Story No. 212 Repeat after me
Production Code Series Four Episode Ten
Dates June 14 2008

With David Tennant, Catherine Tate
Written by Russell T Davies Directed by Alice Troughton
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.

Synopsis: The Doctor takes a tour bus to the surface of the crystalline planet Midnight. But is there something outside... or has it already got in?


A Review by Harry O'Driscoll 24/10/09

Midnight is well and truly an episode like no other and it came not a minute too soon. With all due respect to RTD, season 4 has been quite boring and unimaginative, but this is a story that thinks outside the box for a change, and isn't that sort of what Doctor Who and science fiction in general is all about?

It is so good to see a story that doesn't receive merit for special effects but from plot and characterization. A wonderful of example of cabin fever and how people can change when they are scared. For once, even the Doctor is scared and when the passengers turn on him for what must be the first time he takes a reality check. He is on his own, no one to vouch for him and people instantly pick the odd one out. He is properly shaken at the end and perhaps sees humanity in a slightly different light. He has no TARDIS and is trapped with everybody turning against him and he is well and truly powerless and on his own. He can no longer command the authority he usually does amongst people and he more vulnerable than ever.

Sky Silvestry (that's what I'm calling the thing possessing her) is the first time in a long time that Doctor Who has actually scared me. For once, we see a different kind of villain that doesn't gloat, doesn't tell all its plans but just repeats, even the Doctor can't coax a proper response out of her. As it synchronizes with everyone, we see that this creature isn't passive, it is aware of what is happening. The idea that it is stealing their words gives a sense that they can't even talk without it in its own way attacking them.

All the passengers are fascinating; not necessarily on their own, but when they are panicking over the alien. When they start to lash out at each other and not just the Doctor, we see the true desperation and paranoia that they are leaping at whoever opens their mouth next. Ultimately, the hostess (whose name we will never know) is the one who stops for a second, sees what is happening and makes that ultimate sacrifice.

The only criticism that springs to mind is that it would have been good to see some more of the planet Midnight. A planet made of diamonds would have made a welcome change to the endless quarries but after such captivating drama I'm not going to complain. Midnight is appropriately and absolute diamond and is a fine example of why is enjoy watching Doctor Who.

A Shallow Midnight review and a Big Point about Doctor Who Teariness by Graham Pilato 25/11/09

I gotta say that I thought it was a 10/10 episode. I was totally gripped and amazed by the monster. The beginning was a lot of fun and incredibly engaging with its charming little tourists and the new and fun world. And the ending was lovely with the Doctor's shock and recovery. He wasn't the hero this time, you know! The hostess was. And her sudden selflessness was a shock, the only thing that seemed suddenly possibly out of character. It wasn't foreshadowed at all, but I suppose flight attendants need to be a little bit selfless to do what they do professionally... People in the hospitality industry are suspiciously too giving, perhaps many of them really do want to just make a Christ-like offering of themselves, like career teachers who give nearly their whole day to 150 or more students for 30 years, or firefighters risking their lives, or doctors practically sacrificing their twenties to huge amounts of schooling to heal... Doctors... hmm...

Anyway, I was totally gripped and loved the episode from beginning to end. The people on the bus were real enough for me. It was a lot like Hitchcock's "Lifeboat" (or the very good sci-fi version of it, "Lifepod", which I actually saw first). Not much to say here. Genius dialogue monster.

And as it's only my fifth 10/10 for the new Who series, I think that says something. I see this as the most suspenseful episode of the series so far, with perhaps the single exception of Blink. (My other 10s are: The Empty Child, Love and Monsters, Gridlock and Blink.)

Okay, let's discuss that. The hostess saves the day and the adventure is an emotional horrorshow for the Doctor. But that's okay. Let's see him ripped apart. And we love it. Why?

And come to that, what makes him so interesting to watch as an emoter? Not that I'm against it.

However, I've never been a fan of the "blubbiness" of the 10th Doctor. Aw, come on, buck up, Doctor.

It's not that being emotional is a problem at all, of course. It's perfect. It's what we need and want. But I think that a good character who makes the audience sympathize with his trying circumstances should do so with understatement as much as possible. I definitely felt the end of both the second and third seasons were "overboard". The departure of Rose was unintentional and unexpected for the Doctor, the near-confession of love and all the tears and the needing of the channeling of a supernova to make the link in Doomsday was all so dramatic, but it put me right out of caring for him. It went much farther than Doctor Who has gone before to show the Doctor as not just sympathetic (a pretty big mistake, I think, as he's supposed to be so alien and interesting and strange) but sentimental.

Ooh, and crying over the Master's death, that was not just painful for me, but weird. I don't care if it makes sense to someone talking about the last of the Time Lords and all that. The mantra of the 10th Doctor isn't "Alons-y", it's "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." (Okay, that needs some citations, perhaps, but for now suffice to say you know he's said it a LOT... so much so that when River Song said it I felt like she must have gotten it from him.) And even if he's often guilty, is it interesting or even right? It's so out of character for a guy who's a righteous domestic destroyer of Prime Ministers' careers. He feels but he reels too. I'm emotional, but I don't want to be pushed to cry for a guy who I think of as imminently capable of distancing himself for centuries now from such small-time emotions and too-human qualities.

