by Catriona Mills

Live-Blogging Doctor Who: Midnight

Posted 7 September 2008 in by Catriona

So far this weekend, I’ve run errands, done the grocery shopping, hung a print in the bedroom after collecting it from the framer’s, baked a chocolate cheesecake, helped kill a dragon (and some kobolds), tidied the house, done three loads of washing, and prepared and hosted a high tea for Nick’s dad.

I didn’t manage to get any more marking done, alas.

I’m a little tired, now.

And I’m not sure I’m in the mood for this episode, which wasn’t easy to watch last time around.

So this is “Midnight,” the first of two episodes that concentrate largely on one of the two characters: this one focuses on the Doctor and next week’s (also so difficult to watch) focuses on Donna. My understanding is that they wanted to film the two simultaneously, and this was their solution. It’s certainly an interesting notion.

Ooh, a gorgeous shot, but Nick says spot the green screen when it turns up.

Finally, the Doctor succeeds in taking his companion on vacation, after all those promises that they’ll go to the beach.

Oh, there’s the green screen! Behind his head when he hangs up the phone! Well, it wouldn’t be Doctor Who if the sets weren’t a little wobbly. So to speak.

And both the Doctor and Donna do need a holiday, after the last two episode.

David Troughton! Last seen as the king in “The Curse of Peladon,” a Jon Pertwee episode.

I would absolutely go on this trip, if I had the opportunity. A waterfall made of sapphires? Awesome.

I like this hostess, too: she’s so weary and mechanical, as though she’s done everything, even told those jokes, over and over again. And there’s the Doctor’s reiteration of allons-y: I mentioned back in “Voyage of the Damned” that that would pay off in an interesting way—this is the episode.

He’s like a puppy, this Doctor, especially in this episode: look at him wondering who he can make friends with.

The Lost Moon of Poosh, eh? (Don’t correct my spelling!) I wonder if that will become relevant later in the season.

(Apparently, and this is interesting, the fact that the long-term relationship that this woman just ended was with another woman is an example of Russell T. Davis’s gay agenda, which frequently drives some on-line Doctor Who fans—the nutters—to slavering fury. As far as I can tell, Davies’s gay agenda rests on revealing that, apparently, some people are gay. I would add “how dare he?” but sarcasm doesn’t come across well in print.)

NICK: I wish they’d called it a leisure hive.

DOCTOR: Sorry, I’m the Doctor—I’m very clever.

Pay attention to that line.

Of course the Doctor wants to look outside. He’s the Doctor. And of course he convinces Driver Joe and Engineer (trainee) Claude to look outside. And the scenery is amazing.

Wait, Claude looks freaked out. He see something. I see nothing, and I’ve seen this episode before.

NICK: I’m trying to look, and I’m not sure I can see anything.

We’re geeks: we want to know what’s going on.

So, while things are settling down to wait for the rescue ship, I can run back to cover something I wanted to mention before: the passengers. We have the crusty professor and his put-upon research assistant Deedee who wants to do her own research; the middle-class tourist couple and their Gothy, surly son; and the hard-boiled businesswoman with a broken relationship. And the stewardess.

And they’re all turning on each other already, even before we get this: the knocking on the outside of the carriage.

Ooh, I don’t like this sort of thing. This, and inanimate objects moving on their own, really freaks me out.

Ha! The Doctor’s got his stethoscope out—I’ve always wondered why he’s carrying one of those. But then he also carries a clockwork mouse in his pocket, so a stethoscope isn’t such a stretch, really.

Ah, now the businesswoman is freaking out. She says, “she said she’d get me” and “it’s coming for me.” Now, that’s interesting: what on earth is the backstory to the breakdown of her relationship, that she freaks out this intensely, far more than the other passengers, and that it involved threats (Rose on the viewscreens, again!) of vengeance. That’s far more than the standard “She said she needed her space” that the woman—her name is Skye, by the way—mentioned to the Doctor when they were talking.

