Saxon Bullock

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Category: TV (page 1 of 5)

DOCTOR WHO – S11 E03: ‘Rosa’ (Some thoughts…)

Here come some thoughts on this week’s episode.  Fear the spoilers…

– Celebrity Historicals have been a standard of the show since RTD brought it back, but I really wasn’t expecting what we got here, which is the closest we’ve come to the kind of ‘pure’ historical story the show used to do back in its 1960s early days, when the educational remit was still a strong part of Who’s backbone. There might be a mild sci-fi ‘changing history’ element driving the plot, but the time period and the event in question are the major stars here, which is rare.  (Big Finish have done a bunch of these kinds of Who stories on audio, but I really didn’t think we’d get anything like this in the actual show). Aiming at this kind of historical event is daring, and could easily have gone wrong, but they pulled it off.

– Once again, production values are way up here, aided by the South Africa shoot. Who has faked America in recent years, but it’s always been a bit rough around the edges (no matter how much they try, Spain just doesn’t quite look like the USA). Here, on the other hand, the environment and the period detail sells the illusion extremely well, and the sight of the TARDIS parked in a 1955 Alabama alley really does tap into that pulpy ‘anything is possible’ vibe that Doctor Who is so good at.

– I liked Jodie Whitaker more here than I did in the previous two episodes, and she seems more comfortable in the role – which is weird, because The Woman Who Fell To Earth was shot after this one. Maybe it’s the largely more serious tone of this episode, or maybe I’m just getting more used to her.

– Who has dabbled with racism in history before – most notably with Martha in Human Nature/The Family of Blood and Bill in Thin Ice – but this is a whole different order, and I’m impressed with how effectively they portrayed the time. Again, this could easily have tipped into cartoonish caricature, and while it sure ain’t subtle, it does a great job of showing exactly how pervasive the attitudes are. Racism is essentially the main bad guy in this episode, and it’s handled in a way that doesn’t sugar coat the times in the slightest (even making it clear that Ryan could easily end up getting himself lynched), and which also doesn’t pretend that everything was sorted out once Rosa makes her protest. Again, this is the amazing thing about Doctor Who – it can go from last week’s running around from robot snipers and evil bits of cloth to this, and it can make this kind of history accessible and enjoyable for kids who might not even know who Rosa Parks is.

– It’s also just as well that racism was such a pervasive and convincing threat, as the actual villain of the piece was another weak, two-dimensional thug who barely makes an impression. He works in theory – I can see why they went that route (especially building in the ‘unable to kill’ element so he can’t just assassinate Rosa) but in practice, he’s a hopeless and unthreatening character who doesn’t ever feel like he’s going to present that much of a problem. There’s very little tension that comes from his presence in the episode (some of which may be down to casting), and the fact that he vanishes in the same ‘We’ll probably be seeing him again’ manner as the villain in ep 1 does not fill me with confidence.

– Thanks to this problem, the actual nuts-and-bolts storytelling aspects of the episode aren’t as exciting as they could have been. Krascow isn’t like the weird invisible Chicken-monster in ‘Vincent and the Doctor’, a throwaway threat to drive what’s largely a character piece – he’s the main antagonist, and he’s so lacking in threat that the episode doesn’t always build a full sense of drama, especially with some of the more fiddly ‘we have to get the bus more crowded’ story engineering during the finale (and particularly since he’s defeated so easily.)

– And talking of Krascow’s defeat – considering the Doctor didn’t seem remotely annoyed at Ryan stealing the Time Displacer and firing Krascow into the past, why didn’t she just do it herself and save themselves the stress? (Plus, isn’t firing a vengeful racist time traveller at random into the past potentially a rather bad idea?)

– Another note – considering her experience in time travel, the Doctor takes a loooong time to work out that Krascow might be changing the future by trying to nudge history in the right direction.

