Review: Doctor Who 6.09: Night Terrors

By Heather S. Vina

[spoilers ahead]

Written by: Mark Gatiss

Recap: On a council estate in London, an old woman named ‘Mrs. Rossiter’ (Leila Hoffman) is going on the lift and bringing home her grocery cart. A young mother named Claire (Emma Cunniffe) is putting her little boy (Jamie Oram) to bed – or trying to, anyways. He’s very scared of the sound of the lift and scared in general of the “monsters” in the room. Claire flips on and off the light five times in a ritual for him. She reminds him that he is to put in the closet all of the things that he’s scared of.

She leaves the room and talks to her husband, George’s dad Alex (Daniel Mays), about how George is doing. Both parents are at their wits’ end. George is scared all of the time and they don’t know what to do with him. Claire thinks he needs a doctor. George overhears this and starts doing his chant of “Please save me from the monsters.” As he’s doing this, the chant seems to be transmitting through space, where it suddenly reaches the TARDIS, startling the Doctor. He pulls out his psychic paper and reads the message on it: “Please save me from the monsters.” He starts putting coordinates into the TARDIS, and tells Rory and Amy that he hasn’t done this in a while. When they ask what he’s doing, he tells them he’s “making a house call.”

The TARDIS arrives at the council estate where George and his parents live. The Doctor explains to Rory and Amy that they are going to the “scariest place in the universe” – a child’s bedroom. And man, the look of that council estate is depressing.

George is lying in his bed with a flashlight on, freaking out over every little sound. Mrs. Rossiter is walking by with her grocery cart. The squeaking of her wheels and sound of her breathing is magnified to a terrifying degree in George’s head. Everything in George’s room scares him, despite the fact that it’s harmless. Alex, his dad, is sadly looking through pictures of George during happier times, when he wasn’t so scared all of the time.

The Doctor, Rory and Amy split up and start knocking on apartment doors, trying to find the child who sent the message. Amy runs into twin girls with a mother who thinks someone sent her; I’m guessing an ex, from the way that she is talking. Rory runs into the landlord of the place, Purcell (Andrew Tiernan), who has a bulldog and a bullish attitude. And the Doctor runs into Mrs. Rossiter, who has complaint after complaint about the trash bins being so far down the stairs.

It’s not until the Doctor sees little George poking his head out his window from his behind his drapes, looking scared to death, that he figures out who sent the call. He sends Rory and Amy down to the next floor to check it out then goes on by himself to check out George’s apartment.

Rory and Amy go to the lift and push the button for the next level. Suddenly, the lift starts to fall, and fall fast. Screaming, they can’t do anything but hold on. However, when the lift makes it to the bottom floor and opens, Amy and Rory are no longer there. They’ve disappeared.

The Doctor knocks on George’s apartment door. When Alex opens it, the Doctor holds out the psychic paper to Alex. Alex reads it as if the Doctor is a doctor from Social Services that his wife found to try to help out George. The Doctor runs with it and asks Alex to tell him about George.

Mrs. Rossiter takes her trash out to the overflowing trash pile. There’s something moving in the trash, though. She goes to investigate, thinking it’s George, at first, pulling a prank on her. But she quickly realizes it’s not George when she’s pulled into the trash pile, screaming.

Seriously, that council estate is depressing, even without the scary “monsters” and sounds.

Alex tells the Doctor that George was always a funny child. Never cried, he just seemed to bottle it up inside. He’ll be eight years old in January and Alex is worried that he should have outgrown these terrors by now. Alex tells him it’s gotten worse, lately. George has started developing nervous ticks. They’ve even thought about sending him somewhere to get help. They don’t know what to do, because he’s afraid of everything. It’s clear that Alex desperately loves his son, but has no idea how to help him. Alex hopes that the Doctor can help. The Doctor promises to do his best.

Amy and Rory wake up, very much not in the lift. It’s dark where they are, but luckily, Rory is carrying a flashlight. They both remember the lift, and falling, but that’s it. Rory bemoans that they’re dead, but Amy shushes him and they start to investigate. Rory theorizes that something happened with the TARDIS and time has gone “funny”. They continue walking down the hall and miss the figure scurrying down the corridor behind them.

