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16 March 2015 @ 10:20 pm
NuWho Rewatch: Midnight  
I think Midnight is Davies' most pessimistic story. Throughout his tenure you get glimpses of some deep misgivings about human nature, but they are normally hand-waved away with a cry of "fantastic!" and the story trundles on in a generally optimistic fashion. Not here.

Everything that normally works for the Doctor fails. The passengers are not reassured by his words, charmed by his manner, nor distracted from his lack of name or proof of qualifications. They rarely do as he asks, they certainly never grasp his critical point about not talking (though to be fair the Doctor is equally bad there). They vacillate and change their minds. It is the nameless hostess who first suggests throwing the creature out of the airlock and yet she is the one, at the end, who actively opposes the rest of the passengers' desire to throw the Doctor out of the airlock (admittedly by throwing Skye Silvestry out, as she had suggested all along, but it is presented as her stepping away from the group hysteria rather than feeding it). They behave, in short, like panicky people and that exaggerates their propensity for self-importance, cruelty and snap judgements. The Doctor can not get enough of a grip on their confidence to ever calm them down in fact their confidence in him rapidly drains away. The Doctor could not win this one, despite the fact that (possibly) all he had to do was keep half a dozen people quiet for 60 minutes.

Much was made, at the time, of the technical acting skills required for the word mimicry, and particularly of the Doctor and Skye's rapid fire synchronous babbling. I remember watching this episode with NLSS Child when she was small and her being fascinated by this aspect. She was less interested in it now, and more interested in the people and why they were behaving the way they were. I suspect it is a trick that is more impressive if you know something about the actual difficulty involved. It looks good, but one half wonders if it is there for the technical pyrotechnics - the acting equivalent of one of the action spectaculars Davies' sprinkles his more high octane stories with. Certainly the monster.s abilities and powers while necessarily vaguely defined for the story, are somewhat inconsistent. I was more impressed by a lot of the camera work, which I rarely notice, but in such a tiny set it was doing great things, in particular it often focused the image away from the discussion and onto the mimic, either the Doctor or Silvestry. Tennant, in particular, did a good job here, conveying the Doctor's desperation while fixed in place and able only to repeat the words spoken by Skye.

Colin Morgan from Merlin is in it, which I found oddly exciting, particularly considering I've only ever watched about four episodes of Merlin. He's good as the teenager, anxious to show is disdain for the whole experience, but every so often drawn into acting like a regular human being and, at the end, joining in the crowd manhandling the Doctor despite his obvious doubts. Actually all the acting is good, which is needed for a chamber piece like this. I particularly liked Ayesha Antoine's Dee Dee, but David Troughton is excellent as the Professor, and Rakie Ayola is good as the harassed hostess. One of the things the story is doing is allowing Davies to present characters who are neither particularly good, nor particularly evil. The hostess is no good-natured put-upon saint such as Kylie Minogue's Astrid was. She starts out giving the impression of someone mildly fed up and exasperated with both trip and passengers and, as mentioned, is the first to put forward the idea of killing Silvestry/the creature but at the end is the only person standing back from the hysteria and prepared to take action to stop it, sacrificing herself in the process. Even the Cane's who precipitate a lot of the uglier decisions come across as pleasant enough people in the normal run of things, they are not grand villains in Doctor Who's customary style, or even shrews like Francine Jones and Sylvia Noble, just slightly petty, slightly bombastic, slightly stupid people. In a way its a shame the story gives humanity an excuse here, suggesting that the creature, whatever it was, was manipulating the hysteria psychically to its own ends, rather than simply capitalising on something that had arisen naturally.

I'm not sure this is a story you can like. You can admire its execution, and appreciate that it wants to look at uglier aspects of common humanity than the show normally permits itself but it isn't quite internally consistent enough to deliver the punch of a classic tragedy and it certainly can't fall back on Doctor Who's normal charm and escapist optimism.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/148461.html.
dm12 on March 17th, 2015 03:10 am (UTC)
No, and because it looks at a very ugly side of humanity without respite, it's emotionally very difficult to watch. The Doctor is scared like he's never been before. His words, his one weapon of choice, are taken from him. We have absolutely no idea what the motives are of the whatever it is that came in. It's not feeding, it doesn't seem to need the humans to survive... what is it doing?

I wasn't quite sure that the story gave the humans an excuse; it isn't clear that the entity is feeding off of or controlling anything except the Doctor's words and Skye. It is an exploration of human mob behavior; even those who didn't quite believe were dragged into it.

As an alien, the Doctor normally likes to see the best in humanity. Here, he was exposed in brutal fashion, to the worst. I'm sure it took some time to recover from that (if he ever did). Donna must have felt extremely guilty for not going with him, like she could have protected him.

The other thing is that the Doctor was confronted with his own mortality in this one. This was not a death he could regenerate from. Poof, extonic sunlight, and he's gone forever-- the last of the Time Lords, and Donna would be left on her own in an alien place without her best friend. While she had been learning to pilot the TARDIS, it probably wouldn't be good enough to get her back home. Even if he re-installed Protocol One to return her automatically, Donna would be devastated not only over the loss of her friend, but the TARDIS as well. I'm not sure, but when the linked pilot dies, the TARDIS dies, too. The last of her kind as well. Surviving that really should have put a perspective on things for him, to be a little less reckless. Perhaps it did, since he tried to take Donna to a shopping world next (Shan Shen)... too bad that one didn't end well either.
louisedennislouisedennis on March 17th, 2015 01:04 pm (UTC)
There's a point when possessed Skye claims that the creature is in all their thoughts manipulating them. Of course she could just be saying that to feed the hysteria, but I wondered if it was intended as a kind of out, and implication that the Doctor would have been more successful, and the passengers calmer had it not been directly interfering. My guess would be that Davies deliberately left it vague, I think he thinks people really can be that unpleasant but he wanted to plant the suggestion that it wasn't entirely their fault so people could have a more optimistic reading if they wanted - but that's just a guess.
dm12 on March 17th, 2015 01:19 pm (UTC)
There's always an excuse for mob behavior... take a look at WW II and Hitler's Germany. It's human nature to want to go along with the crowd at the slightest suggestion. Or the book "The Wave," which explored that exact phenomenon.

The thing is, individuals don't want to be seen as different, so they go along even as their conscience is telling them otherwise. It takes a really strong person to resist that.

I'm wondering if Donna would have been able to overcome it and save the Doctor, but at what cost would it have been? I think the Doctor was glad she wasn't there, that she was spared such a decision. Personally, I think she would have overcome it; the Doctor is the best friend she's ever had, and she would do whatever it took to protect him.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on March 17th, 2015 10:51 pm (UTC)
I like Midnight! Not liking David Tennant or the tenth Doctor much, I like it when he's put on the back foot or even sidelined (see also Human Nature/The Family of Blood and Blink). I was also glad to see the programme attempt something different after a season that felt very tired and repetitive to me.

I agree it can be hard to watch, though, and like The Massacre it is probably a story easier to admire than to watch for fun in the way one would watch, say, City of Death.
louisedennislouisedennis on March 19th, 2015 02:42 pm (UTC)
Yes, easier to admire than watch for fun was the distinction I was reaching for. It's a hard distinction to quantify because the term "pure entertainment" is almost a contradiction - the best entertainment tends to be good because it has something serious it is actually trying to explore, but I definitely think their comes a point where a piece of art is no longer consumed for its entertainment value but more for its ability to promote thought, or possibly just an admiration of its technique.