Doctor Who: Midnight

Doctor: 'Ah, I'll be fine. Taking a big space truck with a bunch of strangers across a diamond planet called Midnight—what could possibly go wrong?'

They did things differently this year. Since 2006, each season of Doctor Who has contained what's lovingly referred to as a Doctor-lite episode. If it wasn't for the now traditional Christmas episode, there'd be no need, as there'd be more than enough time to film all thirteen episodes—but since Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a festive Who, concessions had to be made, and the Doctor-lite episode is it.

The general idea is, the Doctor makes a brief appearance, whilst the rest of the story is carried by a cast of relative unknowns. And whilst this admittedly sounds like a fucking horrible idea (and in the case of 'Love and Monsters' arguably was), it hasn't been a complete disaster. Season three's 'Blink' was a veritable triumph of storytelling. This year, however, rather of having one episode almost completely devoid of the Doctor and his companion, they split them up instead—Tennant got to star in 'Midnight', and Donna got to star in 'Turn Left'. Which in the grand scheme of things worked out pretty well; 'Midnight' and 'Turn Left' are two of my favourite episodes of the season.

This episode was written as a replacement for the Tom MacRae penned episode 'Century House', which was pulled from the schedule after Russell T. Davies deemed it too similar to 'The Unicorn and the Wasp'. Those of you with good memories may remember that Tom MacRae also wrote season two story 'The Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel', a tale which also bore striking similarities to 'Father Day'. I think I see that pattern developing again.

This was a claustrophobic episode all told. Lesley Sharp was excellent as Sky Silvestry. The possession sequences were totally creepy. Having Sky speak in exact sync with the other passengers was a mesmerising effect, and for the first half of the episode I was absolutely engrossed in her exchanges with the Doctor. Logistically speaking, this must have been an insanely difficult episode to film. The mimicry was so exacting, the margin for error so small—but Tennant and Sharp pulled it off with absolute conviction.

Where I thought the wheels came off (at least a little), was during the last 15 minutes. It was interesting to watch the Doctor trying to call everyone's bluff, but what an unlikable bunch they all turned out to be. Not one of them rose to the occasion. Even though the Hostess sacrificed herself at the end, I'm still not sure it made up for her earlier behaviour. Even Jethro switched sides. I know everyone was frightened, and that their predicament was dire, but everyone seemed to turn to murder far too quickly. The Doctor's 'everything will be fine, trust me' spiel fell on totally deaf ears. He didn't have one ally—and in the end they almost ended up killing him.

It was odd, too, that the shuttle passengers showed surprise at the Doctor being an alien. They were on an alien planet and, presumably, in the future. Were they not theoretically aliens themselves? Or had they just not encountered other aliens before?

Other Thoughts:

—Why didn't the hostess just shove Sky out the door? Why the self sacrifice?

—I actually didn't recognise Colin Morgan first time around—he played rebellious emo, Jethro Cane. Morgan's now the star of BBC drama show, Merlin (now inexplicably in its second season), which like Doctor Who, is produced by TV Wales and also fills the early Saturday evening time-slot. Coincidence? Of course. What else would it be? I'm not suggesting favouritism for a moment.

—No TARDIS in tonight's episode.

—David Troughton, who played Professor Hobbes, is the son of second Doctor, Patrick Troughton.

—Rose's face appeared briefly on one of the shuttle's monitor screens. I'm not sure how. Didn't The Doctor shut down the shuttle's entertainment systems?

Billie says...

The fear of the Other. People, who seem to be quite nice, normal people, start turning on each other when they think aliens are invading -- classic Twilight Zone plot. The point was that the alien that took over Sky wasn't necessarily a monster; the people on the shuttle were the monsters. Who knows what the alien really wanted? It certainly seemed to be malevolent, but it had just heard a half an hour of people terrified of it, ready to shove it out of the shuttle door. The Doctor barely escaped a really horrible death, just because he was clever. Well, and because he was an alien, too.

There was a lot about this episode that I liked. The idea of a small group of people trapped on a vehicle in the middle of nowhere in a wild and crazy situation (the basic Alien scenario) is a good dramatic staple for a reason. (It didn't work out quite as well in a more recent Who special with a bus.) The repetition thing was just chilling and done extremely well. I liked the Doctor turning off all of the entertainment in order to get to know the fellow passengers, although the message we got later was that they certainly weren't worth knowing.