While I’ve been typing that, something has ripped into the ship, throwing them all around and killing both Driver Joe and Claude. Poor trainee Claude.

There’s something wrong with Skye, though.

Now Jethro, the surly teenager, is already starting to frighten people with the idea that whatever was outside is inside now.

And, judging from Skye’s face now she’s turned around, he’s right. This actress is fabulous—she looks completely different in this scene than in the previous ones.

So, even the Doctor finds it irritating when people mimic him. And yet he apparently had children—and all children find at some point that that drives people mad, and do it for as long as they can get away with.

So, she’s not just repeating: she seems to be ripping the words straight from the speaker’s brain.

Ah! And now she’s not just repeating any more. Now she’s speaking at exactly the same time as the speaker. Oh, Jethro: that’s not just weird. That’s horribly creepy. But, as Nick points out, the technical side of this episode is extraordinary.

And, of course, the Doctor would test her with the word “Bananas.”

This is disturbing: this episode is showing the Doctor in his most basic form. A new life form, it seems: one that has taken Skye over entirely. And, of course, he doesn’t approve of that. But he’s fascinated, and he can’t help that. He’s the Doctor.

He’s also, though, at his most arrogant in this episode, and that’s a problem.

Ah! And now the passengers turn. Mrs Cane—Jethro’s mother—wants to throw Skye out of the vehicle. And now we see the shift. Already there was the casual cruelty that Jethro—in an unthinking fashion—was applying, using the stricken Skye as a puppet, to make her say, “My name is Jethro” and “666.”

And now we have this: calculated murder.

I don’t know that I blame them. I hope—I hope sincerely—that I wouldn’t behave this way under these circumstances. I hope that my crippling fear that this might happen one day would stop me from going along with this kind of mob behaviour. But I can’t be sure. Of course, I can’t be sure.

And now they all turn on the Doctor. And, for once, his ambiguous nature—and, and I like this point, the joy he takes in this type of chaos—is being used against him. As when he says he’s a traveller and Mrs Cane responds, “Like an emigrant?”

Damn, this is hard to watch. But I admit, the fact that he takes joy in this chaos is something that has been worrying me for a couple of seasons.

And now Skye’s stopped mimicking everyone—everyone except the Doctor.

Oh, dear.

The fact that they’re not just saying “She’s stopped” but keep insisting “She’s let me go” is fascinating: they’re terrified. Of course they are. She’s been mimicking them as they speak: she’s been inside their heads. And I think we can all understand how insanely terrifying that concept is.

Oh, damn!

Now she’s speaking first.

NICK: On “Do we have a deal?” So she breaks the deal straighaway. Or refuses it.

Now all the passengers see the Doctor as the one repeating. They assume that whatever it is has passed into the Doctor.

And yet, Skye still doesn’t look the same as she did in the beginning of the episode. This actress (Nick tells me she’s one of Davies’s favourites) is brilliant: without shifting clothes, or hairstyle, or make-up, she’s created three different characters in the space of about forty minutes.

Ah, Deedee knows what’s happening. She doesn’t trust the argument that it’s passed into the Doctor and that Skye is safe.

Oh, I don’t like to see the Doctor immobilised like that, helpless, unable to act. It’s not natural.

Ah, and the hostess isn’t certain about the majority opinion. Deedee argues that Skye is using the Doctor’s voice, but that she’s still the one possessed. And she’ll be right, as she was right about the mechanical problems and the hydraulics.

But now Skye is suggesting that the creature—she says the Doctor—is creating this chaos, this violence, by messing with their emotions.

And now they are moving—now they are intending to throw the Doctor out of the vehicle, and they talked about doing with Skye. Even Jethro gets involved, conflicted as he looks.

Until he tricks Skye into saying “allons-y”—and then the hostess knows. And she throws herself out the door into the fatal extonic sunlight, clutching Skye.


The passengers are breaking, now—especially Jethro and the professor, both of whom were the most conflicted about the idea of throwing the Doctor out of the ship. Even Mrs Cane shows remorse; I suppose, at least, that that’s what her “I said it was her” is supposed to show. But the Doctor quite rightly greets that with nothing but flat scorn.