George sits up in bed, scared, and knocks down his bedside lamp. Alex rushes in and tries to reassure him. George sees the Doctor standing there and asks who he is. When the Doctor tells him, he worries aloud that the Doctor is there to take him away. The Doctor reassures him that he’s not; he just wants to talk to him about the monsters.

Amy and Rory are exploring the place they are in, which seems to be a house. They make their way to what looks like a kitchen, where Amy finds a pan and shows Rory that it’s made of wood. Hmmm…could they be in a child’s dollhouse? They also manage to find a lantern that has a switch-on light inside that looks like a flame. Amy explores the drawers and finds a creepy glass eye inside one of them. And aww, she’s wearing her wedding ring! Remember in season 5 when she was wishy-washy about getting married and didn’t wear her engagement ring? I hadn’t noticed she was wearing it now. I’ll have to check and see if Rory is wearing his. I like it when men wear wedding rings, too. Doesn’t seem quite right, if the guy doesn’t wear one, as well.

And yep, there it is! Rory is wearing on,e as well! Awww…it’s kind of fun having the Doctor travel with a married couple. I really don’t think that has ever happened before. I like it. And considering this new series’ penchant for trying to pair the Doctor up romantically with his female companions (Rose, Martha, Rose, ugh-Rose, Amy), it’s nice to have another companion (Donna being the other) who is not romantic material for him (anymore, that is).

While they’re looking at the eye, Rory’s flashlight suddenly flashes on and off five times. Amy tells him to stop it, but he insists it’s not him.

Back in George’s room, Alex is running through the list of things that he and Claire thought might be scaring George, while the Doctor tries to solve a Rubik’s Cube. Isn’t George way too young to have a Rubik’s Cube? For that matter, aren’t Alex and Claire?

At first, Alex and Claire thought it was television scaring him, so they stopped him from watching, anymore. Then Claire thought it might be something he read. The Doctor approves of reading. He tells George about how he loved bedtime stories like “The Three Little Sontarans”, and “The Emperor Dalek’s New Clothes”, and “Snow White and Seven Keists of Doomsday”, back when he was younger…about a thousand years ago. He throws away the Rubik’s Cube, because he can’t solve it, then asks George about the cupboard. But the cupboard scares George the most. Alex explains that they caught him doing that a while ago: Anything scary, he puts in the cupboard. The Doctor tells him that there’s nothing to be scared of; it’s just a cupboard. He goes to open it, but a banging on the front door stops him.

It’s the landlord Purcell and his dog Bernard at the front door. He starts harassing Alex for the rent. Seems it’s due, but Alex doesn’t have it because he’s been out of work for a while. George watches with wide and scared eyes, until the Doctor distracts him with the sonic screwdriver. George politely asks him to show him what it can do, and the Doctor starts up George’s toy robots and electric toys with it. They watch the toys play on their own. The Doctor’s distraction works. He goes to scan the cupboard with the screwdriver, reassuring George that there’s nothing in the cupboard, but the reading the Doctor gets off of it ends up scaring him!

Alex finishes up with the sleazy Purcell, who tells him that he needs to have the rent by tomorrow. When Alex goes back into the room, he moves to open the cupboard, but the Doctor rushes to stop him. He tells him he doesn’t want to open it. When Alex asks why, the Doctor tells him, “Because George’s monsters are real.”

Rory and Amy finally make it to the front door of the place, only to find that there’s no doorknob on the door. Amy discovers that there’s something else strange, too: The grandfather clock has painted hands. They make a move to look around more, when they hear a child’s strange little giggle.

Back at the apartment in the kitchen, Alex is mad at the Doctor for saying that there are monsters in George’s cupboard, because now he will never be able to calm him down. The Doctor tells him that the cupboard is bad and there’s something he missed that is staring him right in the face. The Doctor continues to make tea, despite Alex’s objections and his attempts to throw him out. The Doctor explains that he’s not leaving. George sent out a distress call. Whatever is in his cupboard is so scary and so powerful that it managed to amplify his cries for help, so that it reached across time and space, and made it to the Doctor. He’s here to tell Alex that monsters are real. Alex realizes that the Doctor isn’t from social Services.

Um, nope.

