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Recap / Doctor Who S32 E9 "Night Terrors"

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Tick tock goes the clock, and all the years they fly...

Original air date: September 3, 2011

Production code: 2.4

The One With… the scary dolls and nursery rhyme.

Written by Mark Gatiss.

A distress call from a terrified little boy breaks through all barriers of time and space, leading the Doctor to visit the scariest place in the Universe: George's bedroom. George is terrorized by obsessive-compulsive disorder, night terrors and every fear you can possibly imagine, which all live in his bedroom cupboard. That's not a coincidence: his parents thought that locking scary toys safely away in the cupboard would help their son sleep. It didn't work, obviously, and now they're desperate — George needs a doctor.

Cue the distress call heard by the Doctor, Amy and Rory, who visit a block of flats. It's time for the Doctor to make a house call, and the Doctor admits one of the scariest places in the universe is "a child's bedroom". Team TARDIS splits up and interviews some of the residents with door-to-door asking and phony identities. This isn't where The Beautiful Elite live: little George and his neighbours really look like ordinary English people, living in an ordinary English world. You could take a bus therenote .

After a considerable amount of time, the Doctor finds the flat where George lives. He introduces himself to Alex, George's father, who assumes that this is the doctor his wife told him she found. As the Doctor talks to George about the monsters, Amy and Rory go into a lift, only for it to plummet. The duo find themselves in a really conspicuous-looking house.

Rory: We're dead. Again.

Then a few more of the residents start having really bad things happening to them. They get sucked into the ground.

As the Doctor looks around, he scans the cupboard with the sonic screwdriver, and he is utterly horrified by whatever result he got. (Before you ask: it's not Hitler.) Alex doesn't take the Doctor seriously any more by that point and asks him to leave, whilst the Doctor is trying to make tea and asking, "Do you have any Jammie Dodgers?" Alex is quite insistent and just wants him out of his flat.

After some flip-flopping about whether or not to open the cupboard (that has Alex stressed out and confused) the Doctor opens it and he finds... Absolutely nothing. Why not? A series of questions and pictures follow until "Claire can't have kids!" If George's mother can't have kids, then who or... what... is George?

Suddenly, George does something terrifying involving the cupboard, and Alex and the Doctor get sucked in. They're in the same house as Amy and Rory. The married duo are attacked by some creepy wooden dolls, and one of the victims from earlier gets turned into a doll as well. Amy and Rory hide in another room, but as they try to bust out, Amy is captured and turned into a doll. Rory finds Alex and the Doctor, the latter trying to solve the mystery surrounding George.

It turns out that they were in a doll's house in the cupboard all along. The Doctor's screwdriver still doesn't do wood (it's getting embarrassing by now, he remarks), so he has to improvise. He calls out to George, who turns out to be a minor Reality Warper accidentally causing all of this. He's an alien larva (a Tenza), whose species act like cuckoos: they leave their young in other species' nests. Alex is horrified at first, but then decides that he doesn't care. Even if his memories were altered, even if his son is actually an alien, the boy is still just George. With The Power of Love from Alex, George is convinced to turn everyone back to normal.

The Doctor leaves the happy family again, saying that he'll come back for another check-up around puberty. Team TARDIS goes off to more adventures, but not without a creepy ending tune, complete with the screen telling us of the Doctor's death.