The previous Doctors all had emotional responses before in the past, but the 10th Doctor is doing all of my crying for me. The 5th, for instance, has had underplayed moments again and again that have moved me to tears and kept his alienness intact (the ends of Earthshock, Terminus, even the last seconds of Warriors of the Deep are all really powerful... but Tegan's departure and then his own "is this death?" were all far more moving to me than just about any big teary 10th Doctor moment, save the last third of The Family of Blood.

Overplaying emotion as an actor can choke the depth right out of a scene. People say it's good acting or bad acting... It's definitely acting, and strong choices on the part of David Tennant and his directors, but I think few moments have removed me from sympathy with his Doctor as much as the overblown 2nd and 3rd season finales and their teary moments. I love epic Who stuff beyond belief, but the thing is: the Doctor is already plenty epic, he don't need no giant tears. Still, The End of the World's teary moment was awesome and the human John Smith is a totally different story.

I think The Doctor's Daughter tears have to be miles too far, though, seeing as the character who was his daughter was sketched in about as well as a stick figure that likes to run and fight bad guys. We knew her longer than he did.

The folks who say that the new series benefits from some ongoing character development and emotional lives for the Doctor and companions are right, I'm sure. The classic series had half as much emphasis on such "soapy" things, too, and surely the new series benefits from lovers of the the ongoing plots and intrigues like "When will River Song return and be so intimate with the 10th Doctor?" It's probably gonna be really good. Though, the earlier poster who said that previous Doctors were ciphers also seemed to be missing out on a lot of lovely complexities in their performances.

The 10th Doctor's big risk, like the 6th's, is big emotion. And, like the 5th, he's totally vulnerable to it, but a bit rash and a little bit fallible (and youthful). He's a big wet blanket though, compared to anything else we've ever seen before in the portrayals of the Doctor. Why always?

Essential by Mike Morris 25/6/10

One of the most surprising facts about the TV adaptation of Human Nature is that, in the initial stages, it was planned to make the serial without using any digital effects whatsoever.

In fact, the only thing that's more surprising is just how surprising a fact it is in the first place (I'm almost certain that sentence makes sense). After all, this is Human Nature we're talking about; we aren't throwing around ideas about adapting Avatar to a 3-hand theatre piece set it in a public toilet. The original novel isn't exactly bursting with complicated effects: the only really challenging sequence is when the Aubertides, sorry, Ofbloods nuke a school and turn the building into glass. That isn't in the TV version anyway, although its effective replacement - the Ofbloods zapping the village from their spaceship - is arguably the reason that the notion was abandoned in the first place.

For all that, Human Nature doesn't look anything like any other story from the new series. The only digital effects are ostentatiously snot-green, just emphasising the dustily banal look of the rest of the setting. The only Doctor Who story that comes close to this is Tooth and Claw, but Tooth and Claw's low-saturation, washed-out colours are so pronounced that they read as a deliberate stylistic choice, whereas Human Nature looks like a high-budget filmed serial from the late seventies. To sum up, it looks so ordinary that it's positively odd.

This is a roundabout way of saying that the default "look" of today's Doctor Who - not just Doctor Who in fact, but any adventure series - is a high-saturation, colourful gallery of fast-moving images and high-tempo editing. This seemed odd at first - one of the more noticeable fan-gripes about the Eccleston series at the time was that everything was way too pastel-pink in the future, and we'd rather more episodes in the dark with the occasional flash of electric-blue light, thanks - but we've now come to just accept it as how television looks (the technical reason for this ubiquity, I'm sure, is that computer graphics never quite manage to get depth-of-field right, and it's easier to synchronise them into a brightly-coloured background). At the time I wasn't the only person criticising the prettified production of The Unquiet Dead, but after The Idiot's Lantern, The Shakespeare Code, The Unicorn and the Wasp and The Fires of Pompeii all adopted the same tourist-gallery look, the objections seem pointless. Oh well, I suppose I'll have to focus on the godawful script instead.

To sum the above up; technical innovation can become so much an accepted part of vocabulary, that it takes quite a leap of imagination just to ignore it. One of the more noticeable things about the Eccleston season's scripts is that their scope is far more limited visually than anything that came after; the writers were still viewing Doctor Who scripts according to their old structure, uncertain what the new series could do, with the result that only RTD-scripted stories broke away from the "one basic setting" template, and even then not by much (The Unquiet Dead is mostly set in a house; Dalek in a bunker; Father's Day in a church). Two years later, we had Gridlock, which had visuals way beyond anything the first series ever attempted; but we also had The Lazarus Experiment, which shows how Technical Innovation can lead to a situation where "the Doctor is chased around by a computer-thing!" is seen as a viable basis for a drama. The classic series would never have done anything so banal, because the classic series knew it couldn't build a storyline around a bloke in a costume alone.

At this point, hopefully, the link to Midnight is obvious.

