Sunday, May 10, 2015

Aragon vs. Anderson: Night Terrors

Now that I have a few minutes free, I thought I'd go back to one of my great passions...bashing The Whorist (or as it's generally known, The Nerdist), in particular their Doctor Who reviews by one Kyle Anderson.

Mr. Anderson (now doesn't that sound sinister) in my view, has rarely if ever met a Doctor Who post-Rose story that he hasn't loved.  I don't mean liked.  I mean L-O-V-E-D, to where that particular episode is the Best Doctor Who Episode of All Time...until the next episode when THAT becomes the Best Doctor Who Episode of All Time.  It's gotten to be almost a point of parody to see how Anderson rarely finds fault with a Doctor Who episode.  I don't mean just to nitpick on a few things.  I mean give a bona-fide negative review.  Even I, someone who has been vociferous in my condemnation for many NuWho episodes, do admit when I see a good one (like Flatline or Mummy on the Orient Express).  Anderson, however, will almost always find something to wax rhapsodic about, even on something as atrocious as In the Forest of the Night

I was intrigued by this, so a little research was required.  I went as far back as I could regarding Anderson's Doctor Who reviews, and the earliest one I could find was the Series/Season Six opener, The Impossible Astronaut.  What I've done is taken Kyle Anderson's review verbatim, and offered my own 'translation' to the text to see what Anderson is, in my view, really saying.  I also throw in my own thoughts as to what is being said.

I hope this will be a fun and informative journey into the strange mind of the Functioning Nerd.

I present Part 9 of The Nerdist as Whore: Night Terrors .  My 'translations' are in red.

Through the eyes of a child, anything can be terrifying. To some children, including me at ages 4-9, everything can be terrifying. Simple sounds and shadows taken for granted in the daytime become objects of fear once the sun goes down. Children’s fears are very powerful, but if the child in question is not from this planet, the fears can become a danger to everyone around them. This is the central idea behind episode 9 of Doctor Who’s sixth series, “Night Terrors,” written by Mark Gatiss.

I scare easy.

This is a very scary episode written by a very scary man, who in the future, will be the Executive Producer of a Doctor Who Special my Boss, Chris Hardwick, will host.  My Boss, Chris Hardwick, won't feel a need to disclose on-air that Mark Gatiss, who was a guest on the After Deep Breath Special, also was in charge of the After Deep Breath Special.  In the real world, that would be called a 'conflict of interest' and would be considered unethical if not deceptive.  However, just pretend Mark Gatiss is with the New England Patriots (in other words, he gets a free pass...and I'm fighting the temptation to say Gatiss would love to get a free pass from Tom Brady).

This episode is a return to the standalone episodes of Who for which everybody seems to be clamoring recently,

Whovians and even NuWhovians have had it with these season-long story arcs that no one cares about, involving characters we don't care about, and which ultimately don't make any sense, so we got this.  I don't know why people don't like convoluted plotlines and having to have every single Doctor Who episode basically be trailers for the season finale. The people who have been clamoring for standalone episodes obviously don't have analytical critic minds, because only a select few of us can appreciate the genius of Steven Moffat and Company, and even fewer of us have our bills paid for by The Moff and...The Gatt? 

and features the Doctor and company answering a little boy’s distress call to save him from “The Monsters.” The rumors going around warned that this was one of the scariest Doctor Who episodes ever. Well, I didn’t think it was scary, really, and certainly can’t hold a candle to something like “The Time of Angels,” but it did have creepy living doll people which are fairly nightmare-inducing in and of themselves.

A bunch of hype about how scary this all was.  It isn't as scary as what Moffat can write, because The Gatt is one level of genius, the Moff on a Shakespearean level.  It did have the dolls, and I'm scared of dolls. 

The general storyline for the episode is strong, with the Doctor receiving a distress signal on the psychic paper and finding a little boy who’s afraid of everything and the boy’s father, who is also afraid of everything, but in a different way. The boy, George, has been told to put everything that scares him into the large cupboard in his room and that cupboard now holds the manifestations of everything he fears come to life.

Imagine if he were afraid of Indians!

So, basically, things that scare him get sent in the cupboard, and specifically into the creepy dollhouse inside the cupboard, probably because there were no nearby corn fields into which he could wish them.

Question: what is a little boy doing with a dollhouse?  Are we diving into Gatiss' childhood here, like we did with The Idiot Lantern?  We have two Gatiss-penned scripts dealing with difficulties in father-son relationships, as if he had a theme or something.  What are you trying to tell us, Marky Boy?  I admit two things: one, I liked both Idiot's Lantern and Night Terrors, and two, I don't get the corn fields bit.

