Monday, July 28, 2014

Build High For Happiness (Night Terrors)

Council estates are nothing to be scared of, unless you are frightened of inequality. 
- Lynsey Hanley, Estates: An Intimate History

Oh boy, creepy children/dolls! I've never seen those before!
It’s September 3rd, 2011. Olly Murs is at number one with “Heart Skips a Beat,” with Calvin Harris, Maroon 5, and Emeli Slade also charting. Unsurprisingly, not a lot of news since “The Gathering.” Actually, literally the only thing I can find is that a plane belonging to the Chilean Air Force crashed, killing all twenty-one on board. And, of course, Night Terrors aired.

I have in the past come out on record as saying Night Terrors is my least favorite story of the new series. This sets up a somewhat awkward situation, in that the expectation becomes that I am now going to explain why it is my least favorite story of the new series, which I can do, but the answer is pretty underwhelming: because I enjoy watching it less than all the others. I know. Which is to say, if you’re looking for some definitive argument about why this is the absolute worst episode and Victory of the Daleks or The Sontaran Stratagem or 42 or Fear Her are superior, sorry. It’s just that if you told me I had to watch one of those six, I wouldn’t pick Night Terrors.

Nevertheless, I do think the episode has significant problems that are worth talking about. Although even there, I have to admit that some of the problems it has are not entirely it’s fault. First and foremost, it was painfully poorly served by the last minute decision to switch it with Curse of the Black Spot (a decision taken so late that Night Terrors is featured prominently in the post-Christmas Carol trailer). This proved problematic for two reasons, one of which should have been apparent at the time, the other one of which was wholly impossible to predict and, nevertheless, ultimately the larger problem with the story.

The foreseeable issue was largely structural. This is not what you would call a terribly complex story. It wears its intentions on its sleeve, or, at least, in its title. It’s supposed to be the scary one - the definitive take on the haunted house story. That’s its entire brief: be the extremely scary one. This was, ostensibly, why it was moved: because putting it in the first half of the season meant that essentially the entire first section of the season was scary, dark, and indoors, and by swapping it with Curse of the Black Spot they added a story that was scary, dark, and outdoors instead. But what this ended up doing was moving this story away from the position it would have originally had, where it would have, in effect, served as the definitive statement on how to do straightforward Doctor Who horror before a bunch of other stories started to change things around a bit. Even there it would have suffered coming after The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon, which already changed the “scary Doctor Who” paradigm dramatically, but it would have been improved. Instead it feels shabby, overly simplistic, and like the series has decided that as long as it makes some mundane object creepy it doesn’t actually have to try to do anything else. In September of 2011, at least, this just isn’t very good.

And so this ends up being, in effect, the last gasp of a particular style of Doctor Who. It’s in effect the last Davies-era story. Its central twist of resolving a fantastic plot with the application of human emotion - which, when people want to slam Davies’s work, is what they call a “power of love” ending - was the central structural innovation of the Davies era. Although Davies, to be fair, was usually less obvious about it - it was actually Gatiss himself who originated the direct “emotion vs aliens” resolution in The Unquiet Dead. Still, the basic formula is still very Davies - parallel a story about people and emotions with a story about aliens, and then resolve the emotional/character storyline, allowing the parallelism to then resolve the alien story with or without a whole lot of exposition as to the precise mechanics of how that works. It is, in many ways, one of the primary tricks of the Davies era, along with a savvy embrace of the language of television.

It’s not that either of these are bad ideas that the Moffat era is going to do away with - we’ve still got an unabashed “power of love” ending in The Snowmen, for instance, and many of the stylistic techniques that defined Davies ultra-televisual take on Doctor Who are going to survive as the Moffat era really starts to develop its filmic take. But this is, in many ways, the last story to run through this approach in the classic, unadulterated style. It’s fitting, in many ways, that it airs the same week as Davies’s last scripting credit on a Doctor Who-related story, in that it means that there’s really one week of history where we finally wrap the approach up. But equally, Night Terrors is done no favors by its proximity to the three stories following this, two of which serve as the debut for the most important director to hit Doctor Who since at least Euros Lyn, if not since Graham Harper.

Put earlier in the season, where it was originally intended, this could have served perfectly adequately as one last emphatic statement of a particular style the show could do - something akin to The Seeds of Doom or Image of the Fendahl that is, while by no means an absolute classic of its approach, at least a competent and enjoyable last hurrah. And in many ways, it still is like both of those, neither of which I was massively kind to, because there’s a very fine line between enjoyable last hurrah and slightly awkward throwback. All the same, I suspect that for this story, at least, that line is somewhere in the summer of 2011.

Another thing that was in the summer of 2011, and that is in many ways more problematic for the story, albeit considerably less predictable, were a bunch of riots. It is here necessary to engage in some frantic disclaiming, not least because, this only having happened about three years ago, there’s not even a nice veneer of history to cover me. So, up front, there are some significant barriers to any sort of sympathy for the rioters. Certainly the riots were tremendously self-defeating. There is no reasonable way to claim that they were not in part, indeed, in a substantial part motivated by little more than outright anger and destructiveness. Many, indeed the overwhelming majority of people directly harmed by the riots were by any sensible standard innocent victims. And no sensible theory of political activism can really conclude that indiscriminate smashing of stuff is going to get you much of anywhere.

All of which said, in practice there is something grimly inevitable about riots - a toxic mixture of poverty, degradation, and summer heat that periodically and predictably combusts. 58% of those arrested in connection with the riots came from the poorest 20% of areas of England. This fact speaks volumes about the causes of the riots. And perhaps more to the point, it is not necessarily reasonable to expect people’s howl of outrage at the apparent and hopeless dead end that is their life to be orderly and productive. It cannot be ignored that the people who set the standards for what reasonable and appropriate protest consists of are, inevitably, the exact fuckers who are being protested against. It would be folly to expect or assume that these standards are in any way constructed to favor the actual efficacy of the protests, or, indeed, to provide for the well-being of the protesters in any way, shape, or form. The evolution of a system in which the poorest and most deprived portion of the population has no useful outlet for their anger such that it is ultimately channeled into self-defeating riots that make it easier to sell the ancient lie that there is such a thing as the devil’s poor. All of which is to say that the viewpoint that the riots were an absolutely awful thing is in no way incompatible with complete and total sympathy for the people involved in them.

But let us instead imagine the riots as an aesthetic event, shall we? A government with deep ideological commitments to slashing social services to the poor. Outbreaks of violence, mainly among the young, in the areas most affected. A governmental response that amounts to accusing the young of being irredeemable hooligans with an entitlement problem. And, finally, arrests of the rioters and draconian sentences including, famously, a six month jail sentence for someone who stole £3.50 worth of bottled water. Treated as a set of iconography, this resembles nothing so much as a Robert Holmes story. Indeed, it's basically the plot of The Sunmakers, which is, all things considered, ironic. 

