I went into this episode with decidedly mixed feelings – the new Who hasn’t had the best track records when it comes to modern day domestic drama (remember Fear Her? And I’m not looking forward to the upcoming follow-up to last year’s The Lodger), but I quite like Mark Gatiss, even if he was responsible for last year’s Daleks-by-numbers episode. The line-up of guest actors didn’t really inspire confidence either – I have a rather irrational dislike for Daniel Mays (or it might be rational, as he always seems to be his same annoying self, including here – although to be fair he wasn’t playing an outright ‘geezer’), but on the other hand I quite like Emma Cunniffe (shame she was barely in it).
I was probably right to be wary as I found the episode really quite annoying. Mainly because it revolved mostly around an eight-year old boy hyperventilating. After Let’s Kill Hitler’s manic plot, this week seemed rather lacking, although it does make it mercifully easier to write about . And some of the lines of dialogue really didn’t ring true at all – particularly the exchange between Mays’ Alex and the cartoonishly evil landlord (I had no problem with his dog though).
Other than the obvious Fear Her comparison (and, it must be said, this episode never approached the awfulness of that one), I was reminded of Moffat’s magnificent The Girl in the Fireplace, or at least the opening of it where clockwork robots invaded the future Madame de Pompadour’s bedroom (the bizarre wooden doll monsters were even dressed for roughly the same period). And the old lady being sucked into the bin bags was rather like what happened to Mickey back in the first episode of the Who revival. Was the evil Dollhouse setting where the climax of the episode happened original though? I can’t think of any similar settings in past Who adventures off the top of my head, but it does feel like something that would have been used at some point – perhaps in a Patrick Troughton story.
To be positive about the episode, I liked the setting – Doctor Who may have already done the council estate thing with Rose’s storyline, but this block seemed to be much more imposing and menacing – and although the decor was rather too retro (had they just unearthed the Nelson Mandela House set from Only Fools and Horses?), the subdued lighting rather suited Matt Smith’s mug (yes, weird thing to notice, which might suggest the bulk of the episode wasn’t good enough to hold my attention – I also found myself a bit distracted by some of the editing as it’s not often that you see ‘wipes’ used in Who). There were a few funny lines here and there too, which were much appreciated, in particular the woman’s bending the Doctor’s ear over the state of the bins (that most British of complaints), and Rory’s conviction that he was dead ‘again’. But it was a bit of a poor show really, and, judging by the action heavy trailer for next week’s episode, I don’t have particularly high hopes for that one either.