September 4, 2011

Season Six Sundays: Night Terrors


Mark Gatiss is one of those Who writers who doesn't quite get the kudos he deserves. After all, many of his stories contain a steady Who-like mix of the domestic and the unusual - whether it's zombies in Victorian England (The Unquiet Dead), an alien taking form as a broadcast announcement during the Coronation (The Idiot's Lantern), or even Winston Churchill fighting Daleks (Victory of the Daleks). In addition, he also co-writes for Sherlock and has done a three part History of Horror series for the BBC that is well worth checking out via bitTorrent.

After last week's  Let's Kill Hitler arc-a-thon, it's time for a breather, and Night Terrors is a pretty good respite....a creepy little done-in-one episode that harkens back to classic (and "old new" Doctor Who).

Structurally, the episode resembles Season Two's Fear Her, with its focus on childhood anxieties, isolation, and more down-to-earth focus. Thanks to Richard Clark's direction (he also directed The Doctor's Wife), this is a moody, off-kilter episode that, unlike Fear Her, does not contain any false notes. It is a little....well, it can feel at times more stretched out than usual. There's also a continuity-laden reference that, well, seems a little too in-jokey for the episode's own good.

I'll also predict that a certain type of Who fan - the fez-wearing, catchphrase-spouting newer fan - might not like this episode. It's not the slam bang-a-thon that has been in force for most of this season. It also seems out of place (the season was reshuffled slightly, with this episode exchanging slots with Curse of the Black Spot), but in a way, it works slightly better - given some of the thematic issues of this season, it touches upon them subtly without hitting the viewer over the head.

Sadly, the placement of this episode - second in the second "mini-season" - really shows the reason why a 13 episode series of Doctor Who should not be split in half. Within a regular flow, this episode would not seem as odd (especially if it's 8 out of 13), with a good mix of arc-heavy and stand-alone shows. I predict that, once the boxed set comes out, this episode will seem to be a much more comfortable "fit" than it does as - let's be honest - episode 2. (I'm also willing to reevaluate my opinion of Curse of the Black Spot  as well).

Gatiss has provided another underrated gem - so much that I'm willing to give this one another shot. And I think you will, too.