Doctor Who in Review: Season Four, Episode #10 – Midnight
The hit BBC series Doctor Who is now in its fourth season on the Sci-Fi Channel, and since we’re all big fans here at ComicMix, we’ve decided to kick off an episode-by-episode analysis of the reinvigorated science-fiction classic.
Every week, I’ll do my best to go through the most recent episode with a fine-tooth comb (or whatever the "sonic screwdriver" equivalent might be) and call out the highlights, low points, continuity checks and storyline hints I can find to keep in mind for future episodes. I’ll post the review each Monday, so you have ample time to check out the episode once it airs each Friday at 9 PM EST on Sci-Fi Channel before I spoil anything.
Missed a week? Check out the "Doctor Who in Review" archive or check out any of the past editions of this column via the links at the end of this article.
Keep in mind, I’m going to assume readers have already watched the episode when I put fingers to keyboard and come up with the roundup of important plot points. In other words, SPOILER ALERT!
Let’s begin now, shall we?
Season Four, Episode #10: "Midnight"
IN BRIEF: Donna Noble heads off on her own for a bit of relaxation, but The Doctor embarks on a tour of Midnight, a largely unexplored crystalline planet whose surface is bathed by deadly (to most creatures, at least) sun rays. When their transport breaks down, The Doctor and the group of tourists trapped in the vehicle discover that they’re not alone on the planet, while one of the tourists, Sky, becomes inhabited by a mysterious entity who begins repeating everyone’s words in what appears to be an attempt to "copy" them. Tensions mount as The Doctor can’t rely on his favorite tool — his words — to resolve the situation, and the tourists eventually set their minds to murder. When the entity finally manages to "copy" The Doctor, the passengers finally rid themselves of the entity when the stewardess sacrifices her own life — and Sky — to save them all.
ONCE AGAIN, NOT A COUPLE: Donna’s relationship with The Doctor gets another little nod this episode, and even though it’s a "companion-lite" story, her conversations with The Doctor in the beginning (That’s a date… Well, not a date… Oh, you know what I mean… Oh, get off!") and end (in which she repeats The Doctor’s phrase and receives a stern response) pack a lot of character development into a pair of short scenes. The former made me laugh, while the latter made me shiver.
IS THERE A "LOST AND FOUND" FOR PLANETS? The mystery of the disappearing planets pops up again in this episode when Dee Dee Blasco mentions the "lost moon of Poosh," and to be honest, it’s starting to seem a little strange that The Doctor hasn’t picked up on it yet. Of course, we’re led to believe that The Doctor and Donna have been traveling around quite a bit in the time between episodes, so the string of "missing planets" might not be as conspicuous for the duo as it is for viewers.
VIDEO STAR: Right around the 16:00 mark in the episode, former companion Rose Tyler makes yet another video-borne cameo similar to what we saw a few episodes ago in "The Poison Sky." Since it’s less of a "blink and you miss it" scenario this time around, the writing appears to be on the wall when it comes to the former companion returning at some point this season… like, for instance, in the next episode (if the preview is to be believed, that is).
WELL, IT’S BETTER THAN PLAYING "PUNCH-BUGGY": After watching this episode, I’m fairly certain that despite the likelihood of mortal danger and/or horrible, life-changing trauma, there aren’t many people I’d want along for a road trip more than The Doctor.
WHAT’S IN A NAME? When the passengers get curious about The Doctor’s identity, his longstanding "John Smith" alias doesn’t seem to cut it, which only adds fuel to the fire of questions surrounding The Doctor’s "real name" this season.
THE CREATURE REPORT: Lesley Sharp provides a great performance as Sky Silvestry, the poor, possessed host of Midnight entity, reminding me of one of the main reasons why I’ve enjoyed Doctor Who for so many years. In the absence of the special-effects budgets that many American science-fiction series rely upon, the actors in Doctor Who often have to let their performances move the story and become the effects — and in this case, Sharp serves that model very, very well.
READER REPORT: Last week, regular reader (and occasional ComicMix contributor) Vinnie Bartilucci really summed up my thoughts on the evolution of Catherine Tate’s character in the current series. Commenting on last week’s "Forest of the Dead" episode, he wrote:
Will all the people who claimed that Catherine Tate was going to ruin the series with her mugging please apologize. Her acting in this episode was spectacular, and the scene with the kids in the bedroom was patently heartbreaking.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF THE NEXT EPISODE, "Left Turn": Wow. It looks like a pile of plot threads we’ve been discussing this season start to get resolved, and in typical Doctor Who form, everything comes crashing together in the end. But what about The Doctor? He’s… dead?
Thanks to the good people at The Doctor Who Wiki for information related to several of this week’s story notes.
Screencaps courtesy of SciFi.com. For more on Doctor Who and other great programs, check out Scifi.com and the BBC.
