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Midnight in Perspective

Guest contributor Samuel Brown takes another look at the 2008 episode by Russell T Davies.

Sky-Silvestry-midnight

“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 Variety

planet-midnight“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.

The Characters

midnight-Lindsey-Coulson-Val-Cane“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…?”

The Fear

midnight-tennant-Lesley-Sharp-Sky-Silvestry“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.

The Doctor

Midnight“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.

Conclusion

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.

Step back in time...

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72 comments
BazHood
BazHood

Just fantastic! The crowning achievement of RTD's writing on the show was Midnight followed by Turn Left. It was usually Moffat or Cornell stealing the honours for best story of the series, in my opinion, but Midnight was the top tale of series 4 and the one I've revisited the most.

SteveWillis
SteveWillis

Midnight isn't necessarily interesting for children of a certain age. Young children would find it freak because the woman gets possesed and two characters get killed. But as like a 11 year old or older, there isn't much monster. It's all human nature and sounds and implied fear. For a "monster of the week" stance it's quite disappointing as you never see the beast (which makes it so good in a different way). I haven't seen the episode since I was that kid who only wanted to see things like the Reapers or Ood, so my memories of it is slodgey. Good chance my opinion would change if I saw it again.



PeterThompson
PeterThompson

I think Midnight shows how great Russell T Davies could be  as a writer if he only put his mind to it. It's a brilliant tense episode that is able to stay in one location for the majority of the episode without losing anything. I'm sure the sound department got an award for the episode

NewWho2012
NewWho2012

I always liked Midnight too a lot myself one of the eeriest and scariest episodes of the show. The constant tension as it builds up when the character of Sky and demon that possesses her eventually grasps their words before knowing what they're going to say entirely is very creepy and scary and the Doctor being overpowered by the creature himself is also very terrifying. Lindsey Coulson is the most stand out guest character in the episode apart from Lesley Sharp, a brilliant actress, but considering I watch her in another show (EastEnders) it shows the capabilities of some of these actors and how they make episodes of Doctor Who epic and brilliant as well.

JMorty
JMorty

I don't like the terms 'overrated' and 'underrated'. For one, anyone can claim anything to be 'overrated' or 'underrated', and also, it comes off as dismissive towards any argument for a person's viewpoint.

DW_girl
DW_girl

Midnight is definitely one of my favourite episodes. It literally is one of the only episodes to actually scare me so much, that upon my first viewing, I was left traumatised! A good traumatisation though. It's the fear of the unknown, the knocking on the walls, the scared passengers, The Doctor being left helpless... There is no competition when it comes to the most heart-racing, edge of your seat, terrifying, episode of Doctor Who.

JohnHurtisMyDoctor
JohnHurtisMyDoctor

I've said it many times and I'll say it again. Midnight is, in my opinion, the best Tennant era episode. It was creepy in the best way possible. Tennant's performance, as well as all the guest actors, was so nuanced. It put on display something that is scarier than any monster: human nature. And the fact the Doctor was helpless to it made it even more paramount to Doctor Who as a whole. The Doctor may be superhuman (okay, he's not even human) but he's not untouchable. And this shows the need for Doctor to have companions because they keep him grounded. Every time he's alone, he gets into major trouble! 

RUAZ
RUAZ

Great story. I think the author means underrated in the sense that it tends to get overlooked by the other bigger stories.

KingOfTheInterWebs is on the Moon
KingOfTheInterWebs is on the Moon

I agree with this article completely bar the idea that it's an underrated episode, I'm sure not everyone likes it, it can't be for everyone and I've seen some people who don't like it out right but too many people have said they love it for it to be considered underrated in my opinion.

RoastNewt
RoastNewt

I can watch this episode over and over and it still gets better every time. A true classic, and the very best of Russell's work on Doctor Who.

Ivegotkidneys is companionless!
Ivegotkidneys is companionless!

I think one of my favourite lines in this episode and probably of all series 4 is when the Doctor asks what that hostess name and no one knew.

