Doctor Who series 4 episode 10 review: Midnight

Review Simon Brew 14 Jun 2008 - 21:40
Midnight. And for once, the Doctor seems as in the dark as the rest of us...

Russell T Davies was back at the typewriter for this week's Doctor Who. And at first, it all seemed to be going wrong...

If you were being generous, you’d suggest that Midnight - only the second episode of this series of Doctor Who to be penned by Russell T Davies - took some time to get going. In fact, for a good ten minutes – and it wasn’t helped by the drab trailer last week – it was looking like something of a washout.

This was the Donna-lite episode, with Catherine Tate’s character used to bookend an adventure that saw the Doctor take a leisure cruise, leaving her behind to relax. Also bookending the main body of the episode were some superb visuals, as good as anything we’ve seen since the series returned to our screens.

The main thrust of Midnight though was the aforementioned tourist trip, and this at first seemed a very bad idea (not least because they only had a leisure cruise episode back at Christmas, and some of us still remember, not too fondly, Delta And The Bannermen). With just a handful of passengers on board, and a cheap looking set, there was no sense of everyone being anywhere other than in a Cardiff-based studio.

There was no better example of this than the cockpit of the vessel they were in, which looked like something Red Dwarf would have rejected a decade ago. Factor in that there was no feeling of claustrophobia (with plenty of wide shots showing up the unimpressive set), and that the characters were – quite literally in one case – out of a soap opera, and the episode was, by the time the banging noises started on the outer hull on the vessel, looking like a bit of a disaster.

And then it got good. Really good.

It did it too in a way that Russell T Davies’ episodes rarely get commended for: for subtlely building up the tension and intrigue, one step at a time. Because just when you thought this was a bog standard aliens attacking a stranded ship tale, Davies switched tack, choosing instead a less obvious villain who possessed one of the passengers. And then, ultimately, possessed the Doctor.

Furthermore, said villain was then made genuinely unnerving through something as simple as copying what other characters were saying, and then later uttering their words in unison with them. Heck, even Murray turned the music down for a bit while all this was going on, as a Doctor Who episode simply stuck a group of people in a room and had them uttering dialogue for a good half hour of it. No gimmicks, no gags: just good writing, good performances, and a restrained Tennant in particularly fine form anchoring it all.

The supporting characters here, it should also be noted, weren’t particularly likeable (and, well, on the whole weren't really that good either), but that was half the point. For they were as much the villain here as the creation that we never actually saw. Granted, it’s not an original trick, but this was done really well, aided by direction that gradually tightened in on its subjects, and editing that helped build the tempo. It might not have been claustrophobic at the start, but it sure turned things round for the second half of the episode.

What’s more, it was surprising just how under the skin the mechanic of simply having someone repeating dialogue could be. You can forget your Slitheens, your Ood and your Sontarans: usually, it’s the simple things that really work, and that was certainly the case here.

It helped too that you felt that the Doctor, for once, was as powerless and frightened as the rest of them, and in fact it wasn't even he who came anywhere close to being the saviour of everyone this time round. Midnight certainly rode roughshod over many of the series' conventions.

And nowhere was that more evident than with the ending. Because here was an episode that, surprisingly, benefitted from not actually explaining, well, anything really. There was a price to pay, because as a result Midnight didn’t feel like a rounded or complete story, but then maybe it isn’t. There’s certainly a thread here for RTD to pick up in his final three episodes of the series.

As it stood, it was unsettling that by the time the credits rolled, the Doctor didn’t know what he had faced, and hadn’t managed to overcome it, with whatever it was clearly still out there. Heck, he didn't even know its name. It’s all but sure, you suspect, that he’ll meet the ramifications of Midnight again in the future, and given his clear fear of what he was facing, that’s something to look forward to. Thus, while it was initially annoying that the theme tune kicked in before we were given any real clue as to what had happened, in retrospect it was quite refreshing not to have everything spoon-fed and tied up.

It wasn’t a perfect episode. A few bits fell flat, the opening was terribly weak, and it at times looked like it had been put together with the leftovers from the BBC’s prop cupboard. But, by the end, it didn’t really matter. For by containing the bulk of his episode to a single room, and letting the dialogue do the work, Russell T Davies delivered one of his best ever Doctor Who scripts. The decision to have the Doctor facing all of this by himself too also paid dividends (the theme of solitude, once more, is bubbling away there under the surface), and it bodes well for the three RTD episodes coming up to take us to the end of the series.