  • Actor Allusion: Even though he's Playing Against Type, numerous to Danny Mays's best-known role — time-travelling, people thinking they're dead, Rubik's Cubes, a character named "Alex", an Evil Elevator, and someone saying "you're not from [place you claim to be], are you?".
  • Arbitrary Scepticism: Rory is skeptical of the living dolls, to which Amy points out that he's a time-travelling nurse. Who was even once plastic himself.
  • Asshole Victim: The landlord is smug, rude, condescending and the first person to be doll-ified.
  • Badass Boast: The Doctor has a couple of these concerning his "old eyes" and all the things he's seen and experienced.
  • Big Bad: The Peg Dolls that inhabit the doll's house. George has some subconscious control over them but this only causes them to turn on him when he gives in to his fears.
  • Bigger on the Inside: The doll's house. Even accounting for the shrinking, it's much larger and more intricate than it should be in scale.
    The Doctor: It's more common than you think.
  • Blatant Lies: When Amy, Rory and the Doctor are knocking on doors they claim rather ridiculous things.
    Rory: I'm from Community Services. Here to check up on... community... based... things...]
  • Body Horror: Being turned into a doll. Creepy.
  • Buffy Speak: Rory's almost Doctor Lite at this point, he Buffies so much. "The TARDIS has gone funny again. It's some time... slippy... thing."
  • Call-Back:
  • Captain Obvious:
    The Doctor: I'm not just a professional, I am the Doctor.
    Alex: What is that supposed to mean?
    The Doctor: It means that I have traveled a long way to get here, Alex. A very long way. George sent a message. A distress call, if you like. Whatever that is inside that cupboard is so terrible, so powerful that it amplifies the ordinary fears of a ordinary little boy across all the barriers across time and space. Through crimson stars and silent stars and tumbling nebulosas on fire, empires of glass and civilizations of pure thought. And a whole terrible, wonderful universe of impossibilities. You see these eyes? They are old eyes. And one thing I can tell you, Alex? Monsters are real.
    Alex:'re not from Social Services, are you?
  • Changeling Fantasy: As it turns out, George himself is the source of his troubles — he's actually a Tenza, a powerfully psychic race who apparently masquerade as the children of other races in order to grow; the process is explicitly compared to cuckoos (though without the parasitic aspect, making them more like serial adoptees).
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Rory's tiny torch that was useless in "The Vampires of Venice" comes in handy now.
    • The doll's house is briefly visible when the Doctor first checks the cupboard. It later turns out that it's where George has been sending people.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: George's fears manifest in reality because he so completely believes them.
  • Continuity Nod:
  • Council Estate: Although the landlord who demands rent lives in them, implying that the flats are ex-council.
  • Crazy Cat Lady: One of the tenants of the Council Estate is a man with ten cats.
  • Creepy Doll: Giant, creepy dolls that turn others into giant, creepy dolls. All they want to do is play.
  • Creepy Dollhouse: George is afraid of his dollhouse, so it ends up manifesting in reality and becoming huge, and it's very scary.
  • Creepy Twins: Amy thinks so. And as the initial dolls also look like the twins, George may agree.
    Amy: I found scary kids. Does that count?
  • Deliberately Cute Child: George is an incredibly powerful psychic alien cuckoo baby who's desperate to fit in.
  • Digging Yourself Deeper: As his Blatant Lies get out of hand, Rory asks the tenant he's talking to if he gets on with the landlord, not realising that he is speaking to the landlord.
  • Double Take: The Doctor and Alex get a good one when they realize a doll is behind them.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: Rory theorises that he and Amy have either been killed or time-shifted to the 1700s. He's wrong on both counts, but neither are unreasonable ideas, given the way his life usually plays out.
  • Everybody Lives: All of George's accidental victims are restored to full human size and condition at the end of the episode.
  • Everything's Deader with Zombies: The dolls. Be very glad they're stuck in one location, since that would be the most terrifying Zombie Apocalypse ever.
  • Evil Elevator: George is scared of the lift and the noise it makes, but it's only "evil" in sense that he deems it so.
  • Evil Laugh: The Creepy Dolls never stop laughing.
  • Fake Memories: The reason that Alex and Claire believe George is their son is that he implanted such memories into their minds.
  • Fear Is the Appropriate Response:
    • The Doctor, once he gets a look at the readings coming from the wardrobe, and later when it sucks him and Alex into it.
    • Also Rory and Amy, once they realise the dolls can turn people into one of them.
      Amy: I take it all back. Panic now.
  • Four Is Death: When Rory and Amy get into the lift she presses the 4 button before it drops, causing Rory to think they're dead again.
  • Frying Pan of Doom: Amy brandishes a wooden one (though it doesn't get used).
  • Gender Bender: Possibly: the male landlord is turned into a doll that resembles a little girl and wears a dress; however, it's never revealed whether the dolls actually have genders.
  • Giant Eye of Doom: Spoofed; Rory and Amy shriek when they open a drawer to reveal a huge eye staring out at them, and are squicked at the thought of touching it... only for it to turn out to be a harmless Glass Eye.
  • Giggling Villain: The dolls, being children at heart do this while stalking people.
  • Glass Eye: Although, for once, it wasn't actually in a socket.
  • Good Hair, Evil Hair: Getting turned into a Creepy Doll gives you stringy, coarse doll's hair.
  • Happily Adopted: George's parents love him, and he loves them, but no one was aware he was adopted.
  • Haunted House: The Creepy Doll house. It's a giant doll house, unlit and spooky, with giant Creepy Doll zombies and doors with no knobs and...
  • Hellevator: The lift sends people plummeting to a scary place because George thinks it does.
  • Hollywood Darkness: Averted. The only light in the doll house is Rory's flashlight, because it's in a closed cupboard.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: Throughout the episode a creepy off-note one plays as the soundtrack. Here's the full version:
    Tick tock goes the clock
    And what now shall we play?
    Tick tock goes the clock
    Now summer's gone away?

