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    Wednesday, 18 June 2008


    'Midnight', written by Russel T. Davies, the 10th episode of Doctor Who's 2008 season, mixes up the typical 'Who' formula by pulling back on the SFX and concentrating on thrills and spills of the more psychological kind.

    The Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna (Catherine Tate) head to the planet Midnight for a relaxing vacation after the traumatic events of the previous (brilliant) episodes. Of course, nothing's ever straightforward in the Doctor's world. Spending holiday time in Samoa or the Hamilton Islands just isn't good enough for the restless Time Lord. Instead, he chooses Midnight, a barren, diamond-covered planet circling an Xtonic star. I know what you're thinking. And you're wrong. 'Xtonic' isn't the latest X-TREME sports drink that rehydrates you TO THE MAX! It's a type of radiation that vaporises all biological life on contact... to the X-TREME.

    Resting by the pool is Donna's idea of a good time but the Doctor is never happy without an adventure and so off he goes on a "tour bus" with a "random" (i.e. carefully chosen cross-section of society) assortment of fellow holidaymakers to see a diamond waterfall.

    Just as the small group are starting to get comfortable, the inevitable happens and ... something takes out the bus's driver before starting a game of knock-and-run that takes a turn for the worse in very short order. Somehow, the something gets inside and takes control of one of the passengers, Sky Silvestri (the excellent Leslie Sharp) and the real game begins.

    The entity in Sky starts by mimicking what the other passengers are saying (all of them). Even more eerily, it's gradually getting faster until it's speaking in time with them, leaving the Doctor to wonder what comes next. The Doctor is intrigued but the other passengers are slightly less so. So much slightly less so, in fact, that they propose a good ol' fashioned plank walkin' for the unfortunate lass.

    At this point, the episode shifts into gear and goes from average to great. One of the Doctor's greatest talents is his ability to inspire others, to lift them above their usual expectations or constraints so that they become capable of extraordinary things. However, inside the truck, with paranoia and fear on the rise, the Doctor's asset becomes his weakness as the other passenger's distrust focuses on him instead.

    Generally, I'm not the biggest fan of Davies' WHO episodes. I greatly admire his overall vision and enthusiasm for Doctor Who but sometimes his great and grand ideas fall into the realm of the slightly camp or even the utterly ridiculous - last year's Christmas Special, 'Voyage of the Damned' being the perfect example. Robot angels, self-sacrificing fat people, a bad guy who looked suspiciously like a fork lift with a human head? Ummm, no thanks!

    However, this episode was very nicely written. The Doctor is almost always in control - cool, calm and collected, no matter the manner of menace. So to be able to convincingly show him in a situation that he can't contain, that is spinning out of control at an exponential rate, was both interesting and thrilling. To see the Doctor actually showing fear was another step entirely. As an avid WHO-lover since my childhood, it was actually quite alarming seeing the Doctor scared because if he's scared, you know it's got to be terrifying! Kudos to RTD for being able to build such a simple concept into something so dark and intriguing. I've read that he knocked this script out in a weekend... if that's the case, as an aspiring screenwriter, I'm in awe.

    I can't finish without mentioning the acting in this episode. The majority of the supporting cast were fine, if not outstanding, in their broad brush stroke roles. Leslie Sharp (as Sky Silvestri) did a truly magnificent job as the unnamed villain of the episode. At one point the Doctor says to Sky, "You need my help? Oh, I'd love to believe that... but your eyes..." Her eyes say it all. Darkness and malevolence in abundance. David Tennant was the stand out for me, though. In the final stages of the episode, when his character is effectively speechless, the level of emotion and expressiveness in his face and eyes was unbelievable. May he travel time and space as the Doctor forever!

    All in all, a very simple idea that was well executed and proved to be an unexpected but thoroughly enjoyable change of pace for a show that occasionally (as much as I hate to say it) forgets that the Doctor is the thinking wo/man's hero and that's why we love him!

    Molto bene!

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