Talking of that, you’ll, no doubt, have noticed Rose screaming away briefly in the background too. We’ve not had her dropped in for a few weeks now, but she’s back for real in next week’s Turn Left, which is the now-traditional Doctor-lite episode of the series. The trailer didn’t give away much, short of the previously seen shot of Bernard Cribbins noting that the stars are going out. But given that this is the point in the series where we got Utopia last year, it’s fair to say that next week, things really start to get serious…

Read Martin Anderson's take on last week's Doctor Who right here.

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I liked that David Troughton was in this one , another 'keeping it in the family' stylee. I also liked that he gave his name as John Smith, as he was in the episode of Smith and Jones where he meets (and kisses) martha. An episode with Tom Baker as the Doctor where he returns to gallifry (assistantless) was scripted to prove to Baker that he NEEDED an assistant, as he would 'rumoured' argue that The Doctor didnt need an assistant, it backfired and turned into one of the most popular episodes. However in this assistantless episode the poor Doctor could really have done with someone on his side, but then the last minute reprive wouldnt have come into play and another twist would have had to be sought. Low budget yes, good entertainment, yes... fantastic eyes WOW yes.

To me the episode felt like nearly a whole hour of constant, repetitive shouting. The episode was basically people bickering, backed by a build up of orchestral strings, which then reached its crescendo with somebody shouting "SHUT UP", repeat, repeat, repeat. Building suspense is good, but constant suspense that just never lets up can get very annoying.

This ep was brilliant - for all the reasons covered and others that are hard to explain because they're felt more than thought about.

Me, I thought the repeating was genius. Who hasn't had a pain in the ass cousin who did that every holiday and, after only mere minutes, wanted to strangle them?


It really can drive you mad.


RTD deserves high praise, but I doubt he'll get it from those who have already signed on to the Bash Team.

The lack of an overt resolution to it all is certainly a problem of sorts with Midnight, but my thinking right now is that it's a risk worth taking. The shouting, for me, had a purpose this time: there was panic, and literally nobody knew what they were facing, or how to beat it. Wasn't expecting to like the episode much, to be honest, but really warmed to it a lot.

>I also liked that he gave his name as John Smith, as he was in the episode of Smith and Jones where he meets (and kisses) martha.


Well, that's his traditional "Earth name" - dates all the way back to Jon Pertwee, I think!

Yeah I realise that Sebp I just liked the link up to former episodes by the usage. Followed by the comments that no one was called John Smith !

For me this was a great episode. It was annoying and unnerving and not one that I want to immedately watch, unlike the best ones (Girl in the fireplace, blink), but it is one that will keep us thinking. Some of the best ones do not have nice clean endings. That lack of closure is what adds depth and excitement to the series. Good job RTD!

This was a great episode, really great. Although not able to scale the heights of the mighty Blink, RTD penned an excellent story here. Yes, it was low-budget, yes, nothing much really happened for a while, but I think that made the whole thing as good as it was.

At first the passengers of the Crusader were happy-go-lucky tourists, all getting on with each other, and were non too interesting really (as it usually is on a long haul flight). But then, when the situation took a change for the worst and demanded some genuine humanity, everyone turned on each other in a rather nasty way, and this was handled very well indeed, and the real villain(s) of the episode were the so-called decent human beings (or variations thereof).

Then there's the fact that the Doctor was truly helpless. This was not simply because Donna was lay sunning it up, but because the Doctor was truly powerless against such a situation, and the fear Tennant managed to convey made you feel very nervous on the Doc’s behalf.

But, as good as the rest of the story was, the single best thing RTD did in this whole episode was leave it wide open. By the end we still don’t know who or what the alien consciousness (if that’s what it was) is, what it wanted, or why it picked the Doctor as its eventual target. This, in my opinion worked far better than any monster, Cyberman or Dalek, and simply not knowing is far more unnerving. And, the Doctor’s response at the end, clearly one of fear as he has no idea what the life form was, or how to deal with it, was great. To be honest, I kind of hope the team don’t revisit this, and leave it as a one off. I think explaining things would ruin it, and leaving it be simply confirms, finally, that the Doctor is not infallible, which can only help strengthen the character. After all, were’s the fun of a character who simply can’t lose?