Mrs. Rossiter is walking through the corridors of the same place where Amy and Rory are, scared to death and begging if anyone is out there. Rory and Amy follow the sound of the child’s giggles. They open a door to find an extremely creepy life-size doll standing on the other side. Both are startled but relieved, as they think it’s just some dummy. Oh, how little they know, because once they turn away, the doll moves its head and stares after them. Man, that’s just creepy.

Now with tea and sitting in the living room, the Doctor is looking through the photo albums, again. Something is bothering him with the photos, but he can’t figure out what. He sets the album aside and asks Alex if they should open the cupboard. There ensues a hilarious conversation, where the Doctor keeps switching sides between opening and not opening the cupboard, and Alex keeps going agreeing with each side. As soon as he does, the Doctor switches to the other side! See the dialogue in the quotes below, but reading the written words doesn’t do justice to Matt Smith’s hilariously ranting Eleven and Daniel Mays’ poor, befuddled Alex!

Purcell is watching television with his dog. He gets up to put a movie in, but as he’s walking towards the TV, he starts getting sucked into his carpet. As his dog watches, Purcell disappears into his carpet. Another resident of the place gone. And it’s another resident that scared George in some way or another, too.

The Doctor finally goes into George’s room and opens the closet, while Alex and George watch in fear. But it turns out there’s nothing there but some clothes, toys and a dollhouse. Yep, a dollhouse. The Doctor is confused, because the Sonic Screwdriver registered some pretty powerful stuff in there, yet there’s nothing of the sort. He comes to a realization and rushes back into the living room to grab the photo album. The Doctor starts quizzing Alex about George being his son: How old is he? Does Alex remember when he was born? Alex answers them, but looks puzzled when he tries to think on the day that George was born. He starts to get anxious and tells the Doctor he wants him to leave again, but the Doctor keeps pressing him and shows him the pictures of him and Claire at Christmas, a few weeks before George would have been born, yet she’s not pregnant. Alex, worked up, shouts that of course she wasn’t pregnant, then. She can’t have kids.

Alex goes on to explain that they were desperate to have kids. They tried as much IVF as they could afford, but Claire couldn’t have children. He stops his explanation and then asks the Doctor how he could have forgotten that. He’s genuinely confused because he had completely forgotten that they weren’t able to have kids and, therefore, did not have kids.

Alex and the Doctor turn to George. The Doctor asks George who he is, while Alex stares in shock, saying, “It’s not possible.” But George has no answer for them and it doesn’t appear that he knows what is going on, either. Suddenly, there’s the sound of the lift in the room and the room starts to shake. The cupboard bursts open with light shining from it. George scrunches himself up on his bed and starts shouting, “Please save me from the monsters!” The Doctor and Alex are sucked into the cupboard.

In the dollhouse, Rory and Amy are startled when Purcell runs up to them, shouting to “Please keep them away from him!” Before their eyes, Purcell is grabbed by one of the walking dolls, which turns him into a doll just like it. The Purcell doll starts giggling and the one that converted him starts giggling, too, telling Rory and Amy not to run away, “We want to play,” while they both singsong a creepy little song.

Amy and Rory duck into another room and shut the door, but alas, there’s no lock on it, so they try to barricade it closed. They’re trapped, though, because there’s no other way in or out. Amy suggests that they open the door and try to push past the dolls. They try it, but Amy gets caught by one of the dolls and changed into one of them in front of a horrified Rory.

The Doctor and Alex end up in the dining room, with Alex mighty freaked out that they ended up in the cupboard. The Doctor explains to Alex that they’re in the dollhouse that was inside George’s cupboard. Alex stops the Doctor and asks him how he could have forgotten that Claire can’t have kids. What is George? The Doctor explains that there’s a powerful perception filter that made everyone change their memories. The Doctor tries to figure out what George is, but he and Alex are distracted by the sound of the lift inside the dollhouse. Alex notices that the flickering fake candelabra is going out, one light at a time. When he counts it, he realizes it’s going on and off five times, like George’s ritual. The Doctor realizes that everything in the dollhouse is from George, down to his rituals for when he’s scared. However, he and Alex are interrupted by one of the dolls and the two take off running.

