Category Archives: tenth doctor

The End of Time

So, this is it. After three and a bit seasons and five Christmas specials, David Tennant’s turn as the tenth Time Lord reaches its dramatic conclusion. It’s Russell T Davies’ second chance to write the ultimate conclusion to end all conclusions, to wrap up the most popular incarnation of the character and to end his time on this show, and I’m pleased to say that he does a better job of it than the season 4 finale. Although a chimpanzee with a typewriter would have done a better job of that, so it’s not saying much.

The Ood elder tells the Doctor of his prophecy.

The Ood elder tells the Doctor of his prophecy.

And it’s my second chance to watch this two-and-a-quarter hour double bill, of which I have only the vaguest memories, mostly of the Master dressed like a scruffy hoodie with a glowing transparent skull and Timothy motherflipping Dalton turning up with his posse of Time Lords and spitting a lot. I had somehow erased the memories of the Master turning the entire human race into clones of himself (including a bad lookalike of President Obama) and the whole thing again with the drum rhythm, knocking four times, and the sound of a Time Lord heartbeat (ooh, nice touch, I’d almost think this was planned all along). There is a wonderful moment when, finally, after all the bluffs, the prophecy of the Doctor’s death (he will knock four times) turns out to be Wilf knocking on the glass door of the radiation chamber, asking to be let out, and a calm realisation spreads over the Doctor’s face. If I take away anything good from this episode, it will be that moment. It’s lovely.

Tap-tap-tap-tap, and it all makes sense.

Tap-tap-tap-tap, and it all makes sense.

Bernard Cribbins does a fantastic job as Wilfred, even if he does look like he’s on the verge of tears in every scene (or maybe because of that!). Wilf is essential in keeping this story grounded in human drama while insane things are happening around them. His scenes with the Doctor where they do nothing but talk to each other in a café are some of the best. The rest of the story concerns itself with big but flimsy ideas like destiny, prophecies and, yet again, the death of the entire human race and the end of the existence of time as we know it. Because, obviously, you can’t have a finale without something ridiculous happening. I don’t know why Russell T Davies has to write so many stories involving “everybody in the world”, because it immediately loses its believability if you stop to think about it for two seconds. Every single person on the planet turning into a copy of the Master would wreak absolute havoc. Planes would fall out of the sky, cars would crash in the street, people of different sizes, like children, could be crushed to death in seats and harnesses, and what about pregnant women? Are there mini-Masters inside Masters, or did all the foetuses die? I feel like I’ve said this a hundred times now, but you cannot do such big events like this without thinking about the consequences.

"Look, ma, I'm the president!"

“Look, ma, I’m the president!”

Timothy Dalton is fantastic. Having previously appeared in Hot Fuzz, he was obviously deemed a good fit for the role of the villain again. He exudes charisma and presence both as the narrator to the events of part 1 and as the president of the Time Lords. This is the first time we see Gallifrey and the high council since the 1980s and the scale of these scenes is a vast improvement, beautifully captured by the VFX team without appearing overly “greenscreen-y”. The Time Lords have always been corrupt, but the time war has sent them over the edge of evilness. I was surprised to hear the council talking about the Doctor’s search for “the Moment” that will end their existence. I hadn’t realised the events of ‘The Day of the Doctor’ had been so explicitly foreshadowed. Side note: The Doctor travels a lot before coming to see the Ood at the start of the episode, during which time he marries Queen Liz!

The Time Lords, and Gallifrey, return. Briefly.

The Time Lords, and Gallifrey, return. Briefly.

It’s a shame the Master is a little wasted here, turned into a rampaging monster that wants to eat people. This would have been a good opportunity to cast a different actor and do a whole new take on the character, rather than bringing back John Simm. There’s a good chance this will happen in the upcoming series, given his fate at the end. As for the Doctor’s fate, the radiation chamber is as contrived a setup as you can imagine, leading to the most drawn-out death scene ever. There’s literally fifteen minutes of screen time after the accident in which every major character the tenth Doctor has ever met is bid farewell. To say it’s indulgent is putting it mildly. I suppose I can’t really blame Russell T Davies for wanting to add these scenes; this is just as much a finale for him as a writer as it is for the tenth Doctor as a character, but I must say, the way the Doctor clings onto his life is like a petulant child. He’s been through at least nine regenerations by this point, he knows the drill. He should have had more dignified last words than “I don’t want to go.”