– Vinette Robinson is really strong as Rosa Parks, and once again, Bradley Walsh is the TARDIS team MVP, especially in the climactic sequence on the bus.

– Also once again, we’re still not quite getting to know the companions much more than we did in episode 1. A crowded TARDIS has its advantages, and the characters do get a reasonable share of the action here, but it still feels like they’ve got a way to go before they find the right balance.

– On second look, the TARDIS redesign is looking unfortunately like an explosion in a New Age shop, especially in that final scene.

– As pointed out by @ianberriman on Twitter, this is also possibly the most Quantum Leap episode of Doctor Who ever.

– There’s points where the storytelling does get a bit heavy-handed (and boy, I could really have done without the reprise of the song over the end credits), but the episode gets an awful lot right, and is the first to give me a sense of confidence about where the show is heading (which, for an episode that’s co-written by Chris Chibnall, is saying something).

– And yet… while I admire a lot about what the show is doing, the determined steer away from the majority of the show’s crazier side is a little cause for concern. An episode like this needed to be mostly hard-hitting in order to work, but the three episodes of season 11 so far have consistently been the least goofy and weird Who has been since… well, possibly, since Eric Saward was script-editing back in the Eighties (although feel free to argue if you disagree). The lack of decent villains so far is a definite problem, and while ‘Rosa’ has given me confidence, Chibnall’s version of Who still has some way to go before I’m completely sold on it. Of course, in terms of goofy weirdness, next week’s ‘Return to Sheffield/Killer Spiders’ episode may or may not prove to be what I need…

DOCTOR WHO S11 E02: ‘The Ghost Monument’ (Some Thoughts, with Added Spoilers)

We have a new episode of Who – and I don’t have time to do a proper review, so instead this is going to be a bunch of semi-quick-fire thoughts (which still ended up longer than I expected because, well, it’s me talking about Doctor Who). I don’t have enough time to do proper reviews right now, but I do want to put my thoughts down somewhere, and this way I can be honest about the bits I didn’t like without sounding like a grouch raining on everyone’s parade. At least, in theory. Onwards – and fear the spoilers…

– A new title sequence! It’s very pretty, (and feels very reminiscent of the Troughton title sequence) but also a little lacking in the kind of propulsive forward motion I’ve gotten used to in recent Who title sequences. And just a teeny bit lava lamp, as well.

– This is possibly the most visually gorgeous and cinematic Who episode ever broadcast. The way they’ve upped the production values and the cinematography is very hard to deny. The whole episode felt very big, and very evocative (in the manner of the way I always imagined Hartnell-era stories when reading the Target novelisations), and they used the South African locations really well.

– Another Chris Chibnall episode that qualifies as ‘Not Bad’! A step up in terms of memorability and energy from the season opener – it’s also genuinely exciting in parts, but still more of a frequently derivative collection of ideas than a genuine story, and doesn’t really add up to anything more than a slightly half-hearted ‘we are stronger together’ theme.

– Art Malik as a mysterious overlord/criminal-type person. I wonder if we’ll be seeing him again? (I’m almost 100% sure we will be).

– Both Susan Lynch and Shaun Dooley do a lot with not much here, bringing stock characters to life and pulling off some effective moments.

– A well-executed spaceship crash sequence, even if Ryan and Graham have obviously watched Prometheus too many times and don’t understand the ‘run to the side to avoid the crashing ship’ principle.

– Setting up the TARDIS as the macguffin that ends the race is a nice touch.

– I’m almost annoyed that nobody even attempted to make an Infinite Improbability Drive gag in the opening five minutes, considering how VERY convenient it was that two separate ships arrived to rescue them.

– Is it just me, or does Ryan’s dyspraxia seem to turn on and off as the plot demands it? And was I the only one who thought the ruined building they arrive at looked suspiciously like an abandoned Tesco?

