Panphobia is the word of the day in Mark Gatiss’ latest episode for Doctor Who, “Night Terrors”. The story revolves around a little boy who is scared of, well, everything, and that includes the monsters in his cupboard. His cries for somebody to save him from the monsters reach through time and space and summon the Doctor (possibly calling back to Amy’s first meeting with the Doctor in “The Eleventh Hour”).
This episode was originally intended to be third in the production order and it shows. There’s a line about how they’re “here, in the Flesh”, which would’ve worked better as a bit of foreshadowing in the opening half of the season. The Doctor has also ditched his rather dashing coat from “Let’s Kill Hitler” and has returned to his old tweed jacket. (There was also, according to Wikipedia, a scene with Madame Kovarian/Eyepatch Lady that had to be removed due to the change in production order.) But most conspicuously, the companions are not reeling from the revelations that have been hitting them hard and fast over the last few episodes.
The main threat of the episode is George’s Doll Collective made real. Mr Gatiss has obviously taken a few cues from zombie films and the Borg (not to mention the Cybermen), in that the characters have to escape being converted to dolls by touch. I felt that aspect of it (the fear of becoming like them) was done well but that it also played more to the writer’s fears (Gatiss has admitted that he was scared of dolls as a child) than it did the viewers. Add to that the fact that they were a serious threat for ten minutes, tops, and you’ll see my problem with them.
In every other sense, the episode was a bit of a non-event in my eyes and was on about the same level as “The Curse Of The Black Spot”. The one way in which the episode shone was the acting. Daniel Mays makes a welcome return to our screens after his sinister role in the excellent Ashes To Ashes, but this time around he plays the dad of George, the little frightened focus of the episode played rather well by newcomer Jamie Oram. Matt Smith excelled as the Doctor this time around, especially in the scene where he temporarily puts George’s mind at ease by showing him what the Sonic Screwdriver can do.
It feels like this episode was definitely intended to capture the feeling of what the original show was famous for: kids hiding behind the couch while the Doctor came and dealt with the scary monsters. Which is great, except it narrows the audience a bit. While I was watching the episode, it felt like children would enjoy it a lot more than adults would as it plays on child-like fears (that and Doctor Who is not something that scares me in general). Note to adults watching this one with their kids: it might be an idea to switch places with the wee ones behind the sofa, so your children can see the programme better.