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October 10, 2015

Doctor Who: Midnight

by Brad Trechak, posted Jul 11th 2008 10:00PM
Doctor Who(S04E10) Russell T. Davies proves me wrong...and right. I have said since the first season of Doctor Who's relaunch that the man can't write science fiction. I still believe that. But I never said he couldn't write. Actually, he's a very good writer in terms of writing about emotions and relationships (which is why we're introduced to each companion's family in the new series). Fortunately, this episode's writing plays more upon his strengths.

The Doctor and Donna are visiting the planet Midnight, a crystalline planet which is located so close to its sun that exposure to the Xtonic radiation from it would vaporize any living thing in seconds. This is an example of Davies' inability to write sci-fi. Couldn't he have used a bit more of a basis in fact for Xtonic radiation rather than making something up? There are many radiations out there that can kill people. In a move that is very different than he has done in years past, the Doctor decides to travel alone (with a tour group, of course) to visit the Sapphire Waterfall while Donna chills out in the hotel (making the episode virtually Donna-less).

While going on its three-hour tour (okay, it was four hours. I just wanted to use a Gilligan's Island theme), the ground shuttle is attacked by some sort of creature which rips open the front part, vaporizing the drivers, and seemingly possesses one of the passengers named Sky Silvestry (played by Lesley Sharp). While the remaining passengers wait for help to arrive, cabin fever sets in and they get a bit snarky with each other. Why does a creature than can rip open doors need to possess people?

A brilliant maneuver plot-wise by Davies is having the monster in this episode be invisible, untouchable and having unknown goals, making it very dangerous. It only presents itself within Sky by first repeating the words of other passengers like a child's game, then saying them at the same time, then saying them in advance of the other person (apparently, this causes the particular person the creature focuses on to lose their individuality for whatever nefarious purpose it had in mind).

Having the majority of the action take place in the shuttle must have also saved on the budget, much like last season's "Gridlock" (which took place in ships that looked remarkably similar to each other). This seemed more of a filler episode while Davies and company prepared the final trilogy of the season.

Davies get us sympathetic with the few shuttle passengers by introducing us to all of them through the Doctor, making us feel for them more. It amplifies the tragedy of the passengers having to throw Sky outside the ship and let her die to save the Doctor.

Random thoughts:

  • Rose makes a quick appearance on a video screen silently shouting for the Doctor. More foreshadowing
  • The character of Professor Hobbes is played by David Troughton, who is the son of the second actor to play the main character in Doctor Who, the late Patrick Troughton, This is not the first Doctor Who episode he has appeared in, having been in a few of his father's episodes and a few from the era of the third Doctor, Jon Pertwee. There is definitely a family resemblance. I wonder if they could have him back playing his father's role in some sort of multiple Doctor story? What with Georgia Moffett (daughter of fifth Doctor Peter Davison) appearing in "The Doctor's Daughter", this has been the season for seeing the Doctor's children.
  • When I saw this episode, I thought of that old Twilight Zone episode in which William Shatner saw the creature on the wing of the plane while he was in flight. Same fundamental concept.
  • This is the first time in the new series that the Doctor has been companion-less through the episode (the previous time before this was the Tom Baker episode "The Deadly Assassin").

Science fiction has always been about asking the question "what if?", and there are those writers who can ask or answer the question better than others. Russell T. Davies is not one of the better ones, but he can certainly write about people and this episode shows it.

What exactly was the invisible alien enemy in this episode?
A being of pure energy26 (12.1%)
A creature of pure thought50 (23.4%)
Michael Jackson25 (11.7%)
The love-child of Russell T. Davies and a Dalek35 (16.4%)
Something that can't be covered in this list78 (36.4%)

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I liked it. We so rarely get to see the Doctor genuinely scared. while I love his fearless and somewhat flippant attitude in the face of danger, it was a nice change to see him struggling so.

On another note, if this episode was near Donna-less and we are starting to see Rose, can we hope that Donna will soon be a thing of the past? I find her terribly annoying.

July 13 2008 at 1:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Actually, the Twilight Zone I thought this episode resembled was "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street"
Here's a link to the Wikipedia description:
The difference being that there actually was a monster trapped with the Doctor and his fellow passengers. Still, a nice showcase for David Tennant.

July 13 2008 at 12:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It reminded me more of TZ's "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street." In that episode the aliens needed to only do a few tricks to freak people out, and make them turn on one another. That's exactly what happened here -- the real monsters in that cabin where the passengers.

July 12 2008 at 2:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I thought the episode was much more like the TZ episode "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street", in which aliens were driving the humans to turn on each other and make their ultimate victory simpler.

"Davies get us sympathetic with the few shuttle passengers by introducing us to all of them through the Doctor, making us feel for them more."

I felt no sympathy for the other characters at all - they weren't the least bit interested in saving the Doctor, just in saving themselves. If they'd managed to toss him out, they'd have just turned on the next person Sky targeted.

July 12 2008 at 2:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Was it just me or did the description of Midnight remind anyone else of that kid from last season's description of Utopia?

July 12 2008 at 1:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I would argue that the Doctor is never without companions. In the absence of a regular companion, other characters end up playing the companion's role. In this episode, each of the other tourists acted as the Doctor's companion at one point, or at the very least exhibited characteristics the Doctor values in his companions. Seriously, the man is pathologically unable to be alone.

July 12 2008 at 8:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This wasn't my favorite episode of the season, the concept was good, but I just got a bit annoyed at it. However the last 3 episodes of the season more then make up for it.

It's funny you mention that twilight zone episode (which I just watched thanks to the 4th of July marathon on Scifi) I can seem some similarities with that episode, but when I originally watched Midnight I immediately thought of the Twilight Zone classic, The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.

July 12 2008 at 4:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Chris's comment

That's exactly the TZ episode I was thinking of. It detracted from the episode for me because it just seemed so derivative. It was terrific to see Lesley Sharp, who is just an amazing actress (and who co-starred in RTD's "Second Coming" with 9th Doctor Eccleston--which is really really worth watching), but I didn't feel like he gave her much to do. Haughty, then statue-like and mimic-ing. Then gone. I would have liked to have seen her in the role of the hostess, or Dee Dee, who had interesting parts.

July 12 2008 at 8:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

David Tennant is a brilliant actor. the look on his face when they first grabbed him you could just see the doctor realize he might die and trying to force his mind and body to fight back. it was all in his eyes and face. brilliant man, they couldn't have picked a better actor to play 10.

July 12 2008 at 1:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have to laugh at worrying over xtonic radiation in the face of Dr Who and a possessing alien creature.

July 11 2008 at 11:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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