The Doctor: And one thing I can tell you, Alex – monsters are real.
Production Code: 2.4. (Footnote ).
Doctor Who Season: S32 (Ep9).
Story Number: 220.
Kitchen sink Doctor Who, but for now Amy and Rory have a cuppa in the control room…
For the TARDIS team this story begins in outer space. Rather than “the Vortex”. In the downtime between adventures, before the Doctor and companions step out of the TARDIS, where is the TARDIS when it’s travelling? Is the Time Vortex just for Time jumps?
Anyway, what matters is “INTERIOR: TARDIS” and this is where a lot of the 2010/2011 adventures begin, with some sort of rationale for them leaving the TARDIS to explore – these days it’s either the Doctor explaining in the console room a tourist destination that he doesn’t get quite right, or answering some sort of distress signal (rather than the TARDIS being uncontrollable).
It’s a great idea to begin the story with – that of a child afraid of monsters wishing someone could help, and the Doctor turning up. It’s the start of The Eleventh Hour too except this time the Doctor is actually responding to a request for help instead of just serendipity meaning the TARDIS lands. (Was it serendipity when the Doctor met Amelia?) The idea of the Doctor actually being able to read a cry for help when an actual kid is afraid of his “cupboard monsters” is a brilliant one. It’s reminiscent of The Eleventh Hour in more ways than one, as various creepy characters have their echoes here, the spooky sisters and mother, the scary man and his dog.
Another Doctor Who convention, that of the Doctor being separated from the companion(s) occurs but in a way that seems intentional from the Doctor. “Don’t wander off” is the rule the companions are continually breaking; this instance though the Doctor gives his companions the slip, perhaps as he think it’s his expertise with monsters that’s required and his companions can’t help, or perhaps he wants to keep them away from the monsters?
However, via the lift, Amy and Rory find themselves in another more perilous world. “We’re dead aren’t we?” Rory jokes, while the Doctor is still in the kitchen sink “realism” of the towerblock.
“The Doctor’s back there in EastEnders-land” is how Rory describes it. Towerblocks have inspired various stories and not just Doctor Who ones (J. G. Ballard is particularly keen on them). The towerblock is made to seem much grimmer than the Powell Estate of the stories Rose and Aliens of London, or Survival‘s towerblock. Still, it’s curious to hear Rory treat the setting as otherwordly – Leadworth is very different from the Powell Estate perhaps.
When the Doctor is discussing Alex’s worries over Alex’s son, he’s asked, television – should they stop him watching it?”, “Oh! You don’t want to do that!” The idea that this is a regular kid, part of the intended wide audience for Doctor Who is emphasised. “Bergerac, God help us, 30 years old that”, says the man-with-the-dog as we muse that Doctor Who is almost 50 and has been scaring the audience for a long time.
The Doctor arriving at the household of (effectively if not actually) a Doctor Who-watching family to tell them “monsters are real!”
What seemed to be a strength of the story seems to be lost though when it’s revealed that this isn’t a regular kid. The Doctor and Alex are consumed by the shining cupboard and it seems it’s all down to Alex’s son George, who’s an alien of some sort.
The Shining-style scary sisters that Amy encounters on her doorknocking at the start – are they supposed to be the Peg Dolls that tranform the man-with-the-dog, and later, Amy? It would chime with the “spooky laughing girl” sounds that accompany their presence.
They’re a wonderfully well-realised elememt of the Production Design these Peg Dolls, and the Doll’s House – for some reason it reminds me of the doll-like Pris encountering Deckard in the spooky house in Bladerunner. The imagery is great but the “why” behind it all is a bit vague.
Amy’s and Rory’s nonplussed faces as they emerge from the lift perhaps sum up one aspect of this story, a baffling “what was all that about?”, beyond “it was all the creation of an alien kid”.
This story is known to have been swapped season-halves with The Curse of the Black Spot during the production process. Curiously, both stories feature a father accepting he’s a father. (As does The Almost People.)
Although there’s thematic links with the arcs of the Moffat era, nothing of the larger seasons-spanning plotline is progressed. The acknowledgment of the plot began at this start of this season feels kind of “tacked on”, though this may be the production process knowledge colouring that perception.
It’s the first Doctor Who since The Hungry Earth that was “just” a good Doctor Who episode.
Maybe the strenghth of the opening is lost – “what if the kind of kid who watches Doctor Who asked for Doctor Who to save him?” – but it still remains as a metaphor for fathers unnerved at the bewilderment of being a father.
Footnotes (and links)
The review is titled “Doctor Who 2.9…” as it’s Ep9 of the second season of the narrative of the Doctor and Amy – however, the Production Code is actually 2.4.