Sunday, September 4, 2011

Night Terrors and Torchwood: Miracle Day

Okay, I'm writing this before I have to prepare for my DJ gig in a couple of hours that will be immediately followed by me leaving (I hope) for a friend's birthday party.  I'll start with a brief review of the Doctor Who episode "Night Terrors" and then begin my review of Torchwood: Miracle Day.

"Night Terrors" is so much better than "Let's Kill Hitler" that I wonder how Moffat can stand letting himself be upstaged by someone who actually knows how to write.  George, a little boy plagued by the monsters inhabiting his room at night, does a ritual chant for expelling them, calling out for someone, anyone, to "save [him] from the monsters."  His loving but frustrated parents don't know what to do, since his fears have pretty much paralyzed not only his life but theirs since they have to drop whatever they're doing at any given moment to reassure him, all to no avail.  George's call for help is so powerful, psychically, that it reaches all the way out into space and time to write his message on the Doctor's psychic paper.  Naturally, the Doctor is compelled to go help, and the episode kicks off.

Okay, sorry, I should have warned you about spoilers.  But bear in mind that what I just described above only takes place before the opening credits.  What I liked about this episode is that it was generally bereft of the convoluted storytelling Steven Moffat has injected into the show since he began his tenure as head writer.  As a stand-alone episode, "Night Terrors" really shines.  It deals with the fears every child has about the toys and other things that, while ordinary and friendly by day, turn into scary monsters at night.  Only in this episode, those monsters turn out to be very real, and the Doctor must help banish them.

There's a closet (or cupboard, as it's called in the episode) where all the things that frighten little George are locked, the better to help soothe his fears.  That construct becomes a central part of the story.  Even more integral to the plot is George's father, who as it turns out has fear issues of his own as he is confronted by his bullying landlord.  His hangups and those of his son are inextricably linked, and we learn why by the end of the episode.  As it turns out, George is truly the son his dad always wanted, and is like him in so many more ways than one.  I wish more had been told of the relationship between the boy and his mother, who is largely absent from the episode, but given the obvious constraints the show's creative team are operating under, this was understandable.

Amy and husband Rory, as usual, end up being chased around by the monsters and in their now-typical fashion lend both credibility as horror-story heroes and comic relief.  A lot of Who fans haven't caught on to Karen Gillan's Amy Pond, but the actress seems to be really growing into the role — less sassy, more realistic, maturing.  Arthur Darvill as Rory is brilliant as usual.  At times I think he is the real star of the show under Moffat's tenure, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing;  for the first time in many years, Doctor Who's Companions are more than simply damsels in distress weeping over the Doctor or being helpless in situations — they're smart, strong, and proactive, though they don't always know enough to make sound judgments.  I can now easily see where Moffat is going with these characters as the parents of River Song, and their influence on her is crucial to that character's development.  If Moffat has done anything right since taking over the show, it's creating, developing, and evolving these two characters.

I will tell you this about "Night Terrors": how it plays out was written a lot better than it probably had any right to be given the creative rut Moffat has put the show in.  I was pleasantly surprised by this episode, and I sincerely hope that Moffat stays out of the rest of the series so better writers can tell his overall story arc.

"The Gathering", the ninth episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day, is the second-to-last one of this fourth series that tells the story of Captain Jack Harkness and his friends.  A lot of things are reaching their climax now, and I can hardly wait to see next week's episode, which will wrap up the whole series.  I'll give a more thorough review of this and other previous episodes tomorrow, but safe to say that Russel T. Davies has much, MUCH more in store for us.

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