kill Hitler now, so what difference does that make to the 99.9% of viewers who don’t know they moved it?  Besides, they could have edited it, reshot it or just not moved it.  Putting a thematically similar episode all about rescuing a kid (but not their kid) right after Let’s Kill Hitler without any mention of these events is contemptuous to those tuning in every week.  In a series that demands you pay careful attention to everything, this is even more awkwardly obvious.

Bedroom picture from
Cuckoo picture from The Guardian.