But this is, I would submit, an important truth about the riots to recognize. However self-defeating and damaging they may have been, in the end, in a conflict between impoverished kids who riot and a law and order system that puts them in jail for stealing £3.50 of water, there is, historically, only one side that Doctor Who would ever come down on. There’s just no way around this. Whatever one’s views on the ethics of riots, whatever one’s views on the efficacy of violence as a political (and I use that word in its absolute broadest possible sense) tool, this is simply one of the things that Doctor Who exists for. Doctor Who is a text that valorizes the pressure exerted on the mainstream by the marginal and disenfranchised. It has always been the mainstream’s love letter to dissent, anger, radicalism, and strangeness - to what we might call the Other, if we want a catch-all term. This is not always straightforward, not least because of the previously mentioned problem whereby entrenched power is never going to define “acceptable protest” in any way other than in its own favor, but it’s on the whole a pretty decent arrangement. Indeed, I’d suggest, and largely have been for several years now, that there is a longstanding element of British culture that treats the Other as an essential part of the social order - one that frequently manifests in the peculiarly British image of the portal to faerie, an image that, in the end, defines what Doctor Who is. And a basic part of that, a fundamental, bedrock level "this is unambiguously what Doctor Who is for" sort of thing is that if there's a debate in society about whether to jail people for six months for stealing three pounds fifty of bottled water, Doctor Who is against it.

And look, this honest to God isn’t the fault of Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, Richard Clark, or anyone else involved in making this episode, which was written, shot, and intended to be transmitted before any of this happens. Really, if anything I feel nothing but sympathy for all of them. Because what this story said on transmission and what it said when it was being filmed were profoundly different things. But, if I may rework a sentence from earlier in the essay, the viewpoint that Night Terrors is an absolutely awful thing is in no way incompatible with complete and total sympathy for the people involved in it.

Because this is a disastrous own goal. It’s a story set on the exact sort of crumbling council estate that characterizes the areas out of which the riots sprung. It’s a story about scared children with no apparent hope in a world that is full of utterly terrifying things. Indeed, in the contrast between the grotty estate and the opulent Victorian mansion that represents all of fears there’s a fundamental sense of class conflict that, on most days, would be wonderful. Not least because the basic decision to set this in a council estate is a last flourish of a Russell T Davies trope that’s, on the whole, not nearly visible enough in Moffat’s Doctor Who, which is the active and conscious grounding of the story in the world of the working class. But look, Damaged Goods this ain't. (Though for what it's worth, I think the landlord and Gatiss's handling of him, and that scene of the Doctor distracting George while the landlord threatens his father for being behind on the bills, is absolutely perfect. I think there's an argument to be made that it's the single best sequence in Season Six.) 

Except that this went out at the same time that David Cameron was saying things like this about the riots: "Perhaps they come from one of the neighbourhoods where it’s standard for children to have a mum and not a dad… where it’s normal for young men to grow up without a male role model, looking to the streets for their father figures, filled up with rage and anger. So if we want to have any hope of mending our broken society, family and parenting is where we’ve got to start." Which is, let's be clear, a dogwhistle for the Daily Mail crowd, and basically just UKIP with the mean bits taken out.

And this is a story in which all of George’s problems are shown to be solved by repairing his relationship with his father, and where the Doctor calmly strolls away after that’s done as though everything else in his life is solved. The story opens with Amy and Rory sneering at the location, saying they could have taken a bus here, and with the Doctor claiming that there’s something important here in the form of a child’s fear. But that is apparently all that’s important, and once it’s resolved any issues like systemic poverty are not only to be left alone, they’re to be ignored. Once George and his father get along, the council estate is just a place to be avoided again. 

And yes, there’s a defense to be made here, which is the massive and blatant metaphor for coming out of the closet that is George and his cupboard, and yes, from that perspective it is a sweet and wonderful story, except that we’re talking about David Cameron here, who made being pro-gay marriage into exhibit A in his “we’re not the mean old Tories of old” media campaign. So being a sweet and touching coming out of the closet story is, in the end, a hollow defense, because it still leaves this story as something that, on transmission, felt like nothing so much as Tory propaganda designed to minimize the idea that poverty is actually a major concern for the population that had just erupted in riots. “We can get away with ignoring poverty because we’re as a party marginally less homophobic than we used to be” is more or less the Tory party platform.

And that’s, at the end of the day, why I hate this story. Because I remember sitting there on September 3rd, 2011, watching the Doctor walk away from that council estate without a care in the world. I remember how angry and frustrating the world was at the end of that summer. I remember how it felt to see no viable path forward, to feel like I had worked for years and gone in to deep debt to get a useless degree, and that I was going to be dependent on the charity of my family forever, and how ashamed and angry and scared and hopeless I felt, every day. I remember feeling, constantly, like there was just this anguished, frustrated rage stuck right at the top of my chest, and that the only thing that held it back was the awful realization that there was nothing specific to be angry at, that the world was just a big and broken thing that sometimes screwed people over, and that I had found myself among the screwed. 

And I knew then, and know now, that my life, which was, even if only through the help of others, a comfortable and safe middle class existence, was on the whole not a bad lot. That as the screwed went, I was damned lucky. That I’d only occasionally had to gaze over the precipice of the vast existential nightmare that is contemporary poverty, and that the occasional tastes of it I’d had, terrifying as they were, were just that: tastes. I’ll not for a moment pretend that I can understand the situation of many of those involved in the riots except by thinking about the raw, frantic terror of honestly having no idea how you’re going to keep your electricity from getting shut off tomorrow and multiplying it by a factor of inconceivable. 

But I knew, watching the Doctor walk off, that what I was watching was a complete and utterly bullshit response to the world that he was walking away from. And I remember the surge of disgust at the preceding forty-five minutes of my life that I felt when the credits came. On September 3rd, 2011, that was what this episode was. It turned my stomach, the same way that I think The Talons of Weng-Chiang would have in 1977, or The Monster of Peladon in 1974, or The Dominators in 1968, or The Celestial Toymaker in 1966 had I watched any of those on transmission. And now it turns my stomach the same way any of those do. Sometimes the confluence of history and narrative within Doctor Who is brilliant. This time, even if only by a stroke of bad luck, it was absolutely revolting.

111 comments:

  1. There's another element of the story that is unfortunate in hindsight. Early on we overhear a television continuity announcement about a progam presented by Rolf Harris.
    There are stories about monsters and childhood fears in which that could fit, but given the way Night Terrors handles things it isn't really one of them.

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    1. As a parenthetical, the Harris case has been a nasty shock to my childhood. Not, I hasten to add, to the same degree as the children and young people he directly affected.

      There's an offhand remark in one L. Miles books in which Faction Paradox inflict mass low-level damage to the psyches of British kids by vandalising the Blue Peter garden. That was funny. But actually, there's a lot of genuine damage done by celebrities who took the power they had and grossly misused it.

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    2. No-one I knew gave a shit about the Blue Peter garden let alone suffered low level psychic damage from its desecration.

      On the other hand Harris, Savile et al inflicted systematic damage on kids' good taste for decades. I'm not treating their serious crimes lightly but isn't the extraordinary thing here the fact that anyone was surprised by the slimy slugs revealed when that particular rock was lifted up? They were there all along basking in the sunshine of tasteless seventies British TV and fully endorsed by Mary Whitehouse and the establishment. Thank God for the 'tea -time brutality' of Doctor Who, the Saturday evening schedule's antithesis of child abuse.

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    3. With hindsight, Savile's whole public persona was, 'I am a predatory monster hiding in plain sight'. I was too young to associate Rolf Harris with anything other than Rolf's Cartoon Time. Which I think introduced me to the idea that a) drawing to animation-level quality wasn't something magical - it was something people did; and b) lots of Looney Tunes cartoons (teatime brutality for tots, absolutely). So up until a year ago my associations with the phrase 'can you tell what it is yet?' would have been entirely positive.

