I think part of the reason I find this episode both appealing and absolutely terrifying is that its monsters are real. As it becomes ever easier to imagine people one day exploring Mars or another distant planet it is even easier to imagine being marooned on an island, on a mountain, under the sea, or even in a tunnel or otherwise similarly enclosed vehicle as the Doctor and his traveling companions are. How quickly individuals can turn on each other and effectively throw someone they don’t even know under the bus out of fear. While the Doctor is attempting to use logic and reason to understand the situation that unfolds in the episode, the others are so frightened by what they don’t see, don’t understand and don’t know that they are willing to pick each person off, one by one until there is nothing and no one left.
We never do see the demon that was a rap tap tapping on the shuttle, but that is because we didn’t need to, it was only a catalyst for the real demon from within the shuttle. The character Sky, traveling by herself on this trip seems to become possessed by something, potentially the ‘thing’ that was just tapping on the shuttle seemingly trying to get inside of it. Suddenly, Sky is only able to repeat everything the others are saying, first with a slight delay then, as the fearful group cannot sit quietly to allow the Doctor to analyze Sky’s condition for a moment, the delay decreases to the point that she suddenly begins finishing everyone’s sentences, only making matters worse. Without warning, but almost expectedly the group is calling for Sky to be tossed out into the abyss of the outer world. Understanding this, whatever has become of Sky the Doctor is trying to quickly figure out amongst the chaos how to save her. At the same time, Sky is taking advantage of the others fear and changing the tables on the Doctor, suddenly paralyzing him.
All of the sudden, we see the Doctor is the one repeating just as Sky was only moments before and the anger, fear and frustration of the other passengers shifts from a now fully mobile and articulate Sky to an utterly immobile and recapitulating Doctor. The group tension has reached fever pitch as they grab the Doctor ready to drag him to certain death, when the hostess suffers a clarifying moment of realization along with the teenage boy that this is only the next stage in the things possession, only to grab Sky open the airlock to sacrifice herself and save the others from whatever Sky had become and would continue to evolve into.
The group dynamic is interesting throughout the episode and initially taken for granted, as close relationships often are. Initially, by watching the entire episode, you can see the teenage son being bullied by his father, then the mother and the assistant being bullied by the professor. The mother seems to be the ringleader of the group, at one point saying, “She transferred into him, I saw it with my own eyes, didn’t you?” To which her husband agrees, but her son has doubts, which she immediately replies, “Oh, don’t be stupid Jethro.” While the son, Jethro seems, at times, to be the only one thinking even close to reasonably about the whole situation, besides the Doctor.
Here is a clip of the after show, Doctor Who Confidential where the cast and crew discuss the creepiness and anxiety felt by the episode:
At 3:01 in the video clip above you can see the Doctor attempting to reason with whatever has taken over Sky, which is just what she wanted apparently. You can see the Doctor trying to fight the urge to repeat, but failing.The mother’s last line on the show was, ” I said it was her.” Knowing full well that she was one of the main reasons the situation escalated out of control. The scene in the Crusader 50 ends with barely a word spoken as the group is rescued by the service shuttle and all unable to recall the name of the hostess that just saved all of their lives.
This episode was served up to mixed reviews, Sam Wollaston with the Guardian said in 2008 after the episode initially aired that, “I’m ripping up my Virgin Galactic ticket right now, even though it cost me $200,000. A nutter on a plane in a far-away galaxy is even more frightening than one at 35,000ft above the Atlantic. […] It’s tense and claustrophobic, and it gnaws away at you. Possibly not one for the youngest in the family[.]” (16.06.2008) Andrew Billen writing for The Sunday Times, reviewed the episode and said, “Humanity did not come out of it very well, although personally I could not blame his fellow passengers for turning on David Tennant’s increasingly irritating (“I’m clever, I am!”) Doctor. Midnight felt too much of a writing exercise to be really scary, but once again it showed that even if it fails as often as it succeeds, this series is not afraid of variety.” (16.06.2008)
While viewers like Melaniebelamy said, “The lighting cameraman should be told about filters this was so bright and then added to all Tennant’s eye acting I think he is watching too much Niall Paterson on Sky News Saturday night tv was rubbish BBC filled the schedule with repeats money for old rope Michael Lyons.” Viewer TrinityX responded with this about the episode, “I loved last Saturday’s episode of Dr Who, and the preceding two-parter. Sci-fi aimed at young adults and older, rather than the tiny-tots the shows seems to have been aimed at until recently. Long may it continue!” In spite of these mixed reviews, the sound team shared a Royal Television Society Award and a Welsh BAFTA for their work.
Regardless of its critics, Midnight is one of my absolute favorite Doctor Who episodes. It is too easy to assume that monsters are out there, at a distance from us. Yet how easy is it for the group mentality to take over and for the group to turn on itself, which is all too common in society today, in both fiction and non-fiction. When I was a kid, I used to watch horror films, until randomly one day after seeing Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors, I was so freaked out as a little kid I couldn’t sleep basically for the rest of the summer and into the fall. These days, it isn’t villains that I find most terrifying, it is the psychological, because it is too often the crazy demented thoughts of individuals or groups that are carried out in real life or otherwise that is far creepier and scarier than any boogieman. This episode had me thinking long after I finished watching it.