– So, the Stenza are obviously being set up as this season’s big bad, to which my reaction was “Those guys? Seriously?” I mean, I already suspected that ‘Tim Shaw’ would be making a return appearence (even if I’m really not sure why), but it still doesn’t make them any less generic or forgettable. But then, this is Chris Chibnall, the man who thought a pig-faced demon and Captain Jack’s deeply underwhelming kid brother were effective end-bosses in Torchwood, so I guess you get what you pay for.

– I am unexpectedly finding myself more invested in the companions than the Doctor, which is kind of a strange experience.

– KILLER CLOTH FROM OUTER SPACE!

– Heavens, we have a ‘mysterious overarching plot arc’ in the form of the ‘Timeless Child’, helpfully told us by the randomly talkative Killer Cloth. First thought – are they pulling the ‘member of the Doctor’s family (potentially a daughter/son, considering someone had to have Susan) is still alive’ gambit?

– Again, it would have been nice to have just a slightly clearer idea of how the Doctor created that electromagnetic pulse, rather than it looking like she reached into a robot and pressed the convenient ‘Activate EMP’ button.

– What exactly was the point of ending the race at the ‘Ghost Monument’ if Ilinn isn’t timing it so that the TARDIS is actually making one of its semi-regular stops? Yes, it adds a brief bit of tension that the TARDIS isn’t there (and an oddly out-of-character bit of rapid defeatism from the Doctor), but it also feels an odd choice when the whole race is built around getting to a place that might not even be there.

– We have a new TARDIS! Very reminiscent of the 2005-era TARDIS, but with more hexagons and quartz (and money). The whole ’TARDIS dispensing Custard Creams’ thing was slightly blunted by not realising what it was, and only working it out when I looked at Twitter. (And what the hell is that teeny spinning TARDIS all about?)

– I suspect Jodie Whitaker’s going to be staying in the Christopher Eccleston category of ‘actors who are really good and who I just don’t buy as the Doctor’. The Doctor needs to be someone who owns every scene they’re in, and she’s good, but she’s not convincing me, and I’ve yet to get a moment that makes me think “Yes, that’s the Doctor,” or that has the sense of easy naturalistic weirdness that says “Doctor” to me. I think there are going to be plenty of echoes of the 2005 season here, as everybody else is going to be loving the hell out of it, while I’m suspecting that it’s just not quite for me. I’m enjoying it, but with LOTS of provisos, and I suspect it may stay that way (especially since Chibnall is either writing or co-writing BOTH the next two episodes).

– Big surprise – I think Bradley Walsh is turning into my favourite aspect of the new season, especially since his casting ranked up with Catherine Tate for levels of ‘Wait, they’re casting who?’ Graham’s turning out to be a really enjoyable, satisfying character and is the stand-out among the current crew – it’s still feeling like three companions is just too many (I mean, we’ve barely had a chance to get to know Yaz), but Walsh is pulling off some nicely nuanced acting, even if I also suspect that Graham’s difficult relationship with Ryan is destined to get sorted out by Graham pulling a tragic but heroic sacrifice in the season finale (I hope that’s not the case, but I’d also be willing to bet money on it happening.).

– Another observation – this version of Who so far is distinctly less goofy or weird than either RTD’s or Moffatt’s approach. It’ll be interesting to see whether the show is still capable of letting its freak flag fly and going for radically different tones (which is both the blessing and the curse of Who, depending on how those tones are executed), or if we’re in the realm of nuts-and-bolts SF for the foreseeable future.

– And next week, it’s celebrity historical time with Rosa Parks. I guess we’ll see how that turns out…

DVD Review: Moondial

1988 – 6 Episodes – 175 minutes
DVD – Second Sight

Rating: ★★★½☆ 


moondial

It’s been a very long time since the 1988 six-part BBC childrens drama serial Moondial aired on television. Now, after a lengthy period when the only way of seeing it was hunting down old VHS copies or dodgy versions on Youtube, Moondial has received a proper DVD release, giving us the chance to see if it’s stood the test of time.