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    4. Harris, Savile et al inflicted systematic damage on kids' good taste for decades. I'm not treating their serious crimes lightly but isn't the extraordinary thing here the fact that anyone was surprised by the slimy slugs revealed when that particular rock was lifted up? They were there all along basking in the sunshine of tasteless seventies British TV

      I don't know if I'm misinterpreting what you're saying, but one thing that has really troubled me lately is this "well, what do you expect? He was always a bit weird" attitude. Plenty of eccentrics would never dream of doing the things these people did, and plenty of abusers would strike no one as particularly eccentric. That there appears to be a correlation here probably says more about the general tonal approach of pre-nineties children's television, and I don't see Doctor Who as an big exception to that. Indeed, I remember Tat Wood once arguing that Top of the Pops and Doctor Who were essentially the same show.

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    5. @peeeeeeet
      No, I very carefully did not suggest that. I am certainly aware that no-one should be judged on appearance alone. It wasn't their eccentricity that was the issue but their unsavoury and questionable attitudes. I'm thinking particularly of Savile here. Of course it's easy to be wise after the event but just take a look at some of the clips from TotP and Jim'll Fix It to see the innaproprate innuendos and violation of personal space he perpetrated on live TV. Stuart Hall's behaviour presenting It's A Knockout (a Saturday evening inter-town silly outdoor games show often involving kids getting soaking wet) was similarly innapropriately touchy feely. He often managed to surround himself with excitable girl contestants or supporters for his links. All this right under our very noses on live TV!
      I'm old enough to remember Rolf Harris, pre Cartoon Time, had his own Saturday evening show (right after Doctor Who) his dance troupe (perhaps not so ironically called The Young Generation!) Would often be clustered closely around him as he sang and told jokes with the mini skirted girl dancers often singled out for his attention. All good clean innocent Saturday night TV fun.
      My point was that Mary Whitehouse and her 'Clean-Up-TV brigade (As Phil has detailed in a previous, post) singled out, not these shows, but our own Doctor Who as being dangerous to our kids.

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    6. You're right but Its a Knockout went out on a Friday night.

      ...and in retrospect it's We Are The Champions that is really disturbing.

      Wednesday teatime, btw.

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    7. Did it? I was probably thinking of Jeux Sans Frontieres the inter- euro version of the show where Hall's commentary had the added frisson of racial stereotyping too. (The Germans always took it very seriously, The Brits were always plucky losers, the French and Italians always cheated, The Belgians were always boring etc.)

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    8. Although, that was Friday night too wasn't it? My memory isn't what it was. I should probably regenerate.

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  2. It's probably worth pointing out that, since the dad in this story has to pay rent to a landlord, he's not actually living in a council house, per se. Rather, it seems the landlord has taken advantage of 'Right to Buy', introduced by Thatcher to thin out the housing stock/create aspiration (delete as applicable) and is now renting out former council homes at (absurdly extortionate) market rates.

    This leads to the bizarre situation of, say, two families living in identical flats on an estate but one lot are paying fair, council rents and the other lot are being gouged by a private landlord.

    Thus, if we're being generous to Gatiss et al we could see the landlord character as a bit of implied criticism of Thatcher's sell-off and subsequent housing crisis.

    I must say, though, I much preferred Davies' take on council estate life - particularly in Aliens of London/WW3 where he shows that life on an estate isn't always grim and Kidulthood-y. Certainly resonated more with my experience.

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    1. I second this, in that if there is a private landlord then it is not, in any technical sense, council housing. I don't recall anything explicit about this being a consquence of Thatcherite house sales, although since I recall very little about this episode apart from a sense of "meh" I am prepared to be corrected.

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    2. It's not mentioned in the episode, but it's implied purely by virtue of the fact that he pays a private landlord but clearly lives on a council estate.

      Like I said, if we're being generous - it's entirely possible that the writers are under the illusion that that is how rent is paid, or (more likely) that no one had really thought it through - the bad landlord is something of a stock character.

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    3. I was living in London when this aired and I remember thinking the figure the landlord quoted for rent was quite comically low.

      I thought this episode looked amazing - but that was part of the problem. It was one of the most heavily stylised episodes the show'd made - which underscored the issue it seemed the show had in exploring contemporary working class life. Course Ledworth gets to look like a normal village, but they don't know how to shoot somewhere the poor live without making it look like a film set.

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  3. Spot on. It was uncomfortable viewing. One aspect worth considering though was the effect on social perception this might have had on those like myself and my friends, watching British TV that weekend from inside or near the riot zones. Vile class stereotyping on everyone's favourite tea-time escapism show followed by biased and innacurate reporting of the real events on most TV news reports (roving camera crews in search of the street theatre spectacle arguably inflaming certain elements who played up to the cameras). I agree that it is difficult to condone the idiocy of looters targeting sports goods, TVs and Playstations, using the legitimate manifestation of social unrest as cover for mugging foreign students and burning down local businesses. It's also notable that a small pecentage of those eventually convicted seemed to be middle class 'riot tourists' from areas adjacent to the deprived estates.

    On the subject of the 'othering/outing' aspect of Night Terrors I felt the metaphor got a little muddled in the telling. The 'monstered familiar' trope was hampered by the already inherent unfamiliarity of the dolls. (Whose design I actually liked btw) Why would a little boy living on a contemporary estate have a Victorian dolls house in his cupboard in the first place? But the place where the writer really lost the plot was in the reveal that the child was in fact an alien. This effectively undermined the premise, turning a story which seemed to be metaphorically riffing on themes of accepting difference from within and conquering fear of the misunderstood into a story about how even aliens have feelings and we should love them because fatherhood.
    In other words, the story seems to be saying, LGBT/other cannot possibly come from within society but must be an 'alien' incursion from outside which 'we' have to learn to accept. Which is just unhelpful nonsense.

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    1. If the story really identifies LGBT issues with alien incursions, we are in "death of the author" territory surely, considering the author.

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    2. Gay? Really? I'd have thought he was too young to make that point. I read it as a ham-fisted Asperger's metaphor.

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  4. I'd never seen any residential building that looks like this, and in the first few minutes of the episode, I thought we were in some dystopian future slum, until Amy made the "could've come here on the bus" remark.

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    1. Same, though I put that down to Watching While American on my part.

      My favorite bit is when Rory and Amy get out of the elevator and Rory assumes they must be dead. I honestly don't remember a whole lot else from the episode, though I assume this must be where the at times tiresome nursery rhyme riff originated.

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    2. @Alex Antonijevic
      I'd never seen any residential building that looks like this
      Really? You've lived a sheltered life. I thought we might be in for some Ken Loach style social realism till I saw the writer credit. Anyway the exteriors were a location shoot weren't they?

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    3. @Alex Antonijevic Thank you! I watched this before the Rose Tyler episodes, so I thought, 'hhm this looks strange' Glad to see I wasn't the only one.

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    4. It looked real to me, but then I used to live near where it was filmed and there are a few places in Bristol with similar looks.

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  5. "Doctor Who [...] has always been the mainstream’s love letter to dissent, anger, radicalism, and strangeness - to what we might call the Other, if we want a catch-all term."