    Tick tock goes the clock
    And what then shall we see?
    Tick tock until the day
    That thou shalt marry me

    Tick tock goes the clock
    And all the years they fly
    Tick tock and all too soon
    You and I must die

    Tick tock goes the clock
    We laughed at fate and mourned her
    Tick tock goes the clock
    Even for the Doctor

    Tick tock goes the clock
    He cradled her and he rocked her
    Tick tock goes the clock
    Even for the Doctor...
  • Kick The Son Of A Bitch: The landlord who threatens Alex with a dog is the first one to get turned into a Creepy Doll, because George overheard their conversation. He gets better.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: George's parents were desperate for a baby and tried everything, but just couldn't succeed. Fortunately, a spacefaring psychic cuckoo saw that there was a job vacancy.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Alex initially blamed George's terrors on too much scary television, so he stopped letting him watch it. The Doctor emphatically replies that you don't want to do that...
  • Madness Mantra: "Please save me from the monsters! Please save me from the monsters! Please save me from the monsters! Please save me from the monsters! Please save me from the monsters! Please save me from the monsters..."
  • Monster Clown: George is afraid of clowns.
    Alex: He hates clowns.
    The Doctor: Understandable.
  • Oblivious Adoption: As in, "not even the parents knew their kid was a psychic alien".
  • Oh, Crap!: A few instances:
    • Alex when he realizes his wife can't have kids. So how do they have a son?
    • Amy and Rory have a shared expression of this when they see Purcell transform into a Peg Doll.
    • The Doctor when Rory shows him what has happened to Amy and fully realizes what's going to happen to him, Rory and Alex if he doesn't get George to listen in the next minute.
  • Ominous Music Box Tune: The leitmotif for the Doll Children has this to fit with the spooky kid toy theme.
  • Papa Wolf: Alex certainly wants to protect his son, but, unfortunately, he's going about protecting George in entirely the wrong way, which gave George the idea that Alex wanted to send him away. He later braves the evil dolls in a straight example.
  • Pet the Dog: At the end, the landlord hugs his dog after being returned from the dollhouse.
  • The Power of Love: It's Alex's love for George that ultimately persuades him to forget his fears.
  • Readings Are Off the Scale: The Doctor says this of George's cabinet after scanning it with the screwdriver. Played so straight it's genuinely scary. The Doctor goes from being cocky to trying to get as far away from the cupboard as he can.
  • Reality Warper: George, being a Tenza, can bring monsters to life with his imagination and trap people in his cupboard by wishing for it.
  • Reality Warping Is Not a Toy: Since George isn't aware of his abilities, and also happens to be a little boy feeling rejected, he unwittingly makes all his nightmares come true by believing in them so much.
  • Same Plot Sequel: The episode is extremely similar to "Fear Her": a kid with out-of-control reality warping powers becomes a threat to a working-class contemporary community when their phobias become real. The difference is that in that episode the powers come from an alien that has become emotionally attached to the child, while here the child is actually an alien himself.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Spit Take: Alex does one when the Doctor suggests opening the cupboard after saying it would be to open the cupboard.
  • This Is No Time to Panic: Amy points out that Rory is unnecessarily panicking when they're walking through the doll's house. She takes it back when they both see someone being turned into a peg doll.
  • Things That Go "Bump" in the Night: George's world is littered with nightmares, and his parents taught him to focus all his fears on his wardrobe...
  • Timmy in a Well: Inverted. The landlord, as one of George's "monsters", gets sucked down into his carpeting, while his bulldog Bernard just lays there and watches, maybe growling a little.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: When the Doctor tries to confront George about his alien nature, George freaks out and traps him and his father in the doll's house.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Rory is surprisingly unsympathetic to George's fear, first teasing Amy about letting the monsters gobble him up and secondly thinking it's just space junk mail.
  • Wham Line: This line radically alters the episode's trajectory.
    Alex: Claire can't have kids!

Tick tock goes the clock, he cradled and he rocked her... Tick tock goes the clock, even for the Doctor...