Scanners indicate an basence of spoilers
Now Mr Mark Gatiss surely needs no introduction to followers of the TARDIS, as he wrote The Unquiet Dead, The Idiot's Lantern and last year's Victory of the Daleks, was the eponymous star of The Lazarus Experiment, and author is the author of several Doctor Who novels and audio plays. And indeed, he's no stranger to fans of cult television in general, as one quarter of the League of Gentlemen, co-star and co-creator of Sherlock, and numerous roles in the likes of Spaced, The Quatermass Experiment and Nighty Night.
And after the Daleks meet war movie homage of the last series, he's back on spooky ground! And Mr Gatiss does scary rather well, as he demonstrated with the eerie mini series Crooked House, which pleasingly continued the BBC tradition of televising ghost stories at Christmas. And I am sure I am not alone in being a bit creeped out by the pictures of the strange doll-like figures before the episode had even aired.
Now ultimately, how effective this episode will be for you, depends on how you feel about creepy old dolls.
Personally I'm not a fan after being traumatised at a young age on hearing a version of this old chiller. Hence I found there were eerie moments aplenty in this episode. Plus the haunting sound of old fashioned songs sung by child voices also never fails to raise the hairs on the back of my neck.
However the actual story is fairly simple and straight-forward, looking almost basic after last week's plot explosions. However this is a story all about the atmosphere and emotions, and an uncluttered narrative full of spookiness and dark ambiance was a refreshing change of pace after the high octane madness of Let's Kill Hitler. Indeed, even if the dolls and decaying Victoriana don't push your fear buttons, you may well still be pleased with this little tale for it has a traditional beginning, middle and end format with none of that time-wimey mucking about.
Also it was also refreshing to see a story set on present day Earth, as this is the first time we've been back since The Lodger last series! And the fact that it seemed a novel location only goes to show how well the Moffat tenure has moved the Doctor back to exploring space and time after the earthbound feel of the Davies years. Additionally however, what Night Terrors does rather well is to make the familiar unsettling. It's full of well observed little touches that may well transport you back to the days when bed time was an unwelcome prospect as you knew that as soon as the light went out, the toys in your bedroom would cast bogeyman-shaped shadows on the walls...
And it's good to see the Doctor tackling a relatively small scale local threat for a change. We don't need mind bending paradoxes and the universe blowing up every week. Indeed for those types of tales to work, we need the smaller scale stories in between. Hence with regards the scope of the tale and traditional storytelling, Night Terrors felt like a classic series tale in many respects, and that's not a bad thing at all.
However it's not totally old school though as it does have the emotional warmth that the show again when it returned in 2005 too. However it's prime focus is still the story rather than tugging at the audience's heart-strings in a contrived fashion as the new version of the series has been wont to overdo at times. AlsoNight Terrors felt like it fitted it's running time perfectly - I didn't feel like this was a story that would benefit from being a two parter or felt overly rushed.
So all in all, quite a successful blend of the new and old, which is just as it should be... Indeed, to invoke a shared childhood memory, this episode was like the perfect bowl of porridge. Not the stuff of banquets or haute cuisine, but at the same time, sometimes you know there's nothing more satisfying than porridge - when it's not too hot and not too cold, it's just right...
JIM MOON, 3rd September 2011