    That quote reminds me: at some point in "The Last War in Albion", I think you'll have to cover "Penda's Fen". It is obviously such an ur-text to Grant Morrison that he quotes it twice in his Doom Patrol run, the first time without any apparent sense that American readers might not recognize the quotation. (A good place-time to cover it would be in the vicinity that first quoting, the "Nothing pure" speech delivered by Rebis to the Chief when he interviews hir after the fusion.) If I'd thought of it at the time of the Eruditorum kickstarter, I might very well have requested that as my commissioned essay instead of the Y2K thing. (Assuming the relevant commissioned-essay slot hadn't already gone -- Wikipedia it aired on March 21, 1973, two days before the start of "The Monster of Peladon", so would've had to go in Volume Four.)

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  6. The problem is the scallies who were doing most of the rioting ended up ruining it for everyone. I think a lot of people in this country could get behind the idea of taking the riots to Westminister and burning out the houses of Parliament. I have formerly conservative friends who now say they think Cameron is evil and should hang for what he's doing to the ordinary people......

    But once these looters took over and the image of rioters became these despicable thieves and mindless thugs screwing ordinary working people over to take what they want (and these are the kind of teenage scally gangs who tend to attack and abuse society's marginalised so I don't think these are youths to champion or the voice of the oppressed).... I think no-one wanted to be associated for a moment with what they were doing, which was just sickening and shameful.

    I know I was rooting for the police in this to beat them down, especially when I heard news reports of the youths bricking police dogs which was just fucking evil!

    Three years on and I'm now lamenting the fact that we were just waiting for the riots to end and didn't join in to take the fight to Westminister to drive Cameron and his Tory scum out.

    Because I see now we never would have gotten a better chance than then, and probably never will again.

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  7. "All of which is to say that the viewpoint that the riots were an absolutely awful thing is in no way incompatible with complete and total sympathy for the people involved in them"

    Well, perhaps not complete and total sympathy for all the people involved in them; I remember seeing footage of rioters pretending to help an injured person while secretly ransacking his belongings because he was too dazed to realise or stop them. Say what you will about discordant rage being the only outlet for many of these people, at least the people smashing the windows of the local Maplins and doing away with a widescreen TV were being honest about things. And like you say, the fact that the rioters might have had genuine grievances and no other outlet for their anger doesn't change the fact that most of the people harmed in the riots were completely innocent.

    Sympathy for the rioters in a broad, general or theoretical sense? Absolutely. Anger at the kind of legal system that would imprison someone for stealing water? Absolutely. But sympathy for the kind of bastards who'd rob an injured innocent while pretending to help him? Nah, fuck those guys. Not everyone who was imprisoned after the 2011 riots was Jean Valjean.

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    1. I assume Phil was referring to both parts of the Sontaran story.

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  9. The most blatant use of the "power of love" ending is still coming, in my view: "Closing Time." The lines about "I blew them up with love" make this explicit.

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    1. Yes, I was surprised to read Phil saying that. Power of Love comes up constantly in the Moffat era (there's also Victory of the Daleks, for another).

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    2. That's because he excuses the story for being, in his view, the best story to use the Cybermen... which utterly baffles me, because I think it completely wastes them. :-/

      He's said it before.

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    3. It gives the Cybermen a resolution that matches their true threat. They're rubbish. Pure rubbish. There are four good Cybermen stories, and when One of them is an Audio, that's not saying much for them as monsters.

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    4. For me, the worst "power of love" story of the Moffat era was Rings of Akhaten. First, Cindy Lou Hoo and all the Hoos down in Hooville try to take out the monster with the power of song. That doesn't work, so the Doctor tries to shout it to death, but that doesn't work either. Luckily, Clara shows up with her magic Love Leaf that kills the monster with all the infinite number of happy days Clara's mom would have had if she hadn't died so tragically young. It actually made me long for the days when Colin Baker would stride in and start shouting and insulting everyone.

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    5. Okay, as a fan of Closing Time and Rings, i don't mind the Power of Love angle.

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    6. I don't mind the Power of Love when the episode's clearly putting the pieces in place for it. Rings of Akhaten does so; so, for all its flaws, does Night Terrors. Victory of the Daleks and Last of the Time Lords, on the other hand, do not. You can argue whether or not Closing Time does so, but it gets away with it using charm and bare-faced cheek.

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    7. Nope - I'm with Alan. Akaten is rubbish.

      I just can't buy that Clara is the first person to have presented to the Giant Sun Vampire with this story or something similar. She's not the only person to have lost a mum. Or is it that her heart is more pure than everyone else's? Or she is in some way Special?

      Whatever it is, it just doesn't work. It's emotional spectacle and not even very well done, at that.

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    8. Rings has retroactively gotten better in my estimation, both because Name of the Doctor provides a satisfying explanation for why that leaf would have been so much more potent than anything else fed to Grandfather, and because the episode's drawbacks have faded in my memory while the excellent speech the Doctor gives still stands out as being fantastic. I even have the BBC Proms performance on shuffle.

      When we get to 7b, I'll have some more things to say about that episode, namely that it starts to heavily foreshadow that the Doctor is going to lose his screwdriver, foreshadowing picked up in the next couple episodes, but that the obvious plot point never goes anywhere. It's very strange. Actually, that's probably all I really have to say about the subject... but I'll repeat myself when the episode comes up anyways, no doubt.

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    9. For me, Akhaten is a lovely story with a rubbish big bad and a rubbish resolution. It balances out to mediocre overall, but no ten minutes looked at in isolation are mediocre!

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    10. I'm not actually saying that I mind "power of love" endings, per se. Just that it's hard to see this story as the last hurrah when there are clearly others coming.

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    11. It works because Clara doesn't offer it memory, but possibility. And one of those is finite and the other is not. I don't see how you think it's got anything to do with the power of emotions.

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  10. Due to the fact I watched much of this season several weeks later, I avoided the connotations with the Riots. To me, this episode will forever be the sweet coming out story. I can see where your hatred of it comes from, but it's just never going to have the same gut reaction for me. We need more narratives of that sort in the world. But I'm not going to scrap about it in the comments. I just want it on record (so to speak) that this story actually has a warm place in some people's hearts.

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    1. I agree, I never made the connection with the riots either, and I rather like this story. It isn't brilliant, but I think it is quite sweet. And it looks amazing.

      But this is an excellent post that has explained Dr Sandifer's view of the story really well. There is one thing, though. While it's true that having the Doctor fix the little boy's relationship with his dad but doing nothing about the family's economic situation leaves them still in poverty, consider the reverse. If the Doctor had fixed the family's systemic poverty but not the child-father relationship, would the child have been any happier? Being better off but rejected by your parents isn't a recipe for a happy life.

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    2. I'm not sure I like the idea that the Doctor saving the day should be quite so either-or. (Also, thanks to all of you for sticking up for the story.)

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    3. Yes, I agree that ideally the Doctor would fix everything, but doesn't that edge us closer to the territory of the Superman Problem that someone referred to elsewhere in the comments? It's easy for the Doctor to cause rebellions on off-world societies, but harder to do that in the messier reality of earth-bound societies.

      Also I wonder whether the BBC had half an eye on the Murdoch press / Tory axis of evil. They are probably keen to avoid another Monocled Mutineer-style "Lefty BBC" furore, especially with everything else going on.

      If Gatiss / Moffat had thought to have the Doctor at least acknowledge the dire economic straits the residents of the estate faced, perhaps that would have lessened the reaction you had to it? The story does seem to have aired at a particularly inopportune moment for you, which you've explained very eloquently above, so maybe a small tweak was all that was needed.

