Night Terrors was the ninth episode in the sixth series of Doctor Who. The episode is set an unknown amount of time after Let’s Kill Hitler and again shows the Doctor’s sympathy towards children in distress as in The Eleventh Hour and The Beast Below. Like Fear Her’s Isolus, the chaos of the entire episode arises from a child’s psychic powers. It also continued the second half of series 6’s theme – the Doctor’s impending death – through the contrast of the Eleventh Doctor’s feeling of age and impending death and the fears of a child.
In an apartment block on Earth, a young boy called George is being put to bed by his mother, Claire, before she leaves for work; however, George is terrified of everything and reluctant to go to sleep. He makes his mother turn the lights on and off five times — a nightly ritual — and Claire encourages him to put what he’s afraid of in his cupboard. When she leaves, George starts whispering, “Please save me from the monsters,” over and over. Through the crack in the door, he listens to his mother and father, Alex, talking. Claire insists that George needs to see a doctor about his problems. George thinks about this and continues his chanting.
Meanwhile, in the TARDIS — which is floating in space at the other end of the universe — Amy and Rory are enjoying a mug of some beverage as the Eleventh Doctor works the console. The Doctor abruptly spins around and pulls out the psychic paper, and reads George’s plea from it. He then begins setting the TARDIS on a new course, saying he hasn’t done something in a while. When questioned by Amy what he means, the Doctor says “a house call”.
The TARDIS materializes and Amy and Rory depart, being temporarily unimpressed with where they have ended up, expecting aliens and history. The Doctor says that it’s like that most of the time, but they are not up to that today. Instead, they are answering a cry for help from the scariest place in the universe; a child’s bedroom. The group splits up to search for George, each meeting a variety of characters, including the elderly Mrs Rossiter, the beefy landlord Jim Purcell, and a mother and her twin daughters. All of the residents are suspicious of the strangers and slam the door in their faces.
As they pass by George’s window, Rory jokes that they should let the monsters he’s scared of eat him, scaring George even more. The Doctor notices George looking out the window at Amy and Rory. Meeting his companions, the Doctor diverts them to a lower floor while he goes to George’s apartment and knocks at the door. He is greeted by Alex, who believes that he is a Child Services representative that Claire called. The Doctor confirms this easily given cover via his psychic paper.
Amy and Rory take an elevator to the lower floor, but the sound of the lift terrifies George, who continues chanting, “Please save me from the monsters.” His mantra prompts the elevator to plummet downwards at an alarmingly high speed; once it reaches the ground floor, the doors open to reveal that Amy and Rory are no longer inside. They awake on the floor of a dark and unusual house, though Rory suspects they have died (again).
The Doctor speaks to Alex about George’s fears, though Alex insists that George is “scared to death of everything.” Alex and Claire have created a tradition with George — anything that scares him, they put in the cupboard. The Doctor meets George, who wonders if the Doctor has come to take him away. However, he dismisses this, saying he is only there to ask him about the monsters.
Elsewhere, Amy and Rory have begun exploring their new environment. Rory changes his previous theory, suggesting that the TARDIS has malfunctioned and they have been transported to the 1700s; however, they later discover a lantern with an electric light bulb inside it, along with a wooden pan painted to look like it was made of copper. They are not in the past, butwhere are they?
Back in the flat, per the Doctor’s suggestion, they prepare to open George’s cupboard, but Purcell arrives and starts badgering Alex about the rent money he owes. George watches from his room, obviously terrified of Purcell and his dog. The Doctor tries to comfort George by activating all of his electronic toys with the sonic screwdriver; once George has calmed down, the Doctor scans his cupboard for “monsters,” and is clearly shocked and terrified by the sonic’s readings, which are “off the charts.” When Alex returns and reaches for the cupboard door, the Doctor frantically stops him and declares, “George’s monsters are real.”
Elsewhere, Amy and Rory continue to explore the strange house in which they’ve landed, and become aware of a sinister giggling in a nearby closet. Their fears are temporarily allayed when they see the cupboard merely contains a human-sized wooden doll; however, when they leave the room to continue their exploring, the doll comes to life and begins to follow them.
The Doctor begins making tea, but Alex stops him, outraged that the Doctor has apparently fed George’s fears. However, the Doctor tells him he’s the ultimate expert and that whatever is in the cupboard is so evil and powerful, it made George’s fear break the barriers of time and space to reach him. Alex can only look dumbfounded by the Doctor’s explanation — “You’re not from Social Services are you?”
Outside, Mrs Rossiter has taken out her trash, but sees something moving in the pile. Suspecting it may be George or another kid, she leans in to see who it is, but is “devoured” by the trash and ends up in the same house as Amy and Rory.
