Midnight in Perspective
Guest contributor Samuel Brown takes another look at the 2008 episode by Russell T Davies.
“Midnight” is one of those episodes that seems to be quite underrated. This could be due to the fact it followed the awesome Steven Moffat two-parter “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead”, preceded the big Dalek finale and got lost somewhere in-between. In my opinion, “Midnight” is not only the best episode of Series 4 but also one of my personal favourite Doctor Who stories. So let’s jump into what makes this episode great. Allons-y!
“The pool is abstract!”
One of the most brilliant aspects of Doctor Who is its ability to deal with multiple tones at once without feeling over packed or inconsistent. “Midnight” personifies this attribute by not only giving us a horror episode, but also a comedy and a genuinely exciting trip through a crystal wonderland. If the episode started with the Doctor in a dark place, or the characters having a scarred background, or the planet Midnight being a dingy, depressing place to be, we would be swamped with melodrama and sadness that made getting to the end of the story a chore. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not above depressing stories (“Mindwarp”, “The Waters of Mars”, etc.), but by giving us a, dare I say, fun opening with a bit of comedy and mystique thrown in the beginning, from the Doctor chatting to the characters in a pleasant manner to seeing the allure of the planet, it not only keeps the episode fresh but it also makes the darker, more quasi-realistic scenes even more effective.
“I want to go home. I’m sorry… I want to be safe!”
This episode has quite possibly some of the best supporting characters in Doctor Who’s history, the reason being that despite being set in a futuristic world, light-years from Earth, the characters are totally realistic despite their heinous actions throughout the episode; the beginning of the episode is used to thicken out the characters using comedic dialogue and small, seemingly insignificant details (Like Sky’s relationship issues or Dee Dee’s lack of confidence), which enables us to view them as three-dimensional quickly. But later on when the episode transitions into a darker tone, the characters show a dark side of human nature when they consider murder just because they’re scared. I find the psychological and emotional threats, like the ones proposed in this story, much more frightening than physical ones, which is why episodes like “Voyage of the Dammed” aren’t that effective. Those episodes are simple ‘avoid-these-villains’ type stories, which aren’t scary when the villains don’t exist in reality, but when the main threat are the humans, people that could very-well exist in real life, it becomes a whole lot more scary. Russell T Davies, the writer of this story, put it perfectly when he said in the DVD commentary that most people in this situation would be like Val (Lindsey Coulson – the most manipulative and horrible character in the story) out of fear.
In a sense, this entire episode is a parable of the dark sides of humanity and how our fear defines us. As the Doctor puts it best, “This is where you decide! You decide who you are! Could you actually murder her, any of you? Or are you better than that…?”
“It’s waited so long, in the dark. And the cold. And the diamonds.”
The most widely discussed aspect of “Midnight”, and probably the one that makes most people like it, is the horror element. The creature, if you can even call it that, is probably the most creative and frightening alien in the entire show, which makes it even more intriguing when you realise that we never even see it. Sure, we see the entity take control of a body, but we don’t know what the creature looks like, what its plans are, or even if it’s part of a species. Not only does this make the mind reel with the possibilities, but it also links with the primal human fear of the unknown and the unseen. Another part of the creatures M.O that freaks me out is the simple task of repeating what everyone says; it sounds like a silly idea on paper, but due to a combination of great dialogue, incredibly scary acting (Particularly David Tennant and Lesley Sharp) and some really effective direction, which creates a claustrophobic feel, the entity stands as one of the scariest villains in 21st century TV. It just goes to show you, less really IS more.
“If we are going to get out of this, then you need me!”
The single greatest part of this story, which oddly seems to be the least discussed part of it, is the Doctor’s character. As most would agree, the Doctor doesn’t resort to violence unless it’s absolutely necessary and his main weapon is his words, so having an episode where the Doctor’s words mean nothing is incredibly interesting. The episode uses this to play with the audience’s expectations; after the Doctor’s monologue about deciding who you are, you’d expect the characters to comply with him as most characters usually do after the Doctor gives a speech (“The Pandorica Opens”, “The Satan Pit”, “Genesis of the Daleks”, etc.), but instead they react with hatred, and while we know better enough to know the Doctor is in the right, you still can’t deny that from the supporting character’s perspectives the Doctor doesn’t seem too trusting. It’s like Val says, “You’re just standing here in the back like the rest of us!”. The Doctor is all talk and no action in this episode, but he seems to be taking the higher ground, even to the point of patronising them (“Because I’m clever!”). The characters don’t even know his name.
For an episode that isn’t really about the Doctor himself, this episode showcases all the Doctor’s characteristics perfectly; the mysterious traveller, the adventurer, and the pacifist.
While “Midnight” isn’t exactly hated in the Doctor Who community, I believe it doesn’t get the credit it deserves. The plot not only deals with some very dark and mature themes, which seem to be partially inspired by works such as “The Lord of the Flies” and “Lifeboat”, but it also uses ambiguity and variety as it’s trump card. “Midnight” is an absolute classic.