THIS EPISODE TAKES
OF THE DEAD", AND
STORYBOOK AND IN THE
2ND HALF OF THE COMIC
STRIP ANTHOLOGY "THE
RUSSELL T. DAVIES
'THE COMPLETE FOURTH
SERIES' HMV EXCLUSIVE
DVD BOX SET (BBCDVD
2609) RELEASED IN
The Doctor FINDS
terrified on the
as the knocking
on the wall begins...
14TH JUNE 2008
This year Doctor Who’s production team has to be given a great deal of credit
for how it has tackled one of the series’ most significant logistical problems – too many episodes, too little time. Over the past two seasons the series has got around the need
to shoot two episodes at once with what have been dubbed ‘Doctor-lite’ episodes by the show’s fans - episodes such as Love & Monsters and Blink in which the regular cast play only the most peripheral of roles.
Midnight, however, is far from being ‘Doctor-lite’. Whilst Catherine Tate was off shooting Turn Left with Billie Piper, David Tennant was locked inside a lone set trying to memorise the square root of pie to thirty decimal places.
The episode itself is highly experimental. It may not be quite as divisive as Love & Monsters or quite as disturbing as Blink, but it is certainly somewhere between the two on both counts. Midnight plays out more like a traditional play than it does a television programme; the fear and the tension and the drama are borne of the characters and the actors and their perform-ances, with very little reliance on special effects and other traditional Doctor Who trappings.
Fair dues, the planet Midnight is absolutely magnif-icently realised by the Mill when it is seen, but shots
of the planet’s beautifully unforgiving exterior are few
and far between. The planet of “diamonds poisoned
by the sun” is made as much by Russell T Davies’
evocative dialogue as it is by the sparse CGI. Save for Donna’s bookending scenes in the planet’s leisure complex and the Doctor’s brief sojourn in the cockpit, Midnight is set within four walls. In fact, the heart of the episode is just one long thirty-five minute scene.
The formative scenes as the journey begins are as blithe and as cheerful as you’re ever likely to see in Doctor Who, although a lot of the ‘blame’ for this rests squarely with Murray Gold and his Grange Hill-esque score. But as soon as the shuttle-bus breaks down, the episode becomes as dark and as moody as anything else that the series is capable of offering.
“Tell you what! We’ll have to talk to each other instead!”
The banging outside the bus is creepy enough, but the inspired idea of a creature that steals someone’s voice is something else entirely. Big Finish must be kicking themselves – this is a story that would have been ideal for audio. There is something so very unsettling amount those synchronised voices; it’s just so unnatural.
What really does it for me though are those shots over Sky’s shoulder just after she is first ‘possessed’ by the entity. Alice Troughton’s direction is exquisite. Is Sky dead? Or horribly injured? No. She looks the same… only different. It’s those eyes; that haunting expression. Each any every member of the cast more than pulls their weight in this episode, but Lesley Sharp’s performance is simply off the page – she really makes a monster out of nothing.
The rest of the cast are almost as impressive. David Troughton (Cuddlesome), son of erst-while Doctor Patrick Troughton, is impressive as the fickle Professor Hobbes, as is former EastEnder Lindsey Coulson as histrionic mother Val Cane. Daniel Ryan and Rakie Ayola were good too, for that matter; hell, they all were.
Perhaps the most outstanding thing about this episode though is the Doctor. He is the most vulnerable that we have seen him since 42; it’s as if without a companion he simply cannot function. Every word he says to the terrified passengers of the shuttle bus is turned against him and every blasé quip that seems to get him out of the frying pan week-in week-out only seems to get him deeper into the fire here. Even those initially sympathetic to him are quick to turn when the going gets tough. Whereas Voyage of the Damned was a disaster movie that showed us some of the most endearing human qualities, Midnight is a disaster movie that shows us the very worst: kill or be killed. And what makes it all the more haunting is that there was ultimately no other way out of the situation. Had the Hostess not sacrificed herself to kill the alien, it would have won.
And so Midnight sees the Doctor lose. His face at the end of the story as he approaches Donna for a hug says it all. Midnight beat him. He didn’t save the day; he was just another victim. In fact, without the humans, he may not have survived the experience at all. And he knows it.
But was the episode actually any good? My Dad certainly didn’t like it, and my mate Michael simply said “crikey. That was a dark episode!” Now whether that is a good “crikey” or a bad “crikey” is open to interpretation, but I strongly suspect that it was a good one. Midnight isn’t my usual cup of tea, I’ll grant you, but it’s certainly compelling stuff nonetheless.
SUPPLEMENTAL: Since this review was written, Michael has confirmed that it was indeed a good “crikey”.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008
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