Review: Doctor Who – 6×9 – Night Terrors

Fear Him

In the UK: Saturday 3rd September, 7.10pm, BBC1/BBC1 HD. Available on the iPlayer
In the US: Saturday 3rd September, 9pm/8c ET/PT, BBC America

I would review this, but basically I’ve already reviewed it when it was called Fear Her. Okay, it was a lot better. The direction was better. The writing was better. There were some great lines of dialogue, including Rory’s "We’re dead – again." And Matt Smith was very, very good.

But it was still Fear Her in plot, Macguffin and more or less everything else (Doctor investigates alien cuckoo child in suburban estate who can shape reality with its mind, gets trapped by alien and relies on outside help to get saved). And it still wasn’t that good, although I imagine very young kids might have wet themselves.

Essentially, a big set of things that seem scary on paper (and in the case of the life-size dolls, scary on TV) or that were scary when they were last seen in Sapphire and Steel when they were done well, it failed to connect emotionally or hang together properly. With most adults, at least, it failed to scare or engage. The trite ending – "dad must rescue son by telling him he loves him unconditionally" – was as poor as the attempts to add social realism, which were largely thrown away. And above all, It failed to make sense – kid fears getting rejected by parents so distorts reality, causing his parents to think about rejecting him.

It was a lot better than Gatiss’s last effort, Victory of the Daleks, but still a bit of a wasted chance for the plot of Fear Her to redeem itself. Not awful, not bad in places, but still an also-ran episode.




  • Mark Carroll

    I was concerned when I saw who wrote it. Our kids liked it and found it a bit scary. They wanted to watch it a second time the next day. So, it might work well for the target audience. Against “The Mutants” (season 9, Jo Grant) that we’d watched earlier in the week it stood up rather well. (-: The dolls were quite good though why they were motile and transforming-through-touch was far from clear to me. I hadn’t noticed the parallel with “Fear Her” until you mentioned it.

  • Mark Carroll

    I was concerned when I saw who wrote it. Our kids liked it and found it a bit scary. They wanted to watch it a second time the next day. So, it might work well for the target audience. Against “The Mutants” (season 9, Jo Grant) that we’d watched earlier in the week it stood up rather well. (-: The dolls were quite good though why they were motile and transforming-through-touch was far from clear to me. I hadn’t noticed the parallel with “Fear Her” until you mentioned it.

  • templarj

    I really enjoyed it and condone anything that scares the bejesus out of children. I couldn’t help but think it would have been resolved better had it not been crippled by Doctor Who’s need to provide a sci-fi rationale. Had the boy just been human and very scared of everything it would have felt more satisfying.
    I do like Daniel Mays.

  • benjitek

    Personally, I found it to be one of the more boring episodes…

  • I didn’t really notice the parallels to Fear Her, though of course but now that you say it I see it. Certainly this was better than that, though I do enjoy the scene with the giant pencil scribble come to life.
    I liked it. Two in a row now I’ve really enjoyed.
    I did also enjoy Daniel Mays a lot. Much better dialogue for him to deliver here than in Outcasts, which of course was just abysmal.
    Good Rory episode. I might actually be coming around on Rory.
    I like episodes like this one where everyone is shaking their heads at the end wondering what happened, even our Doctor and his pals.

  • SK

    Not much to say about this episode. Whereas the previous two were all middle – no beginning or endings — this one was all beginning, an ‘odd things are happening!’ old part one stretched out for twenty extra minutes, with a perfunctory climax as the Doctor works out the solution unprompted just because events are coming to a conclusion.
    But in other news, I’ve worked out the solution to this year’s series (what happened /is going to happen at the lake)! Anyone want to know?

  • I feel honour-bound to say, “Spoilers, sweetie.”

  • SK

    That’s not an unambiguous yes.

  • Mark Carroll

    I’d be interested to learn your hypothesis so long as you can adequately spoiler-protect others with the relevant tags or whatever.

