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11 September 2015 @ 09:20 pm
NuWho Rewatch: Night Terrors  
When I reviewed The Celestial Toymaker as part of the Randomizer I commented that Doctor Who hadn't really attempted anything like it since the 1960s. [personal profile] londonkds mentioned Night Terrors as a modern equivalent. They have many similarities. Night Terrors is a tale of a child's fears come to life and so prominently features sinister toys, particularly a doll's house and the dolls contained therein.

However, stylistically, I would say the episodes are very different. The Celestial Toymaker is sailing much closer to the boundary were pretend science becomes magic, it also waters down the menace of its toys by having them squabble between themselves, and display other childlike emotions. As I said at the time, it feels very uncertain of its audience and seems to be aiming at a more exclusively child demographic than Doctor Who now does where, if nothing else, it knows it is pitched squarely at a family audience and is genuinely watched by all ages. Night Terrors is mostly aiming to be family-friendly horror, The Celestial Toymaker is trying to be a fun and whimsical kids' show (I think). It is an interesting comparison nonetheless, if only to see how different ages of Who can present very similar concepts very differently.

The other thing that really struck me on watching Night Terrors is how the River plotline has almost totally vanished. In fact, the arc threads which were fore-grounded in the first half of this season, are more or less dropped for the next three (and arguably four) episodes only to reappear in the season finale. In a way, the second half of this season and the first half of the next form their own arc, tracing how the Ponds redefine the way their lives interact with the Doctor as they grow older and mature. It's a character focused, as opposed to puzzle focused, arc of a kind that Moffat attempts again in season 12 and, given my irritation with the River Song plotline, I would say works much better than his puzzle ones. Of course its also much closer to the kind of development people praised Davies' work for, though its hard to know if Moffat was/is deliberately attempting to redefine his style into a form perceived as being more popular. If that is the case, then it is also interesting that Night Terrors is a return to the more working-class environment of Rose and her mother, specifically a tower block with a background of the every day concerns of its residents.

NLSS child wanted to know why, in the doll's house, the touch of the dolls turned people into a doll themselves. I have nothing. It was a creepy effect but didn't seem to tie into the child's worries at all.

I liked this better on second viewing. Partly, I suspect, because this time around the break from the River Song plotline came as something of a relief, rather than an irritation. It's a nice self-contained story, with a clear focus on its themes (if a little heavy-handed in places), a clever central concept, and some creepy effects. It's not a classic and I'm not sure quite why it fails to hit that mark beyond that it somehow lacks the exhilaration of the best of Doctor Who, but it's mostly getting what it wants to do right.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/169699.html.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on September 12th, 2015 10:21 pm (UTC)
IIRC, this was originally supposed to be in the first half of the season (hence the comment at the end about being "In the flesh" or somesuch) and got pushed back as it was thought to be too similar to something else (I think The Curse of the Black Spot). I think even Steven Moffat admits this may have been a mistake.

I've also wondered if Moffat has pushed the programme back towards Davies' style, not so much here, but in last year's season, with more focus on character conflict with the regulars (although this may just have been ringing the changes on the Ponds) and a season finale that seemed more like a Davies season finale than those we got in the Matt Smith era (present day, old monster, UNIT, someone saying "Mankind is at war!", tears before bedtime).
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on September 13th, 2015 02:30 pm (UTC)
Hmm... even if this were elsewhere, you still have The Girl who Waited and The God Complex neither of which really deal with the River question and both of which feel more like they are a part of the first half of the next season.

Elsewhere I've seen it suggested that Moffat it attempting to define his Doctor's by a "style" - so 11 is all fairy stories (an assertion I remain sort of dubious about). I'm not sure what 12's style is supposed to be, though I think there is a melancholic cast to several of his stories which isn't as foregrounded in 11's run.