Midnight's brief, self-imposed by the editor (albeit I'm sure that ploughing money into the series finale was an ulterior motive) is a one-set story (aside for the non-essential prologue and epilogue). As a result, it's the sort of story that could have been made during the Troughton era without undue difficulty; even the shots of Midnight's surface are seen through screens, easily achieved by a matte painting back in black-and-white times. Truth be told, Midnight could be a stageplay. It doesn't just look odd within current Doctor Who framework, it looks odd when compared to contemporary television as a whole. It's also the most effective story in Series 4, and one of the best pieces of British television of the year. Not that it's perfect, in fact it has a fair few problems; however, it's fascinating precisely because it could have been made fifty years ago. Its most comfortable bedfellow in Doctor Who lore is The Edge of Destruction, for heaven's sake, and even that was considered unusual at the time.

In many ways, it highlights the flashes-n-bangs fallacy that had gripped Doctor Who at that stage, and still hasn't fully released its grip; odd, give that it was Russell T. Davies who wrote the thing in the first place. One of the most notable things about Midnight is that the trailer for it at the end of The Forest of the Dead was noticeably rubbish; but how do you make a trailer for a story like that anyway? Its most gripping moments are a creepy-looking actress repeating everybody else's dialogue, which isn't trailer material. This contrasts with, say, The Fires of Pompeii, which is largely crippled by the inclusion of disaster-movie elements that belong to another story altogether; tellingly, these parts of the story seem to be written with the trailer in mind.

The central beauty of the story comes from its sheer, stripped-back invention. One of the least-noted facets of Russell T. Davies as a writer is how fascinated he is by the process of production, and has written a number of stories where the narrative is based around anticipated production techniques; witness the way that the cars in Gridlock are essentially survival pods in an inimical motorway, and the production splits the CGI / physical sets neatly between the two. In Midnight, it's a shuttle on a world that only exists as CGI. Ergo, we never see what's outside, and we never find out what the monster is. The story has shipped some criticism for its refusal to give us a reveal on the monster, but this is probably the thing I like about it most; I can think of half-a-dozen perfectly serviceable SF explanations for what is outside, but none of them would have added to the story's obvious metaphor of the unseen creature as the thump-thump of paranoia.

The characters are terrific. Say what you like about Davies, but one thing he understands is the looseness of character; the people in this are fluid and without a core essence, a fundamentally decent bunch who react to threat in all sorts of different ways. The middle-England couple are the most likeable of the group until their lives are threatened, after which the real adversary of the story ends up being Jethro's mum (with dad as the bullied stooge). They aren't villains, though; they both recognise the horror of what they were prepared to do, once the moment has passed.

(Two asides; first of all, the line "You mean, like an immigrant?" is a rather shallow, sloganeering way of signalling the Hey-She-Ain't-So-Nice, and is the story's only real error. Second of all, this is one of those episodes where the perverse power of a woman over men is beautifully achieved.)

And the rest? Jethro declares "I'm not killing anyone" and acts as though on a plane of teenage superiority throughout, but doesn't intercede when the Doctor is about to be murdered. Didi - nice, pleasant, oh-so-submissive Didi - unapologetically wants to throw Sky off the ship; then, once we've written her off as having gone to the other side, she's the only voice to insist that the Doctor hasn't been possessed. Meanwhile the professor, a decent old sort who we might expect to be the one who discovers inner strength, actually collapses into being obtuse, pompous, and a downright useless windbag; a double-bluff, because he turns out to be exactly the character that the others assumed him to be at the beginning.

The unnamed stewardess commits an act of bravery that has been dismissed as out of character, but this misses the point that we never see her character. She hides behind a professional persona, looks terrified when the Doctor tries to get past her offical hospitality mode, tries desperately to adhere to procedure when it's obviously collapsed, and is then the person who figures it out and solves the problem. Essentially, if the story was told from her point of view, it would be a valedictory tale of a woman crippled by a lack of self-confidence, finally discovering the strength to trust her own judgement and being proved right.

That's the point of Midnight, really. It's a story about seven people having their own distinct crises under the same conditions. We only ever see glimpses of their stories, which is what makes it so satisfying. Whereas most characters in SF drama consist of two layers - one surface, one "true" character underneath - Midnight's crew are as volatile as real people can be. They start out as stereotypes, but those stereotypes rapidly crumble.

The Doctor goes through the mill in this one, perhaps more so than any other story. Tennant is superb here; it's a story that criticises the Doctor's entire manner, that of the smart-arsed man who makes cryptic quips to his companions to show how clever he is. It's probably the side of Tennant's Doctor I liked least - he almost never has a conversation with people, he just drops wisecracks at them - and to see this exposed so mercilessly is gloriously satisfying. Had he bothered at any stage to explain what he was doing, he wouldn't have ended up with a crew prepared to throw him out of the ship. Even in extremis - and when the passengers first start threatening to murder him, it's clear that the Doctor is very very frightened indeed - he doesn't bring himself to treat the humans as equal. Even, say, handing over his sonic screwdriver and explaining how it worked might have done the trick, but it doesn't seem to even occur to him as a course of action.

Sky Silvestry's possessed form is one of the most unsettling creatures to appear in the new series. This is largely down to a spectacular performance and perfect casting, but the dialogue is beautifully off-kilter too. The repeating is creepy; the synchronisation is worse. The Doctor's slow, careful conversation with the creature is almost hypnotic, barely sounding like human speech at all ("Whatever you want, whether it's voice or warmth or form, you don't have to steal it") so much as a litany, or intonation. The moment when Sky surpasses the Doctor, when she usurps his voice just as he's trying to broker a deal, is really terrifying. From that moment on, the sight of Tennant dumbly muttering alien dialogue ("He's waited so long... in the dark... and the cold... and the diamonds...") is a tour de force, a man paralysed, seeing his own destruction and locked in his own body.

