On a quiet suburban street, a little girl is drawing people and making them disappear. This is a monster story where the ‘monster’ is a girl’s imagination… except the girl is actually a lonely alien who has stolen her body. Er, yeah, okay.
In short, it’s not very good, but there is a degree of merit in this story. The idea of ‘monsters’ being misunderstood creatures rather than purely evil beings has been a defining characteristic of some of Doctor Who’s more imaginative episodes; however it’s simplistically handled here and all of it through clumsy exposition. It’s up to the Doctor to tediously explain what’s happening, who the alien is, why it’s so lonely, what it wants, and so on. The performance of the girl is not up to the task, unfortunately.
The performances are awful across the board; it’s as if the Doctor and Rose have dropped into a cheap soap opera. From the prophetic old woman, pulled straight from the book of clichés, to parents whose only reaction to losing their children is to sound a bit annoyed. The girl’s mother, Trish, who is supposed to be conveying fear over her child, barely shows it and comes across emotionally detached and negligent. Instead, most of the characterisation is projected onto her by the Doctor and Rose, telling her what she must be feeling. Between them, they carry the entire story, and their chemistry and jokes are just about strong enough to hold it.
The only other remarkable thing is the 2012 setting at the London olympic games, although it’s almost irrelevant to the plot. Using the torch as an ‘icon of love’ (and warmth) is schmaltzy as hell and the Doctor running up to light the torch at the end is even worse. Obviously, now that 2012 has been and gone, David Tennant did not run up and light the torch during the opening ceremony – as that would have singlehandedly redeemed this in my eyes!
The episode has a creepy tone: pictures that move in the corner of your eye, monsters living in your closet, the silhouette of the girl at the window from outside… it’s pulling from well-worn tropes at every turn, but doesn’t have much style of its own. Kids might find it more unsettling, particularly, the shadowy ‘daddy monster’ figure at the end, but, for me, it’s too broad and doesn’t quite work. Unfortunately, it takes the peril too far with the ridiculous moment when the whole stadium of people disappears, as if the story can’t possibly work on an intimate level, so instead the whole world has to be in danger yet again. Is this going to be explained to the public as another publicity stunt? I tell you what, Torchwood has got its work cut out for it.