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TV Flashback: Moondial (1988)

Ah, piracy. There are so many ways in which it’s a measurably bad thing, something we’d undoubtedly be better off without – but one thing that the world of copyright infringement is annoyingly good at is catching the things that fall through the cracks. Not everything stays in print, or easily available, and it’s amazing what you can track down if you’re prepared to look. I’d never have gotten another look at the wonderful, wonderful James Burke documentary series ‘The Day the Universe Changed’ if it wasn’t for piracy – and I also wouldn’t have gotten another chance to watch the fantastically atmospheric and spooky BBC childrens drama serial, Moondial.

Broadcast back in 1988, Moondial got a VHS release sometime in the early Nineties, but ever since then it’s almost entirely vanished from view – it’s ridiculously difficult to get hold of, and the one ‘proper’ DVD release it got vanished from the shops almost as soon as it was released (the most recent DVD release was – weirdly – via the Reader’s Digest, and is also now unavailable – it’s this full episodic version that is, at least at the moment, up in full episodic format on Youtube. And just to be clear, I’d buy a commercial DVD release of it in an instant, as would plenty of other similarly aged TV SF/fantasy geeks, I’m sure). Of course, there’s an awful lot of stuff from that era that doesn’t get a release as well, but it’s frustrating in Moondial’s case because it stuck in my memory so strongly from when I first watched it, back when I was fourteen, and the world of Children’s TV was a much weirder, spookier place.

There’s a whole variety of shows that are burnt into my mind from that era – one of them, the ITV anthology series ‘Dramarama: Spooky’, scared the living crap out of me so much that I’ve actually avoided the recent DVD release, simply because I’m not sure I want to find out that my memory cheated and that it wasn’t quite as scary as I’ve remembered. Some haven’t aged brilliantly – The Box of Delights, for example, a much-praised 1984 adaptation that kicked off a whole run of prestigious fantasy adaptations, still has charm but doesn’t quite hold together (mainly because of the completely insane free-form nature of John Masefield’s original story), but while Moondial is absolutely a product of its time and often spectacularly Eighties, it’s also aged better than I expected and pulls off some impressive levels of atmosphere.

Adapted by children’s writer Helen Cresswell from her own novel, it’s the story of Araminta Caine (teen actress Siri Neal), usually known as Minty, who’s packed off to stay in the country with her slightly stand-offish aunt, but barely gets a chance to settle in before her mother is involved in a near-fatal car-crash that puts her into a coma. Traumatised and lonely (especially since her father already died a few years previously), Minty ends up exploring the grounds of the sprawling country house nearby (actually Belton House in Lincolnshire), but soon finds herself involved in the kinds of spooky goings-on that tend to happen around mysterious country houses in children’s stories. In this case, an ancient sundial holds the key to something that’s halfway between a time travel tale and a ghost story, as Minty crosses paths with an ailing kitchen boy called Tom, and a terrified girl who always hides her face – both of them trapped in their respective worlds, and both needing Minty to eventually find their freedom.

Safe to say, this isn’t exactly action-packed. We do get two definite villains – an evil governess, and a hilariously nasty goth ghost-hunter, both played by Jacqueline Pearce in full-on style that’ll bring back happy memories of her days as ferociously camp villainess Servalan in BBC cult space opera Blake’s 7 – but this is in no way an adventure story. Mood is the key word here, and there’s a certain level of weird abstractness to the story that you certainly couldn’t get away with today, but while Moondial is mainly a gently-paced, slow-burning mood piece that’s all about character, it’s often an astonishingly good one.

The late Eighties is a time when the whole look of television started to change and evolve at a pretty dizzying rate, and there are a certain aspects of Moondial that feel very entrenched in the way things used to be – for example, the number of beautifully plummy English accents on display, especially in the adult members of the cast. However, visually there’s a very definite effort to make this look good – fantasy TV is always very director dependant, and it’s pretty clear that the director here (Colin Cant, who only worked on a handful of projects after this according to IMDB) understood that the visuals and the location was going to have to do a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of generating a sense of enigma and mystery.