I don't understand why Martha and Mickey are suddenly married. Wasn't she already engaged to somebody else?

I don’t understand why Martha and Mickey are suddenly married. Wasn’t she already engaged to somebody else?

While I enjoyed parts of this finale and felt it was quite cleverly wrapped up, there’s a lot that doesn’t work so well or doesn’t make sense if you think about it too much. The high stakes are implausible – why would a device capable of transforming the population of an entire planet (it’s basically a weapon of mass destruction) be so casually discarded, with only a pair of bumbling alien scientists to come and salvage it? The Doctor falling from their ship and crashing through a glass ceiling, and surviving with just a few scratches, is possibly the most ridiculous thing he’s ever done. He’s not superman!

The Doctor's explosive regeneration wrecks the Tardis.

The Doctor’s explosive regeneration wrecks the Tardis.

As this is the end of the tenth Doctor’s run, I will briefly comment on the character and David Tennant’s portrayal. I think David Tennant defined the character almost as much as Tom Baker did. Not just because he was really popular and stayed on for so long; he’s a fantastic actor, whether he’s doing his comedy thing, his angry shouty thing or his quiet solemn thing. You only have to watch episodes like The Family of Blood to see the sort of range he’s capable of. His style and characteristics became synonymous with Doctor Who. He’s a tough act to follow.

The tenth Doctor is more human-like than many of the others, excepting Paul McGann as the eighth. Like him, he’s got a romantic side but actually (more or less) falls in love, which is a first. It’s not a trait I particularly care for as I feel the Doctor should be more alien and weird (something Matt Smith nails). The Doctor has always been a caring character (that’s basically what he does) but, with Ten, this empathy is more explicit, leading to more instances of him being visibly rattled, distraught or affected by events. Like Nine, his cheerful comedy routine is just to cover up his true feelings.

Any version of the Doctor (yes, even Tom Baker) wears thin over time. As I was rewatching his first season, I found him extremely likeable, but as time goes on, the character picks up annoying little habits (“weeeelllll…”), catchphrases (“allons-y!”) or traits that begin to grate (“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”). A lot of this is down to the writing, of course. I would have liked to see more of the tenth Doctor under the new writing team (when he reappears in the 50th anniversary special, he’s actually excellent). The Tenth Doctor is merciful, even to his greatest enemies, always looking for a solution other than killing, and he is fascinated by human culture to the point of coming across like an excitable space tourist.

Anyway, I’m not going to put David Tennant in ranking order with all the others, because I haven’t bothered doing those for the new series – the style of the programme is too different to compare them fairly with the old serials – but I will say that I like him more than I liked Christopher Eccleston.

Here’s my pick of favourite episodes from the past three seasons. Thanks for reading, and here’s to the next Doctor!

The Girl in the Fireplace.
A scary, sweet and clever adventure that crosses time and space.

The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit
Excellent visual design and another scary story in an impossible situation.

Human Nature / The Family of Blood
A tragic love story and David Tennant’s best performance.

Blink
The best Doctor Who episode doesn’t star the Doctor. Ingenious and frightening.

Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead
Moffat crams more out-of-this-world ideas and scares into this two-parter.

Turn Left
A wonderful “what-if” tale where the Doctor never saved the world.

The Waters of Mars

It’s 2059, on the day that the first ever human colony on Mars will mysteriously explode, taking all hands and explanations with it. This “autumn special” gets back to basics, providing a solid, scary, self-contained story of survival. One small group of humans, isolated and helpless; one alien virus spreading through the water supply and turning the crew into hideous monsters; and one rogue Time Lord, unbound by the rules of his people and determined to change a fixed point in history, whatever the cost.

Pretty.

Pretty.

In its quest to make everyday things scary, Doctor Who now turns to water, as precious a resource as any on the surface of Mars. One drop will turn you into one of the freakiest creatures I’ve seen on this show, brought to life by a combination of excellent make-up, zombie-like performances and great camera direction, with the transformations often happening out of focus in the background. As a horror story, The Waters of Mars is fairly typical, as its cast of international astronauts are offed one by one. They are a likable bunch this time, and the Doctor has an infectious enthusiasm for their mission – before realising that he needs to leave, quickly.

Terrifying!

Terrifying!

Water wins eventually.

Water wins eventually.

This is another example of seemingly arbitrary rules governing what the Doctor can and can’t change. In The Fires of Pompeii, he simply says that some points are fixed and some are in flux, but doesn’t say why. Here, it’s strongly implied that the rules are laid down by the Time Lords, presumably because they can scan the effects of every action in spacetime and determine which ones are favourable. Earth’s future of space exploration would fall under “very important”. It’s not that the Doctor physically cannot help, it’s that he isn’t allowed to. When he finally decides he’s going to save some of the colonists anyway, he oversteps his authority. For a moment, the power he has over time corrupts him and he nearly becomes a monster. It’s a good bit of development for the character, and it reinforces his need for a travelling companion, someone to keep him grounded. There will be consequences.

Captain Brooke and her team of implausibly attractive astronauts aboard Bowie Base One.

Captain Brooke and her team of implausibly attractive astronauts aboard Bowie Base One.

All of that makes some lovely drama but there’s a problem. The captain, Brooke, is too willing to go along with the rules, too quick to judge the Doctor on something that she shouldn’t even understand. It’s not believable that she would choose to take her own life because someone has told her what her fate is. It’s not a human response to accept the inevitability of fate – we prefer the future to be unwritten. It almost seemed like her decision to take her own life was being controlled by time itself, as a (admittedly nonsensical) course correction process, but I don’t like that idea.

The Doctor returns for a dramatic rescue.

The Doctor returns for a dramatic rescue.

Still, otherwise, The Waters of Mars is pretty good. Had this been the year’s Christmas special, as originally conceived (see the snow at the end), it would be comfortably the best Christmas special so far. Mars is a good setting, significantly nicer looking than the last time it was shown in Doctor Who, and the habitat interiors have a pleasing aesthetic, futuristic but believable. The short time the characters appear is long enough to like them. The rocket-propelled robot racer was silly and there’s still too much sonic screwdrivering, but on the whole this was enjoyable, creepy and dramatic. The Doctor even name-drops the Ice Warriors at one point – now there’s a blast from the past!

Planet of the Dead

The Doctor, now a lonely wanderer, winds up back in London on the trail of a wormhole, hops on a number 200 bus (this is the 200th serial, sort of) with an assortment of characters, including a cat burglar on the run, and accidentally gets transported to an alien planet. I guess they just wanted a reason to show a London bus in the middle of a desert, and to be fair, it is a strikingly memorable image.

Last stop, San Helios. Or is it Tatooine?

Last stop, San Helios. Or is it Tatooine?

What I find partially refreshing about this episode is the simplicity of the characters’ predicament. There’s no contrived reason for being trapped on the alien planet – they simply can’t pass back through the wormhole alive unless they’re protected by a metal container, and the bus is stuck in the sand, mere metres away from it. It takes a bit of good old-fashioned ingenuity to get them back rather than a wave of the magic screwdriver or a neutron polarity reversal or whatever. I like that.

#Stingraaaaay... stingray! Da-da-daa-daa-daa-daa!#

#Stingraaaaay… stingray! Da-da-daa-daa-daa-daa!#

There’s also no “bad guys” in this episode. The threat they face is a biological force of nature, a swarm of metal-coated stingray aliens, flying from planet to planet, consuming it as part of their natural life cycle. There’s no menace, just survival instinct. The marooned fly-like aliens, the Tritovores, are friendly as well, despite their appearances (animals as aliens again, really?). With no villain, then, this becomes a simple story of survival, but one with a more jovial tone than perhaps it ought to. The music is more whimsical than usual and the presence of Lee Evans as the scientist bloke is for comic relief, but I quite like his character (more than his stand-up routines, anyway).

UNIT's latest scientific advisor, Malcolm Taylor, speaks to his hero.

UNIT’s latest scientific advisor, Malcolm Taylor, speaks to his hero.

Michelle Ryan plays the Lady Christina, a rich thrill-seeker who just robbed a museum of a very valuable gold chalice, just for fun. Goodness knows, Doctor Who needs better female characters, but is this the answer? Christina is, much like the Doctor, overly-confident, authoritative and clever, but she’s barely passable as a human being and seems to be having far too much fun in every scene. She’s easy on the eyes, for sure, but what is her drive, her motivation? Who is she, other than “sassy, smart-talking, sexy thief”? The other bus passengers aren’t exactly three-dimensional either, which is unusual for a Russell T Davies story, and the Doctor doesn’t seem to care very much when the bus driver gets himself fried. The prophetic old woman is pulled from the Big Book of Clichés, teasingly informing the Doctor that his time is coming to an end. Apparently, psychic power in humans is nothing to worry about.

Formal request: Could everybody please stop kissing the Doctor? Thanks.

Formal request: Could everybody please stop kissing the Doctor? Thanks.

On the whole, I found enough to enjoy here. The big concept science fiction premise is appealingly simple and the imagery is excellent. There are, however, a few too many silly moments that take me right out of it. The incompetent security guards who stand with their backs to the chalice that they’re supposedly guarding, with no protection on top, is one thing, but then the police later are similarly dumb, keeping their police car door unlocked on the inside! It’s farcical!

With no Tardis to translate, the Doctor talks to the Tritovores with clicks and squeaks, until they use their own device.

With no Tardis to translate, the Doctor talks to the Tritovores with clicks and squeaks, until they use their own device.

Planet of the Dead is the first ever episode of Doctor Who to be made and shown in high definition. The location shooting in Dubai looks great. Some of the special effects do look a bit iffy, particularly the stingrays and some shots of the flying bus, but on the whole it’s a good looking production.

The Next Doctor

With rumours of David Tennant’s departure from Doctor Who back in 2008/’09, Russell T Davies seemed to enjoy teasing the audience with things like fake regenerations and misleading episode titles… at least, that’s how I remember it. The Next Doctor ostensibly depicts a future incarnation of the travelling Time Lord, who is trying to solve a series of murders and kidnappings in Victorian London. It plays up to this ruse for the first half of the episode before finally admitting that, actually, he’s not the Doctor at all, he’s just a man named Jackson Lake (played by David Morrissey), who’s been infused with the Doctor’s memories in an accident that took his family.

The next Doctor shows off his "sonic" screwdriver by banging it against the wall.

The next Doctor shows off his “sonic” screwdriver by banging it against the wall.

On the basis of this performance, he would have made a pretty good Doctor had they decided to go that way – somewhat like Peter Davison’s fifth, grounded and human but brilliant and inventive. The scenes where the “two Doctors” team up and work together are fun, and the reveal of the new Doctor’s “TARDIS” raised a smile as well. The rest of the episode is, well… the usual routine.

Miss Hartigan is shown no "Mercy" as the Cybermen predictably betray her.

Miss Hartigan is shown no “Mercy” as the Cybermen predictably betray her.

Cybermen in a Dickensian setting at Christmas should be far better than this, but they’re just not very interesting villains anymore. They’re deadly and threatening when they need to be (zapping people with a touch) but useless when they’re fighting the Doctor (with a sword – why not zap him through it?), and their leader, Miss Hartigan, has only vague motives to support her pantomime villain routine. The “Cybershades” are supposed to look retro or something, but they’re just too fluffy and adorable and make little sense. The Cyberking looks amazing and has a great steampunk vibe to it, but it’s similarly implausible. How did something that big hide under the Thames? It’s just another “big threat” for the sake of, with a poor resolution – more magic weapons and silly save-the-day devices.

The Cyberking flattens London. Nobody ever mentions it again.

The Cyberking flattens London. Nobody ever mentions it again.

Still, it’s not too bad. Before it gets boring, the mystery of the Jackson Lake character gives the episode an intriguing focus (he should have had more to do in the final act – put him in the balloon instead, for instance!). It was nice to see the old footage of all ten Doctors projected from the infostamp (that’s the first time that’s happened, isn’t it?). It’s Christmassy, but the Christmassiness isn’t overdone – there’s no embarrassing scene like the Queen waving in last year’s special. But, it is still just a big budget special and these rarely rise above “okay”. Unfortunately, without a regular season and a regular companion, 2009 was all about one-off specials, and the Doctor getting increasingly whiny to the point where I was glad to see him go.

The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End

Journey’s End is everything that is wrong with modern Doctor Who all rolled into one. I was torn over whether this is worse than Voyage of the Damned, but I think it has to pip it. It… is… terrible! It’s a melting pot of ideas thrown together and stirred until it’s nothing but fanboy pulp; it’s Russell T Davies writing from the point of view of a ten-year-old playing with his Doctor Who action figures and going “and then Jack turns up and then the Daleks fight them and then Torchwood and Sarah Jane help them and then Mickey comes back and then Martha and she teleports and then they explode and then there’s two Doctors and then-…”. There is no restraint shown, it’s just trash. It’s hard to believe this is the same writer coming from Turn Left and Midnight.

It's telling that Davies wanted the Shadow Proclamation scene to be much bigger and include hordes of aliens from the past four years but they ran out of money so it had to be some Judoon and a woman with red contact lenses instead.

It’s telling that Davies wanted the Shadow Proclamation scene to be much bigger and include hordes of aliens from the past four years but they ran out of money so it had to be some Judoon and a woman with red contact lenses instead.

It’s simultaneously overblown and boring. It’s full of rambling exposition and ridiculous technobabble. It even makes fun of its own technobabble, but continues to use it to solve the plot anyway; meanwhile, interesting setups (like the Osterhagen key) go literally nowhere. A bluff amongst other bluffs with no consequence. Devices work and break and work again, people teleport in and out. Despite the two parts and extended length, the cast of characters is still too huge to get enough screen time. Even previously satisfying conclusions, such as Rose’s farewell in season 2, are undone, like prodding at a corpse to make it twitch. Rose now comes back then returns to the parallel world for really poor reasons, with a half-human double of the Doctor to spend her life with, just to thoroughly undermine one of the few good things about Doomsday.

She's back, and she's got a great big gun.

She’s back, and she’s got a great big gun.

As for the Daleks, I think they’ve given up any pretence that they’re an endangered species now. Time War? Void ships? Pah! Despite Rose eliminating “all Daleks” from existence with her godly powers, there’s somehow another army of them, grown from the cells of Davros himself, with enough power to move entire planets and destroy the Universe. No, not just the Universe, that’s not big enough anymore. We have to go bigger. All Universes! All parallel worlds, alternative timelines, past, present and future. All of reality and unreality and everything in between. The Daleks will destroy all of it. Don’t worry, though, the duplicate Doctor presses some buttons and all the Daleks are destroyed.

The 27 missing planets, pulled out of time and space, are used as a power source for the Daleks' Reality Bomb, within the Medusa Cascade. Also something about bees.

The 27 missing planets, pulled out of time and space, are used as a power source for the Daleks’ Reality Bomb, within the Medusa Cascade. Also something about bees.

I hated pretty much everything about this. Every little cliché that all the “big event” episodes have. All those TV news reports from around the world, celebrity cameos, disastrous events having no apparent consequences on everyday life, big fleets of CGI things swarming over the Earth while overbearingly bombastic music plays, the Doctor running about shouting plot things at people, and so on. There’s even a ratings-grabbing tease of a cliffhanger as it seems like the Doctor is going to regenerate (ooh, they kept that a secret!) but actually he comes back as David Tennant again because… yeah. The planet Earth being carried through space by the Tardis is the giant cherry on top of a very cheesy cake, and not in a good way.

The Doctor, the other Doctor, Captain Jack, Sarah Jane Smith, Martha, Rose and Rose's mum, take the controls of the Tardis.

The Doctor, the other Doctor, Captain Jack, Sarah Jane Smith, Martha, Rose and Rose’s mum, take the controls of the Tardis.

It’s not all bad, but it almost is. Admittedly, amongst all the running around, there’s some nice moments between the reunited characters. Wilf is good, as he always is. Doing a crossover with The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood is an interesting idea, and I’ve been keeping up with both shows in parallel, so the events line up properly, but I can’t imagine the average viewer doing the same, given the target demographic for them. The return of Davros is a big moment and he is as bonkers as ever and looks disgusting, as he should. Oh, and German Daleks. It’s almost worth it for German Daleks. “Exterminieren!” Aaaaand… that’s it. That’s basically the extent of anything good in this finale.

Davros' new hand is shocking! Sorry.

Davros’ new hand is shocking! Sorry.

Even Donna has to leave, and to make sure she can never come back, there has to be some memory-enabled killswitch in her head, because in modern Doctor Who, you can’t just part ways like ordinary people. Donna has, frankly, been fantastic, and she deserves a better end than this. She has been the moral compass for the Doctor on more than one occasion, and the best decision they made was in removing any possibility of romance right from the start so that she could have balanced motives and behave in a more human fashion. She will be missed.

Unable to retain the Time Lord knowledge, Donna's memory is wiped. Because the Doctor can do that, apparently.

Unable to retain the Time Lord knowledge, Donna’s memory is wiped. Because the Doctor can do that, apparently.

Season 4 has been really good, so it’s a shame that it had to end on such a duff note. This is the ultimate lesson in why “less is more”.

Turn Left

Turn Left is this season’s “Doctor-Lite” episode (filmed alongside the previous “Companion-Lite” episode for convenience, presumably), in which Donna relives an alternative life, a life that would have played out if she’d taken a different path and never met the Doctor, depicted in this case by a literal cross-roads situation. Turn left or turn right? How big a difference can one tiny decision really make?

Left or right? The right leads to a fascist dystopia. Subtle.

Left or right? The right leads to a fascist dystopia. Subtle.

The Doctor's death happens too quickly for him to regenerate.

The Doctor’s death happens too quickly for him to regenerate.

As it happens, quite a big difference. Without Donna to save the Doctor’s life during the encounter with the Racnoss, he is no longer alive to protect Earth from all the other invading aliens. The episode is like a big recap of events, just with a different perspective on things. Without the Doctor, we learn that Martha, Sarah Jane Smith and her group of kids are killed protecting the hospital from the Judoon attack, the Torchwood Cardiff team is killed stopping the Sontarans from choking the Earth, and all of London is obliterated when the Titanic crashes into it.

Donna and her family witness the destruction of London from afar.

Donna and her family witness the destruction of London from afar.

We see all of this from Donna’s perspective, as her and her family are swept up in events and end up as refugees as Britain descends into fascism. There are some touching moments as they spend time with their temporary housemates, and sadness as said housemates are carted off to a “labour camp” with other immigrants, their resilient spirits finally crushed. It shows how messed up the world has become that we could descend to such a level, but it’s scarily believable, and it drives home just how important the Doctor is to the world, and by extension, how important Donna is to saving the entire universe.

Mr. Colasanto and his family are whisked off in a truck.

Mr. Colasanto and his family are whisked off in a truck.

The reappearance of Rose is disappointing because it takes the focus away from Donna’s character, and this is supposed to be Donna’s story, not Rose’s. Moreover, Rose has had her chance, she’s reached the end of her character’s arc, and that should be it. The wall between dimensions should be locked shut, rather than have Rose repeatedly cross over like it’s no bother at all. I don’t entirely understand how she’s able to exist in Donna’s altered timeline, or how she knows what’s going to happen to her in the future. I know more will be explained in the final two parts, and there needed to be some external influence to guide Donna’s actions, which is fair enough, but I feel it dilutes this episode with unnecessary mystery. And why “bad wolf” again? It was a meaningless phrase then and it’s a meaningless phrase now.

Rose and Donna stare at the night sky.

Rose and Donna stare at the night sky.

There have been hints about Donna’s ultimate fate sprinkled throughout this season, and in the Pompeii episode, the psychic was able to sense the alien beetle on her back (even though it wasn’t there in that timeline). I thought the presence of the beetle was fantastic; there’s something very creepy about not being able to see something attached to your back, particularly combined with the clickety-clack of insect noises. It reminded me of the giant spiders from Jon Pertwee’s final serial, Planet of the Spiders, and the Star Trek TNG episode, Phantasms, which featured small invisible insects feeding off the crew, invisible except under certain light. But, generally, big insects on your back are just creepy, man.

UNIT's special equipment reveals the Time Beetle on Donna's back. What happens when she takes off her coat?

UNIT’s special equipment reveals the Time Beetle on Donna’s back. What happens when she takes off her coat?

With the stars going out, Rose returning and universes colliding, Turn Left is a prelude to the finale of Russell T Davies’ last season as showrunner, but it stands on its own as a thematically and emotionally strong episode that would have been even stronger without such baggage. It’s a little bit self-indulgent in revisiting episodes through stock footage, but it’s a clever idea, well-written and the episode is better than I remember it being the first time around. In fact, season 4 on the whole has been better than I remember; I can only assume the finale tainted it!

Midnight

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.

Among the passengers are Merlin the Wizard and the King of Peladon.

Among the passengers are Merlin the Wizard and the King of Peladon.

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.

On the surface of Midnight, even the sunlight is deadly. Nothing can live out there... or can it?

On the surface of Midnight, even the sunlight is deadly. Nothing can live out there… or can it?

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.

The Doctor and Sky, locked into their mirrored dialogue.

The Doctor and Sky, locked into their mirrored dialogue.

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.