Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Story 197 - Midnight

In which the Doctor and Donna visit the Leisure Palace on the planet Midnight. This uninhabitable world is bathed in X-tonic radiation, which destroys organic tissue in seconds, and there is no breathable atmosphere. The Palace had to be constructed elsewhere and lowered down onto the surface. The landscape around the complex is composed of crystals of diamond and sapphires. Whilst Donna elects to relax by the pool, the Doctor decides to take a trip to the Sapphire Waterfall on the Crusader 50 tourbus. The vehicle has sealed windows, and the tour party will only get a very brief view of the falls once they get to their destination - such is the danger from the radiation.
Joining the Doctor on the tour are Professor Hobbes, who has made a special study of the planet, and his student assistant Dee Dee Blasco. With them is the Cane family - comprising husband and wife Biff and Val, and their teenage son Jethro. The final passenger is a woman travelling on her own - Sky Silvestry. They will be looked after by a Hostess on the journey, which should only take a few hours. A son-et-lumiere show is provided to pass the time - comprising old cartoons, Euro-pop songs and psychedelic lighting, all played simultaneously. Horrified, the Doctor decides to sabotage this, and then gets the passengers to talk to one another instead.

The Canes tell everyone about some of their funnier holiday experiences, to the embarrassment of bored son Jethro, who would rather listen to his music. Hobbes and Dee Dee provide a lecture about the planet. The Doctor then joins Sky, who informs him that she has recently broken up with her partner and is enjoying travelling on her own. After a while the driver, Joe, announces that they will be making a detour to their normal route due to a rockfall. A short time after this, the vehicle comes to a halt. Hobbes announces that he has done this trip many times, and the vehicle never stops. The Doctor goes to the cockpit where Joe and his mechanic Claude tell him that they have some engine problems, but he does not believe them. He encourages them to open the window shutter for a moment so that they can look out onto the surface. Just as it closes again, Claude is sure that he has seen movement - even though nothing can live here. The Hostess gets the Doctor to return to the cabin where he tries to reassure the others, who are beginning to panic - with Val fearing they will run out of air. Something then knocks against the outside of the hull. It moves around the vehicle. When the Doctor knocks back, it seems to respond. The vehicle is then plunged into darkness as something tears away at the exterior. The Doctor discovers that the driver's cab has been totally ripped away, killing Joe and Claude.

Hobbes is shocked by these events as he has always insisted that there can be no life on Midnight. It soon becomes clear that the thing which had been knocking has now gotten inside the Crusader, as Sky begins to behave strangely. It appears to have possessed her in some way. She watches the others intently and begins to repeat everything they say - leading the Doctor to surmise that it is trying to learn to communicate with them. Her constant repetition gets on everyone's nerves. After a time, they are shocked to find that she has synchronised and is speaking at exactly the same moment as them. Fear and paranoia grow, and the passengers begin to talk about throwing Sky out of the bus. The doors can be opened safely for a few seconds due to an air seal. The Doctor naturally urges against this. His efforts to take charge only cause the others to resent him, however. It is then noticed that Sky is speaking before the Doctor does - anticipating his speech. The passengers begin to believe that the mysterious entity has moved from Sky to him, and she confirms this to be the case. His willpower is sapped, as he repeats what she says. The others then decide to throw him out of the vehicle. However, the Hostess notices that Sky is using certain phrases which she had heard the Doctor say, and realises that the entity has not transferred to him at all. Before the others can drag him to the door to throw him outside, she grabs hold of Sky and pulls her through the door instead, killing them both.
A subdued group of passengers then await the arrival of a rescue vehicle. They realise that they didn't even know the Hostess' name.

Midnight was written by Russell T Davies, and was first broadcast on Saturday 14th June, 2008.It was designed to be a very cheap episode, with a small cast confined to a single set, and to be the series' first ever "companion-lite" story. Series Two and Three had featured "Doctor-lite" episodes, which also had a minimal role for the companion (Love & Monsters and Blink). This was to enable the production team to realise 13 episodes plus a Christmas Special in the time available. For this season, it was decided to feature one story in which the Doctor would hardly appear, and another in which Donna would be mostly absent. We'll hear about the one with very little David Tennant in it next time, but Midnight only features Catherine Tate in two brief sequences which top and tail the episode, as she is seen to relax by a swimming pool.
The limitations imposed on this story by himself, allow for a highly claustrophobic little tale in which fear and paranoia run rife, and for once the Doctor gets caught up in it. His attempts to be the commanding voice of reason fall on deaf ears. Apart from some establishing shots of the Leisure Palace and Donna's pool, all of the action is contained within the Crusader tourbus. There is a brief moment when Driver Joe opens the window screen to allow us a view of the planet, but tellingly we only hear that Claude has seen something move. We all replayed this sequence in slow motion several times in the hope that there was a glimpse of some CGI creature, but of course there isn't anything to be seen.
The story is all about sound and atmosphere and performances. And what performances.