Russell T. Davies wrote the three subsequent episodes this season, and wrote or co-wrote the four subsequent specials, but I can't help but think of this as his final burst of creativity. It sets itself clear boundaries, based on production requirements and by doing so it ends up closer to old-fashioned Doctor Who than anything before or since. After all, old-style Doctor Who was also about working within tight boundaries and writing based on methods of production. That the story chose this route, as opposed to just having it imposed by powers from above, is what makes it push the format of minimalism more than any classic Who story came close to achieving. If you want to understand the differences between new and old Doctor Who, this contains everything you want.

All of which makes it sounds like one for a student of Who rather than the viewer. Wrong; it's a wonderful slice of entertainment. After the redemptive success of Turn Left, the remainder of Davies' stories mixed sentimentality with patchily entertaining action (or in some cases sheer uselessness; Planet of the Dead, I'm looking in your direction). The stories after Turn Left - of which more anon - made me think of a man who has already made all the arguments to prove his point, and is reduced to shouting the same thing louder and louder. Midnight is altogether different; it's lean, fresh, dynamic, the work of a man who wants to innovate and challenge his audience. To do so, he does the one shocking thing he has left and embraces minimalism; he tells a story in a featureless box. The result is a clarity of purpose, a drive and economy and verve, that we wouldn't see again. Midnight is one of the strangest and most beautiful "little" stories of all time.

"No laughing matter" by Thomas Cookson 8/8/13

Midnight is one of those RTD stories that basically does what it said on the tin, in big, overstated letters. But it also does much more.

It's a story where a reviewer can write a lot about why the story's great or why it's terrible.

I'll start with the latter. This story is as hypocritical and obnoxious as RTD's writing gets. A story where we're subjected to a bombardment of overdone physical comedy of the multi-entertainment system annoying people, and the Doctor committing an act of random vandalism (a reminder that if RTD ever had a script editor, then half of this crap would probably have been filtered out) for its own sake.

A story written by possibly Britain's biggest darling of the tabloids and gutter press, here preaching about why lynch mobs and anti-immigration attitudes are evil.

It's also about the dangerous power of group think, whilst at the same time feels the need to tell the viewer what to think every single second of screentime through the most on-the-nose dialogue. Again, this supports my belief that even when doing something as edgy and daring as this, and having had four seasons to relax to the possibility of Doctor Who's popularity, RTD simply doesn't trust his audience. David Troughton seems to get the most unsayable lines "you do have a certain glee" and seems to nearly choke on them the most. The characters themselves are the usual unsophisticated RTD reductio ad absurdums that would give the Davison era regulars a run for their money. Characters who are secondary at best to the point they're there to make.

Put simply, this story does not want you to think of the underlying moral conundrum for a moment. Had the Doctor not protested the decision to throw Sky overboard, the stewardess wouldn't have ended up dead too.

When I said that the beauty of Blink was that it was brilliantly structured in such a way that made the viewer not even notice the storytelling structure, this is the polar opposite, where each change in the story beat is literally verbalised. Twice over.

Now let's talk about the former. From the angle of viewing this as a piece of existential horror, Midnight is a masterpiece. And in spite of the characters being occasionally depressingly one-dimensional, there are moments where it recaptures the realness and rawness of the early Eccleston run, and briefly puts the idiocy of Last of the Time Lords firmly out of mind.

In other words, it's nice to have something slow and sobering for a change.

I think part of why Midnight didn't work for me the first time was its false advertising. It's a trip to an alien landscape where we never get to see outside the ship. It's a mystery that's never resolved in a way that felt like obfuscation for the sake of it.

But at its heart it is about the outsider trying to integrate into society and influence it. Except of course there are two outsiders, there's the good Doctor and the other outsider is evil. What follows from there is a sad, predictable turn of events where society is shown to be more susceptible to evil's influence than that of the Doctor. In some ways, it's like what Robert Holmes intended the Master stories from the Pertwee era to be, but this is far from cosy (and perhaps a hint of what the Master's return should have been like). It certainly stands in contrast to Silence in the Library which was frightening, but ultimately very feelgood and therapeutic.

There's nothing more unsettling than Sky simultaneously imitating her own hissed venomous death sentence "we should throw her out", and no better way of communicating the impotence of the lynch mob to this unfazeable creature.

This is always going to be something of a companion piece to Turn Left, in the sense that it's the thorn in the rose. The anomalous pair of stories in this whimsical, feel-good season, where the rules change and everything goes wrong with frightening speed. That was the core point of the season of course, that every good time must come to an end, and it will usually end badly.

It also bears similarity to Turn Left in that it heavily homages Kinda (notice the circle of mirrors in Turn Left), What we see is an evil abstract entity that, through a symbolic rape allusion, possesses a woman, and uses her as a vessel for evil, from where she manipulates a situation into explosive conflict.

Elaria's character journey in Dalek Empire III was very much an allegory for the legacy of abuse, lost identity, compulsive lying, misdirected rage and even adoptive behaviour.

