A pretty standard-issue effort is this latest entry from Doctor Who veteran scripter Mark Gatiss. Gatiss’ most recent “Who” was last year’s Victory of the Daleks, and his three stories have all fallen in the fair-to-midland range, quality wise. So does his fourth, more or less.
Responding to a cry for help that’s managed to land its way onto his “psychic paper” – one of the conceits of the new version of the series that strikes me as awfully convenient for a deux ex machina when needed. It’s from a little boy named George in (naturally) modern-day London, and the message is simple – “Please save me from the monsters”. The Doctor being the kind soul he is, he can’t resist a house call. George (Jamie Oram) is a little boy who’s scared of everything, especially the cupboard where his parents have placed all the many things that frighten him, and his parents are struggling both with the rent in a post-Blair Britain and with George’s mental state. When The Doctor shows up posing as a bloke from social services, George’s harried father Alex (Daniel Mays) is only too happy to accept his offer of help.
To say this is a classic “Who” story is more or less accurate, and it’s actually quite reminiscent of “The Empty Child” from the Eccelston era. You know, of course, that the monsters in the cupboard are going to be real, and the conceit behind all of it isn’t really all that important as long as you get a few good scares. As it happens, the conceit is that George is an alien “Tensa” – a being that telepathically links with its “foster parents” and turns into whatever they want. In the case of George’s parents, that’s a baby as they’re not able to make one on their own – but when things get a bit dodgy George turns his psychic powers unwittingly towards a nightmarish menagerie of walking peg dolls, wooden fruit and giant scissors. It’s sort of scary, and sort of fun, and Rory once again steals the scenes he and Amy share with his manic string of neurotic chatter. Amy turning into a peg doll was predictable, and so was the ending, but in the whole it was a pleasant enough diversion. I won’t say there was anything particularly original or new added to the Whoverse here, but that really isn’t Gatiss’ specialty – he does inoffensive and safe entries that play within the rules the rebooted “Who” has set up. If I’d seen this when I was eight, I’ve no doubt it would have terrified me – and that’s about as orthodox as a “Who” episode can get.
For the first time in a while, we had an entire episode that doesn’t concern itself with the recurring plot apart from a tiny bit at the end that feels tacked-on. Next week is “The Girl Who Waited” by Tom MacRae. He wrote the pretty good two-part Cyberman serial in 2006, and I assume the title refers to Amy.