Sorry I’m a couple days late on this week’s Doctor Who review, but I’m still on vacation and trying to soak it up. Anyway… this week’s episode, titled “Night Terrors” was a welcome departure from the heaviness and thick plot that’s made up most of the season. In this episode, the Doctor takes a quick detour when he gets a message from a little boy in Britain to save him from “the monsters”. It’s a good old-fashioned hide behind the couch scary episode with nothing to do with the larger season plot points of the Silence or River Song or the death of the Doctor.
While careening through time and space, the Doctor suddenly gets a message on his psychic paper that simply reads “Save me from the monsters!”. And the Doctor being the Doctor, goes on a house call. At a block of apartments somewhere in the UK, an 8 year old boy named George is terrified by the monsters in his cupboard and the boy’s parents, Alex and Claire, are at their wit’s end and not sure what to do. So they agree to try and get him some help, and while Claire is away at her night shift job, the Doctor, Amy and Rory show up at the apartment building.
The whole episode is fun, clever and smartly written and directed, and the scene where the Doctor and his companions are running around the apartment building, trying to find the boy in trouble is one of my favorite moments in an episode full of favorite moments. While looking for George, the three encounter all sorts of interesting council flats residents including an elderly woman who insists that she isn’t getting new bins with her bad knees and the asshole landlord who doesn’t go anywhere without his bulldog. But while going door to door, Amy and Rory fall into some sort of weird haunted house full of wooden pots and pans, painted clocks and spooky terrors.
Meanwhile, the Doctor does finally come to the right door, where he tells Alex that he’s a social worker, there to help his son. The Doctor is shown to the cupboard in the boy’s bedroom, where George stores all of the things he’s scared of, and in his normal flying-by-the-seat-of-his-pants Doctor approach, the Doctor starts off with “Well let’s open the cupboard then!”, but then his sonic screwdriver measures something coming from the cupboard that’s OVER 9000 and the Doctor decides to be a little more tactful.
Oh, another favorite scene, before the cupboard opening is when the landlord shows up to yell at Alex about being late with the rent, and instead of sitting around in an awkward situation, the Doctor distracts George from the argument by making the toys in his bedroom dance using the magic of the sonic screwdriver.
Anyway, so the Doctor does eventually open the cupboard, whereupon he and Alex are sucked into a blinding white light and down into the same spooky house that Rory and Amy are trapped in. It’s Alex’s dollhouse in his cupboard, where all of his fears not only live, but have firmly planted their roots and take in anyone else who is nearby. The place is full of terrifying wooden dolls that turn anyone they touch into wooden dolls and the whole thing has a really dark and thoroughly frightening atmosphere, a true world of nightmares.
So how does this jive with Doctor Who and science fiction? I’m glad you asked. While I was afraid that the Silence might be behind this, or that possibly George was from the same Silence orphanage that River Song stayed in as a child, I was pleased as punch that they didn’t try to make any connections to the larger story and that this was a true one-off from this season’s normal plot line. No, nothing to do with the Silence. George is an alien, specifically a Tenza, an empathetic race that uses perception filters to blend in with their surroundings. Needing a set of foster parents, George came to live with Alex and Claire, making them believe that he was their biological child and becoming whatever he wanted them to be. And he just so happens to also have the ability to literally stow his fears in a physical form in a closet.
It was a scary episode at times, but more than that, it was a sweet episode about the love between parents and their child, even if he’s really an alien and not their biological son. It was about how sometimes when you’re the Doctor, even if you’re saving the Universe and the lives of your friends, sometimes you have to take time out to make a house call and calm the fears of a little boy and help him get rid of the monsters in his closet.