As usual with these posts, Spoiler Warning.

Oh, Mark Gatiss, you've done it again. You got my hopes up, and then dashed them against the rocky shore of poor plotting.

Let's start with a recap of Gatiss' contributions to (televised) Doctor Who: The Unquiet Dead, The Idiot's Lantern, Victory of the Daleks, and now Night Terrors. So, out of his previous contributions we have one very, very good (and fairly creepy) episode, one that is, for my money, an absolute dud, and one that is a fairly clever idea with a weak execution. Although, to be fair, a Dalek asking "WOULD YOU CARE FOR SOME TEA?" might be one of the greatest single moments in Doctor Who history, and if Victory of the Daleks was conceived around that image, then I forgive it for everything else.

Looking at his track record, I get the impression that Gatiss is at his best when he tries to write creepy stories. The problem is that, with Night Terrors, he is trying to write a creepy story. But try as it might, this story absolutely fails to be creepy. The wooden dolls just aren't compellingly scary, and the dollhouse doesn't have the atmosphere of 'creepy haunted house' that it needs to make them so. The only time the dolls are ever creepy is the first time we see one - that is, when it is inanimate and standing alone in a closet. The monster is less scary when we can look it in the face, and the longer we hear creepy noises and get suggestions of scary things, the more suspense and tension is built. Here, though, Gatiss fails to build suspense for the monster, so its reveal feels about as frightening as the Slitheen in Aliens of London. Even the build-up to the Silurian reveal in The Hungry Earth was creepier than this episode.

With scary out the window, let's look at the rest of the episode. This is the first episode since The Doctor's Wife that isn't heavily invested in the story arc (even if we didn't know how tied to the story The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People was, in retrospect we have to count them as fundamentally 'part of the ongoing arc' episodes), so I had high hopes for a nice, self-contained, Doctor-to-the-rescue story.

And the opening let me keep hoping. Gatiss writes the Doctor brilliantly. The sequence in which the Doctor and company wander about the tenement has some fantastic dialogue. And every scene with the Doctor interacting with George and Alex is brilliant as well.

But these scenes are interspersed with the dollhouse. And the way the dollhouse is used destroys the pacing and tension of the episode. At the end of the episode, it felt like not very much had happened, and what had happened was inconsequential. The big runaround gets resolved, essentially, by actors coming on stage at the last minute. It's trying to be a clever twist, but it ends up being an anticlimax.

And the story arc tie-in at the end felt a bit weak, too. I mean, we get some creepy child-like singing that is, presumably, supposed to evoke the monsters that were just defeated. But even if we set aside the fact that they are, y'know, defeated, they have absolutely no apparent reason to know or care about the Doctor's death. They're figments of an alien child's imagination. It felt like that was added just for the sake of having some reminder of the overall story arc. Whether that was added by Moffat or Gatiss, it is a weak bit of storytelling.

One thing it does do is tell us that the storyline surrounding the Doctor's death will probably be dealt with in series 6, and not carried over to series 7. At least, assuming Moffat is following the contemporary format of series-spanning story arcs; dropping repeated hints about the same plot element almost always means that element will be dealt with in the series finale. Unless, of course, the series finale ends on a cliffhanger. But Doctor Who is uniquely ill-suited to the Dallas-style inter-series cliffhanger, because the Christmas Specials interrupt the dramatic tension period.

There is one other thing I do want to praise about the episode, though: George has a dollhouse, and no one thinks this is odd, or makes disparaging remarks about it. That struck me as a nice nod to gender-neutral parenting.

Next week, we have The Girl Who Waited, which I will admit now I'm not looking forward to, given that the plot appears to be 'Amy is captured and'. After A Good Man Goes To War, I had really hoped we would be able to stop putting the girl in the fridge quite so often. But it looks like the writers still can't seem to work that out of their system, so here we go again...