(Frankly, given that the driver, the engineer, and the hostess are all dead, I’m surprised the passengers aren’t all up on murder charges.)

Oh, damn; the Doctor’s so traumatised (gorgeous music, at this point) that he can’t even bring himself to return Donna’s hug for a moment. That’s bad, for this Doctor.

And that’s “Midnight.” That was a laugh a minute.

(The actress who played Skye was Lesley Sharp, by the way.)

Next week, “Turn Left,” the largely Doctor-free episode. Don’t let that put you off. Seriously.

Share your thoughts [13]


Matthew Smith wrote at Sep 7, 10:41 am

I could hardly watch this episode because it was so intense. I remember not being able to sleep afterwards because I had to run it through a few times in my head. I was frustrated at the claustrophobia of the episode, the low ceiling, the row of seats and no windows, just the people in that tiny space and “bang bang bang” Holy Shit I need to get out of here! It’s like in chemistry how they tell you that as you make a space smaller, it heats up because the air molecules have nowhere to go and it all just goes crazy.

So it took me a while to realise what a brilliant episode this is because of those elements that work together to scare the pants off you. So simple: the unseen noise, a person behaving strangely and thus unpredictably and an enclosed space with no escape. Was it Hitchcock who said the scariest monsters are the ones you can’t see?


Tim wrote at Sep 7, 10:54 am

The repeated-voice stuff in this episode is really well done. Lesley Sharp is brilliant, and David Tennant is pretty good too — the Doctor’s fear when he’s paralysed and repeating her words is almost palpable.

My annoyances with this episode were quite minor and aren’t worth repeating. ;)

> Until he tricks Skye into saying “allons-y”—

You reckon that was actually a trick? I thought the entity was just getting carried away in the moment.


Catriona wrote at Sep 7, 11:35 am

I agree, Matt—this is terrifying. Partly it’s the inescapable claustrophobia and partly it’s the ordinary people becoming monstrous. I think this is Davies’s best episode—certainly the one with the densest sub-text.

And, Tim, I don’t know if I do think it’s deliberate. It’s perhaps more in keeping with the feeling of the episode—that everything we’ve come to know and associate with the Doctor is actually working against him in this episode—if it actually were purely serendipitous, if the creature just happens to pick the one word that will convince the vacillating hostess that this really is the Doctor speaking.

But it could be deliberate. It could be the Doctor trying to throw a word into the forefront of his mind that would trigger something in the listeners. It depends on how conscious he is, under the creature’s control. We can’t be sure of that, because Skye never breaks free and the Doctor never tells.

(On the other hand, I could be thinking of that episode of Star Trek—was it “What Are Little Girls Made Of”?—where Christine Chapel’s fiance had gone android-creating crazy. If I remember correctly, Kirk got out of that one by repeatedly shouting racial invective aimed at Spock while he was being copied. When the android copy used them, Spock realised what was going on. I think. A complicated plan, but that was Kirk’s speciality.)

But, oddly enough, for an episode with very little actual action, this one was a hard episode to live-blog. I didn’t feel quite as helpless against the flow of narrative as I did in the first of the Moffat two-parter, but it was close.


John wrote at Sep 8, 02:38 am

I should perhaps let Lisa respond, but she’s busy. We’ve talked about this episode, and while the alien was scary (yes, because unseen), the real monsters were always inside the cabin. The Doctor asks, “Is this what you are? Murderers? Or are you better than that?”

No, actually, they aren’t better than that: they still kill the alien (in self-defence, as it happens), but the Doctor only survived by chance, and the Stewardess’s sacrifice only disguises the fact that she was the first one to incite the passengers to murder.

Nick said (on LP?) that SF is not about the future, but about the here and now (yes, the “Like an emigrant?” line was telling), and Lisa has said that this episode is about what it is to be human.