The end result of this is that the whole show has a wonderfully spooky edge, one that’s helped by the emotional undercurrent at the heart of the story – that it’s essentially about a girl finding a way of dealing with the possibility that her mother might die. We get a whole selection of sweeping tracking shots and kooky wide-angle lenses, which gives the show a very definite sense of style, and it’s also one of the few examples I can think of where filming day-for-night – throwing special filters onto the camera to acheive the illusion of night, back when cameras weren’t as powerful and night shooting was pricey – actually works. This is thanks to some carefully used filters and video effects, as well as the decision to drain most of the colour out of the image – what you get is something that doesn’t exactly look like night, but it does look dusky, weird and definitively spooky.

What makes it even more surprising is that Moondial is shot on video, and it’s incredibly difficult to make something shot on video look stylish (for an object lesson, go look at the late Nineties Neil Gaiman-written BBC drama Neverwhere, which only occasionally manages to lose the shot-on-video curse). Even the contemporary episodes of Doctor Who shot at the time (Season 25) don’t pull off quite so many moments of pure cinematic style as Moondial does when it’s really working. Matching this is a music soundtrack by David Ferguson that uses a mix of synths and traditional instruments in a way that’s weirdly timeless, adding a major level of darkness and edge to something that really could have come across as whimsical and feather-light.

There’s also the deliberately sinister edge given to the transport through time – I’ve always been fond of shows and movies that try to depict the impossible as real, and Moondial presents its fantasy elements very carefully, in a stylised but very controlled way. The travel through time via the sundial/moondial is acheived really simply – a circling tracking shot that spins around the sundial in question, combined with a funky piece of spinning late 1980s video effects – but combined with some fantastically eerie sound design, it gives a real sense of process. Rather than trying to be magical and charming, time travel in Moondial is weird, unsettling and disorienting, and the whole story feels much more weird (and ever-so-slightly science-fictional) as a result.

Admittedly, while much of Moondial still works astonishingly well, not everything here has aged as effectively. For a start, there’s an earnestness to the story that’s often touching, but occasionally trips over into slightly clumsy storytelling – it’s a very internal story, and unfortunately ends up relying on the ‘central character talks to herself’ device a few too many times. Siri Neal is often very impressive in a demanding role (she’s in virtually every scene), especially the sequences between her and Tom (Tony Sands), but there’s a few awkward moments in the opening episodes – especially a bit of full-on hysteria in episode 1 when she finds out about her mother’s accident – that don’t quite come off. The adult actors are generally divided into those who are really effective, and those who are giving slightly mannered ‘childrens TV’ performances (although Pearce isn’t among these, and gives a wonderful villainess turn that’s cool, chilling and distinctly camp).

The pacing is a bit too slow at times, even by Eighties childrens series standards – it’s a show that works better in 25 minute chunks than taken all in one go, and there does come a point in episode 6 where it’s hard not to think “Oh dear god, not another slow walk along the terrace to the Moondial?” Plus, the style is often very Eighties, even though there are plenty of TV dramas from that era that have aged much, much worse (like a 1986 version of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, which now bears an unfortunate resemblence to the music video to ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’).