So while the Doctor and George’s father, Alex, try to get to the bottom (of) the boy’s fear, Amy, Rory, and a number of neighbors have to try not to get turned into creepy, giggling doll things. Seriously, if I was a kid and got dolls like that, I’d be terrified too.

You left off "of" in the sentence, so you get points off for that.  It's not for me to say, but why would Kyle have dolls in the first place?

The story is simple, but I feel like the episode missed some great opportunities to amp up the scariness.

Don't Believe the Hype.  Don't Believe the Hype.  It's not scary, not even if The Gatt says so.

While the dolls were creepy to look at, and the sight of someone turning into one is equally disturbing, they never seemed like much of a threat. The scene with Rory and Amy running from them and then barricading themselves behind the door could have been much more intense, but I never really felt like they were having trouble keeping them at bay and the only reason Amy got turned is because she thought they should open the door and run past them (and because Rory was a bad husband and didn’t stop to make sure she was okay).

I don't see the potential to see the Living Dolls as future scary monsters.  They are the Quarks of this series: a marketing ploy that didn't pan out.  The direction in my view was not as good as it could have been, since I wasn't scared.  Then again, I'm a very grown man who shouldn't get scared over an episode that was aimed at children.  At least, I speculate that it was aimed at children.  The only reason Amy got turned is because we all have gotten so tired of Rory being made the Dead One and it would be nice to have a change.  That, and the fact that Night Terrors is primarily male-centric, which is odd for Gatiss.

If I were Rory (and I so desperately want to be), I would have protected Amy because Karen Gillan is so hot I perform auto-erotic exercises to her every night, especially when I look at her Kiss-O-Gram or pirate outfits.  Oh, Amy...Oh, Amy...

This, to me, is just bad scene blocking. It may well have been a budget or time issue, which is not really anyone’s fault, but such a great creature design was sort of ruined because they weren’t particularly threatening.

I was confused by how things looked, which is strange given that Doctor Who has tons of money thrown at it.  Either they actually skimped on this episode (spending more on things like hiring a Hitler lookalike for an episode that didn't need the character) or they were in such a rush to finish they didn't put things together.  That's even stranger since this episode was suppose to air after the premiere, but instead they had to switch places with the pirate one.  I'm too cowardly to blame people for this, but it's sad that despite having great production value we couldn't make the Living Dolls really, really scary...scary enough to scare a thirty-plus year old man. 

Director Richard Clark also directed “The Doctor’s Wife” this season, so we know he can do a lot with a little, making the scenes with Rory and Amy running through the corridors of the TARDIS quite frightening with literally nothing but camera angles. It just felt like a waste to me.

I wasn't too hot for this episode (Karen Gillan, another story).  Director Richard Clark can do a lot with a little, so I was surprised at how little he did. 

The other real problem I had with the story, and it wasn’t much of one, granted, was the reveal that young George is an alien. I know Doctor Who is a sci-fi show predicated on alien stuff, but does every single thing in the show have to be alien-related?

I want to be more critical, but am contractually prohibited from being so.  We get a not-surprise that we have to have aliens in this one again.  Anyone forbid that we deal with actual humans on Doctor Who.  Why does every story have to have an alien in it?  Just like in The Pirate One, we have to go back to "Oh,'s Aliens again!"  I'm getting tired of it always being aliens.  It's like the reverse of the early Pertwee years, where we had to have either mad scientist or alien invasion.  At least back then they tried to have variety on the themes (see The Silurians) but here, they're not even trying.  Fortunately, they don't have to since I and all the other NuWhovians will watch anything and be generally pleased with it no matter how stupid.

I kept hoping that they’d discover that the cupboard itself was somehow causing the manifestation of fears, or that some other thing was controlling it, or what have you. But it just seemed to me, the realization that Alex and Claire couldn’t have kids so an alien who wants to be accepted found them and made them think he was their own child was a bit too complicated, convenient, and unnecessary.

I kept hoping that they'd come up with something better, stronger, more original.  We can't have supernatural elements, so we have to go with aliens.  I'm getting a little tired of it always being aliens. 

Also, is it me or are we retreading ground covered with Fear Her?  We got the alien-child connection, we got this "alien just wants to be loved" theme, we got the parent-child bonding again bit.  This just came to me, and as someone who liked Night Terrors IF you think of it as a.) being aimed at children and b.) being an obvious allegory to children, it looks like the show is repeating itself a bit.  However, I (not Kyle) am beginning to question whether I overrated this episode myself. 

