“Midnight” is the bottle show of season four. It’s limited in scope but still fairly dramatic, using the small cast and single setting to good effect. It reminds me in some ways of the play “Twelve Angry Men” where the drama consists of a jury in a room debating the details of a murder case. Such a limited setup can be very effective, and in my opinion, “Midnight” manages to wring a good bit of drama out of its concept, despite being little more than 40 minutes of people arguing. And hallelujah, it doesn’t take place on contemporary Earth!
The basic plot is as follows: the Doctor and Donna are vacationing on the titular planet of Midnight. The sun around which the planet orbits is “Xtonic”, meaning the radiation from the sun is lethal. Nothing can live on Midnight, and yet there is a self-contained pleasure resort on this planet, as well as shuttle tours to view the planet’s natural wonders. Donna decides to enjoy herself by the pool while the Doctor takes the shuttle out to see the ‘sapphire waterfalls’, which requires a four hour trip out into the wilds of Midnight. En route to the waterfall, the shuttle breaks down, and is attacked by an unseen life form, who possesses one of the passengers. Cue fear and paranoia as the passengers try to understand what’s going on, and the Doctor tries to reason with an increasingly dangerous mob mentality.
The bulk of the story is contained within the passenger cabin of the shuttle, lending the story a very claustrophobic air, as well as in inexpensive, effects-free setting. The Doctor, being the extrovert that he is, manages to get to know just about everyone during the trip out, after having disabled the incredibly annoying entertainment options with his all-purpose plot device, the sonic screwdriver… which seems to do just about anything these days. That’s a major gripe I have with the new series, but I digress.
At any rate, the shuttle breaks down, and the Doctor dives into the problem with relish, as usual. Before long, on a planet where supposedly nothing is capable of existing, it becomes apparent that something does indeed exist. The entity, which we never see, moves around the exterior of the shuttle, banging on the walls and doors, and responding to knocks on the wall by repeating the same amount. Somehow it enters the mind of one of the passengers, who is trapped at the front of the cabin, unable to move, but repeating everything everyone else says. Hysteria begins to run rampant as the entity mimics all the passengers, and then moves to copying what they way when they say it, to saying things before they say it. It works out better on the screen than it does on paper, but it’s an effectively bizarre set of events, well-directed and acted.
The Doctor gets some good characterization here. He attempts to communicate with and reason with the entity, and is the only one who seems remotely interested in understanding it. His good will is not reciprocated, as it possesses him as well and attempts to have the frightened passengers throw him outside, where the radiation will fry him instantly.
The passengers are a varied lot, dressed (as usual for the new series) in contemporary clothing when they’re presumably far in the future. And they conform to the usual stereotypes. A family with the mom and dad and the quiet teenage son, embarassed of his down to earth parents. A skeptical academic and his student, and the quiet mysterious woman who is aloof and scornful of her fellow passengers. Young, old, both genders, etc. A typical attempt to create dramatic diversity. While the characters serve the story, little attempt is made at originality with them, which is disappointing. At least the professor has the benefit of being played by the late Patrick Troughton’s son David, last seen as King Peladon back in the Pertwee days. That’s pretty cool, at least in this fan’s opinion.
Of course, there’s the usual RTD obsession with throwing offhand references to homosexuality into the script, which I’ve long since grown tired of.
Still, overall, not a bad little episode. It’s very obviously the budget-saver of the season, but a decent one.