We see Sky effectively raped by this entity and then emerging from that experience as an evil manipulator with power over everyone. This almost comments on a sordid psychological truth. Young sexual abuse victims often have everything stacked against them. No one wants to believe that the abuse happened. No one dares to. So the victim has to learn how to win people over. As with any experience of nightmarish confusion, the mind can repair itself and emerge with a far sharper clarity of the world and people. And so sometimes victims learn from a very early age how to be manipulative. Children becoming like little adults with a far better calculating understanding of how to play people than most of us ever will in our lives. And tragically, this is how sometimes the abused becomes the abuser later in life.

This is what is shown in Midnight. The victim is a quiet, reclusive type who doesn't want to advertise her presence. The aftermath sees her traumatised, her eyes alien and void. She imitates the speech of others like a newborn baby, but learns very quickly. Perhaps looking to rebuild or empower herself by drawing from the personalities of others who somehow naturally avoided being victims. Then the group becomes a terrified lynch mob, the Doctor is singled out as the untrustworthy alien and his protestations of innocence become perceived as admission of guilt. He stands out because he's being an individual when everyone else has stopped thinking as individuals and started thinking as a collective tide. Just like in Jubilee and Neverland, we are seeing social totalitarianism at its worst. Martin Luther King once said of lynch mobs that they "destroy communities and leave society in monologue rather than dialogue".

Then the alien seizes its opportunity to gain acceptance by casting out the other outsider. She turns the crowd on the Doctor by drawing on her 'victim' status, which can be the most powerful instrument of blinding, poisoning and manipulating others; nearly all abusers rely on it against their victims or the people close to them who may see them for what they really are. The most poignantly ironic point is that the naively compassionate Doctor was the first to make the mistake of seeing her in terms of victimhood. Along with the Kinda homages, this feels like a continuation of Time Crash's love letter to the Davison era, in putting the Doctor in a position where his naive ideals are sorely tested and he is rendered a powerless despot.

The death of utilitarianism has been much lamented on television, namely in Fortunes of War and Our Friends in the North. Work life in the last thirty years has become increasingly dominating and stressful, and hours of work have increased for many people. Some might say that's why the youth have gotten out of control when no one's home to parent anymore. But the mood of stress and helplessness has led to an epidemic of bullying and cliquishness with people afraid to stand up for each other.

New Who has rather tried to pitch itself to that individualistic modern society, whilst simultaneously trying to recreate that old-fashioned notion of the working-class community, by devoting excess screen time to the companion's family and domestic environment. New Who is made for a generation that has lost that sense of utilitarianism. An audience that needs sharp, immediate prompting before it gets emotionally invested in the characters, unlike the old series that simply assumed the viewer always had a stake in their fellow man.

It's often complained of by old-series fans that the Tenth Doctor's attitude to humanity is far too sycophantic. Many of them even longing for the dark days of Season 21 and 22 when the show regarded humanity with such twisted scorn, its view so degraded that assassins like Lytton and the genocidal Silurians, and the woman-throttling Sixth Doctor were perversely seen as the standards of nobility by comparison. Personally, I found Genesis of the Daleks highlighted humanity's dark side very well, and did it tastefully enough, and I could have done without the vile Season 21.

But the thing is, New Who's view on humanity has been far from all praise anyway. Sure the sycophancy of The Age of Steel and The Impossible Planet was really grating, but stories like Dalek and Planet of the Ood couldn't be more scathing in their view of mankind at its worst. But this is really where the two extremes collide. Where the Doctor treats humans as his favourite pet, only to find them reacting like a savage pack of wolves.

It's fair to say that this is a conscious attempt to do a scarred and mutated version of the New Who that we know and trust. One where the Doctor's joival catchphrases get turned on their head, in a story of the horror of speech imitation. Where the Doctor's seemingly gratuitous "Allons-y" proves to be the words that eventually save his life, and of course where "No don't do that, just don't" become words of deadly earnest. Taking the usual frivolities and jokes of the Tenth Doctor's personality and putting those quirks in a context where they're no longer funny. Taking the brave crusader who could always fight off alien threats and legions of Daleks, and putting him around ordinary humans who render him truly powerless. Subverting the cosy.

I still find fault with the presence of the Season 4 token self-sacrifice character, pre-programmed to commit martyrdom to save the day. But in a way her suicide works as a tragic symbol of a nightmarish situation of sheer desperation where there's only one way of escape, just like in Creatures of Beauty. Her cost is also a symbol of the Doctor's failings and, as such, provides a refreshing spike to the season. Apart from that, this episode gets many things right, even down to David Tennant's unfaltering performance. It's the only RTD story other than Tooth and Claw that I'd bestow that level of praise upon. But it has the advantage of raw psychological power and commentary on human nature that elevates it. As much as I've knocked the man, maybe his producership was all worth it for this one story where he took the plunge.

It's taken a few viewings to orientate myself to Midnight's breathless presentation, but I now find it terrifying in ways I never used to. It's about predatory forces of will, the powerlessness of the individual and the people's susceptibility to manipulation in a way that's all too real and close to home.