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    4. Same - although the connection you make to the riots is clearly troubling, for me the "coming out of the closet" aspect presented itself much more forcefully.

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  11. I didn't have the class-struggle problems with this episode -- because really, nearly all world-saving fictional heroes face the Superman Problem (has that been discussed on THIS blog? Can't find it, if so): they can fix systemic injustice and inequality only in oversimplified fictional societies. When operating in what is supposed to be the real world, there are too many people that would need help, and so superheroes usually must limit themselves to fighting monsters or arch-criminals and foiling unusually fiendish plots.

    Or, put another way, what else could the Doctor have done to help Alex and Claire and George without playing Lonely God with 21st-century British history? Bought them a lottery ticket, I suppose.

    What did bother me about this episode was more prosaic: how much of a re-tread of "Fear Her" it was in many ways (quasi-orphaned alien, people disappearing, &c.), along with a bit of "Okay, Moffat, we get it: dolls sure can be creepy."

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    1. "along with a bit of "Okay, Moffat, we get it: dolls sure can be creepy." "

      Actually, that was all Gatiss. For some reason, he thought the peg dolls which applied in particular to his childhood somehow had a universiality of creepiness to all childhoods. Seems to be a habit with him; mistaking something particular to him as having universal appeal...

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    2. "What did bother me about this episode was more prosaic: how much of a re-tread of "Fear Her" it was in many ways"

      And they couldn't even be bothered to get a much better child actor this time. Even Matt Smith wasn't able to get much out of the kid, which is saying something!

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    3. I'd blame the director for that, since the kid's quite charming in the Confidential for the episode.

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    4. I found the kid's fear to be very convincing, to the point where I was relieved to watch the Confidential and see that he was actually fine.

      And yeah, the peg dolls. I did find them creepy (and my nephew was unable to rewatch the episode for years), but that was also the moment where I thought "This isn't a real kid's bedroom, it's a horror movie kid's bedroom".

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    5. There is something inherently creepy about fractured Victoriana. A one-eyed porcelain doll on a squesky rocking chair, seemingly moving of it's own volition, in a dusty attic is enough to send a cold shiver down the spine. For me, the damaged peg-dolls are in the same ballpark of unnervingness.

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  12. But the place where the writer really lost the plot was in the reveal that the child was in fact an alien. This effectively undermined the premise, turning a story which seemed to be metaphorically riffing on themes of accepting difference from within and conquering fear of the misunderstood into a story about how even aliens have feelings and we should love them because fatherhood.

    For me, now, that's actually the most fascinating and moving part of the story. I wasn't a parent when I first watched it, so it didn't strike me nearly as much then. But now, as a parent, the idea that my child really isn't my child at all and is in fact an alien is a shocking concept. To me, that reversal makes me identify far more with the father than with the child. I understand the panic of knowing your child is scared and has problems and not being able to do anything about them. And I also understand the father's response - relief that we've discovered the problem and acceptance of the child even despite the weirdness. Even if the resolution didn't make a lot of logical sense, it has some serious emotional resonance for me now.

    As for the riots, I either wasn't paying enough attention to the British news to make that connection or watched it after they had passed. This episode obviously didn't have a huge impact on me upon its first viewing - it's only in hindsight that I've gotten much out of it.

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    1. the idea that my child really isn't my child at all and is in fact an alien is a shocking concept.
      But, with respect, isn't one you're ever likely to encounter. The idea that your child may be 'different' on the other hand is. It's this story's facile equation of 'different' with 'alien' that I find problematic.

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    2. True, but you could read it as a metaphor for 'being somebody else's' I suppose. The concept, here told by using the alien thing, that your child is not actually your child, and then reaching the decision that you love them anyway and can work with it.

      I have not had this experience myself (there is no doubt that my Son is mine, he looks too much like me to question it), but I do know someone who raised another child as their own and didn't know immediately that this was the case.

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    3. It was the "somebody else's" aspect, not the "different" aspect that I found compelling. I take for granted that I would love my child even if he was very different than I expected him to be. But I would have never thought about the "somebody else's" aspect and how difficult it would be to adjust expectations otherwise.

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    4. There are two reasons why I like the "alien" reveal. On the literal hand, it makes a connection to what Rory and Amy are dealing with regarding the knowledge that River is part Time Lord, which brings this episode into the season's thematic fold.

      More importantly, however, as a metaphor for coming out, "alien" has the advantage of non-specificity; we can code it for any number of coming-out scenarios. This is precisely the advantage of Mythology -- referents not extant in the real world are inherently more polysemous. It would be the same if this were a faery-story: George as a changeling from the Other Side would function just the same.

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    5. The most succesful changeling/alien story is probably John Wyndhams The Midwich Cuckoos. Look, I'm not as down on this episode as a lot of people (including Phil). I actually rather liked it right up until the alien child reveal. See if he had been a changeling (alien or faery) or just had mutant powers there'd have been a decent payoff to the previous 40 minutes but the 'actually you never really had a child this is an alien space baby and now you have to learn to love it' comes out of nowhere and, rather than provide the mythological metaphor that you see jane, for me, it just undermines the story. I agree the 'Amy and Rory's "what if our baby has a Time Head?"' Plot arc is neatly mirrored here but would argue that, at this point it's rather unnecesary.

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    6. The other thing about aliens in Doctor Who is that they are always there. You expect aliens, although you're at best a bit nervous of what they are going to turn out to be like and at worst inclined to think they should be shot on sight because they will be causing all the trouble - except in the stories where them not being a problem is the entire point, but even then they can't just be alien and normal, their "alien goodness" has to define them. So I think "coming out" stories work better with aliens in this show than they would in, say, Firefly, where being alien really would be a shock in itself.

      One of the features I really liked about the DI Menzies audios with the sixth Doctor is that there is this hidden community of aliens in Manchester with all sorts - gangsters, businessmen, people just trying to get along. It adds another dimension in my opinion.

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  13. There's an interesting idea that when we tend to curate and collect and otherwise elevate the aspects of cultures to which we do not belong but feel drawn to. There is something intensely curatorial about Gatiss' work on Doctor Who. He collects things together and displays them as if placing them in a special collectors cabinet. The sense that I got of the setting of Night Terrors was that it was just that, a setting. It's kind of a default for a lot of television drama, or at least a lot of television drama of the 90s.

    I'd have to pick up Phil on this: stories can be set on ex council estates without being directly 'about' ex council estates. Or at least not directly didactic about ex council estates. The first couple of seasons of Paul Abbot's Shameless were fantastic on this point. As was RTD in general. And inner London certainly isn't quite like other places in the UK when it comes to high density postwar housing stock. Tottenham is just down the road from where I'm typing this and the picture is far more varied.

    Also, the landlord is really very like one of the grotesque landlords of the League of Gentleman; a stock figure for comedy written by university graduates as students very often have run ins with unpleasant landlords then go on to write comedy or drama about them; usually from the slightly more pleasant surrounding they find themselves in after their undergraduate years.