Quotes:

Doctor: "I'll be back for dinner. We'll try that antigravity restaurant, with bibs."

Doctor and Sky: "Roast beef. Bananas. The Medusa Cascade. BANG! Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, Donna Noble, TARDIS. Shamble-bobble-dibble-dooble. Oh, Doctor, you're so handsome. Yes, I am, thank you. A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-I-J-K-L-M-N-O."

Doctor and Sky: "Mrs Silvestry, I'm trying to understand. You've captured my speech, what for? What do you need? You need my voice in particular, the cleverest voice in the room? Why? Because I'm only one who can help? Ooh, I'd love that to be true but your eyes, they're saying something else."
---
Four moor peaces eye rote, sea hear.

10 comments:

shawnlunn2002 said...

Um, Merlin airs on BBC1 not ITV. Colin Morgan did look different here than he does in the other show.

I liked this episode, it's certainly one of the more different episodes out there(but the next one is beyond amazing).

People can be monsters in a huge way and this played on xenophobia quite differently too.

I think David Tennant himself has cited this as one of his favourites as well.

Billie - The Waters Of Mars airs on Saturday on BBC America and The End Of Time Parts 1 and 2 air on Boxing Day and January 2nd also on BBC America.

Billie Doux said...

Thanks, Shawn. In fact, I already have them DVR'd -- we're ready.

Paul Kelly said...

Thanks for the correction Shawn. I've amended my review. Not sure why I said ITV in the first place. Despite not really liking it much, I watch Merlin religiously every week. I'm waiting for it to get good. Or get cancelled. Either works.

Mark Greig said...

Simply one of the best episodes Russell has ever written for the show. The next one ain't half bad either.

Patryk said...

Wow intense and creepy. Basically a bottle episode but proves you can do so much with only actors in confined space.

Michael Colvin said...

I think that this episode also shows why the Companion/Doctor relationship can be so important. He needed an ally badly. The fact that he didn't have one was the downfall of the episode.

atapper said...

what a terribly wonderful episode. not one of those people onboard proved themselves to be "the better men" as the Doctor would say. the scene where they began to turn on the Doctor was just horrible and made you want to just slap them silly and say "DON'T YOU KNOW WHO THIS IS?!?!!" i think the most gut-wrenching moment was seeing the Doctor forced to repeat with tears in his eyes. excellent acting, excellent episode, brava!

a.m. said...

I've just recently started watching Who--4 weeks ago in fact and this is how far I've come so you can imagine what my brain is like...Anyway, I've loved reading these reviews while watching each new episode and I haven't made many comments because, well you wrote them years ago and I wasn't sure if anyone would comment back. But this episode is the first one where I really disagree with what's been said.

I loved this episode. It was frightening and funny and filled with David Tennant, what more could you want? I don't think the people were nasty people I think the alien (whatever it was) was making them that way. Sky said it in the end as she was trapping the Doctor--that they were all hearing voices in their heads and that "he" was causing it. The voices just didn't affect the Doctor in the same way, that's why the alien latched on to him--it knew he was stronger than the humans. At least that's how I saw it...

Thanks for the great reviews! I can't wait until I catch up--although then I don't know what I'll do when I have to wait week to week or even months for a new episode:) maybe I should slow down...

Kenneth Serenyi said...

I agree with your review, a.m. I doubt everyone would act that way solely out of fear. I'm even later in the game, especially since I skipped this season initially to get to the Mat Smith Doctor (I'm glad I did). I've only reached this episode and the 2 following ones today. ;)

GawkyBird said...

I'm in the same situation as a.m. and Kenneth -- just working through the series for the first time so haven't felt the need to comment before now, but with an urgent need to respectfully disagree with the consensus on the demeanor of the passengers.

Something about the edge in their voices. The line the Doctor says about the whispers in their ears. The fact that Jared, the stubborn rebel, takes longer to succumb to the paranoia and wrestles with it harder. The alien needed to get rid of the Doctor because he was "too clever" to fall to whatever influence it had over everyone else. It wasn't their fault for being such horrible people!

Now that I've defended the innocent, I must say this is my favorite review site. Thank you so much for providing so many intelligent, insightful reviews, sometimes from different perspectives and usually with good commentary, too. You guys do an awesome job!