At the same time, the Doctor is looking through a photo album of Alex’s family, enjoying a cup of tea. However, he then wonders if they should open the cupboard. At first he thinks it’s the best idea so they know what it is, but then thinks it’s a bad idea as he has no idea how powerful or evil the monsters are. Alex agrees with him both times; the Doctor ultimately decides to open the cupboard.
Elsewhere, Purcell is trying to find something to watch on television, but finds nothing he likes, telling his dog, Bernard, that they’ll have to watch the same film again. Getting up from his chair, Purcell finds that his foot is stuck in the floor and is being sucked into it. Though he calls for help, Purcell is sucked in completely.
Inside the flat, the Doctor opens the cupboard to find nothing but old clothes and toys inside it. This makes him puzzled because of the readings he got. He then realizes that he is missing something. Picking up one of the photo albums, the Doctor realises that in a photo taken mere weeks before George’s birth, Claire does not appear to be pregnant. Pressured by the Doctor, Alex shouts that Claire can’t have children and becomes confused as to how he just remembered that. As the Doctor wonders what George is, the cupboard doors swing open and a bright light begins to suck Alex and the Doctor inside; George watches, horrified while chanting, “Please save me from the monsters.” Despite the Doctor’s attempts to help George understand that he means no harm, he is sucked inside with Alex.
Elsewhere, Rory has begun panicking, but is quickly calmed by Amy. They run into Purcell, who begs them to keep “them” away from him. Much to their horror, they watch him be grabbed by a doll and turned into one. Amy tells Rory to panic now and they run into a room and block the door with a large spool of thread.
Inside the cupboard, the Doctor realizes that they are in George’s dollhouse. Alex is reluctant to believe this and demands the Doctor tell him how he could forget Claire couldn’t have kids. The Doctor explains it’s because of a powerful perception filter, which changed the memories of them and everyone around them. They pass a mirror, which shows another doll; it begins following them.
Back to Amy and Rory. They’ve decided to take control of the situation by surprising the dolls by letting them in. They open the door and run out. However, Amy is caught by a doll and, much to Rory’s horror, becomes one of the dolls chasing him. All this while, the dolls sing a haunting rhyme.
In the meantime, the Doctor and Alex have found a toy that flashes on and off the same amount of times as George wants his bedroom light to be. The Doctor deduces that the dollhouse is a psychic repository for all the things that George fears; even the sound of the lift has been put in there. Outside, the lift and the other things in the building have begun working on their own. They are then surprised by the doll and use a pair of safety scissors to keep it at bay.
As they flee, the Doctor realizes George is a Tenza, an alien species that are like cuckoo birds; they find foster parents and adapt perfectly into what their parents want as their child. George instinctively sought out Claire and Alex because they could not have kids. However, something startled him and began this subconscious cycle of fear. The Doctor then begins shouting to George to make him aware that he is controlling everything that is happening in the dollhouse. However, George will not listen to him.
Forced up the stairs, the Doctor is happy to see Rory, who is also being chased by dolls, and is horrified to see Amy has been turned into one. He then yells to George again, telling him he is the only one who can save them from being in a “living death” — being one of the dolls. George opens the cupboard. George appears in the dollhouse and the dolls stop focusing on the Doctor, Rory, and Alex.
The Doctor congratulates George, but the dolls begin moving again, but this time towards George. This confuses the Doctor as he tries to get George to believe he can smash the world they’re in. George is too scared to believe him. The Doctor then remembers George asking if he was going to take him away when he introduced himself. It was Alex and Claire’s suggestion that George be sent somewhere for help that inspired George’s fears; he misunderstood the suggestion as a rejection of him. The Doctor encourages Alex to tell George that he was wrong, and while Alex initially expresses some reluctance at accepting George as his son, when he sees the dolls surrounding him and hears George’s cries, he pushes the dolls aside to protect him. Alex tearfully embraces George and promises to never send him away. All the dolls stop moving. The cupboard opens and brilliant light shines out.
All who were taken into the dollhouse wake on Earth the next morning, returned to their human forms. Amy is confused by what happened, though Rory insists that everything that she thinks happened is real.
Back at the apartment, Claire returns home, astonished to find her son happy and well. Alex lies that the Doctor came from Social Services and is the reason for George being better. The Doctor prepares to leave, but Alex runs after him, wondering what he should do since George isn’t human. The Doctor commends Alex for his actions and insists that George will grow up like a normal boy, and will become whatever his parents want him to be. However, he promises to visit around George’s puberty as it’s “always a funny time”.
The Doctor meets up with Amy and Rory and they return to the TARDIS, with the Doctor remembering that they previously requested aliens and history. Amy’s mind is still having trouble focusing after her transformation into a doll and Rory says choosing a destination in the TARDIS is like having three wishes. The Doctor then gets an idea from this and goes on to explain it. As they set a course for their next destination, a nursery rhyme sounds: “Tick-tock, goes the clock, even for the Doctor,” as the time and place of the Doctor’s death appears onscreen.