    I do, however, think that there is a case to be made for the Moffat era having an inability to hit the same sense of relevance to contemporary concerns that the RTD era did. I got a sense that the tweedy posh Doctor and the move into fairy tale could be seen of a piece with the Keep Calm and Carry On-ification of british culture leading into and on from the general election of 2010. The counter movement to the rioters was the well meaning posh people with their brooms, after all. If we just all muck in together and are just nice and keep calm we'll be able to ignore structural inequalities. If we just pull together and rediscover our national spirit.

    There's something of a retreat into stories (we're all stories in the end) of post 2010 DW that is perhaps a protection; perhaps a retreat.

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    1. I agree. As Freud nearly said "sometimes a location is just a location" and to suggest Gattis doesn't understand how rented accomodation works is a little disengenuous.
      I'm intrigued to see where Moffat goes next, replacing the tweedy posh fairytale Doctor with the acerbic angry eyebrowed Scots Doctor. That flash of red in his costume is the clue isn't it?

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    2. From costume and general appearance people have been saying he'll be like Pertwee. From leaked scripts and the leaked first ep. I'd say more T. Baker with dashes of C. Baker and Hartnell.

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    3. Also, what the hell is up with the captcha these days?

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    4. Also this. http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/Magazine/article1435733.ece?shareToken=b613ab08469db8495ce06f369cc90f32

      Yeah I know what you mean about captcha. It's taking 'random' to a whole new level

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    5. From the interview you kindly provide a link to:

      "Mark Gatiss, the best writer on the show..."

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    6. I took that to mean "he's the co-creator on Sherlock, and I can't be bothered to actually look at the last few seasons and figure out who wrote what, so let's go with this." But I'm rather cynical about press coverage of Doctor Who.

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    7. I'm rather cynical about press coverage in general.

      Which was one reason I thought I'd pull that quote out of the interview and link back in to the topic of Night Terrors.

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    8. That stopped me short too. Gattis shouldbe the best writer on the show but isn't. His style is to get all his cool collectables out of the box show them to you, then put them away before anyone breaks them. Proving that being a fan of a thing doesn't necessarily mean your contribution to said thing will automatically be good. Which is why I await Capaldi with some trepidation.

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    9. Although I do look forward to Capaldi, that's a very good point. I'm reminded of Johnny Depp's guest appearance in the last Fast Show. Depp was a massive fan of the show, and despite him being a big Hollywood star way above the league of a little BBC comedy show, it showed. His performance was exactly that of a starstruck fan getting the chance to appear in his favourite show.

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    10. Archeology of the Future
      The counter movement to the rioters was the well meaning posh people with their brooms, after all.

      As memorably described by Stewart Lee in Carpet Remnant World:

      Will the big society work? Whether we think so depends on our immediate experience of society around us.

      Now of course, David Cameron thinks a big society will work because he lives in a nice little village in Oxfordshire, Witney, and all of four times a year, all the local people in Witney, that's David Cameron,
      Jeremy Clarkson, Rebekah Brooks, and the cheese bloke from Blur, they all get together voluntarily. They go out and they clear out
      the waste ground in the village; big society in action.


      Now I know that big society will work, because where I live in Hackney, in East London, last August, all the local Turkish shopkeepers went out onto Dalston high road and attacked the rioters with kebab knives.

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  14. It’s in effect the last Davies-era story.

    Judging from the script, 8.5 seems pretty Davies-era (specifically Tennant-Davies-era) to me.

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    1. Really? Because, if anything, 8.3 seems even moreso.

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    2. Well, 8.5 is good Davies-era.

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    3. Plus there's that still-ongoing rumor that Davies will be writing an episode or two for next series, fitting as it will be the tenth anniversary season of the new series.
      I made a joke elsewhere about the Doctor, Jack, and Blon Slitheen teaming up to fight Adam in the Powell Estate for the season finale, but actually a straight up 9th doctor homage story would be fascinating, if for no other reason than to see what internal history's made of the era by this point.

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    4. Oh god, just how bad is episode three?

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    5. I thought it was Gatiss's worst. Because it's not even interestingly bad.

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    6. Oddly enough, everyone else I've talked to online has praised that episode to the skies. I'm utterly baffled.

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    7. How did you find 8.2? I'm not sure what to make of it. It felt like something was missing when I read it through (then again, that something was probably 'being watched on television').

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    8. I liked 8.2. The one I'm really looking forward to is 8.4 though.

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    9. The Doctor seems especially childish in 8.3, and not in a good way. Plus one of the central gags is recycled from "Day of the Doctor."

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    10. The only laugh I got from 8.3 was when he told the you-know-who to stop being so you-know-what (it has to do with the adjective in the group's name).

      I think it would've been funnier if Gatiss had just wholesale ripped-off "Qpid" from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Certainly would've been a smarter premise...

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  15. Will the combination of a) sci-fi secret society, b) social justice themes (of a sort), and c) Barrowman's playing the main villain be enough reason to cover Arrow?

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    1. SPOILERS!
      Not to mention Alex Kingston! I'm working my way through season one of Arrow at the moment and I really can't decide if I like it or not. Sometimes it can just be really dumb. I'm enjoying the many gratuitous obscure DC references though. My fave so far being the aforementioned Ms Kingston's "I'm taking the red-eye back to Central City...I'll be home in a flash!"
      Also Barrowman looks to be having a whale of a time playing the bad ass Not Lex Luthor.

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    2. The actress playing Oliver's mother is like a perfect cross between Lauren Bacall and Lee Remick.

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    3. She's often the best thing in it. There must be a role for her in Game of Thrones.

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    4. While on Who connections we should mention Dr. Moon.

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    5. FAKE SPOILERS: Dinah Lance Senior turns out to be River Songbird.

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    6. Arrow is compulsively terrible. Barrowman's scenery chewing is hilarious. The way season 2 ends and the potential of which character he may be spending a lot of his season 3 scenes they may achieve industrial pulping levels of scenry chewage that will leave us wishing for Paul Jerricho's levels of naturalism.

      Can't wait :)

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  16. Okay, throwing my two cents out here, I thought this was an interesting episode.

    I think I haven't gone around into seeing the Rose Tyler stuff, just Donna's episode, so this was an interesting location, for me, seeing as I was living in Chicago at this time,, and I had only been used to three apartments houses.

    The doll, well, it felt like an interesting idea, and felt to me like a metafore about, for Amy at least, becoming a fragile shell, and portraying hiding from the (Rory).

    Which is kinda offputting that the doll's faces looks like Bevis and Butthead.

    The Doctor's interaction with George was great together. Rory felt like he took a step backwards in develoment. And the reveal, it was an interesting twist, and I sorta hoped that we could have a revisitation of George's race.





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  17. What struck me as off about it was how the Doctor seems to work out the identity of the alien and thus the solution to the whole problem almost arbitrarily. He doesn't even really 'work it out', he just seems to have forgotten about it until the climax of the episode at which point he remembers which alien exhibits all these properties (in one of those 'Stupid Doctor! Silly me!' moments which started to turn into more of a writer's excuse).

    So instead of any real sort of meaningful journey over the course of the episode, we have a whole episode of pissing around in a SPOOKY! doll house until the Doctor suddenly drops a bomb of external knowledge on us in order to facilitate what feels like (to grossly oversimplify it) "Instant Power-of-Love Ending, ready in under 60 seconds!". It was phenomenally unsatisfying.

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  18. Hang about: "First and foremost, it was painfully poorly served by the last minute decision to switch it with Curse of the Black Spot (a decision taken so late that Night Terrors is featured prominently in the post-Christmas Carol trailer)."

