After going for laughs last week with “Robot of Sherwood,” show runner Steven Moffat went for chills with this week’s script – and he succeeded on a very primal level. For TV, this was a damn scary episode, with some excellent atmospherics as opposed to the usual gore seen on shows like THE WALKING DEAD or HANNIBAL. In this DOCTOR WHO universe, the scariest thing in the universe is… a bedspread?
The Doctor’s quest to discover if any creature has mastered perfect camouflage – and what such a being might want – leads to an unexpected visit to the Doctor’s childhood, where Clara again has a huge influence over his life, ironically implanting ideas about fear and “the promise” implicit in the Doctor’s name.
Clara (Jenna Coleman) and Danny (Samuel Anderson) go on an extremely awkward first date that ends in complete disaster. Doctor (Peter Capaldi) then asks her to help him determine the reason why all species fear there’s something under the bed at night. He believes everyone has the same nightmare at least once: You wake up in the middle of the night, thinking you’re alone but sense someone else in the room. Then, when you convince yourself it’s okay, you feel a hand grip your ankle from underneath the bed. He hooks Clara up to the TARDIS’ telepathic circuits to subconsciously guide them to the night she had that nightmare, but her mind wanders to Danny and they end up outside a children’s group home, where she meets Rupert Pink (Remi Gooding), who hates his first name and is terrified of something under his bed.
Clara crawls underneath to prove it’s safe, but when Rupert joins her, something sits on the bed! They crawl out from underneath to see a humanoid shape (Kiran Shah) covered in the bedspread. The Doctor suddenly appears and warns Clara and Rupert not to look at the figure. After tense moments, it leaves (taking the bedspread with it). Before departing, Clara sets up an army of toy soldiers to protect Rupert – including “Dan the soldier man.” The Doctor assures her Rupert won’t remember them because he scrambled the boy’s memory and gave him a dream of being “Dan the soldier man.” Clara asks to be brought back to earlier in the evening to try to salvage her date with Danny. The Doctor agrees, but Clara only makes things worse. Then, in the restaurant, she sees a figure in a spacesuit gesture for her to follow. She does, and enters the TARDIS. There the figure removes his helmet – and looks exactly like a much older Danny. The Doctor introduces her to Orson Pink from 100 years in the future; he suspects Orson may be a relative because he was exploring Clara’s timeline.
The three go to where the Doctor found Orson: stranded for six months at the end of time after his time-travel mission went awry. The Doctor notes that all life in the universe is dead – so why did Orson lock the hatch? Orson seems very frightened to spend another night. As he packs to leave, he drops a case with the plastic Dan the soldier man in it. He calls it a family heirloom for good luck and some legendary story connected to his grandparents. The Doctor feels this is his best chance to observe the invisible creatures. Suddenly, something starts banging on the outer hatch. The Doctor orders Clara into the TARDIS and opens the hatch. Inside the TARDIS, Clara and Orson only see the explosive decompression. Orson rescues the Doctor. While the Time Lord is unconscious, the cloister bell sounds, and Clara tries to move the TARDIS using the telepathic circuits again. They find themselves somewhere else.
Clara investigates and discovers the TARDIS landed in a barn. She hears a child sobbing in a bed in the loft. She hides when a man and women enter, concerned about the crying child. The man says he won’t be able to cry in the army – since he’ll never make it to the academy to become a Time Lord! Clara realizes the TARDIS brought her into the Doctor’s past. The 12th Doctor awakens and calls out – which the First Doctor hears. To stop him from investigating, Clara grabs his ankle – just like the nightmare. Back in the TARDIS, Orson demands to know what the Doctor saw, but before he can answer Clara returns and suggests it was nothing – maybe the Doctor simply won’t admit he’s afraid of the dark. She orders the Doctor to dematerialize the TARDIS without investigating where they are, and he grumpily complies.
As the TARDIS returns Orson to his own time, a flashback shows Clara comforting the youth would become the Doctor, telling him that it’s okay to be afraid, that fear is a superpower, and he shouldn’t let fear make him cruel or cowardly; rather it can make him kind. She said he will return to the barn one day when he is very afraid – accompanied by a vision of the War Doctor (John Hurt) carrying the Moment to the barn in “The Day of the Doctor.” She said fear will always be with him, like a companion, but it can be good because fear brings people together, and fear can lead you home.
After dropping off Orson, the Doctor delivers Clara to Danny’s place –where she gives him a kiss. Then we see the boy who will be the Doctor contemplating the stars – and a parting gift from Clara: the Dan the soldier man toy.
So, in the end, we learned why the Doctor himself feared there was something under his bed – because Clara was under there – but the question of why all beings everywhere have the same fear is left unanswered. Are we ever truly alone? Who wrote “Listen” on the Doctor’s chalkboard? Not showing us what happened when the hatch opened was kind of a cheat and a pretty big plot hole. There had to be something out there, right? Will Moffat come back to this idea of never being alone?
Director Douglas Mackinnon really shined here, creating an atmosphere of oppressive menace. The deep black shadows contrasted sharply with scenes of bright color – and his use of silence was highly effective. Mackinnon directed the mysterious “Power of Three” last season, as well as “Cold War,” which also made fine use of color. He’s also helming next week’s “Time Heist” and the upcoming “Flatline.”
The most significant thing about this episode was the sequence from the Doctor’s childhood. Yes, we got to see the First Doctor as a frightened child. He didn’t want the other boys to hear him crying. Is this after he looked into the Untempered Schism? But perhaps most importantly, where is this happening? The barn is shown to be the same one that the War Doctor planned to use to detonate the moment – and that barn was located someplace with a blue sky – which means it wasn’t on Gallifrey. So did the Doctor grow up someplace else?
I loved that this episode went out of its way to be scary – that figure under the bedspread was truly unnerving – but also to calm fears. If any children were hiding behind the sofa while watching, hopefully they took some encouragement from the Doctor and Clara about dealing with their fear. We all get scared sometimes; the important thing is how you handle it. Does the Doctor believe his own advice?
Talk about a monster that is easy for kids to emulate: something shrouded in a bedspread!
The scene of the War Doctor approaching the barn with the Moment is a clip from “The Day of the Doctor.”
Is the planet Orson ended up trapped on the planet referred to as Utopia, the place that the last of the human race was trying to reach in the 10th Doctor story “Utopia”?
Writer Moffat expanded this story from a short story he wrote in 2007 called “Corner of the Eye,” which dealt with Floofs, mischievous creatures who had the power of perfect hiding.
When the Doctor awoke and said, “Sontarans perverting the course of human history!” he was repeating his first words upon awakening in his fourth incarnation.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
“You probably just forgot. Have you seen the size of a human brain? It’s hilarious.” – the Doctor
“Let me tell you about scared. Your heart is beating so hard I can feel it through your hands. There’s so much blood and oxygen pumping through your brain, it’s like rocket fuel! Right now you could run faster and you can fight harder. You could jump higher than ever in your life. And you are so alert, it’s like you can slow down time. What’s wrong with scared? Scared is a super-power!” – the Doctor
“The deep and lovely dark. We’d never see the stars without it.” – the Doctor