Alex and the Doctor end up trapped in the hallway by the front door. The Doctor finally realizes what George is: a Tenza, a cuckoo in the nest. The Tenza hatch in space and drift until the find a place to assimilate. Then they become exactly what their foster parents want. Alex and Claire desperately wanted a child, and the Tenza wanted a place to belong, so it became the child that they wanted. But something scared him, started this cycle of fear, and George isn’t even aware that he is controlling this all. The Doctor tells Alex that they have to make him aware and starts calling George’s name. He tells George, who in the real world has moved towards the cupboard, that he has to face his fears. Rory appears and tells the Doctor that Amy is one of the dolls.

The Doctor continues to try to get through to George. Just as the Doctor, Alex and Rory are being overwhelmed by the dolls, George opens the cupboard.

The dolls stop their attack and kind of hang in the air, like dolls on a string. George has appeared on the bottom floor of the house. The Doctor tries to reassure him that he did it. Everything is going to be fine.

But it’s not quite fine, as the dolls turn and head towards George. The Doctor tries to reassure George that he can stop it, but George is too scared and denies it. The Doctor realizes that something is holding him back. He zips through his memories and remembers when George expressed his fear that the Doctor was there to take him away. The Doctor turns to Alex, who explains that they had expressed the fear that they might have to send him away because they didn’t know how to help him. The Doctor explains that the Tenza’s goal is to fit in and George thought they were rejecting him. He still thinks that. Alex wonders how they can keep him, because he isn’t human. The Doctor asks, “No?” just as George screams, “Dad!”

In a lovely little moment, Alex runs off after George and pushes his way past the dolls that are surrounding a terrified George, about to take him over. Alex picks George up and hugs him tight. He tells George that, no matter what he is, he’s his son and he will never send him away. He calls him his “little boy”, as George cries and calls him “Dad”.

Seriously, that was a lovely scene. Brought a tear to my eye!

The cycle of fear is broken and everyone returns to normal: Mrs. Rossiter digs her way out of the garbage bags on the street, Amy and Rory appear in the lift, and Purcell is back in his apartment. All is right with the world, again.

Claire comes home to find the Doctor, Alex and George having a happy little time in the kitchen. She’s shocked at the change in George and the Doctor tells her to trust him; everything is fine now. She smiles in relief.

On his way out, Alex asks the Doctor if George is going to be okay. The Doctor explains that George is a Tenza; he will adapt beautifully. But the Doctor might pop back in around puberty, because that’s always a “funny” time.

The Doctor meets up with Rory and Amy, and they all head back into the TARDIS. Once there, the Doctor asks them where they want to go and they start discussing places to visit. While they do that, the singsong voices of the doll children start singing a little song. As it goes, the Doctor’s death page from the Justice ship appears on the TARDIS’ screen.

(Lyrics from here)

Tick tock, goes the clock.
We laughed at fate and mourned her.
Tick Tock, goes the clock, even for the Doctor.
Tick tock, goes the clock.
He cradled her and rocked her.
Tick Tock, goes the clock, even for the Doctor.

Review: This was a good, old-fashioned, scary tale. There really wasn’t anything “bad” (though Purcell the jerky landlord might qualify) or “evil” in this one, just a scared little boy who had the ability to psychically maneuver his fears.

I enjoyed this episode, but when I think too hard on it at the end, it leaves me with a troubling question: What is going to happen with George? The Doctor teases about the teenage years, but the truth is, this little boy is an alien who happens to have some psychic abilities that almost ended up in the deaths of several people. He’s not evil or anything, but I doubt that Alex and Claire are very well-equipped to handle George’s “special needs”. Hopefully, the Doctor’s right and he will just “fit in” as a Tenza, but I’d hate to see what happens if George starts getting freaked out again!

That being said, it really is a sweet story of an alien being who wants to belong and so, ends up manifesting into a child for a childless couple who long for a baby of their own. It appears that the transformation is so thorough that George doesn’t even know what he was or who he was.

I quite enjoyed Daniel Mays as Alex. I believed him as a struggling father who desperately loves his son and doesn’t know how to help him. And Jamie Oram is a sweet little George, playing terrified so well that you kind of want to reach into the TV and hug him. The bond between father and son was nicely done, and I like that all George needed was for his dad to reassure him. It would have been nice to have some mom-bonding in there, too, but at least we had a little in the beginning.