'Midnight' was good for the first ten minutes, then it took on a Pythonesque air and never recovered. What could have been an exercise in suspense instead degenerated into mindless shouting. If the Abzorbaloff had broken into the ship, I'd have cheered. R.T.D. has written many good 'Who' scripts - this wasn't one of them. I got the impression he realised they were underrunning and so ordered Lesley Sharp to pad the thing out by repeating everybody else's lines.

I liked that David Troughton was in this one , another 'keeping it in the family' stylee. I also liked that he gave his name as John Smith, as he was in the episode of Smith and Jones where he meets (and kisses) martha. An episode with Tom Baker as the Doctor where he returns to gallifry (assistantless) was scripted to prove to Baker that he NEEDED an assistant, as he would 'rumoured' argue that The Doctor didnt need an assistant, it backfired and turned into one of the most popular episodes. However in this assistantless episode the poor Doctor could really have done with someone on his side, but then the last minute reprive wouldnt have come into play and another twist would have had to be sought. Low budget yes, good entertainment, yes... fantastic eyes WOW yes.

To me the episode felt like nearly a whole hour of constant, repetitive shouting. The episode was basically people bickering, backed by a build up of orchestral strings, which then reached its crescendo with somebody shouting "SHUT UP", repeat, repeat, repeat. Building suspense is good, but constant suspense that just never lets up can get very annoying.

The lack of an overt resolution to it all is certainly a problem of sorts with Midnight, but my thinking right now is that it's a risk worth taking. The shouting, for me, had a purpose this time: there was panic, and literally nobody knew what they were facing, or how to beat it. Wasn't expecting to like the episode much, to be honest, but really warmed to it a lot.

This ep was brilliant - for all the reasons covered and others that are hard to explain because they're felt more than thought about.

Me, I thought the repeating was genius. Who hasn't had a pain in the ass cousin who did that every holiday and, after only mere minutes, wanted to strangle them?


It really can drive you mad.


RTD deserves high praise, but I doubt he'll get it from those who have already signed on to the Bash Team.

>I also liked that he gave his name as John Smith, as he was in the episode of Smith and Jones where he meets (and kisses) martha.


Well, that's his traditional "Earth name" - dates all the way back to Jon Pertwee, I think!

Yeah I realise that Sebp I just liked the link up to former episodes by the usage. Followed by the comments that no one was called John Smith !

For me this was a great episode. It was annoying and unnerving and not one that I want to immedately watch, unlike the best ones (Girl in the fireplace, blink), but it is one that will keep us thinking. Some of the best ones do not have nice clean endings. That lack of closure is what adds depth and excitement to the series. Good job RTD!

This was a great episode, really great. Although not able to scale the heights of the mighty Blink, RTD penned an excellent story here. Yes, it was low-budget, yes, nothing much really happened for a while, but I think that made the whole thing as good as it was.

At first the passengers of the Crusader were happy-go-lucky tourists, all getting on with each other, and were non too interesting really (as it usually is on a long haul flight). But then, when the situation took a change for the worst and demanded some genuine humanity, everyone turned on each other in a rather nasty way, and this was handled very well indeed, and the real villain(s) of the episode were the so-called decent human beings (or variations thereof).

Then there's the fact that the Doctor was truly helpless. This was not simply because Donna was lay sunning it up, but because the Doctor was truly powerless against such a situation, and the fear Tennant managed to convey made you feel very nervous on the Doc’s behalf.

But, as good as the rest of the story was, the single best thing RTD did in this whole episode was leave it wide open. By the end we still don’t know who or what the alien consciousness (if that’s what it was) is, what it wanted, or why it picked the Doctor as its eventual target. This, in my opinion worked far better than any monster, Cyberman or Dalek, and simply not knowing is far more unnerving. And, the Doctor’s response at the end, clearly one of fear as he has no idea what the life form was, or how to deal with it, was great. To be honest, I kind of hope the team don’t revisit this, and leave it as a one off. I think explaining things would ruin it, and leaving it be simply confirms, finally, that the Doctor is not infallible, which can only help strengthen the character. After all, were’s the fun of a character who simply can’t lose?

'Midnight' was good for the first ten minutes, then it took on a Pythonesque air and never recovered. What could have been an exercise in suspense instead degenerated into mindless shouting. If the Abzorbaloff had broken into the ship, I'd have cheered. R.T.D. has written many good 'Who' scripts - this wasn't one of them. I got the impression he realised they were underrunning and so ordered Lesley Sharp to pad the thing out by repeating everybody else's lines.

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