*WARNING – contains spoilers*
Well, I was very excited for this episode last week. The trailers and previews suggested this was an intimate scary tale akin to ‘Night Terrors‘ and ‘Blink‘ that would explore a real human emotion and exploit it to frighten the wits out of children up and down the land. It was not this exactly, but that is not to say that this episode was bad. Far from it; it was good, it was just unexpected given the marketing of the episode.
It is however based upon something that all children (and adults) sometimes think about – is there someone else with us, in the dark, in the quiet, when we are alone. It’s a simple idea, one that is rarely explored on-screen and something we can all relate to – the monster under the bed.
The story this week kicks off with a splendid monologue from Peter Capaldi, waltzing around the TARDIS putting to us as viewers his theory that we are never truly alone. His delivery of the compelling philosophical argument bound with pseudo-science is really magnificent and spellbinding. It was a scene that truly displayed what a wonderful actor Capaldi is – just give him some great dialogue to spout and he makes it work.
Then we dip into the other storyline this episode – Clara’s date with Danny Pink – finally! All these scenes, which are intermittent, are very much lifted from a romantic comedy. They embarrass themselves, argue, laugh and then Clara storms out in a huff leaving Danny banging his head (again) embarrassed. Moffat can write this stuff with ease – he did it splendidly with ‘Coupling‘ – and it worked well enough here, helping to sow the seeds of Clara’s personal life and, it might be supposed, eventual departure.
Then the Doctor meets Clara in her bedroom and while she is very upset, The Doctor as usual doesn’t register it, delivering some fantastic lines that show no pity. He really doesn’t care. This is where it all starts anyway as Doc wants to investigate his new theory and so taps into Clara’s subconscious in the TARDIS to travel back to her childhood to see what is lurking under her bed. However, she of course thinks about her date, Danny Pink, and they end up at his childhood home – a children’s home. However, Clara doesn’t want to let the Doctor in on this, so he is in the dark on the ‘Pink’ situation.
The Doctor ventures inside to have some banter with the night porter of the home. Pretending to be an inspector, he nicks the porter’s coffee. Meanwhile, Clara chats to a young boy in the window whom she soon realises is Danny, or as he used to be known, Rupert. He hates that name and wants to change it.
Anyway, they both go into Rupert’s bedroom and something appears under a blanket – some unknown silent being, the monster under the bed. After much talking about not looking at the being and The Doctor scaring the young boy, the monster vanishes and The Doctor and Clara leave. This is where Clara makes things complicated. She asks the Doctor to return herself to just after she walked out of the date, breaking all kinds of time rules and crossing her own stream.
She returns to the date to make it up to Danny but accidentally blurts out the name Rupert. How did she know? Of course, he gets angry and leaves. Meanwhile, a man in an orange spacesuit is calling her across the restaurant, leading her towards the TARDIS. They get inside and she is ranting, presuming it’s the Doctor in the spacesuit. But when the wearer pulls of his helmet it seems to be Danny Pink… with a grey beard? It’s actually Orson Pink, a time traveller, from about 100 years in Clara’s future. Doctor Who used Clara’s memories left in the TARDIS to travel forward to the very end of the universe, the last planet, where the last man remains – Orson, a pioneer time traveller who got sent forward way too far during a malfunction. I find this odd because we have been ‘to the end of the world/time’ multiple times before and it’s always different. Anyway, they materialise in this base where Orson has been living, a perfect place for the Doctor to find out if there is something out there.
They stay overnight, talking about mood lighting and theories of the universe when they start to hear creepy noises. This is where we hear that fantastic nursery rhyme from the trailer, spooky stuff. Then, after Clara is ordered to go into the TARDIS, the Doctor confronts – something, or nothing? We do not know but he is hanging on for dear life as the air pressure leaves, getting very active for an older man, and has to be rescued by Orson.
Back in the TARDIS, with the Doctor out cold, Clara taps into the TARDIS again and travels away. They arrive in a barn where she ventures out alone. She hears a young boy crying and she tiptoes over. She thinks its Danny, or Rupert, or Orson. God, this is getting confusing. She hides under the bed as she hears someone coming. They come over to talk and then she realises – it is a young timelord – the Doctor himself as a young boy (cue outrage from fan-base). Then, as the Doctor sits up from the bed she grabs his ankle. There it is, the whole story is another loop tale from Moffat. A typical tale of someone causing the issue they themselves are involved in. It’s fantastically complicated stuff and makes for a great tale. She then proceeds to tell the Doctor tales of fear as bravery and stories of courage (including dropping some John Hurt footage in here), the same stuff he told Rupert in the bedroom. The whole episode was a convoluted loop of fear and noises in the night.
This episode was a bit of a run around the block, which some will find lazy and contrived and others will find clever and interesting. I do find these types of episodes intelligent and engaging – but it has been done better – ‘The Big Bang‘ anyone.
Steven Moffatt is one hell of a writer though with bold ideas and he has a great vision for what to do with Doctor Who, and that is to drag it kicking and screaming into the future. The types of stories being told and the way the show is put together now really stands it up against the big American cable TV outings. He is also fantastic at taking the simplest ideas of human behaviour and turning it intosomething creepy and frightening.
Going forward we now have the two interesting character arcs to consider. Clara, who has already leaped into the Doctor’s timestream is now meddling with the Doctors past. Will there be consequences to this? She is also being a kind of mother to him. Meanwhile, Danny Pink will be wondering how Clara knows his name was Rupert. His future intimacy with Clara has pretty much confirmed by Orson showing up. The question is, where do these characters go from this point and will it be with the Doctor or away from the TARDIS?
The thing that stood out in this episode however was the fantastic attention to the sound work. Not only was their Murray Gold’s brilliant soundtrack underpinning the narrative but the actual foley and effects work was brilliantly put together. As seen in the behind the scenes video – in one example in the spaceship they mixed animal noises in with the knocking on the door subconsciously to make you think there was something alive outside.
By David Roberts