Watching this the first time, I couldn’t quite figure out why Rory and Amy were taken, when Mrs. Rossiter was in the lift and it never “ate” her. But watching it again, I think it’s because they scared George when they were walking by his window. Amy mentioned having to find “that kid”, and Rory joked about “letting the monsters gobble him up.” They scared him, so they went into the closet.

In truth, everyone who scared George ended up in the cupboard. Rory and Amy scared him in the beginning, Mrs. Rossiter scared him when she went by his room, and Purcell scared him when he came demanding the rent and threatening to throw the family out. Makes sense; everything George is scared of went in the cupboard.

Those council estates are depressing as heck. I hope they aren’t like that in real life, but going by some of the tenant homes we have in the States, it wouldn’t surprise me. Good job on that, because you could really believe something horrible was happening in such a depressing place.

Over all, it’s a great one-shot episode. And at the end, it nicely (and kind of spookily, with the kids singing about “even for the Doctor”) ties in with the theme of the Doctor’s death coming up and him knowing about it. According to Wikipedia, this episode was originally supposed to be episode 4, but was pushed back to the second half of the season to “achieve a greater variety of stories in the first half of series 6,” so that little bit was added later, but it tied it in nicely with the previous episodes.

The only disconcerting thing is that Amy and Rory still aren’t talking about the elephant in the room, their daughter Melody/River. Will they? At some point? Because they do seem awfully blasé about it, still.

Quotes:

The Doctor: Haven’t done this in a while.
Amy: Done what? What are you doing?
The Doctor: Making a house call.

Rory: No offense, Doctor.
The Doctor: Meaning the opposite.
Rory: But we could get a bus somewhere like this.
The Doctor: The exact opposite.

The Doctor: Pantophobia.
Alex: What?
The Doctor: That’s what it’s called, “Pantophobia”. It’s not fear of pants, if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s fear of everything. Including pants, I suppose. In that case…sorry, go on.

The Doctor: No, Alex, responsible. Very. Cupboard bad, cupboard not bare. Stay away from cupboard.

The Doctor: You see these eyes? They’re old eyes. And one thing I can tell you, Alex…monsters are real.
Alex: You’re not from Social Services, are you?
The Doctor: First things first: Have you got any Jammy Dodgers?

Rory: This is weird.
Amy: Yeah, says the time-traveling nurse.

The Doctor: Should we open the cupboard?
Alex: What?!
The Doctor: Should we?
Alex: Well….
The Doctor: Got to open the cupboard, haven’t we? Of course we have. Come on, Alex! Alex, come on! How else will we ever find out what’s going on here?
Alex: Right, but you said –
The Doctor: Monsters, yeah, well, that’s what I do. Breakfast, dinner and tea, fight the monsters. So, this…this…is just an average day at the office for me.
Alex: Okay, yeah, you’re right.
The Doctor: Or maybe we shouldn’t open the cupboard.
Alex: Eh?
The Doctor: We have no idea what might be in there, how powerful, how evil that thing might be!
Alex: We don’t?
The Doctor: Come on, Alex! Alex, come on! Are you crazy? We can’t open the cupboard!
Alex: God, no, no! We mustn’t!
The Doctor: Right. That settles it.
Alex: Settles what?
The Doctor: Got to open the cupboard.

Alex: We went into the cupboard. How can it be bigger in here?
The Doctor: More common than you think, actually.

The Doctor: Oy, listen, mush, old eyes, remember? I’ve been around the block a few times. More than a few. They’ve knocked down the blocks I’ve been down and rebuilt them as bigger blocks, super blocks! And I’ve been around them, as well. I can’t remember everything.

The Doctor [when the sonic screwdriver doesn’t work on the wooden dolls]:
I’ve got to invent a setting for wood. It’s embarrassing!

You can buy this episode, and the rest of season 6, on Amazon.com.

About Heather S. Vina

Heather's been a fan of science fiction since she was five years old and developed a crush on Captain Kirk, while watching reruns of Star Trek: The Original Series. A huge Anglophile, she loves reading and watching (and mocking!) TV, but hasn't figured out a way to make a living doing either, yet. But she lives in hope!

Heather S. VinaReview: Doctor Who 6.09: Night Terrors