Just a thought.  Take it as you will. 

It could have been the same story; the father’s fears had transferred to the adopted child, who then became afraid of everything and even more afraid of being sent away, etc., and then they manifest because of X alien thing. Like I said, it’s not a huge gripe, it just didn’t need to be there.

It could have been the same story...and I both wouldn't have noticed and wouldn't have cared.  Kind of sad that I could come up with a better scenario than The Gatt.  Still, no worries.  I roll (easy) with everything Doctor Who throws at me.

I also feel like finding out your son’s an alien who has trapped you and others in a world of his own subconscious fears is not something anybody would accept that quickly, but some “bad thing” creating it as part of your adopted son’s fears totally is. Any number of other explanations would have been fine, but an entire race of foster children? Come on now.

As I said, I'm getting tired of it always being aliens.  It is almost sad that they can't come up with anything better.  I would have accepted any other explain (no matter how implausible), so long as they gave it a try.

I'm seriously questioning why I (not Kyle) liked this episode...

For my money, Matt Smith is at his best as the Doctor when he’s on Earth dealing with humans. He delivers a mix of rambling nonsense and alien technobabble the way Samuel L. Jackson delivers yelling and swear words.

For my money, Matt Smith is at his worst as the Doctor when he's on Earth (like he'd be on any other planet).  He also is pretty inept with people.  He does his usual schtick of being an idiot, spouting gibberish to such a degree that like Samuel L. Jackson, it's become a cliché to being a parody.  Even if either tried to spoof themselves on purpose, the joke would be lost on everyone since they do it so often they parody themselves even when their not trying to.   

It’s like poetry.

Laying on a bit thick there, Kyle...even for you. 

The scene in this episode where the Doctor describes “pantophobia” to Alex is particularly enjoyable.

I cringed at the "pantophobia" bit.  I can't decide whether he was trying to be funny or trying to be serious.  You do have some pediophobia here (fear of dolls), and I myself use the term panophobia to describe a fear of everything (even though Everything Is Awesome).  You could also go with polyphobia (fear of many things).  In any case, Smith trying to sound smart is always doomed to failure.

Daniel Mays as Alex was also fantastic.

Actually, on this we agree.   Congratulations,'ve hit your broken clock minute.

Mays is an actor I’d seen in a few things here and there but really got to know and like during his stint on Ashes to Ashes, where he played the British equivalent of an Internal Affairs man. He was really great on that show and played such a dark character that I kept expecting him to be somehow evil in “Night Terrors,” but I was pleased and impressed to see Mays just play a terrified father, a very sympathetic character. The interplay between him and Smith made the episode work for me, hands down.

Wow, a good guest star on Doctor Who.  Got to appreciate the few bright spots in things.  Mays was so good he even made Matt Smith tolerable.  He should get an Emmy just for that. 

While they had less to do, besides the usual running around, I really liked Amy and Rory in this also. This series they’ve really become a team, and a good comedy double-act.

Well, break out the smelling salts!  Kyle Anderson likes Amy and What's-His-Name.  I think we've found our comic relief...but shouldn't that be Matt Smith? 

The fact that there are two companions give a dynamic I really like. At any given time, two of them can be doing something, while the third is off with a guest actor (or just by themselves) doing something else. It works with these characters, and it’s something I didn’t know I was missing during the latter RTD era.

"The fact that there are two companions give a dynamic I really like."  If ONLY they had tried more than one Companion in the past... 

"At any given time, two of them can be doing something, while the third is off with the guest star (or just by themselves) doing something else".  If ONLY they had tried more than one Companion in the past... 

"It works with these characters, and it’s something I didn’t know I was missing during the latter RTD era."  If ONLY they had tried more than one Companion in the past... 

Rory and Amy doing something, the Doctor doing something else: this is what works best.

"Rory and Amy doing something, the Doctor doing something else: this is what works best."  If ONLY they had tried more than one Companion in the past...

Why, oh WHY didn't they EVER try for more than ONE Companion when it all began?  What fool RTD was.  He had a golden opportunity to...what?  What do you mean there were Companions before Rose Tyler?  What?  There was a show called Doctor Who before Russell T Davies created it?!  Isn't that violation of copyright or something?!

Oh, and how funny was Rory’s line, “We’re dead aren’t we? Again!”? Man, that was great.

The whole "Rory Dies Again" bit is so bad even the characters make fun of it.  Man, that was bad.

Those two just keep dying.

