Writer-actor Mark Gatiss is one of the biggest Whovians around, but his output on his favourite TV show has been questionable. After delivering one of the revival's best early episode ("The Unquiet Dead"), he followed it up with the decidedly weak "Idiot's Lantern" and last year's flop "Victory of The Daleks". Thankfully, "Night Terrors" was a big improvement, although it reminded me so much of previous adventures that its lack of originality prevented it being an all-out success.
"Night Terrors" reminded me a great deal of "The Girl In The Fireplace", minus the romantic subplot and French period garnish. Instead of young woman being terrorized by expressionless automatons, it was a little boy, and the episode even divided the adventure into similar chunks with The Doctor and his two companions. It also started evoking the awful "Fear Her" (where a little girl's drawings came to life), but with George's imagination the culprit instead, with flashes of "The Empty Child". For those reasons, I can't quite bring myself to say "Night Terrors" was anything other than a beautifully creepy and entertaining episode, because there wasn't much fresh about it. The unraveling of the mystery even relied heavily on a Perception Filter; a piece of pseudo-science from Russell T. Davies' era that keeps being recycled to explain any event where people don't see conspicuous things, or have forgotten elements of their own past.
The Orphanage and Poltergeist, and Gatiss' story was well-told and nicely paced. I especially liked how the episode's scarier moments were always followed by a comical Doctor scene to take the edge off.
Ignoring its similarities to previous tales, the only thing that outright disappointed me was the dull and soppy resolution to everything. And, naturally, the show always struggles with the fact you never feel much jeopardy for anyone but the most incidental of characters (the landlady, the neighbour), but even they were found alive and well by the denouement. It would be nice if, for once, there was some real losses on Doctor Who, as otherwise there's a feeling that it's all just a lark.
Overall, "Night Terrors" isn't going to be anyone's favourite episode ever, but it was a classy and simple installment that Series 6 desperately needed. Moffat's own mytharc has really dominated these nine episodes we've had, so it's nice to have a breather from talk of River Song, The Silence and Madam Kovarian. With this episode's focus on family and council estate setting, it felt very much like something more suited to RTD's era, imbued with the production values of Moffat's era. A good middle ground, then—but it's a pity Gatiss' story was just an effective example of a story we've seen done before.
- That had to be the cleanest council block I've ever seen. It was the Balamory of council blocks. But then again, Doctor Who's something of a UK fantasyland. George was never going to be living in the block from Misfits, was he.
- Fun callback to Jammie Dodgers, which are now definitely The Eleventh Doctor's version of the Fourth's love of Jelly Babies. Gatiss started this biscuit idiosyncrasy with "Victory Of The Daleks", remember.
- The working title for this episode was "What Are Little Boys Made Of?" which was probably changed because it immediately makes you think something must be "wrong" with George (the only little boy in the story).