  • SK

    Okay then. Deep breath.
    At the lake, Clanton says, ‘Perhaps I can save you some time: that is the Doctor and he is dead.’ I take this to be a statement of intent from Moffat: whatever he’s going to do, he’s going to do it within the rules he lays out for himself. this is, generally, how he operates. For example, in The Pandorica Opens a lot of time is spent explaining how the Pandorica is impossible to break out of. That’s the rule he establishes, and it isn’t broken.
    But like a conjurer, he spends a lot of time telling you what he’s not going to do to turn your attention onto that, instead of what he is going to do. It’s classic misdirection. So all the talk about it being impossible to break out of the Pandorica is there to make you forget that he’s already said it would be trivial to break in — which is of course what he does in the next episode.
    So, all this stuff about duplicates running through the series, and Clanton’s line is all there to get people thinking ‘how can it be a duplicate Doctor?’ — and to make them forget what else was in that scene by the lake. Specifically an alien — one of the Silence — that Amy sees on the hill. But what is it doing there? In 2011, when the human race was told to kill them all in 1969? Well, it’s there — I reckon — to help the Doctor.
    Here’s what is going to happen. The astronaut, AKA Little Melody Pond (that’s obvious, right?), comes out of the lake and shoots the Doctor. Clanton comes over and delivers his line, and the petrol so he is correct at the moment he speaks. Then the Silence come down form the hill — if they weren’t already there, standing behind the Doctor so Melody forgets she’s already killed him before she meets him in the cornfield, that is — and they take the body and leave a duplicate body in its place, and it’s that while the burn in the boat. Because it’s already established that the audience don’t always see what the Silence make the characters forget, so that’s in the rules.
    Then somehow — and I expect this technology to be introduced in one of the next three episodes — the Doctor‘s body is revived, possibly using some method that gives him a whole new regeneration cycle of indeterminate length, thus sidestepping the whole ‘thirteen Doctors’ limit.
    It’s a classic Moffat move — in fact it’s several classic Moffat moves. Number one, always make the set-up look like it’s the set-up to something else. In his sit-coms, he always hides the resolution to the plot in a set-up for a joke within the same scene, so that the audience, on hearing the punchline, thinks, ‘Ah that’s what that was set-up for’ and forgets the set-up. See, if you set something up but don’t pay it off, the audience keeps waiting for the payoff. but if you set it up and then pay it off, they forget, and then if you pay it off again, they think you’re a genius. So the shot of the alien on the hill looks like it’s paid off later in the episode, when they discover the aliens again — but that’s just Moffat’s classic misdirection.
    And the other classic Moffat move is to give the second part of the clue after the first one. So for the first episode, we think we see everything the characters see — we see the aliens every time Amy sees them. But that’s just something we assume, and in the second episode we find out that it’s wrong: we don’t necessarily see things that characters don’t remember. But by that time we’ve forgotten the first part of the clue, that there are aliens at the picnic, so though at the time we thought we’d seen everything, now we know we haven’t.
    And the final piece of the puzzle is the name of the place where the Doctor dies. That’s Moffat putting it out there in plain sight, that is. That’s him laughing at the audience. Because once it happens he can say, ‘Well it was right in front of you all along.’

  • SK

    What I haven’t worked out is how the Doctor’s side-trip to (presumably) River Song’s wedding in the middle of Let’s Kill Hitler ties in.
    Perhaps that’s when he gets some mechanism to store the excess regenerative energy she gives him at the end of the episode, so that he has it available to jump-start his new regenerative cycle after he dies at the lake?

  • SK – one huge flaw in your theory.
    Why would The Silence – who have basically been exterminated by humans post 1969 thanks to the Doctor’s suggestions, and now hate the Doctor so much they’ve tried to blow up the TARDIS and thus the universe – want to save the Doctor? What’s in it for them?

  • SK

    There’s several answers to that:
    (a) The Doctor could be blackmailing / extorting them to (‘You’ve seen what I can do, help me or I do it worse’) or even promising to lift the command for humans to kill them, somehow, if they help him.
    (b) Not all the Silence race of aliens might be allied with this anti-Doctor order: some of them might be well-disposed towards the Doctor, and it could be one of them on the hill.
    (c) Or it could be that I’ve got the details slightly wrong and the Silence aren’t there to help the Doctor but to steal his body, as River says — but the Doctor is manipulating them and so they are helping him unwittingly.
    But that is a mere detail. The substantial point, I take it, you see makes sense?

  • SK

    The astronaut, AKA Little Melody Pond (that’s obvious, right?)
    Okay, I got that wrong: it’s Melody before the second time she meets the Doctor (the first being Let’s Kill Hitler).
    But still, the rest, I stand by.

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