Actually, Rory (or the badass in the wacky world of Kyle Anderson), is the one who keeps dying.  This I think marks the first time we've seen Amy bite it.  I'm sure Kyle would love for Amy to bite something else, but I'll leave it at that. 

At the end of the episode, the Doctor says “It’s good to have everybody back, in the flesh.” Now, this stood out to me for a few reasons. A) because we know what “The Flesh” is regarding earlier this series, 2) he had his back to the camera when he said it, meaning it may have been an added line not in the original script, and d) because if it wasn’t an “important” line, it’s just a dumb line. In the original scheme of things, this episode was supposed to be transmitted third or fourth, in place of “Curse of the Black Spot,” meaning that line could have referred to the Doctor knowing that Amy was Flesh at the time. So either the line is completely meaningless, it’s a holdover from the original placement of the episode, or it means yet another person is a Flesh Ganger, which I really hope is not the case.

Thanks to the shuffling of episodes, something that might have been important, a subtle clue about the season or half-season long story arc now got rendered meaningless.  This stood out to me for at least one reason: it shows the failure of the Moffat Method.  If this 'flesh' bit was suppose to tie into what has come before, it now is a massive flop because it doesn't make any sense (not that a.) I'm particular about a Doctor Who making sense, and b.) many NuWho episodes do end up making sense on their own, let alone for the massive story arcs that sometimes go several seasons long).  If they had been stand-alone episodes, or maybe a few two to three-part stories, then we might have something.  However, Moffat's insistence on having all these stories serve as essentially trailers for his season ender just brings all these episodes down.  Night Terrors, like others, could work on their own.  However, Moffat just can't leave well enough alone, and wants to create some massive epic that is rubbish. 

If anything, Night Terrors and the inclusion of this 'flesh' line, is instructive.  It shows the show desperately needs to get away from the season-long arc and just be stand-alone episodes.    

If the Doctor dying ends up just being some kind of clone, I’m gonna be really angry at Moffat. He’s cleverer than that, and surely can come up with something we haven’t thought of to get the Doctor out of that situation.

Kyle Anderson mad at Moffat?
Steven Moffat clever?!
Moffat coming up with something we haven't thought of to get the Doctor out of a situation?

At any rate, it’s just something to think about.

So, overall, “Night Terrors” was a pretty good, diversionary episode with good performances and some decent creepiness.

The kid was weird, but I guess if he was an alien, that would more or less explain it. Not a bad episode at all, and it does the concept of a kid projecting fears a whole lot smarter and more effectively than series 2’s “Fear Her.”

I KNEW I wasn't the only one who saw the similarities. 

How odd: I, Kyle Anderson, just got over complaining about how predictable it was to have this be alien-related, and now I don't seem to mind all that much that it was alien-related.  It really is hard for me to find a 'bad episode', one that I really, really hate.  There's Victory of the Daleks I guess (which I keep complaining about but whose review no one could ever find), but so far I pretty much have said they're all good.  Yes, Night Terrors was better than Fear Her.  

Few things can be worse though. 

The big key for me with Doctor Who episodes is how likely am I to watch them multiple times once I have the DVDs.

Who are you kidding, Kyle?  You watch all of them all the time, well, at least all the pre-Rose ones.  Junk like The Aztecs, Tomb of the Cybermen, The Daemons, Caves of Androzani...well, that's another story.

For instance, aside from an initial view or if I’m watching the whole season with someone, I skip “The Beast Below” and “Victory of the Daleks” when watching series 5. I’ve seen them both quite enough, thank you very much.

Kyle's hit another broken clock minute.  On this, we agree. 

“Night Terrors,” on the other hand, is one I probably will watch multiple times. So far, there aren’t any series 6 episodes I actively dislike, which is pretty good.

SHOCKED that Kyle Anderson liked a
Doctor Who episode!

“Black Spot” is bad but harmless

Quoth Anderson on Curse of the Black Spot, "It certainly was not a bad episode (emphasis mine).  In fact, I even enjoyed watching it on second viewing..."

Hypocrisy, thy name is Anderson.

and the Ganger two-parter is poorly plotted but interesting. “Night Terrors” is just a fun, watchable episode. And that’s not a bad place to be at all.

Seriously, you come to The Nerdist for fair and objective Doctor Who reviews?  What kind of an idiot are you?

Next week’s episode looks super interesting — Tom MacRae’s return to Doctor Who for the first time since series 2’s “Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel,” in the form of “The Girl Who Waited”:

I am very excited. Yay, Doctor Who!

I'm very discouraged.  Boo, Doctor Who!

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