Sending a child away: or, why the Night Terrors sucked

Co-written with the lovely Suzanne Walker. You can find her over at Cognitive Recalibration
SPOILER ALERT for Doctor Who, series 6. 

Clones, as usual, agree completely. It wasn’t that there was anything actually horrible about The Night Terrors. It was just that there wasn’t anything good.

It was terrifying, sure. But that was about all it had going for it. And it never did anything with the terrors - those dolls were creepy to begin with. No new horror for kids, the way gas masks, stone angels, and shadows have been. Whether you consider it scary or not depends on whether you respond to the traditional horror/thriller movie tactics. Laura was terrified, Suzanne was not. But we both were bored. Very bored.

It felt like Fear Him, except that where Fear Her had an interesting alien, a novel way of disappearing a person, and a great child actor, the Night Terrors had... an alien whose capibilities weren’t really discussed or explored, a boring way of disappearing people, and a child actor who didn’t do anything besides look scared. Oh, and there was no wonderful scene of the Doctor carrying the Olympic torch (which he must, by the way), or David and Billie looking cute. On the contrary, Rory and Amy were again shoved away and just got to run around a lot - but unlike Doctor’s Wife, their running scenes were entirely devoid of personality, much less conversation.

Yes, Matt Smith trying to act like the Doctor is a normal person is always a laugh, and his scenes with Alex, the father, were funny. But never laugh-out-loud funny. Never memorable-line funny. If they were funny, it was due to the actors, doing the best they could with a ho-hum script.

It was lacking something. Character, perhaps. Heart. A feeling that it all mattered. Companions. And continuity. It was an episode about a child - a powerful alien child, but still a child - who questioned his parents’ love for him. A child who was not his parents biological son, but raised by them, to be all they hoped to be. Funny. Almost the opposite of a biological daughter born almost accidentally, and not raised by her parents at all. The connection to River is almost too obvious. And yet, does she get a mention? Not a one. Amy and Rory don’t even meet George, much less understand any of the situation that they’re thrust into.

But the larger question is this: why don’t Amy and Rory - particularly Amy - feel strongly about their daughter being snatched from their arms? At the end of A Good Man Goes to War, Amy was traumatized and angry. The prequel to Let’s Kill Hitler, with her desperate call to the Doctor, begging him to at least be able to find their child, was heartbreaking. The actual episode revealed that they have been living with their child (unless time was rewritten), and showed the beginning of her transformation into River. And all this was great for the viewer - it satisfied our questions, and left details open. But I just cannot believe that Amy - tough, demanding Amy - would be satisfied. I cannot believe that her daughter’s fate is something she wouldn’t talk about.

It seems, though, to all come down to a last-minute schedule change. Night Terrors was supposed to be 6.4 - before the Almost People, before we knew that Amy was GangerAmy, before Melody was born. The episode was one of the first filmed, and only seems to have been edited a little bit to reflect it’s later place in the season (see the Doctor looking at his death onscreen again). Why was it switched? Goodness knows. According to Wikipedia, it was “in order to achieve a greater variety of stories in the first half of series 6.” In my mind, this translates roughly to “in order to make sure no one gave up on the first half of the series because it sucked.”

The problem is, Night Terrors is a mediocre script no matter where you put it. But it was intended for the first half, and remnants of hints - Amy as a doll, “together in the flesh” - remain. References that would have been appropriate for the second half - anything and everything about Melody/River - don’t exist. And so it is a mediocre script shoved in the wrong corner, making what is supposed to be an overarching story very sporadic. The last minute decision was the wrong one, Steven Moffat.