Alone in the TARDIS, the Doctor muses on the possibility that we are never alone. Even when we think we’re the only one in the room, there is an unseen presence that we can sometimes detect if we listen. From his research of recorded dreams he thinks he has identified one dream that everyone has: there’s someone under the bed, and when they put their feet to the floor, they feel someone grab their ankle. Even the Doctor has had that dream. His curiosity gets the better of him and he sets out to discover whether there really is something hiding in the shadows. Meanwhile, Clara is trying to have a date with Danny Pink, but an already disastrous evening gets even worse when the Doctor ropes her into his experiment…
SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!
This was an unusual story in that the Doctor’s adversary was unseen, and perhaps even non-existent. Indeed, this was not a danger the Doctor walked into, but one the Doctor sought. The only tangible appearance of the “monster in the shadows” was the figure on Rupert Pink’s bed covered in his blanket. Whether or not the figure was a child playing a prank, or something more sinister, is never answered. And as for the Doctor’s own experience of the entity under the bed, it turns out that was actually Clara! So in terms of traditional Doctor Who “good versus evil” stories, this was an oddity, and I think that explains why the audience appreciation index for the episode was lower than usual. Most people like definable threats and definite victories; here the threat was questionable, and there was no victory as such. Many of the questions asked at the beginning remained unanswered. This episode seemed to leave a lot of people feeling wrong-footed, and I completely understand that.
Yet, on the other hand, I also completely understand the almost unanimous praise the episode scored with the critics. Some even went so far as to call it the best episode of Doctor Who ever, though most were a little more reserved (“best since ‘The Eleventh Hour'” or “best Steven Moffat story”). It was a clever script, full of thought-provoking ideas and imaginative concepts. There was also some good character development for both Clara and Danny, moving their story arc along in a way that was both entertaining and surprising. And Capaldi’s Doctor continues to draw from the darker aspects of the Time Lord’s psyche. His fascination with fear and the way he uses Clara to further his study shows his disconnect with humanity, though the way he talks to young Rupert reminds us that the gentler aspects are still there.
Of course, the unanswered questions about monsters under the bed are nothing compared to the unanswered questions about the Doctor and Danny Pink! One of this episode’s objectives was to shed a bit more light onto Danny. I believe he is scheduled to join the TARDIS crew in a few episodes, so it’s as well we get to know him. When Clara discovers the toy soldier among Orson Pink’s possessions, we think we understand how Danny and Orson fit into Clara’s story: Orson’s a descendent of Danny and Clara. But then Clara gives the soldier to the child Doctor hiding under his bedcovers in the barn on Gallifrey. How does that work? How did the soldier get from the Doctor to the children’s home? If it weren’t for that toy soldier, the Danny/Orson Pink story would be simple: Danny and Clara get together, Danny becomes a TARDIS companion, and that legacy of time travel continues down to his future offspring. But that toy soldier forges a link between the Doctor and Danny. It could be as straight-forward as the Doctor visiting the home sometime in the past and leaving the soldier in the box for Danny to find. But if it has any significance at all, you know it won’t be that simple. Some are suggesting Danny is the Master, and given that the Doctor and the Master were childhood friends, there’s a link that could explain how the soldier got from the Doctor to Danny–though I’m not 100% convinced of it yet.
To sum up, this was an excellent story, though very non-traditional which perhaps leaves the Whovian viewer feeling a little disconcerted. I don’t consider it to be Moffat’s best ever, but it’s certainly the first since he took over from RTD to achieve anywhere near the genius of his earlier episodes.
What did you think of the episode? How do you think the toy soldier got from the Doctor to Danny? And what about the story’s ambiguous resolution? Share your thoughts in the comments!