Timestamp #202: Midnight

Doctor Who: Midnight
(1 episode, s04e10, 2008)

 

All that glitters is death.

It’s time for a vacation. The Doctor wants to visit a sapphire waterfall, but Donna wants nothing more than to lounge poolside with drinks and sunbathing (in X-tonic radiation with is immediately lethal without proper shielding). So, the Doctor goes alone. What could possibly go wrong?

The Doctor ends up on a tour bus of sorts, traveling four hours each direction with a cheerful allons-y. His fellow passengers include the Cane family – Val, Biff, and their bored teenage son Jethro –Professor Hobbes and his assistant Dee Dee Blasco, and recently-divorced businesswoman Sky Silvestry. The bus is a little empty and will be taking a slight detour because of a diamond fall on the normal path.

It’s also annoying as hell due to every entertainment option playing at the same time, but a subtle wave of the sonic screwdriver results in silence that the Doctor fills with small talk amongst the captive crowd. Among other things, we find out that there was no life on Midnight before the leisure resort arrived.

The trip is delayed while the bus experiences mechanical problems. The Doctor uses his psychic paper to access the control compartment and assess the situation. A rescue truck is on the way, and the Doctor convinces the drivers to open the window for a couple of minutes to take in the breathtaking view. The mechanic spots an odd shadow before the shields are restored and the Doctor is sent back to his seat.

The passengers start to speculate on the problem, but it soon rises into a panic. The Doctor calls for silence, but the calm is broken by a knocking on the hull. The silence becomes deafening as terror takes hold and panic rises again. The knocking moves around to each of the airlocks, mimicking Biff and the Doctor as they knock in return.

It intensifies, knocking the bus around as Sky screams that it is coming for her. The lights go out and the entertainment system comes on briefly – Rose Tyler (“I had a friend who went a different universe.”) screams silently as the screen goes out again – before the chaos settles. Sky is cowering in her seat, which is dismantled, and the cockpit is missing. The drivers are dust and only a single door shields the passengers from the lethal radiation. The control circuits in the bus have also been severed.

The Doctor tries talking to Sky, but she’s not herself anymore. She echoes every word that the passengers say and moves with bird-like precision, almost as if she’s absorbing everything around her. Panic rises again and the cacophony of repetition becomes unbearable. It ends as the backup power systems engage.

Sky has moved from repetition to predictive mimicry. The Doctor settles the passengers and then continues his examination of Sky. Jethro and the Doctor both conclude that Sky is not Sky anymore. The Doctor moves everyone else to the back of the bus and asks them for patience over the next fifty minutes as they wait for rescue.

The tour attendant suggests throwing Sky off the bus, which Professor Hobbes continues to believe is a lifeless planet beyond. The passengers start to follow that path of logic, but the Doctor vehemently protests. The passengers turn on him as their hysteria and paranoia rise, picking apart his alien nature and threatening to throw him out as well. They demand to know his name but don’t accept the “John Smith” pseudonym.

The mood is broken as Jethro notices a change in Sky’s demeanor. She’s only copying the Doctor now, and he’s intrigued that she’s chosen his voice… or perhaps, his cleverness. She advances to predicting his voice, and as Sky comes back to life (but still not as herself), the Doctor becomes more and more rigid.

Sky asks the professor to help her up as the Doctor remains behind. Sky appears to have returned to normal, and soon rallies the passengers to turn against him. Dee Dee thinks that Sky is still the intruder, but the rest of the passengers are fully onboard with the whispers. Sky orders the Doctor’s execution and Biff and the professor try to drag him to the airlock.

The tour attendant realizes that Sky is talking with the Doctor’s voice when she uses his odd phrases – allons-y and molto bene – and takes action to save the Doctor’s life. She wraps Sky in a hug and activates the cockpit door, blowing the two of them into the diamond death beyond.

The passengers calm down as they realize what came over them and what they were about to do. As the rescue vehicle approaches, the Doctor asks what the hostess’s name was. None of them know.

The Doctor returns to Donna and suggests that the resort will have to move, leaving Midnight to spin in silence. Donna says that she cannot imagine the Doctor without a voice, and he replies with a forced smile and a molto bene. Donna repeats it, but that’s just too much for him to bear.

 

This is one creepy, edge-of-the-seat episode. It’s a “companion-lite” story, which is a first for the franchise. We’ve been down the road of stories without companions and stories without the Doctor before, but this is a milestone of sorts. It’s also a TARDIS-free episode, which is a bit more common in the franchise — Mission to the UnknownDoctor Who and the SiluriansThe Mind of EvilThe DæmonsThe Sea DevilsThe Sontaran Experiment, and Genesis of the Daleks — but is a first for the revival era.

Finally, it is the first televised story in franchise history that does not reveal the villain.

The Medusa Cascade gets another mention after The Fires of Pompeii and The Sontaran Stratagem, this time in concert with the names Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, and Donna Noble.

The guest stars did a considerable amount of the dramatic lifting in this one, and while they were all amazing, two stood out. First, Jethro was played by Colin Morgan, who shocked me as a moody teenager since the last time I saw him was as a wide-eyed innocent sorcerer in Merlin. Second Professor Hobbes was portrayed by David Troughton, son of Second Doctor Patrick Troughton, and a Doctor Who alumni in his own right from The Enemy of the WorldThe War Games, and The Curse of Peladon.

All of that just adds spice to an excellent and thought-provoking tale.

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Turn Left

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

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