Ultimately, the thing that’s most effective about Moondial is its sheer weirdness, which is what makes it even sadder that there’s hardly anything like it on television anymore. It taps into a very English form of spookiness (from the menace of country houses, to the devilish children dressed in Wicker Man-style animal masks), it’s as gothic (and Goth) as a childrens TV series can probably get away with, and it’s a show that dares to take its time and be deliberately dreamy and surreal. While it’s rough around the edges, and the ending will almost certainly leave you scratching your head and going “Okay, that wasn’t entirely satisfying…”, this is still a trip down memory lane that’s worth taking. Here’s hoping that a proper DVD re-release turns up sooner rather than later…

TV Review: Doctor Who S6 E09 – ‘Night Terrors’

Cast: Matt Smith, Karen Gillen, Arthur Darvill, Daniel Mays, Jamie Oram, Emma Cunliffe ~ Writer: Mark Gatiss ~ Director: Richard Clark ~ Year: 2011

Doctor Who S6 E09 Night Terrors promo pic Matt Smith Daniel Mays

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

The Low-Down: After the time-warping loopiness of ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’, something calmer and more traditional – ‘Night Terrors’ has plenty of flaws, but sharp dialogue, strong atmosphere and another great performance from Matt Smith all steer this episode through to a fine conclusion.

What’s it About?: Summoned by an unexpected call via the Psychic Paper, the TARDIS crew find themselves visiting a dreary tower block, where a young boy is living in a state of permanent fear. Eight-year-old George is convinced that there are monsters lurking in his cupboard, waiting to claim him – and the Doctor is soon discovering that he’s frighteningly correct…

The Story: (WARNING: As with most of my Doctor Who reviews, the following contains a hefty load of spoilers…)

It’s not exactly a surprise that an episode like ‘Night Terrors’ has happened on Steven Moffat’s watch – no other New Who writer has been quite so dedicated to exploring childhood fears in such a specific way, and the only real surprise is that it doesn’t come from Moffat, instead being the fourth New Who episode to be written by prolific actor/writer Mark Gatiss. Considering Gatiss’ run on the show has been a bit on the inconsistent side (going from the quality of ‘The Unquiet Dead’ in S1 to the rushed pacing and garbled storytelling of ‘Victory of the Daleks’ in S5), it would have been easy to be concerned about this episode – but while Night Terrors is far better than his Season 5 outing (or the rather weak S2 episode ‘The Idiot’s Lantern’), it’s a curiously quiet and simple episode that settles for being solid rather than memorable.

Weirdly enough, ‘Night Terrors’ is also a semi-flashback to New Who’s history, with a council estate setting that’s like the grungier, less welcoming flipside to the Powell Estate where this latest incarnation of the show spent so much time.  Considering how integral this kind of location used to be to the make-up of the show (especially in S2, where I occasionally felt like Who had transformed into a tour of Council Estates through the ages), it’s a refreshing jolt to find that for Amy and Rory, this is an unusual sight to find on the other side of the TARDIS doors, and shows exactly how much the show has spread its storytelling wings in the last few years.

Of course, much of this grunginess plays into the story of George’s fears (especially Andrew Tiernan as the bullying landlord), and the direction tries as hard as possible to amp up the menace, especially once the action arrives in the shadowy corridors of the dollhouse. It’s been a while since Who has tried this hard to be deliberately spooky, delivering the kind of safe-yet-unsettling child-friendly scares that the programme specialises in (especially in the Jan Svankmajer-inspired scene where the landlord is transformed into a doll), but if there’s an ultimate flaw in ‘Night Terrors’, it’s that it’s a little too deliberate and literal. The story itself is enjoyably presented but surprisingly simple – in a way, the simplicity is a relief after the convoluted histrionics of ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’, but it ends up feeling like such a purposeful exercise in fear that there’s very little to it.

We’re on very literal ground here – plenty of Moffat’s scares in the past have been based on the idea that the monsters children are scared of are real (whether it’s shadows, the creatures under the bed, or something you glimpse out of the corner of your eye), so it’s not exactly a surprise when it turns out that George’s ‘monsters’ are very real. Who works best with layered storytelling, especially when it’s undercutting expectation, and while the “She can’t have kids!” is a tremendously effective revelation, most of the episode runs along very traditional, well-telegraphed lines. It’s a ghost train (a phrase Moffat’s used to describe this whole season), but one that never really feels in danger of being more than an entertainingly spooky spectacle. The mishappen dolls are creepy – but without a specific reason for them to be stalking the corridors of the dollhouse (other than “Well, dolls are creepy”) they’re a surface threat to drive the story, and not much else. (There’s also the simple fact that this is basically a standalone episode with no mention of the overall arc (aside from the slightly clumsy end shot) – it’s because ‘Night Terrors’ was moved from the episode 3 slot, replaced by ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’, but it does end up feeling weird that the seismic revelations of ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ don’t get any reference at all.)