Malohkeh
Malohkeh

I honestly have no strong opinion of Midnight. It was alright, but it didn't really scare me or bore me or anything. It was just sort of...there...

bringmeknitting
bringmeknitting

People keep talking about Midnight being underrated, but everyone I know loves it! :)

Mercy Reborn2
Mercy Reborn2

maybe there is a lot more to that planet they could go back one day

plasticsoulman
plasticsoulman

Agreed, one of if not the best episode of the revived series. It just shows what you can do, and what atmospheres you can create when you place everyone into one location

Night at the Whovies
Night at the Whovies

Top episode and equally good review! Shows another reason why the doctor's companions are so helpful.

The Oncoming Storm
The Oncoming Storm

I find it incredible that so many people consider this episode to be any kind of good, I respect others' opinions, but for me this episode ranks down there with 'Fear Her'

TheThirdDoctor
TheThirdDoctor

One of the best episodes in S4 hands down, not underrated though....

matt_david_and_the_fez
matt_david_and_the_fez

I personally love this episode! I think it's a masterpiece. I like Russel's writing in general, but he really outdid himself with this episode. It has all the elements to be perfect: a little bit of comedy, an unique situation of real danger for The Doctor, scary monster, mistery, claustrophobic set, psychological drama and great supporting characters. If you add to these the exceptional acting and music, you get one of the most brilliant pieces of television I have ever seen. 


Another thing I love about Midnight is that it's one of the few episodes that highlightes all the characteristics I love about The Doctor, like you said. Also it shows once again how important are the companions. He was all alone with a group of people that were ready to throw him out just to keep themselves safe. He could have died there and then, no regeneration at all.


The_Ogri
The_Ogri

This is probably the least underrated episode in all of NewWho.


chinnysandshoes
chinnysandshoes

I like the themes explored - how our humanity is reduced in a "if you die, I may live" life-and-death situation, the herd mentality, that it took the ultimate sacrifice of a human in a moment of clarity to save everyone. Still, I cannot count it as anywhere near a favourite, I've never re-watched it. It did very well in the polls, giving Blink and Vincent a real run. I think one either loves or hates this episode. I am more the latter.

latinbatman
latinbatman

A true masterpiece. This episode really does what all good sci-fi has done. It makes a commentary about what makes us human. Fear, anger, paranoia. I have to agree that this episode doesn't get the attention it deserves. Many people have said they love it only when it's mentioned. But when it is it does get the praise that is warranted, I want to watch this episode now with commentary. Truly a great episode.

The MasterDoctor
The MasterDoctor

I certainly appreciate what Davies was attempting with "Midnight".  However, it's a prime example of an episode in which what transpires is due only to the fact that the script itself requires it.  The Doctor doesn't solve the problem.  Why?  No, not because the "creature" is too powerful.  The Doctor fails simply because the author of the piece wanted to do an episode where the Doctor fails. 


The creature isn't very powerful.  It knocks on the outside of the transport, seeps it's way in and takes over a weak human.  Then it starts repeating what others say, eventually taking advantage of the Doctor's difference and begins "pre-repeating" what the Doctor is going to say.   Ultimately, the Doctor should have had no problem overcoming the intruder.  Since initial viewing, I've not been able to get past the thought that the Third Doctor would have beaten the creature in no time.  The Fourth Doctor would have done away with it with no problem.  Even Tennant's Doctor, had he been written "in-character" for this episode, should have easily won the battle with this creature.


The episode is an exceptional example of a "bottle" show.  (Almost entirely filmed on the same set.)  It does deserve recognition for that.  It's not a terrible episode by any means.  If anything, this episode is much more overrated than underrated.  If others were to really think about the Doctor's out-of-the-norm behavior in this episode, due to the requirements of the script itself, they might reevaluate "Midnight" and it's held-high status.

DC815
DC815

This is truly, one of the greatest episodes of Doctor Who, and indeed, Television, ever! A wealth of thought provoking ideas, The Doctor, powerless ? It's a scary thought to behold, and comes together so well through Tennant's supreme acting. Easy 10/10, the best episode of Series 4 too

ahunter8056
ahunter8056

Underrated? If anything, I'd say it's highly overrated.

