Episode Title: "Night Terrors"
Writer: Mark Gatiss
Director: Richard Clark
Previously on "Doctor Who":
The Doctor (Matt Smith) reunited with his companions Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) to report that he was unable to find their infant daughter, Melody Pond after she was kidnapped by Madame Kovarian (Frances Barber; who intended to use her as a weapon against the Doctor. However, the Ponds' friend, Mels (Nina Toussaint-White) hijacked the TARDIS to Hitler's Germany and revealed herself to be Melody Pond moments before regenerating into a body better known as River Song (Alex Kingston). The (pre-River) Melody poisoned the Doctor as her parents pursued her.
After the interference of other time travelers, the Doctor and his companions were able to emotionally reach Melody, who sacrificed her remaining regenerations to save the Doctor's life. The TARDIS crew left River in the far future to recover from her ordeal as they resumed their adventures. But unknown to Amy and Rory, the Doctor learned about his impending death at the hands of the Impossible Astronaut, who was likely River Song all along.
On Earth in the present, a young boy named George (Jamie Oram) is frightened by everything, especially the monsters in his wardrobe. George's parents, Alex (Daniel Mays) and Claire (Emma Cunniffe) are frustrated by George's phobias and they discuss sending him away for help. Somehow, George's fears are so amplified that the Doctor picks up on his distress on the TARDIS (across time and space) via his psychic paper and he decides to perform a rare house call. Arriving at the large estate, the Doctor, Amy and Rory go door-to-door while attempting to find the boy in question.
After briefly regrouping with the Doctor, Amy and Rory are lost to a falling elevator and they disappear by the time it hits the bottom. Meanwhile, the Doctor finds George's apartment and he presents himself to Alex as a social worker who was sent to help George overcome his fears. Because Claire is working the night shift, the Doctor doesn't get a chance to meet her as he flips through their family albums and wonders what he's missing. Alex also explains that anything that scares George is placed in his wardrobe. When the ornery landlord, Mr. Purcell (Andrew Tiernan) drops by, the Doctor gets some solo face time with George.
Using his sonic screwdriver to impress George, the Doctor makes some headway in reaching him. However, to the Doctor's shock, he discovers that the screwdriver's readings of George's wardrobe are off the charts... meaning his fears are real. Meanwhile, Purcell is dragged into an otherworldly place through his apartment floor. Elsewhere, Amy and Rory wake up and discover that they are in a giant doll house. As they explore the structure and try to get out, they come across Purcell just as he is trapped by a life-sized doll that transforms him into a doll as well.
Back in the apartment, Alex becomes frustrated by the way that the Doctor treats George's fears as a real thing. Through almost sheer force of personality, the Doctor convinces Alex to continue letting him help and they open the wardrobe only to find a doll house and other ordinary things. Thinking back to the family album, the Doctor realizes that Claire wasn't pregnant in any photos just prior to George's birth. Alex suddenly remembers that Claire couldn't have children, which means that George isn't his son. The Doctor realizes that George must be a Tenza child, from an alien race that used a perception filter to take on the form of a human child to fill the desires of Alex and Claire.
Now even more scared, George's fears suck both the Doctor and Alex into the world of the dollhouse. Inside the same structure, Amy and Rory try to push past the attacking dolls, only for Amy to be transformed into a doll herself. As the Doctor, Rory and Alex are surrounded, they call out to George to enter the wardrobe and save them. The young boy does, but the dolls immediately turn towards him. Alex struggles with himself and the revelation about George's origins until he races past the dolls and embraces George as his son. This breaks the spell and everyone who was taken is returned to normal and placed back where they were before being drawn into George's nightmare world.
The next morning, Claire is stunned to find George behaving like a normal boy and she thanks the Doctor for his help. The Doctor promises Alex that George should grow up normally now, but he'll look in on them around puberty. And while everything seems to have a happy ending, back on the TARDIS, an eerie nursery rhyme reminds us that the Doctor's death is still immanent.
This episode was reminiscent of "Fear Her," from the second season of the revived "Doctor Who." But "Night Terrors" fared a little bit better because it didn't rely on Jamie Oram's George to be anything more than a scared little boy. It wasn't a Haley Joel Osment in "The Sixth Sense" level performance, but Oram did manage to make George's breathless terror seem palpable.
In every season of "Doctor Who," there's always an episode or two with a noticeably smaller budget than the rest. "Night Terrors" was definitely one of those installments, but the wooden dolls made for some very creepy moments and visuals. In a way, it's a little disappointing that the monsters were just in George's head, since it means that we probably won't see those designs again.
Matt Smith carried the day with another impressive outing as the Doctor. I think the key to Smith's tenure as the Doctor has been the sheer manic energy he throws into his performances. It almost never gets old watching Smith's Doctor overwhelm the other characters. Someone recently described the Eleventh Doctor as the "Patron Saint of Lost Children" and it definitely fits with the good rapport he had with here with George as well as other children in the past like the young Amelia Pond and Kazran Sardick. Smith also seems to get very good results from working with the younger actors.
The Doctor also got the best comedic moments while explaining Pantophobia, Time Lord fairy tales and just how far he came to an incredulous Alex. Daniel Mays actually proved to be an excellent foil for the Doctor's brand of insanity and he was also moving in the coda as he embraced George as his son.
Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill didn't get much to do in this episode and it seemed odd that there was no comment from either of them about so recently losing a child themselves. From what I've read online, this episode was originally intended for the first half of the season. Regardless, even a small moment between Amy and Rory in the dark (shot at a later date) could have given it more of an emotional kick for them. Watching Amy turn into a doll was fun, but it was also kind of glossed over within the story itself. Once that happened, there was never any doubt that it would be reversed. That's the downside of placing the companions in jeopardy. The only real surprise would be if they truly did perish or succumb to their horrible fates.
Darvill's Rory is quickly becoming one of the funniest companions of the new "Doctor Who." I really enjoyed his immediate summations that he and Amy had died or that they had been transported to the past thanks to the TARDIS. And it was actually surprising when Rory didn't become a doll like Amy.
There's nothing really wrong with this episode, it just never rose to anything more than above average. Some online commentators are already suggesting that the writer, Mark Gatiss might be the next showrunner after Steven Moffat. That seems incredibly premature to me. Moffat earned his place at the table with several instant classic episodes. "Night Terrors" was competently made, but I don't think it's out of line to expect more from "Doctor Who."
Crave Online Rating: 7 out of 10.