Midnight is perhaps best described as Russell T Davies unplugged. A story where the frivolity, whimsy, and the usual flash and spectacle and big-scale odds that can only be resolved by a handy big lever, is stripped away to tell a story that classic Doctor Who could have told. A story that could have been done on stage, in fact. It feels very much like a fan's episode, the kind of story that the Audio Visual group or BBV would do.

Balancing the bad and the good, I think Midnight is a success of what Doctor Who does best: adding up to overcome its inherent flaws and becoming more than the sum of its parts.

Do we have a deal? by Evan Weston 9/5/16

Holy shit.

All of the garbage that Series 4 has thrown at me, all of the awful scripts and blatantly bad character development of these past weeks, all of it has been worth it for this. This beautiful little episode, this story that's so not Doctor Who and yet still far truer to the show's essence than anything that's come before it in this dreadful run of episodes - this is what I've been waiting for ever since the pre-titles sequence of Partners in Crime.

Midnight, you see, is the pinnacle of Russell T Davies' career. It is, without a doubt, the best piece of Doctor Who he - or perhaps anyone else - ever wrote, and the runner up (the still-excellent Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways) isn't all that close. There's no companion, no mustache-twirling villain, no world-shattering apocalypse to be found here. It's just the Doctor and some terrified strangers trapped in a van with an alien monster, and it's absolutely phenomenal. It's Alien meets 12 Angry Men with David Tennant as Sigourney Weaver/Henry Fonda.

The success of Midnight comes primarily from two sources, the first of which is Davies' incredibly sharp dialogue. Every character is established as an archetype right from the get-go: the bumbling-yet-good-hearted professor, his enthusiastic apprentice, the spurned and jaded lover, the going-through-the-motions middle-aged couple, their faux-rebellious teenage son, the hostess just trying to do her job, and, in the middle of it all, the Doctor, almost hoping that something goes wrong. As the episode progresses, these stereotypical characters are broken down through nothing more than their words, turning into three-dimensional subversions of themselves. The professor is actually a pathetic excuse for a man, the apprentice is logical but unfeeling, the couple is nasty and self-serving beyond belief, the teenager is a confused wet noodle, and the Doctor is absolutely, utterly terrified. The way this comes about is so natural and so smooth, because what the characters are saying never seems false or forced. It is proof of what Davies is capable of when at the height of his powers, and it's astonishing.

The other point of credit goes to David Tennant, who turns in what has to be the best performance as the Doctor he ever gives. Tennant is utterly mesmerizing, controlling the room with ease at the start and then, as things go from bad to worse, showing his fear in his eyes and facial expressions. Note that the Doctor never actually admits to being scared, but it becomes clear that the entity latches onto the most fearful person in the room. This is one of the rare occasions when the Doctor's inherent superiority complex (especially that of the often-arrogant Tenth) is put on display, and Tennant's build-up to this revelation is acting at its finest. He matches the best of Eccleston here; it's that good. The look in his eyes when he's repeating the Midnight entity word for word is genuinely disturbing.

The supporting performances are uniformly excellent, with top marks going to Lesley Sharp first as Sky Silvestry and then as the terrifying Midnight entity. Sharp has the face and the eyes required for the role, and she uses them to full effect. Her delivery is just the right amount of creepy, especially after she overtakes the Doctor and begins using his voice. A close second is Lindsay Coulson as Val Cane, initially played as a harmless wife on vacation but eventually revealed to be a rotten, selfish person with absolutely no regard for others. Coulson takes her time in getting to this conclusion, only confirming it with her final "I said it was her." The other actors all follow the same script with their characters, and there isn't a weak link in the cast.

While Midnight doesn't have much in the way of a story, it certainly has a high concept, and the entity is a brilliant villain that manages to intrigue and scare simultaneously. Due to Sharp's performance and its evolution from copycat to synchronization to autonomy, the entity makes Midnight one of the most disturbing and engaging Doctor Who episodes ever. The clangs on the side of the van make for a great tension-builder, but the entity's (and the episode's) best moment is when it overtakes the Doctor's speech. Your jaw will hit the floor. Murray Gold drops a sinister deep note in as the passengers and the audience realizes what has happened. From this point forward, it is absolutely impossible to look away, and that's why Midnight is a textbook example of what a great villain can do for a story.

What really makes Midnight so remarkable, beyond its incredible script and performances, is that it was made in the first place. Reportedly, this spot in Series 4 was initially slated for a Tom MacRae-penned comedy romp set in a haunted house. Davies felt that it was too similar in tone to The Unicorn and the Wasp, so he wrote Midnight on short notice to fill the slot in the production schedule. New Who, particularly in Series 4, has been primarily differentiated by its big budgets and newly massive scale. As Donna comments in The Doctor's Daughter, "there's a lot of running involved." But Midnight, apparently by necessity, does away with this new template, instead basically staging a one-act play on a single set, the nice-but-dull interior of the Crusader vehicle. There is no giant CGI monster or big set-piece that can save this episode. For it to work, all of the little things had to come together, from the script to the acting to the sound editing, which is marvelous and for which the production team deservedly won a Welsh BAFTA.

