One of the most integral fandom concepts revolving around Doctor Who is the idea that young children find the show so scary they have to hide behind the sofa to watch it. For his first contemporary Earth based story, Mark Gattis takes this concept and adds his familiar dark humour and theatre trademarks -- and sadly misses the bulls eye.
"Night Terrors" focused on George, a little boy living in a grimy, depressing London high-rise who finds everything around him frightening. George's terrifying experiences are so real to him that his cries of help are picked up by the Doctor's psychic paper, which is how Team Tardis get involved. And then that's where the nightmares start when the Doctor finds out George's monsters are "real."
The story becomes a balancing act between comedy moments which are utilized to lighten the dark surreal shadowy interior of the doll house locked inside a bedroom cupboard. The Peg Dolls are truly disturbing creations, worthy of any modern horror movie. Their faces, half mounded Chinese grotesqueries with echoes of toy solider and Barbie coupled with truly eerie childish giggling and laughter make for unsettled viewing for any kids watching this story unfold. Exactly as Gattis planned.
The grown-ups also have their fare share of terrors to face from Rory and Amy being trapped in elevators, a little old lady eaten by garbage and the nasty Landlord sinking helplessly into his deep shag-pile carpet while his pet Bulldog yawns only later, like Amy, to be transformed into a Doll in a scene that echoes the Gas Mask victims in "The Empty Child." But there are tender moments too, such as the scene where Matt Smith magically makes the toys play to get George to smile.
However, the revelation that George is an alien cuckoo in the nest, made this story not the brilliant scary tale that it could have been for me. It borrowed too much from the earlier Tennant tale, "Fear Her." Girl gets possessed by alien spore. Girl traps her worst fears in pictures she draws. Here, little boy traps his fears inside a doll house as he feels he’s been rejected by his Earthly parents. But, and this is a saving grace, at least this story fully relied on truly atmospheric tones and great acting, especially newcomer Jamie Oram playing George, and not a sign of the Doctor holding an Olympic flame -- although yet again he got chance to prove he can be a great cook.
The nice touch was the ending with the sinister nursery rhyme again pointing to the Doctor’s demise. Overall, "Night Terrors" was a vast improvement over "Victory of the Daleks," which Gattis wrote last year, but still doesn’t top "The Unquiet Dead." I’m sure given the chance, and considering he’s Moffat’s co-partner on the excellent Sherlock which I hope you’ve seen, Gattis will prove me wrong one day.