It is an excellent cast, headed by Lesley Sharp as Sky Silvestry. Davies could have gone down the cliched route of having her a very nice person taken over by the entity, but right from the off she is a bit of a cold fish, preferring her own company and not mixing with the others. Presumably this is why the entity chooses her - she has something in common with it to begin with. Professor Hobbes is played by David Troughton, returning to the series for the first time since The Curse of Peladon. The other monster on board the Crusader is Val - played by EastEnders star Lindsey Coulson. Val epitomises all the worst aspects of humanity. Close behind her is her husband Biff, played by Daniel Ryan. Biff and Val are basically the White Van couple you don't want to get stuck beside on a long journey. Son Jethro is Colin Morgan, who would go on to star as the young Merlin in the popular BBC series which began later in 2008. This was designed to plug the gap left when Doctor Who was off the air, following the end of the Robin Hood series. Jethro is a bit of a Goth, or Emo, and is much more of a sympathetic character than his parents. However, even he starts to get drawn into the paranoia, and the Doctor realises that he is fighting a losing battle when this happens. The other sympathetic passenger is Dee Dee, played by Ayesha Antoine. She manages to keep a more level head for much of the time, working things out rather than being pulled along by the others.

As far as story arc points go for this series, we get a brief glimpse of Rose Tyler calling out to the Doctor on the Crusader's TV monitors, which he fails to see, and Dee Dee has been studying the Lost Moon of Poosh. The Doctor - and therefore Sky - also mentions the Medusa Cascade.
Overall, a superb episode. Special mention for the performances by David Tennant and Lesley Sharp. It is worth watching the full length installment of Doctor Who Confidential which accompanied this story, to see the work that went into the shifting dialogue between the pair. It also highlights the sound design for this story. A very good 44th place in the DWM 50th Anniversary poll.
Things you might like to know:
  • Actor Sam Kelly was originally cast to play Hobbes, but he broke his leg just before filming and so Troughton was brought in at only two day's notice to replace him.
  • Working titles included "Crusader Five" and "Crusader 50". The 50 came from this being the 50th episode of he revived series to be filmed.
  • Midnight was written quite quickly as it had to fill a slot which was to go to writer Tom MacRae. His story - "Century House" - featured TV ghost hunters investigating a haunted house, but elements of it were deemed too similar to The Unicorn and the Wasp, and it was dropped.
  • This is the first story since Genesis of the Daleks not to feature the TARDIS.
  • And this is the first story in which the Doctor has to cope without a companion to help him since The Deadly Assassin.
  • Davies' inspiration for the repetition by the entity came from children copying what adults say as a joke - usually persisting beyond it being funny any more and becoming just plain annoying. A bit like "Are we there yet?".
  • The in-flight entertainment sabotaged by the Doctor included Betty Boop cartoons, which dated back to the 1930's, and music from Italian pop diva Raffaella Carra. Before becoming a pop star she was an actress who appeared in many Sword & Sandal epics. "Do It, Do It Again" had been her only UK hit. The light show accompanying these is reminiscent of the psychedelic oil on water images pioneered by bands like Pink Floyd.
  • The clip of Rose seen on the screen was filmed as part of Turn Left, and was done specifically for inclusion in this episode. Many people think it was simply copied from the Sontaran episode, but the reverse is actually the case. After filming it for this, it was then decided to go back and edit it into that earlier story.
  • Dee Dee quotes a poem about goblins. This was Goblin Market, written by Christina Rossetti in 1859 and published in 1862.
  • When you watch this story on DVD / Blu-Ray, or as a repeat on a cable channel or on-line service, you are not seeing it exactly as it was first broadcast. In the opening sequence where the Doctor speaks to Donna on the phone, the green-screen backdrop was briefly visible. This error was fixed later.

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