He might not serve any noticeable purpose in most episodes but sometimes you can't help feeling sorry for Rory Williams. Not only does he have to put up with a scary wife whose face is a white doll-like mask with dead eyes and a fixed expression but, in Mark Gatiss' Night Terrors, he has to put up with his wife turning into a scary creature whose face is a white doll-like mask with dead eyes and a fixed expression. Some days a man just can't win.
Travelling in the TARDIS, the Doctor receives a psychic message from a child called George who's scared of monsters and needs someone to help him.
Well, that's the sort of plea I can ignore and the Doctor can't and so, before you know it, the Doctor's on the tower block where George lives, as Rory, Amy and just about everyone else we meet find themselves trapped in a doll's house, being turned into people-sized dolls.
By the end of the tale, the Doctor, George and the George's father Alex are all trapped in the doll's house and about to suffer the fate that's already befallen Amy.
It seems that George isn't a real child. He's an alien who, cuckoo-like, has entered the life of the childless Alex and his wife but, fearing rejection by them, is sending everyone who scares him to the doll's house in his wardrobe. It would appear that ultimately he's also scared of himself as, at the tale's climax, he even sends himself into it. With the giant dolls closing in on them all, can anything save them now?
Of course it can.
The love of a father can and, happily it's all sorted out when Alex gives George a good hug and declares that he'd never get rid of his "son".
Maybe I have too short an attention span but I can't help feeling that, with no noticeable threat in sight and Rory and Amy trapped in a mysterious house whose secret's all too obvious, the first twenty four minutes of Night Terrors drags horribly, a feeling not helped by Gatiss' insistence on having characters wandering around talking to themselves. You do wonder why TV writers never notice there's nothing like having characters talking to themselves to totally destroy the illusion that we're watching real people doing real things.
In the 24th minute, things pick up noticeably as, in the doll's house, the people-sized dolls arrive and start doing their thing. Suddenly, from that point on, it's a viable episode, let down only by an ending that's too pat to be convincing. I know fathers have bonds with their children but even so it's hard to believe that, having just discovered his son's an alien who's been manipulating him for eight years, Alex could so easily put that aside and unconditionally accept the boy as his son. Call me heartless but frankly, after a revelation like that, I wouldn't want to approach George with anything less explosive than a shotgun.
I've got to admit my hopes for Night Terrors weren't high. With Victory of the Daleks and The Idiot's Lantern, Mark Gatiss gave us, for my money, two of the worst episodes of Dr Who since the show returned in 2005, leaving me wondering if his far better Unquiet Dead wasn't some kind of fluke. Come to think of it, The Lazarus Experiment, in which Gatiss merely appeared, was also terrible. Sometimes it seems like just having Mark Gatiss connected with an episode, in whatever capacity, is enough to capsize it.
Well, this was definitely better than both Victory and The Idiot's Lantern though not as good as The Unquiet Dead, which filled forty five minutes more comfortably than this did. Like all Mark Gatiss scripts, it tended to be better in theory than in execution and, with its cuckoo-in-the-nest-child and something nasty in the wardrobe, it was hard not to notice parallels with Season Two's Fear Her. But, still, it's hard to go too wrong with scary dolls and scary doll's houses and scary wardrobes, and its mood of determined creepiness at least made a refreshing contrast to last week's sillier fare.
I should also add that, despite my disgraceful knocking of Karen Gillan's occasionally disturbing face, she's excellent in the episode and I still can't help feeling she'd make a better Doctor than assistant.
But, reader, I must make a confession. As we all know, it takes a keen pair of eyes and the finest of minds to be a critic. This must be why I managed to spend the first half of the show thinking that Daniel Mays, who played Alex, was in fact ex-Blue star Antony Costa. How impressed I was with the acting skills of a man better known for not quite setting Eurovision alight.