I think it’ll become apparent pretty quickly that I like Doctor Who best when it’s scariest and/or saddest. Which is why Steven Moffat is my favourite writer on the show. He comes up with all the scariest monsters, and he is quite notorious for creating, and then killing off, an entire family of beloved characters. But back when Russell T. Davies was head writer, he had his moments, too. Sure, he wrote “Love and Monsters,” but he also created some truly heart-breaking moments, like the Bad Wolf Bay scene in “Doomsday,” and Donna’s departure in “Journey’s End” (for which I still have not forgiven him).
He also wrote “Midnight.” And after “Blink,” I think “Midnight” is one of the most brilliant Doctor Who episodes ever.
Written by: Russell T. Davies
Aired: Near the end of Season Four
Featuring: the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble
Set in: Midnight, the far future
Summary: Donna and the Doctor are staying at a luxury resort on the planet Midnight, which orbits a sun with such powerful radiation that nothing can live on the surface. The Doctor takes a tour bus to see the planet’s diamond waterfalls, but the bus breaks down on the way, leaving the passengers trapped. And something is trying to get inside…
What I love about this episode is that it’s so simple. Nearly all the action is confined to one small space and eight characters, and it’s almost all talking. There are no chase scenes, no fancy alien costumes, no special makeup. The sense of mounting suspense and horror is solely generated by the music, the claustrophobic setting, and the brilliant acting of David Tennant and Lesley Sharpe (as Sky Silvestri). There shouldn’t be anything scary about a woman sitting in a corner repeating everything people say, but here it is scary.
Because, of course, this is one of the few Doctor Who episodes where we never find out what the monster was. As the professor keeps repeating throughout the episode, “nothing can live on the surface of midnight.” But apparently something there was alive enough to tear the bus apart, and to possess, or at least control, someone inside. It was also able to take the Doctor’s most powerful weapon–his voice–and use it against him. We’re not used to seeing the Doctor so helpless, and it’s a bit unnerving.
There’s even a bit of a philosophical dimension to this episode. None of the bus passengers come off looking like very lovable people. Aside from their tendency to panic and bicker at the first sign of trouble, they all show themselves to be capable of murder. And although DeeDee and Jethro are at least clever enough to figure out what’s going on by the end, only the Hostess had the guts to do anything about it–and the other passengers can’t even remember her name. But was the monster controlling their behaviour, as it claimed, or were they just a bunch of rotten people to begin with? In other words, does evil come from outside forces or from within? I love smart, conversation-starting stories like these.
“Allons-y! It’s French. For ‘let’s go.'” – The Doctor
[Only time on the show that this word is defined for non-French speakers.]
“*chuckles* We’ve broken down. In the middle of NOWHERE!” – Jethro
“BANG! Shamble bobble dibble dooble. Rose Tyler Martha Jones Donna Noble TARDIS! Oh, Doctor, you’re so handsome! Thank you, yes I am.” – The Doctor/Sky
“Professor, I’m glad that you’ve got an absolute definition of life in the universe, but perhaps the universe has ideas of its own.” – The Doctor