Curious George


In this modern Who era we are apparently supposed to look for themes, and this year, it’s all about families. Specifically parents and children. Absent fathers, monstrous mothers, enfants terrible.

Mark Gattis’ Night Terrors is a very personal piece. Confessedly part-therapy on the writer’s part and ostensibly framed in the style of (as has been observed elsewhere) a classic British portmanteau horror by the likes of House of Hammer or Amicus, it’s the human element rather than the monstrous which is the main attractor. This is no mean feat – Gattis is an avowed devotee of the portmanteau, as anyone who has seen his recent and very good History of Horror series will know, and to be sure the tropes are on show for this episode – dark rooms, fearful and imaginative children, juvenile toys turned into abhorrent and murderous devices. There’s even a giant eyeball in a drawer to tick the surrealism box (and not an Atraxi spaceship in sight this time). At the story’s heart however is a sense of loneliness and alienation – the cramped and anonymous location of a council flat with its elderly neighbours, a landlord and his dog, each, you would suspect, ‘keeping to themselves’ despite living in close quarter with who knows how many other like individuals. There’s Alex and the little-seen Claire, one of countless millions of couples who bear the heart-breaking frustration and disappointment of remaining childless despite best efforts human and scientific, and the emotional ordeal both bring to a relationship. And then there’s George, the improbable child, an alien who has been with them for… who knows how long?

If there’s one let-down in the story it’s in the Doctor likening George to a cuckoo, when this appears to be far from the case. Unless there’s a heavily-veiled truth that this little boy replaced an already existing child in order to be reared (a truly horrific concept perhaps fitting the earlier portmanteau but surely too strong for the likes of Doctor Who), then it’s really not evident. As it is he’s to all intents and purposes exactly what he appears to be, a child in need of a loving mum and dad. It just so happens that he’s not their biological offspring – and alien element aside, this is neither unnatural nor unusual. Nevertheless, it’s narratively important that George is an unknown, and red herring as it is, for the first three quarters of the story the suspicion must remain on him as a disruptive influence. It can’t all be dolls.

Oh yeah. Dolls and a dollhouse for a little boy? It’s been questioned elsewhere, but I just assumed it was a holdover present from a time when Alex and Claire didn’t have a child, but might have been expecting one of indeterminate gender.

And so the crux is acceptance. A different turn from that in The Also People, which shares its faux-family idea (but little else). The scares on show in Night Terrors are peripheral, even if the threats to Amy and Rory are real (though even Rory gets away with a metatextual “we’re dead – again!”), and in effect what you have here is a Doctor-centric episode with Tegan and Turlough in the ventilation shaft. No bad thing – we need to occasionally see that the Doctor is good with parents as well as with kids, and he’s bang on about puberty being Alex and Claire’s next great challenge. If I was uncharitable I’d say there’s Gattis setting himself up for a sequel (poltergeists, anyone?), but I’d rather believe that this is it for the story of George the alien child. And good enough. A return to form for the new series, and for Gattis.


One Response to “Curious George”

  1. Al Says:

    A family theme this year? Yes indeed – and don’t forget wives!
    Mark Gattis is a very talented man, and I only hope last year’s Victory of the Daleks, a good story unfortunately eclipsed by ‘the Daleks bottoms looking big in this’, one day gets a fairer assessment.

    I loved the first half of Night Terrors , as the tension and weirdness built – sometimes it’s almost disappointing when the Doctor quantifies and solves mysteries!
    An unsung hero of this story for me is Daniel Mays as Alex. He’s a hugely versatile actor who can go from thuggish and threatening to vulnerable and compassionate as a script requires. The scene where the Doctor activates Georges toys to distract the child from his father’s humiliation in the next room was hugely affecting.

    Tegan and Turlough in the ventilation shaft? More like Tegan and Adric…

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