The Doctor is eager to take a trip to the uninhabitable planet of Midnight, whose sun’s radiation renders the surface completely inhospitable to any known kind of life – or so the legend has it. Faced with the choice of either this or sunbathing next to an opulent swimming pool, Donna lets the Doctor go off on his own for once. The Doctor gets acquainted with fellow passengers along the way, but when the tour ship comes to a sudden halt, so does the cameraderie – especially when the pilots’ cabin is wrenched away from the ship and something begins knocking on the hull from outside. One of the passengers is apparently taken over by some form of life which has defied expectations and evolved on Midnight, and in its new body it begins rapidly learning about human characteristics such as speech. But when the other passengers become terrified enough to discuss throwing the possessed woman out of the ship to certain doom, just to rid themselves of the alien life form, it appears that the being is learning some of humanity’s darkest behaviors too. And this time, there’s almost nothing the Doctor can do to stop the worst from coming out of everyone present.
written by Russell T. Davies
directed by Alice Troughton
music by Murray Gold
Guest Cast: Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Lesley Sharp (Sky Silvestry), Rakie Ayola (Hostess), David Troughton (Professor Hobbes), Ayesha Antoine (Dee Dee Blasco), Lindsey Coulson (Val Cane), Daniel Ryan (Biff Cane), Colin Morgan (Jethro Cane), Tony Bluto (Driver Joe), Duane Henry (Mechanic Claude)
Notes: A few episodes after meeting the Doctor’s daughter, this time around we meet the Doctor’s son – in real life. Guest star David Troughton is the son of the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, and played a minor role in the last second Doctor story, The War Games, in 1969. He played a much more visible role opposite the third Doctor in 1972’s The Curse Of Peladon. Like his father, he’s no relation to this episode’s director, Alice Troughton, who has also directed installments of Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures.
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: Since the new series began, we’ve had “Doctor-lite” episodes such as Blink and Love & Monsters, but in a way, this episode, with its wall-to-wall companion-less Doctor, is format-lite: it’s almost Twilight Zone or Outer Limits-esque in nature, with the Doctor being the only thing really tying it to Doctor Who (well, unless you want to count yet another background monitor shot of Rose yelling “Doctor!”). I tend to like it when shows briefly go off-format (witness the great Star Trek: The Next Generation episode First Contact, Deep Space Nine‘s Far Beyond The Stars installment, the original (and now oft-imitated) Xena musical episode or the first Babylon 5 “newscast” episode, And Now For A Word), and go figure, I liked this one too. I gather that others didn’t like it, but I have a feeling this story was planted at this point in the season for a purpose.
By stripping the Doctor of his support systems – the TARDIS, his companion of the moment, UNIT or any other Earthbound allies – Midnight renders him essentially defenseless. Even the trusty sonic screwdriver, which has seen the kind of overuse in recent years that led to John Nathan-Turner removing it from the Doctor’s toolbox in the early ’80s, only comes in handy once or twice here, for relatively inconsequential tasks. The Doctor is powerless to stop one of his fellow passengers from being taken over by an alien, he’s powerless to do anything but try to talk the other passengers out of killing the new arrival, and ultimately, when he himself is attacked by the alien, he’s powerless to stop the other passengers from killing him. Only one person, answering only to her conscience and making an ultimate sacrifice, saves his skin – and even more depressingly, no one remembers who she was before that sacrifice was made. (Even the end credits, which lavish the guest cast with first and last names, refer to her simply as “Hostess”.) Midnight gives us a Doctor stripped of all of his defenses and allies, and when it comes right down to it, once he’s singled out as Not One Of Us, he’s suddenly viewed as nobody’s friend.
In a way, this episode almost redeems Russell T. Davies for the Eccleston season’s tirades against “stupid apes,” because the Doctor has almost nothing to do with saving the day. Oh, he does more intelligent analysis of the problem along the way…or does he? It seems like an awful lot of that legwork is done by Dee Dee and even by Jethro. The Doctor buys time for the alien to show its true colors, but that’s about it – and buying it that time puts everyone in more danger, in the final analysis.
The performances are above par, because they have to be – the bulk of the story takes place on a single set as a sort of one-act play. Only framing cutaways with Donna, at the beginning and end of the show, and a brief visit to the tour ship’s cockpit break this up. David Troughton is an inspired piece of casting, but I’ll admit to being distracted by how closely his face and voice now resemble those of his late father. I thought Jethro was a great character – he’s painted as a sullen teenage goth-wanna-be, but as the story progresses he shows moments of startling intelligence and then shows how easy it is to side with the nearest mob in a crisis.
Midnight is, in short, Russell T. Davies’ best Doctor Who script in ages. It’s this side of his work that I’ll miss when he’s no longer involved with Doctor Who, but it’s also a side of his work that has sadly been on display very little for some time.