It’s good to be surprised from time to time, and a surprise was exactly what we got when we watched Doctor Who last night. The episode that went out was the first of the last block of four, all written by current lead writer Russell T Davies, and it has to be said that there are a good few people who don’t look forward to his contributions, indeed some people actively avoid watching now. Therefore it was a rather pleasant surprise when Midnight turned out to be probably one of his best scripts, taking a small cast, limited sets, and a simple idea and turning it into a very creepy episode.
As with previous seasons, by this point of the filming schedule they have to make two episodes simultaneously. In previous years episodes such as Blink and Love and Monsters have had minimal contributions from the main cast, this year the programme is doing something slightly different so this week Midnight was the first story since the Deadly Assassin to feature a main narrative where the Doctor has no companion, and also the first since Genesis of the Daleks where the TARDIS does not appear at all. Next week the Doctor will have only a minimal contribution, with companions Donna and Rose carrying the main story.
Perhaps the reason why Midnight is so creepy is because there isn’t a monster as such. The Doctor and Donna are relaxing on the planet Midnight, a place which is bathed in deadly radiation that would vaporise any living thing that walked on the surface. A leisure corporation placed a holiday resort on the surface, and runs tours to see some of the amazing sites on the planet. The Doctor decides to join one such tour to see the amazing Sapphire Waterfall, leaving Donna behind. Thanks to the deadly radiation, the tour shuttle is totally enclosed, leaving the passengers unable to see outside for the four hour trip, however part way through, the transport mysteriously stops, and the driver reports seeing a shadow moving outside. Then the passengers hear something hitting the outside of the metal transport – at first they think it might be rocks – but they are rocks that repeat the knocks they make on the inside. The transport is then violently shaken, and the power fails, at which point one of the passengers starts acting very strangely and repeating everybody else, getting to the point where she is simultaneously speaking with everybody else. The Doctor attempts to take charge, arguing that this is a new lifeform that should be understood, whilst his frightened fellow passengers demand that the possessed passenger be thrown outside. As the Doctor rapidly loses control, he too is possessed, and the passengers decide that he too should be thrown outside.
During the whole course of the episode you neither truly find out exactly what the creature is, nor do you actually see it – all the time it is merely possessing other characters. It doesn’t actually do anything particularly threatening either except repeat the words of other characters, but it is this repeating that builds the tension and adds to the fear. Compared to many Russell T Davies scripts it is a much more adult story, very psychological, and relying on characters rather than special effects – as guest star (and son of former Doctor Patrick Troughton) David Troughton said on Confidential, it was much more of an old style episode that we’re used to now. As such I’m not quite sure how it would have been received by some of the younger fans of the programme, however I suspect it will be a nice counterpoint to the Dalek/ex-companion-fest that we’re expecting over the last three weeks of the season.