Monday, 24 August 2009

Doctor Who: Midnight

Doctor: 'Ah, I'll be fine. Taking a big space truck with a bunch of strangers across a diamond planet called Midnight—what could possibly go wrong?'

They did things differently this year. Since 2006, each season of Doctor Who has contained what's lovingly referred to as a Doctor-lite episode. If it wasn't for the now traditional Christmas episode, there'd be no need, as there'd be more than enough time to film all thirteen episodes—but since Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a festive Who, concessions had to be made, and the Doctor-lite episode is it.

The general idea is, the Doctor makes a brief appearance, whilst the rest of the story is carried by a cast of relative unknowns. And whilst this admittedly sounds like a fucking horrible idea (and in the case of 'Love and Monsters' arguably was), it hasn't been a complete disaster. Season three's 'Blink' was a veritable triumph of storytelling. This year, however, rather of having one episode almost completely devoid of the Doctor and his companion, they split them up instead—Tennant got to star in 'Midnight', and Donna got to star in 'Turn Left'. Which in the grand scheme of things worked out pretty well; 'Midnight' and 'Turn Left' are two of my favourite episodes of the season.

This episode was written as a replacement for the Tom MacRae penned episode 'Century House', which was pulled from the schedule after Russell T. Davies deemed it too similar to 'The Unicorn and the Wasp'. Those of you with good memories may remember that Tom MacRae also wrote season two story 'The Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel', a tale which also bore striking similarities to 'Father Day'. I think I see that pattern developing again.

This was a claustrophobic episode all told. Lesley Sharp was excellent as Sky Silvestry. The possession sequences were totally creepy. Having Sky speak in exact sync with the other passengers was a mesmerising effect, and for the first half of the episode I was absolutely engrossed in her exchanges with the Doctor. Logistically speaking, this must have been an insanely difficult episode to film. The mimicry was so exacting, the margin for error so small—but Tennant and Sharp pulled it off with absolute conviction.

Where I thought the wheels came off (at least a little), was during the last 15 minutes. It was interesting to watch the Doctor trying to call everyone's bluff, but what an unlikable bunch they all turned out to be. Not one of them rose to the occasion. Even though the Hostess sacrificed herself at the end, I'm still not sure it made up for her earlier behaviour. Even Jethro switched sides. I know everyone was frightened, and that their predicament was dire, but everyone seemed to turn to murder far too quickly. The Doctor's 'everything will be fine, trust me' spiel fell on totally deaf ears. He didn't have one ally—and in the end they almost ended up killing him.

It was odd, too, that the shuttle passengers showed surprise at the Doctor being an alien. They were on an alien planet and, presumably, in the future. Were they not theoretically aliens themselves? Or had they just not encountered other aliens before?

Other Thoughts:

—Why didn't the hostess just shove Sky out the door? Why the self sacrifice?

—I actually didn't recognise Colin Morgan first time around—he played rebellious emo, Jethro Cane. Morgan's now the star of BBC drama show, Merlin (now inexplicably in its second season), which like Doctor Who, is produced by TV Wales and also fills the early Saturday evening time-slot. Coincidence? Of course. What else would it be? I'm not suggesting favouritism for a moment.

—No TARDIS in tonight's episode.

—David Troughton, who played Professor Hobbes, is the son of second Doctor, Patrick Troughton.

—Rose's face appeared briefly on one of the shuttle's monitor screens. I'm not sure how. Didn't The Doctor shut down the shuttle's entertainment systems?


Doctor: 'I'll be back for dinner. We'll try that anti-gravity restaurant, with bibs.'

Doctor and Sky: 'Roast beef. Bananas. The Medusa Cascade. BANG! Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, Donna Noble, TARDIS. Shamble-bobble-dibble-dooble. Oh, Doctor, you're so handsome. Yes, I am, thank you. A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-I-J-K-L-M-N-O.'

Doctor and Sky: 'Mrs Silvestry, I'm trying to understand. You've captured my speech, what for? What do you need? You need my voice in particular, the cleverest voice in the room? Why? Because I'm only one who can help? Ooh, I'd love that to be true but your eyes, they're saying something else.'

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