Midnight is truly a one-of-a-kind story, an episode far different (and better) than any other in the new series and something we'll probably never see again on Doctor Who. When Russell T. Davies took over the show, he made it partially about the big sets and budgets. That's not a bad thing in and of itself, but the risk he takes here is so stunning and so foreign in his writing that it really makes you wonder what else the man can do. His brilliant script coaxed an equally masterful performance from David Tennant, and the two men can both claim Midnight as the finest example of their work on Doctor Who. This is one worth watching over and over, and you can't be thankful enough for its existence.


This little group of humans by Hugh Sturgess 13/7/22

Midnight is both great and profoundly irritating to the point of being unwatchable. It's very well-liked, both because of its fascinating and creepy central premise and its darker opinion on humanity. There is no uplifting message about the fundamental goodness of the human spirit and the Doctor's ability to appeal to the better angels of our nature. Instead, there is only the savagery of the frightened mob, and the Doctor's victory is to survive its wrath. As Elizabeth Sandifer wrote, it's the Davies episode for people for don't like Davies. It's quite unlike anything else from his era, sharing the greatest similarities with Moffat-era experiments like Listen and Heaven Sent. But Midnight has a much darker tone than either of those ultimately triumphant stories. The title is appropriate: this is a pitch-black take on humanity that gives us nothing from which to nurture a spark of light. It's surely the bleakest Doctor Who story of the twenty-first century, and one of the bleakest ever. But it is this bleakness that I think is frankly terrible.

This is a clear companion piece with Turn Left. In the midst of the most triumphalist season of Doctor Who, these two episodes give us variations on the idea of a Doctor Who story going wrong. Turn Left had things go bad and the Doctor not be there to save us, while Midnight gives us the Doctor we know, but this time none of his tricks work. Midnight has a kind of warped structure of a normal Doctor Who episode, where everything that always goes well goes badly. A small group of ordinary humans, including a family and a put-upon assistant (explicitly set up as working class with a mechanic dad), asked by the Doctor to be extraordinary. The Doctor asks them explicitly to put aside their fears, questioning if they really could murder Sky. But this time, they answer that they could.

This is effectively the episode in which Doctor Who as a concept breaks. The Doctor simply fails to take control of the narrative and ends up as a helpless victim, surviving only because another character realises the truth based on a chance remark on his part. The passengers, in strange and possibly coincidental ways, mirror the Doctor or the series. Professor Hobbes comes with great knowledge and an academic title, with his own companion to boot. (Hobbes is also played by David Troughton, whose performance seems to homage Patrick's in many respects. The casting is a coincidence, given Troughton was a last-minute stand-in, but an interesting one.) The Cane family could also be taken to reflect the audience, making their turn to vicious murderousness particularly pointed. As Sandifer pointed out in a typically perspicacious piece, the episode comes from a genre of story popular in comic books, wherein the fictional characters find themselves facing some real-life problem like child abuse or something that would be equally glib to have the main character easily solve. The difference is that Midnight confronts the Doctor with his own inadequacy through an entirely fictional set-up. The Doctor should completely be able to handle this situation, which makes his failure much more troubling.

One of the cleverest things about this episode is the unspoken assumption that the reason the Doctor isn't able to pull his usual tricks is that his words have been stolen by the repeating creature and so rendered somehow evil. Once the creature catches up and starts repeating the characters' words as they say them, every line of dialogue becomes distorted and disconcerting. The creature takes control of the dialogue and perverts it.

The repeating creature is brilliant. It's not just low-tech but no-tech, hinging simply on a single performance that is both intriguing and deeply creepy. Part of the joy of Midnight is watching two characters deliver the same lines at exactly the same time. It's a bizarre, unnatural spectacle that can be seen nowhere else. It is all the better that the mystery of the creature is never solved. Midnight subverts the usual tropes of Doctor Who in that the Doctor doesn't find out anything about the creature, and the last few lines of the episode suggest that he never will. The episode emphasises that this creature, whatever it is, has been waiting on Midnight since the dawn of time, and the Crusader vehicle is taking a route never before described by living beings. The creature, once it gains the Doctor's voice, refers to itself in the third person as "he", which makes things even more obscure. The "thing" Claude the mechanic sees running towards the vehicle is all the creepier for being unseen by the audience.

There's also a delight in the gradual exploration of the creature. The episode lets the audience slowly grasp the "rules" of the creature as the characters do, and the Doctor tries to puzzle out its intentions just as we do. It's a rare example of procedural Who in the new series, which generally inflates the Doctor's knowledge and intellect to speed through the process of discovery. Holding onto that mystery for the entire episode is brilliant, giving us a classic piece of what could be called Weird Doctor Who. It shares all the key features of Weird fiction, abjuring explicit monsters and aliens in favour of a claustrophobic dread of a malign, unknown force from outside our world. Midnight is a world so alien humans can barely look on it through glass without dying, and the creature seems to bring with it a suspension of the laws of nature. Of course Davies could invent some technobabble to explains how the creature can mimic the passengers' words as they say them or how it eventually overtakes the Doctor's words, but crucially he doesn't bother. The creature's horror is how its behaviour is so simple yet so completely unnatural.

Much like The Waters of Mars, Midnight is a variant on the old base-under-siege trope combined with a fraught moral parable. Unlike The Waters of Mars, the besieged base is far from generic and is genuinely scary, interesting and different. Bottle shows are a standby of TV, but this is a particularly elegant one.

But like The Waters of Mars, the moral parable does not work.