At the least, the emotional pay-off of the story genuinely works. Once again, we have an episode climax revolving around a father and son bonding where one of them isn’t what they seem, but thankfully this is much more effective than the similar sequence in ‘The Almost People’. It’s a very New Who case of ‘love conquers all’, but one which doesn’t feel like a cheat, partly because the simplicity of the story keeps the focus on the characters. There’s also, of course, the subtext (which I didn’t spot, admittedly, instead first reading it in Adam Roberts’ great review of the episode here and then thinking “Oh, of course…”) that’s possibly the most subtle and effective use of what sometimes gets stupidly referred to as ‘the Gay Agenda’. In short, George is a kid who’s different (but doesn’t quite understand why), and that difference terrifies him to the extent of convincing himself his parents are going to reject him, and it’s only when his father finds out the truth and tells him that he loves him anyway that the crisis in George’s head is resolved. Add to that the fact that he’s hiding everything that scares him in the cupboard/closet (and the presence of a dollhouse, hidden away), and it’s amazing how blatant yet effective the subtext manages to be, hiding in plain sight and not battering the audience over the head with its own significance.

Ultimately, the episode works better as a spooky, dream-like psychodrama that the lead characters just happen to have wandered into, than as the scary thrill-ride it occasionally seems to want to be. There are some nice visual nods to Terry Gilliam’s cult classic kids adventure Time Bandits, while the support performances ride that New Who line between earnest, effective and a little too cartoony. Daniel Mays is mostly excellent with only a couple of weak moments, Jamie Oram does a pretty good job of maintaining a near-constant level of wide-eyed fear throughout the entire episode, and Andrew Tiernan yet again proves he’s the go-to guy for heavy-set and menacing villains.

It’s the leads who really make this episode, however. The kookiness of the Doctor/Amy/Rory team can feel overwhelming in an episode like ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’, and yet here it livens the episode up (with even Amy and Rory feeling slightly alien and out-of-place in this setting), adding colour to the downbeat and grungy world of the council estate. More than anything else, though, Night Terrors once again proves that Matt Smith makes a downright fascinating Doctor, and is arguably at his best when he’s got a relatively mundane setting to play against. There’s something tremendously endearing about the way the Doctor wanders into the lives of George and his father, and Smith controls the leaps from comedy to drama with commendable skill (especially in the “You see these eyes? They’re old eyes” speech). Combined with some great one-liners and enjoyable physical comedy, Smith raises ‘Night Terrors’ up by several degrees, and leaves it as a fun and entertaining episode that’s certainly ahead of this season’s weaker moments, but isn’t likely to linger in the memory.

The Verdict: A solid, modestly enjoyable episode that acts as a good counterpoint to ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’, this isn’t Doctor Who at it’s strongest (and does feature a couple of clunky moments, like the unconvincing ‘dragged into the cupboard’ sequence), but a combination of strong dialogue, charm and an effective emotional through-line leaves ‘Night Terrors’ as a quiet but satisfying example of Who storytelling.

Previous Doctor Who Season 6 Reviews:

S6 E08 – ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’

S6 Eo7 – ‘A Good Man Goes to War’

S6 E05/E06 – ‘The Rebel Flesh’ / ‘The Almost People’

S6 E04 – ‘The Doctor’s Wife’

S6 E03 – ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’

S6 E02 – ‘Day of the Moon’

S6 E01 – ‘The Impossible Astronaut’

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