I think Davies has got it about right, and it’s not a picture to be proud of…


Catriona wrote at Sep 8, 07:03 am

I agree, John; the passengers turn very quickly.

That’s why I was a little disappointed towards the end when Skye suggested that the creature (well, she herself) was actively manipulating the passengers’ emotions. I mentioned that line in passing, but didn’t have time to say what I really wanted to say, because things were hotting up around then.

But if that line’s true, then it’s a bit of a cop-out. The horror of this episode comes from the fact that the people turn so quickly and so comprehensively.

But I’m not sure that line is true. It would be equally plausible to read it as Skye hoping to push the passengers to that last action, to throwing the Doctor out into the extonic sunlight. She could easily just be playing on their fears by insisting that he’s inside their heads and that, therefore, any action they take is them asserting themselves against his mind control.

After all, the passengers turned homicidal very quickly, before the creature even seemed entirely cognisant of its surroundings.

But I’m not entirely certain about the argument re. the hostess’s sacrifice. She was traumatised in a way that the passengers weren’t: she wasn’t just dealing with potential attack, but also with the unexpected and horrifying deaths of friends and colleagues. Yes, she was the first to incite murder, but she was the only one willing to die herself.

She did kill the creature, and that’s something that Doctor Who has never approved of. But she killed herself, too, and I think that makes it a slightly different proposition.


Lisa wrote at Sep 10, 03:40 am

I’ve seen kids turn on an animal just as quickly – because it was ugly and frightened them – trying to kill it. We are fearful of those things that we don’t understand.

The passengers were trapped in a confined space with something that they didn’t understand and which frightened them. They indicated from the outset their lack of understanding about many things, like the recycling of the air system. They panicked when they thought they would run out of air. Only Deedee showed rational thought as a first reaction rather than fear.

I think that, as you suggest Catriona, she was hoping to push the passengers to get rid of the one being on the ship that was a threat to her remaining disguised and moving planet. If people can see the victim as a personal threat or attribute blame for the victim’s death to someone else, then they often are willing to kill. Evidence of pack mentality and war crimes tribunals have taught us that much.

I think the reference to immigrants was a deliberate social comment (the best Dr Who has always had social commentary) and topical given the treatment of refugees, asylum seekers, ‘guest’ workers, and minority ethnic groups across Europe for some years now. We really escape very lightly here in Australia.


Drew wrote at Sep 14, 01:33 am

I have been back reading your live-blogging Treen (sp?) they are absolutely brilliant!! Started at the beginning and working my way up, just finished Fires. But tell me, since I am impatient lad:

This Mr Copper character is going to pay off in an interesting if minor way later in the season. Keep an eye out.)

When does that happen? I completely failed to notice it.


Catriona wrote at Sep 14, 02:09 am

Impatient Lad? Wasn’t he a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes?

The pay-off for Mr Copper comes in the two-part finale. I’m saying no more at this stage. It’s an extremely minor reference, and I would have missed it the first time around, had Nick not pointed it out. Once he did, I thought it was great.


Drew wrote at Sep 14, 03:09 am

you know, that’s not helping with my impatience at all. :)


Catriona wrote at Sep 14, 03:25 am

Yes, but anything else would be a spoiler, at this point. You’ll just have to wait, now.


Drew wrote at Sep 14, 04:05 am

Solved now, after you made me watch the episodes again. Very clever and I never even got it. Nicely done.


Tim wrote at Sep 14, 10:42 am

Coming back to this one:

> I should perhaps let Lisa respond, but she’s busy. We’ve talked about this episode, and while the alien was scary (yes, because unseen), the real monsters were always inside the cabin. The Doctor asks, “Is this what you are? Murderers? Or are you better than that?”

Of course, it turns out murder was the right choice. As it so often is when the Doctor is up against monsters. Pot, kettle etc.


Catriona wrote at Sep 14, 10:49 am

I think you’re right, there, Tim. That’s part (although I didn’t realise it until right now) of the reason why I wasn’t entirely in agreement with John about the hostess’s sacrifice.

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