Want to know what you’ve been missing? Check out all of the past "Doctor Who in Review" features via the following links:
Season Four, Episode #1 – "Partners in Crime"
Season Four, Episode #2 – "The Fires of Pompeii"
Season Four, Episode #3 – "Planet of the Ood"
Season Four, Episode #4 – "The Sontaran Stratagem"
Season Four, Episode #5 – "The Poison Sky"
Season Four, Episode #6 – "The Doctor’s Daughter"
Season Four, Episode #7 – "The Unicorn and the Wasp"
Season Four, Episode #8 – "Silence in the Library"
It was a cool episode. It appears that this season instead of having a single episode like Love & Monsters or Blink that give the Doctor and his companion some time off, they are having one episode (this one) which gave the companion some time off and another (next) with the Doctor having some time off. It was quite a tense episode. I haven't had a chance to listen to the commentary yet, but I am looking forward to that. It was interesting to see the Doctor so frustrated. We might as well make the obligatory mention here of David Troughton (son of Patrick) as the professor. The BBC Fact Page for the episode says "After Georgia Moffett, he's the second progeny of a past Doctor actor to appear in Series Four. David previously appeared in three Doctor Who stories: 1967's The Enemy of the World (uncredited), 1969's The War Games and 1972's The Curse of Peladon."
You know, not having watched the next episode yet, I didn't realize that it was going to be the Doctor-lite segment. That's very, very interesting and is a great way to balance out the casting.Seeing The Doctor frustrated was one of the scariest moments of the episode for me, as I don't remember too many instances in past episodes when it felt like The Doctor was actually in danger. I know William Hartnell was always having to be carried around and such, but I rarely felt like any of the Doctors have ever been in serious danger like Tennant was in this episode.
Each season the DW production staff have to produce an episode with very little of the Doctor in it, so they can cram 14 episodes (including the Christmas episode) into a production schedule designed for 13. They've done something interesting with the "14th episode" this year; they've split it in two. Midnight has virtually no Donna Noble, and the next has almost none of The Doctor. A brilliant way to keep things fresh while still making sure Tennant and his companion aren't run ragged with the shooting schedule. Add to that the fact there's no monster to speak of in the episode, a good way to stretch the budget as well. Moffat's shadows were quite the cash-saver in Silence in the Library as well.Another episode with characters you wouldn't mind hearing from again. Dee Dee Blasco was a winner – considering the new team's penchant for recycling actors they like, it wouldn't shock me to see Ayesha Antoine pop up again in the future. And Sky Silvestry was a paradiddle detail in human form. Her very subtle comment about her ex-lover ("She" needed more space – mentions of non-hetero relationships in the series are such a sign of the changing times) and the way she went all paranoid, convinced the pounding noise was coming for her…she had a LOT of implied history that one gets the impression was quite tragic.RTD commented that his goal with this episode was an emotional bookend to "Voyage of the Damned". While the latter story showed people at their best, helping each other and sacrificing themselves when required, the people in this ship were more how RTD thinks most people would react; find a scapegoat, throw people off the ship if they're percieved as a threat. Very chilling in that light.Also of interest in the episode is that for the first time in quite a while…the Doctor is wrong. He tries to convince the passengers that this new lifeform can be talked with a reasoned with, and it almost costs him his life. That more than anything else was probably the most traumatic for him, considering his avowed hatred for killing. It's the first monster in who (no pun intended) knows how long that we never learn anything about. It appears, it starts its attack, it's defeated, and we never learn its name, its purpose, nothing. That really only makes the monster more interesting and chilling.With not too many CGI or prosthetic effect in the story, the real stars of the episode turn out to be the sound editors. The BBC companion series "Doctor Who confidential" dedicated the whole show to the sound team this episode. They revealed that to film all the overlapping sounds, they filmed the scenes several time, each with only one actor yelling, and the others miming. That way they were able to play with the levels all they liked. Quite a complicated episode.GUEST STAR REPORT – While returning director Alice Troughton is not related to the second Doctor Patrick Troughton, the man who plays Professor Hobbes, David Troughton, is – he's Patrick's son, and he's been on the show a couple times, including as King Peladon in the The Curse of Peladon.
As always, Vinnie, a great analysis of the episode and a lesson in all of the things I wasn't aware of about this edition of The Doctor's adventures. To be honest, I know we spoke about having you help out with these reviews, but I actually enjoy it more when I post my thoughts on it here and then see what you, Neil, Mike and the rest of the Who viewers have to say in response.Thanks again for always chiming in! It makes me look forward to posting these reviews each week, as I know I'll learn something new about the series and its mythos.
The setup for the episode reminded me rather of Arthur C. Clarke's "A Fall of Moondust"…
The commentary also featured the sound team – Sound Recordist Julian Howarth, Supervising Sound Editor Paul McFadden, and 2nd Boom Operator Bryn Thomas. At least one of them said that it was the most difficult episode of his whole career. They discussed a lot about how they put the sounds together. The "entertainment" was designed by RTD to be chaos with all the overlapping noises. Contrary to most episodes, the episode was filmed in chronological story order as much as they could.
Another thing that seemed interesting to me in this episode… This is the first time we've seen the Doctor without a companion since "The Deadly Assassin" in the Baker years. He's on his own, and what does he do as soon as he sits down? He starts chatting people up. It's like he can't STAND to be alone. I may well be reading too much into it, but I found it a very telling way to play the character.