Saturday, 3 September 2011

That Doctor Who Thing (Week 2)

So, that bit at the start where we ramble for long enough so that anyone who accidentally clicks on the link without seeing tonight's episode will realise the error of their ways before we get to the OMG! ZARBI RETURN! bit.

Of course, what am I going to do when Steven Moffat actually brings back the Zarbi, and so the Zarbi jokes becomes a spoiler? Lets just cross that bridge when we get to it.

Tonight, our episode is brought to us by Mark Gatiss. Writer of "Unquiet Dead" (great), "Idiot's Lantern" (flawed, good in parts), "Victory of the Daleks" (dire, sorry) and star of "The Lazarus Experiment" (playing Lazarus, where he was very good!). He also was involved in his own cult TV comedy, a History of Horror documentary series, and has now acted in Quatermass, an HG Wells adaptation he helped create, Sherlock Holmes (for whom he is writing a modern day version of Hound of the Baskervilles), Poirot, Jekyll and his own Ghost Story for Christmas, Crooked House. (And he's also starring in Cleaning Up, a short film created by the Guerrier brothers which is out soonish.)

What a mad, creative, intelligent, lovely, lucky sod he is! It is true though - the harder you work, the better you become, the greater your success. So more power to Mark Gatiss, and many more to come!

Also as a pre-amble, McRani, of the Ratings, believes that Night Terrors will get a Pete rating tonight. Then again, for such an optimistic person, he really is quite pessimistic.

Right, that should be enough spoiler free space.



CREEPY KILLER DOLL TIME! Are we sitting comfortable? Or hiding behind the sofa, Justin? Right, then we'll begin.

So a child is frightened of everything. Perfectly normal thing for a child to be afraid of. For anyone to be afraid of. Life is terrifying. Anyone can keep their head in a crisis, its the everyday that does you in. This child, George, isn't any normal child though. For one thing, he can transport his fears directly to the Doctor in the TARDIS, summoning a knight in shining armor to his rescue. And when I had the misfortune of seeing Anaconda? Nobody.

Still, fates and fortunes of a TV character. To date, we've only ever seen one other character who can summon the Doctor via his psychic paper, that being River Song. (EDIT - And the Face of Boe. Good spot, Jon Arnold!) Will this prove to be a link between the Doctor's Rani (see Episode 13) and the boy? Only time will tell!

We also have the mother, who quickly goes off for night shift, as she isn't important to the story bar a plot point. Which leaves with George and his slightly feckless dad. Not to worry, here comes The Doctor, at his Doctory best, completely winning over a skeptical dad with nothing more than a smile, a confident nature and lots of fast flowing improvised technobabble. This is the Doctor of The War Machines, of Fang Rock, of Fenric. Not the most famous man in the universe, but the mad man who can get himself in anywhere through fast talking, charm, and being in the right place. Though it must be said, the speed with which he wins over the authority figure in the piece has some help from the fact that the dad is desperate for any kind of help.

A child, alone in a room, who fears the monsters. When I was a kid, I was scared of my wardrobe too, but that's because it fell on me once. I think that's a bloody good reason to be scared of something, to be brutally honest. And here... the psychic energy of all the night terrors that come to an eight year old boy manifest themselves inside a wardrobe and bring creepy dolls to life which prey on people. Which is also, I guess, a pretty damn good reason to fear cupboard spaces.

But twist...George isn't human! His mother, in her only relevance to the plot, wasn't able to have kids, so they were given a child by some aliens - friendly aliens, I think, though I was a bit distracted by the creepy dolls at that moment - and that old New Who staple, the perception filter, was put in place to prevent Mum or Dad going; "Hang on, we can't have kids, how did we get a son?" Boy, did Dad feel foolish when he remembered that one!

We also have a dog. I like dogs. Dogs are great. This one no sells its owner being sucked into the floor, quite literally. Smart dog, staying away from all potential danger. Smarter than the average stereotype dodgy landlord. The landlord is sketched in very limited - nature of the beast with only 45 minutes to tell a story - and at the end seems to get away happily ever after to threaten people some more in later days!

