In the Midnight Hour

Be careful when you fight the monsters, lest you become one. – Friedrich Nietzsche

     Humans instinctively fear that which we do not understand, that which is different. We fear the dark because we don’t know what might be lurking out there, waiting and watching. This fear has kept us alive for millienia. It is this fear that takes center stage in Midnight, the latest episode of Doctor Who to air on the SciFi Channel. Trapped on a disabled cruise liner during a daytrip to the crystalline planet Midnight, fear of the unknown grows into a deadly paranoia that threatens the life of the Doctor as well as another passenger.

The following recap contains spoilers.

Dr. Who and Mrs. Silvestry

Things that go bump in the night…

     Midnight is a terse, psychological drama, reminiscent of old school television series like Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. It examines the monsters that creep around in the darkness as well those that lie deep within all of us. Except for brief moments at the beginning and end of the episode, the action takes places completely within the confines of a small space shuttle carrying the Doctor and six other passengers to the Sapphire Waterfall of planet Midnight. A crystalline planet that orbits so close to it’s sun that direct exposure would vaporize all living creatures within seconds. Due to this extreme environment, the shuttle travels in complete blindness. Unable to view the planet around them, the passengers turn to each other for a means to alleviate the boredom of the four hour trip. After a change in course and unexpected mechanical problems, the cruiser stalls. A brief glimpse of a shadow moving towards the ship, followed by a series of unexplained knocks eminating from outside the vessel, leaves the group shaken. As the action intensifies, fear and paranoia slowly takes control of each rational mind except the Doctor. The small group slowly turn on one of their own. When the doctor attempts to reason with them, they turn on him as well. Suddenly, the Doctor’s sonic screw driver and psychic paper are useless to him. Even his clever mind can’t help him. For once, the Doctor is helpless.

Here there be monsters…

     This episode lacks the special effects and dazzling aliens that have become the hallmark of the Doctor Who episodes of late. But it makes up for that by focusing on the characters. It begins slowly, allowing the viewer to meet each of the passengers individually. The dysfunctional Cane family – Biff, Val and their rebellious, goth son Jethro are the typical middle class family. In the beginning they are friendly and interested in the other passengers but when things begin to go wrong, they are quick to alienate the mysteriously stricken Mrs. Silvestry. Professor Hobbes and his student/assistant Dee Dee are traveling together to study the Sapphire Waterfall. Professor Hobbes considers himself an authority on Midnight. (An interesting side note: Professor Hobbes character is played David Troughton, the son of the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton) Mrs. