Leaving Donna behind to sunbathe at a leisure complex, the Doctor takes a flying tour bus with some strangers to see the beautiful sights of planet Midnight’s sapphire waterfalls. This episode is, I suspect, a result of distributing the show’s budget elsewhere, but I usually find that this produces some of the most focused and interesting drama, and Midnight is no exception. With the entire story set within the enclosed walls of the airbus, we never see the sights outside (save a brief glance through the cockpit window) and we never see the ‘monster’, either. What we get instead is character drama, and Russell T Davies knows how to write characters.
In this respect, Midnight is like classic Doctor Who serials, just highly condensed, a lot more intense and much better directed. The small cast of characters aren’t exactly three-dimensional, but they behave in a believable fashion. Midnight explores humanity at its worst. Presented with an unknown intruder, paranoia sets in and threats begin to fly. Whereas a lot of episodes put faith in the inherent goodness of mankind, Midnight basically says that when our home comforts are taken away and we’re presented with danger and uncertainty, we cling to our base desires to distrust outsiders and even to kill. This unsettles the Doctor more than the monster itself and presents an interesting challenge for him, without a companion to back him up. It’s a pretty thrilling 45 minutes.
The mystery is never solved, either. There’s no happy ending, there’s no misunderstanding where the Doctor gives the creature a talking to and they have a nice cup of tea together. No, whatever the lifeform is, it’s left unknown, and all the better for it. It seemingly has some physical form and is able to damage the bus, get inside and inhabit the body of one of the passengers. It’s able to repeat what people say and it knows how to manipulate the other passengers into thinking its mind has moved into the Doctor. It’s really creepy, particularly the moment when Sky starts mirroring the others’ speech simultaneously. A simple idea, but an effective psychological trick.
Midnight manages to be more intense, scary and exciting than so many big budget episodes. David Tennant shows that he can act incredibly well when he’s not having to frantically run back and forth at the whim of the plot, or show off for his companion, like he often does. It’s his best performance since Family of Blood, if you ask me, and I’d happily take this toned-down flavour of Doctor Who more regularly.