    What, all four shots? Also mixed in with a three from The God Complex. Dunno. What you say doesn't ring true. I mean, you're quite right in that it was swapped seemingly late in the day, but your back-up comment doesn't make sense when the trailer also included nearly as many shots from The God Complex too.

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    1. Just rewatched the trailer - the one appended to the version I have (the US iTunes release) doesn't have any God Complex that I can immediately identify, but does use the "monsters are real" speech from this as its big closing quote, along with a shot prominently featuring the peg dolls as one of the big monsters.

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    2. Ahh, my apologies; I was looking at the wrong trailer. I was looking at a 'series' trailer which came closer to the airdate of Series 6. Fair enough; I retract my comment :)

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  19. Coming at this from a different angle, I think it mucks up the series arc/structure being placed where it does. Consider it comes straight after Let's Kill Hitler and A Good Man, in which the Ponds lost their own child - here, the Ponds and the Doctor meet and deal with a child.

    Noteworthy is this exchange:

    AMY: We've got to find that kid.
    RORY: Maybe we should let the monsters gobble him up.


    Really, Rory? It's just uncomfortable and screamingly out of place and, due to that, out of character.

    What I would've done is left Night Terrors as episode 3. That way, at the end of Day of the Moon, you could've had the Doctor notice the fears and the calling of a scared child. He then locks on and traces it to the council estate, believing it could well be the little girl. Remove the ridiculous "it's all about that little girl... but first, adventures!" line and have Day dive straight into Night Terrors with him desperately hoping the scared child is Melody.

    Then, of course, they find out it's George - story as normal. Then, at the end of Night Terrors, the TARDIS gets another strange signal and the Doctor, yet again hoping it may be Melody, tracks it... this then takes him and the Ponds to House, and The Doctor's Wife happens. At the end of this story, the Doctor's clearly noticed something's up with Amy and thus hits the Flesh factory to investigate. (At this point, he reassures the Ponds he's still doing all he can to track Melody.)

    Much more satisfying, in my view.

    (Also, this way, "Well, it's good to be all back together again, in the flesh." remains as fun foreshadowing rather than being, with Night Terrors moved to the second half of the series, just a weird out-of-place-ish joke from the Doctor.)

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    1. I like your version MUCH better!

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    2. I wasn't sure if "in the flesh!" was intended to be foreshadowing, or a bit of a freudian slip (for want of a better phrase) on the Doctors part seeing as he admits he was actively seeking out and researching The Flesh when they encounter it in the two-parter.

      In fact, if this episode was in it's original position it would add some food for though on the whole "when was Amy captured" debate, as you could argue that a Flesh Avatar Amy might not stand up to being converted into a peg doll and back again (although I always assumed this occurred when Amy is kidnapped in Impossible/Moon)

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    3. I always assumed this occurred when Amy is kidnapped in Impossible/Moon

      That would be the elegant place for it to happen, for Occam's Razor reasons, and because the captive-substitution would make a neater "fooling you twice, the same way" parallel with Melody, and because it would provide a reason for an otherwise rather pointless kidnapping. But it can't be, because by that point she's already been hatched, plus she's already stopped thinking she's pregnant. So it has to be earlier, presumably during the months that pass between the two episodes, when they're all separated. Probably it was not put in the obvious place partly because of the wish to have that time elapse in the course of the story, so as to set up the quantum pregnancy issue, and that could not conveniently be done after the climax of the story (the only way to do it without that level of time compression would be an apparent miscarriage, which would be way grimmer than they could possibly go at this point in the story, or indeed go at all in literal terms - when they do effectively go there in AGMGTW, it's screened by sci-fi metaphor). Perhaps it was also precisely because of the neatness of that hypothetical sequence of events. Maybe it would all just be a bit too blatant if the disappearance of the pregnancy and the first indication that she was really somewhere else had occurred after Amy's capture and apparent rescue.

      Also, I don't think the dolling-up is really a problem here - I don't see any particular reason why this process, which is driven by a power operating by psychological not physical logic, would only work on a person composed of the usual human structure of hydrocarbons.

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    4. I'm another one who much prefers Lewis's version to the original!

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    5. Remove the ridiculous "it's all about that little girl... but first, adventures!" line

      Hmmm. Isn't that deliberately flimsy though? The Doctor knows that something fishy is going on with Amy's pregnancy, and is keeping quiet about it; he may well already have some broadly accurate suspicions about what is afoot. In that case, it makes sense that he would not want to go off in pursuit of those most likely responsible until he knows the score, not with one of his crew possibly an imposter or subject to hostile influence, and with Amy (present or absent) possibly in jeopardy of an uncertain sort. Getting on with business as usual and keeping Amy under observation for any signs of odd behaviour, while thinking things through and doing some research on the quiet would be a logical response. After all, he has a time machine - it doesn't make any difference when he goes after the girl, as long as he does so at some point.

      Someone on here once said that Ten wants to be like Seven, but is too lazy to do the preparatory groundwork that goes into being Seven. For all his restlessness, Eleven is ultimately much more inclined towards that patient, scheming approach.

      Admittedly, if that is what he's up to, it doesn't make much sense for him to draw attention to the girl's importance. Better to pretend that she's slipped his mind, for the benefit of whoever may be listening. But Moffat might reasonably have felt in a bit of a bind, wanting to make clear to the audience that he hasn't forgotten about her and not being able to do so without tipping the wink to the characters as well.

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    6. That would've been great, and would have gone a long way toward smoothing out the hodgepodge feel of series 6.

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    7. @Aylwin "Someone on here once said that Ten wants to be like Seven, but is too lazy to do the preparatory groundwork that goes into being Seven. For all his restlessness, Eleven is ultimately much more inclined towards that patient, scheming approach."

      That seems a little unfair. I never got the impression that the Tenth Doctor wanted or tried to be manipulative and scheming like the Seventh. In fact, I can't really think of any instances of him having any sort of long term plan or goal - he seems firmly in the "show up someplace random, get involved, have an adventure" tradition. It seems odd to fault him for being to lazy to successfully carry out an approach he doesn't seem to have any intention of trying. There are times when he manipulates people, yes, but that's true of any Doctor.

      Now, the Eleventh Doctor I can definitely see. A Christmas Carol, The Impossible Astronaut, The Almost People, and others definitely show examples of him carrying out more long-term "schemes" as you put it that only he knows about.

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  20. Here's what I found least satisfying about this episode, to quote myself:

    "Two complaints about the way these themes are presented: first, the Doctor twice insists that 'monsters are real.' However, the entire point, the only way they can be defeated, is realizing that they actually aren't. You might argue that they are real, that they've been created from fear and now truly exist, but the way the doll's house and its effects simply evaporate at the end doesn't bear this up. If this is enough of a gray area that it doesn't matter, why make a point of it? Second, the Doctor tells George that only he can stop the monsters (he's gotta 'believe'), but in the end it's George's father who has to make the leap and soothe George's fears. The Doctor can be wrong (or senile, remembering the alien species he's dealing with only at that point in the script where it's dramatically convenient), the Doctor lies, but it seems a bit cheap to tease us that kids can defeat their fears through inner strength and then make George a largely passive victim all along."

    Can any of this episode's fans sort these objections out for me?