So what happens to people in this one? Well, they get transported into a dolls house. Filled with creepy dolls. It's notable that everyone who gets sent to the dolls house was already one of the people who scared George at the start, in the landlords case, or in the harmless - but chatterbox - old lady he thought was a witch. And in Rory and Amy's case, they were in the lift, which scares him. People who avoided being associated with anything that scared George prevented going in the dolls house. Like the woman with the twins at the start. Or his Mum. Or the city of Inverness. Or indeed, everything in the Doctor Who universe that wasn't The Doctor, Rory, Amy, the landlord, the old woman or the dad. Long way for a shortcut that, really.

The finish is pure Fear Her, as the child gets to face up to its fears, re-establish a loving relationship with a parent and banish the monsters which were only a figment of the childs imagination brought to life.

The difference is twofold. One, there is a complete lack of Olympics related stuff. And two, this version was actually quite good.

What else have we missed? Oh yes, CREEPY DOLLS. They don't even appear for the first half, until what would have been the Part 1 cliffhanger. Very noticeably, Gatiss seemed to space this out like a Classic Who 2-parter, with cliffhanger right in the middle of the 45 minute episode. That being the appearance of the creepy dolls.

Dolls are creepy. You don't need to have automatonophobia to understand that. Gatiss wears his influences on his sleeve here, not just with all the bric-a-brac of ghost stories and poltergeist activity which led connoisseurs of the genre up the garden path of the red herring tonight, but with clear allusions to M.R.James's Haunted Dolls House, which itself was a complete reuse of the Mezzotint motif.

The moments when Amy and Rory investigate the dolls house and all its wooden impliments is well paced, and very well lit (for its lack of light, as Rory is swift to point out). The dolls themselves are very simplistic, and they don't look like dolls, which makes them worse. Someone recent told me about how the worst fright they had as a kid was when their dad put on an extremely fake Hallowe'en mask one year. It's unrealistic appearance in its environment made it worse than a CGI fest ever would.

And these dolls turn people into other dolls, in some of the most surprising and shocking body horror seen in Who since the transformations in the Empty Child. Of course, once it happened to Amy, you knew it'd be reversed, but as I keep saying: it's not the what, but the hows. After all, how many cliffhangers featured the Doctor in peril in the classic series? And how many of those did he actually die in? Not even the ones called The Death of Doctor Who, I think you'll find.

The whole child/fear thing was done before in The Empty Child, and in Fear Her. We can ignore Fear Her. Empty Child was done on a bigger budget (by the looks of it), had a bigger cast, and more time to fill out the screen.

And the gas mask people weren't as scary as creepy dolls. Honest. Thank goodness we'll never have ventriloquist dolls in Doctor Who. That'd be horrifying. (Yes, I did read Goosebumps books as a child, how did you guess?)

Amy doesn't really get much to do in this one, though the next time suggests next week is more her episode. Rory gets to be Rory, which is good enough for him. I did like his reactions to being in the doll house, the fast talking witty panic mode is a moment we've all been in. Darvill continues to grow with each episode - the spotlight falls on Matt Smith a lot for being a sensational young actor, and he is, and on Karen Gillan for being a sensational red head, and she is, but Arthur Darvill is getting bloody good at this acting lark too.

He is Rory, like Ian Marter was Harry Sullivan, Fraser Hines was Jamie McCrimmon and William Russell was Ian Chatterton....Chesterton. He embodies different parts of each of these three successful male companions, and becomes one of the best parts of each episode. Not bad for someone who was clearly the comedy relief for a large part of the last series.

The jury was out on Mark Gatiss. Not as a writer, for he is very talented, as I said above. But Victory didn't sparkle as it should have, Idiot's Lantern fell apart in places. It was a batting 1-2 average, and we need a great script and story here to bring him back. Thankfully, it's exactly what we got. I enjoyed this enormously, even with one or two quibbles - the landlord got no comeuppance! - and since I'm in a generous mood, it gets a low Steve W.

Which is immediately where the voting system comes into disrepute, as it was far better than last week, which got a McRani, but not good enough for a 10/10.

So, cheating, like all good writers, I give it a lower Steve W. Think of it as an A- if you like.

Or just think of it as a good story. The minor niggles didn't get in the way to relegate it with pessimism. Got to go with the gut feeling.

A Steve W.


Well done Mr Gatiss. Next time, more ghost story memorabilia, less Daleks. Ta. And don't worry. After all, Robert Holmes wrote The Krotons.