TheNightmareChild will ascertain its true nature
TheNightmareChild will ascertain its true nature

One of my favorite episodes ever, and you've done a fine job shining a light on it.  I would say, personally, the part that always gets me the most in this episode is seeing the Doctor in his utterly powerless state.  The tears rolling down, the quavering voice that seems to indicate a desperate struggle.  You can feel the torment and the fear and it is unreal.  When I first watched the episode, that's the part that stuck with me and made me consider if I could ever even watch it again.

Aztecs, Daleks and Cavemen
Aztecs, Daleks and Cavemen

What a coincidence. I was watching that episode to-day. It's episodes like this, Blink, Turn Left and Amy's Choice that show the inventiveness that Doctor Who is capable of compared to other modern UK television programmes. I don't know about you but all I see elsewhere is stock cops series', soaps and needless biopics.

Whovian
Whovian

Reading the review for Midnight at midnight! :)

Sir James Bond
Sir James Bond

A fine tribute Mr Brown. Detailed, multi faceted, and perceptive. Great work. 


But then again, the focus and source of your adulation is the teatime TV embodiment of 'Greatness'. It's 'Greatness' perfectly compacted, rolled into a ball, and then deposited into a coach full of terrified, and very 'real', humans. I often wonder what passed between them? Between the Entity and the Hostess that is. When everyone else on board the Crusader 50 is preoccupied with Biff's failed attempt at a bit of Doctor ejection, the Hostess and the Entity share a look.....an ever so brief look. And nobody else on board notices it. Only us. At home. From behind the sofa. I love that brief moment. I don't know why for sure. Maybe because its a moment of shared realisation. The hostess realising that the Doctor may actually have been right all along.....and the Entity realising that its days of free coach travel are numbered. Whatever it is, it's small, and intimate, and beautiful.....and I love it. A bit like 'Midnight' as a whole.

Theoncomingpenguin
Theoncomingpenguin

Midnight is bottom of my all time list of episodes. I don't get why someone copying someone else is so scary!

Mercy Reborn2
Mercy Reborn2

I love midnight it is an amazing episode I have never seen the doctor really scared before

OncomingStorm in a Brownoat with a stake
OncomingStorm in a Brownoat with a stake

Underrated by who? I don't know anyone who doesn't think Midnight is amazing, including myself. I will always love this episode, fantastic story/premise and the execution of the whole thing worked so well. And Tennant's performance in this (and the supporting characters too actually, but particularly him) is so good and scary and funny hen it needs to be. Love this.

Polyphase
Polyphase

It would be very difficult to be critical about Midnight, A modern classic :)

Yeah,TopLayer,IfYouWantToSayAFewWords
Yeah,TopLayer,IfYouWantToSayAFewWords

Am I the only one who dislikes Midnight? I start questioning myself... I have watched it twice and I find it boring and annoying. Maybe it just isnt my cup of tee...


BazHood
BazHood

@RoastNewt  Indeed! The single greatest episode Russel 'The' Davies wrote for the series. 

SamuelB
SamuelB

@WiblyWoblyTimyWimyMOFFAT  I probably didn't make this clear enough in my review, so I apologise, but when I said " I believe it doesn’t get the credit it deserves", I meant that the only aspect of the episode that is really beloved in a sense is the fear factor, but I think it's much deeper than that. The other elements, like the variety of tones, the characters and showcasing The Doctor's character is very under-looked. I apologise for the bad-wording :)







DW_girl
DW_girl

I think the 'creature' is powerful, due to the fact that it scares everyone witless because no one really knows what it's trying to do or even what it is. Fear of the unknown can be much more powerful than any visible villain.

Tomb of the Cyberbob
Tomb of the Cyberbob

@ahunter8056  Err - yeh. me too.  Sorry to go against the grain on this one.  All a bit "Eastenders in Space" for me - lots of bickering and shouting and general nastiness.  And a monster which makes you repeat what someone else says.      I guess I'm not deep enough to understand ut!

Tomb of the Cyberbob
Tomb of the Cyberbob

@IamTheDoctorBasicallyRun  In the words of The Face of Boe - "You are Not Alone".   Everyone in our house dislikes this episode.  Very annoying with all that squabbling.   It seems to be a "love it or hate it" episode.

DW_girl
DW_girl

Now, abomination is going to far....