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    1. The Doctor knows that monsters are real from personal experience, and this is something that we as viewers also know. We are in the audience superior position to Alex on this one. The tension, then, comes from how the Doctor is going to convince Alex of this fact.

      Secondly, it establishes that the threat of the Dolls -- of being converted into a monster -- is real, which lends the proceedings some real stakes, even though the "reality" of being in the Dollhouse is more tenuous than is typically depicted in the show. Regardless of how tenuous it is, though, it's experienced as completely real to the characters. In this respect it's no different than the drama created in The Deadly Assassin with being in the Matrix.

      However, it's a more interesting objection to make the climax hinge on Alex rather than George. On the one hand, yes, it's rather putting kids into a more passive stance. On the other, it's also largely true that kids aren't truly in a position to conquer their fears, especially the fear of rejection from a parent. In this respect, then, the climax is oriented towards helping parents (and dads in particular) to embrace relationship with their kids. Which in itself isn't a bad thing.

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    2. I'd agree it's not a bad thing, and actually, checking the transcript, it's not as contradictory as I'd thought:

      DOCTOR: No! No! No, no, no, no, no. George, you created this whole world. This whole thing. You can smash it. You can destroy it.
      (George shakes his head.)
      DOCTOR: Something's holding him back. Something's holding him back. Something.


      That "something," of course, turns out to be his fear that his dad is rejecting him and will send him away. Once the father embraces the child, the child can dissolve the monsters. I don't think the ending contradicts "monsters are real" as strongly as I'd remembered either, at least not as far as the script goes.

      I swear, whoever runs chakoteya.net deserves a medal!

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  21. See, I didn't see this story and the alien reveal to be about coming out at all. Rather, it seemed to me to be about adoption, or other modes of embracing children who are not yours biologically.

    I mean, I see how it could be read as a coming out story, and what that would mean for some viewers. But look at the face of it - we've got a dad who accepts his kid even after learning that the boy is at some level a stranger to him. I don't know that there's necessarily a reason to make it more complicated than that.

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    1. As with "Idiot's Lantern," I think the "coming to terms with your dad" angle is the important part of it for Gatiss. George isn't in the cupboard; his emotions are. To me, it's a story about repression and the special needs of a child who's more delicate than most (and that's okay).

      I see how people might read that as "coming out," but as someone who's been through that process with both parents, I don't find much in the story that resonates with it. If it's a coming-out story, I don't think it's a very effective or specifically observed one. Hopefully at some point Gatiss will improve on it for the people who are looking for that.

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    2. I do wish that "Who" (perhaps especially modern "Who" would more often have the strength of its hero's convictions and take a stand on modern issues in a way that has more teeth. Sadly, it seems unlikely to do much more of that given its current status as s flagship show of a major, government-backed corporation...

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  22. I get your points Phil, especially about this story appearing in the context that it does, after all that's what a lot of your approach has been about on this blog.

    This story though does hold a special place in my heart as I come from pretty much the setting that is depicted from a time around the same age as George. In fact in places that are "the poorest 20% of areas" in Scotland and piss-filled concrete tower blocks that were often worse than these televised.

    For me especially as everything seen is skewed from the child's point of view, this story is note perfect and visualises my childhood fears, although with different pictures, as the place where I lived had within it a lurking sense of horror as embodied by the vivid and monstrous tales that the kids that lived there like us made up. A whole weird world of cross-sensory childhood nostalgia is evoked in these images in me.

    Also as coming from the 20% I had absolutely no sympathy with the rioters and did not watch this episode from that context. Where I lived violence was regularly meted out onto the local community, towards the poor by the poor. This also happened towards our family in more than one setting, but still as kids we found ways to imagine and play, bouncing on the cars that were often torched outside our flats. When I look back I can see that it was an awful environment and the monsters were real, but the stories we told and made up helped us see past the violence.

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  23. I'm kind of shocked that even you didn't seem to pick up on the alternate, redemptive viewing of the story: as a parable about autism, and what raising a child that. I myself am on the spectrum, and have always had something of a rough relationship with my father compared to my mother (though that has improved in recent months, I'm happy to report). The challenges of being raised with autism were quite frustrating to both myself and my parents, and to this day a few of my tics still get on their nerves on the rare occasion (i.e. pacing when I'm having some creative inspiration).

    Autism and Aspergers are so highly-recognized today compared to just a few years ago that there is still so much misunderstanding about them. During the time that this episode came out, I was living in Ethiopia as part of my father's State Department assignment, and some of my friends from the international school I attended were under the misconception that aspergers was some kind of disease.

    And while making the autistic child an alien cuckoo chick may be a classic Gatiss misstep, it's easy to see what he's aiming for with George. The "Tensa" represents the substitute for the child George thought he would have, the easy or "normal" child he expected to understand and get along with.

    In a way, this episode covers the exact same theme you highlighted in Closing Time (not that either episode is subtle about it), where the Doctor teaches a nervous father how to be a good father. And in specifically highlighting parents of autistic children, Gatiss here actually manages to pull off decent public service in the Doctor Who spirit.

    Once we understand that fundamental tenet of the story, the rest falls into place. I would assume that the dollhouse being a metaphor for all the fears that society and children shove into the cupboard flew over the heads of exactly no one, though why everyone acts like this episode is "just the scary one" is beyond me. (And as a toddler who loved playing with a dollhouse my aunt had and later donated to us, it was a lot of nostalgic fun to see painted-wood-and-glue nature of a dollhouse turned life-size).

    Sure, the script doesn't help by demoting Amy and Rory to Dumb Slasher Movie Characters, but the stuff with the Doctor and Alex is lovely and quite easily outweighs that (and the sequence you highlighted with the landlord really is a masterpiece). Beyond that, though, I find it sad that an episode with something positive and important to say gets so trashed by fandom, even compared to Gatiss' other, shallower NuWho efforts which this episode is easily superior to - it's my favorite story of his apart from Invaders From Mars. Sorry, but I'll take this over hollowed-out dreck like Victory of the Daleks any day.

    Philip, I understand why you would dislike the episode, and its timing really was unfortunate (especially considering the obvious "Flesh" reference at the end). And I really am sorry, to all those in and affected by the riots, about David Cameron's choice to appeal to old-timey patrician values in order to avoid taking responsibility for any of the political and social woes that actually led to the riots.

    But in the end, what I've always looked for was a father who accepted me for who I am, and I dearly wished that I had realized that it was his own inheritance of anger and emotional abuse that led an overall good man like him, who does really love and care about me, to be so cold and insensitive toward me as a child.

    But I'm sure that especially you will agree that anyone who's been abused and carried their low self-esteem with them would have liked to have been shown that they were loved much, much, earlier instead.

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  24. Long time reader, first time commenter (is it commenter or commentor?), arriving a fair bit late here. I didn't really think about the connection with the riots, to be honest, despite the fact I was about 20 minutes away from coming into contact with one having been out in London earlier.

    I might have thought about it had I still had any interest left. Night Terrors is my least favourite story of the Matt Smith simply because it was so irredeemably dull. Any tension is killed at the point where Amy is turned into a peg doll, because any jeopardy the other characters are in is rendered completely moot by it. I think I actually said 'Oh for God's sake!' out loud when it happened. It's extremely difficult to maintain interest after this point when you already know the ending, and it's the second time Gatiss makes that mistake, although it wasn't as bad in The Idiot's Lantern because the Doctor's fight against the Wire is another source of it.

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