In The Writer's Tale, Davies remarks to correspondent Ben Cook as he is writing the episode that he believes that the depiction of humans here - quick to fear and violence - is closer to reality than Doctor Who's usual optimistic take. Looking at Davies' other works of speculative fiction aimed at adults - Torchwood's Children of Earth and Miracle Day, as well as The Second Coming starring Christopher Eccleston - this is hardly a secret. But Davies presents us with the evil that men do without any sense of why that evil is rational to the evildoer, as though he thinks people are just mean, nasty and selfish for their own sake. Davies' other flirtations with the dark side of humanity like his Torchwood seasons show cruelty and violence mediated through institutions that leave the architects of that evil (governments, basically) with clean hands. This is by far the easiest way to do shockingly large amounts of evil, because those who conceive it don't have to carry it out. To draw an equivalence between signing a piece of paper condemning people to death and deciding you should personally start murdering people the minute you feel uncomfortable is facile and the action of a wannabe cynic eager to seem worldly.

There are plenty of similarities with Hitchcock's Lifeboat or any number of other survival films, but normally those characters go through days or weeks of starvation or something before turning on each other. I can't deny that humans can and do behave in tribalistic, violent and outright cruel ways when they are afraid. But Midnight asks us to buy this bunch of normal people turning into a lynch mob after being mimicked by an unmoving woman for about ten minutes. It lacks a logical sense of why these people are suddenly so afraid. Partly this is down to pacing. The collective meltdown starts almost as soon as the Crusader vehicle breaks down. Professor Hobbes's whispered question about air supplies (and note the LOST-like ostentatiousness of naming a character Hobbes in a story about civilisation being a thin veneer over savagery) blows up into an hysterical shouting match as everyone freaks out at imagined dangers. Rather than escalate convincingly, the pitch starts at the peak of hysteria. It just doesn't ring true. It doesn't feel like a descent into dangerous paranoia but as though someone has flicked a switch immediately.

The primary problem is the Canes. Val and Biff are so incapable of behaving rationally that they come across as the victims of some traumatic brain injury that leaves them unable to process complex thought. Val's character is deliberately hypocritical and unstable, as when she switches from being the biggest advocate for murdering Sky to embracing the seemingly "released" Sky and snapping at Dee Dee to leave her alone. Yes, this is obviously intentional (see the very on-the-nose way in which Val asks for Jethro's opinion when she thinks he'll agree and dismisses him as a kid when he doesn't), but it also serves to make Val look like an idiot. Her character is designed to react the wrong way to the situation at any moment. When remaining calm would be the right choice, she is hysterical. When a little caution would go a long way, she uncritically accepts, after all she's witnessed, that Sky is now perfectly fine and that anyone who suggests otherwise is unreasonable. The Canes are there to screw up the story. They are impatient, paranoid, short-tempered, gullible and also, just in case they might have a good feature, racist (Val's incredibly forced remark "what, like an immigrant?!", complete with sour facial expression). It's hard to feel morally troubled by characters so obviously there to make a point.

Their presence distorts the entire story. The other characters have subtler, more understandable reactions to the situation. Dee Dee, Hobbes, the hostess and Jethro all vacillate between trying to understand the creature and wanting to destroy it. This produces some of the episode's best scenes, as the Doctor turns from one to another, picking up temporary allies and then losing them as open-mindedness turns to suspicion and back again. But the Canes drown out everyone else with their idiotic behaviour. It's very appropriate that it's Biff Cane who, in a typical moment, responds to the Doctor's lame boast that he is clever by demanding to know if the Doctor thinks they're stupid. The answer has got to be: yes. Yes, the Canes are cripplingly dumb people. The episode becomes not so much about the Doctor's failure to overcome the dark side of humanity but about how he's not able to talk sense into two utterly moronic people who never once behave rationally.

The Canes' deliberately idiotic and arbitrary characterisation is meant to make a point about the irrationality of human tribalism. For Val, Sky moves from a hated and feared other to part of the in-group in need of protection in the space of thirty seconds. Yes, indeed, this is very silly and irrational, but it also is totally ridiculous to the point that any analogy to real life it is trying to make is lost.

It's deliberate idiot plotting, in other words. The Canes behave in constantly stupid, destructive ways because the story wants to make a point about the stupid, destructive ways of humans. Whenever writers want to tell us about how people are all mean and petty and in it for themselves, it always leaves a nasty aftertaste. Because there is always the unspoken qualification "...except for ourselves and anyone else smart enough to appreciate this". It's a teenage edgelord's pseudo-sophisticated take on life, the sort of thing someone prone to remarking on how stupid everyone else is would believe.

It's a story with a very cynical, negative vision of humanity, but it betrays its lack of experience of the foregoing by failing to realistically set it up. Partly that is the format's fault. Forty-five minutes is perhaps too short a time to get the passengers to where they need to be and then have them realistically break down and becoming a lynch mob. That's a bit sad. But the episode also seems to explicitly play by different rules, as though it's saying "this week the Doctor can't talk sense into the characters". It's an artificial device that makes the impenetrable obstinance of the characters supremely irritating. Midnight is absolutely a great, intriguing, well-made story that is hard to look away from, but it's also rushed, unconvincing and really, really annoying.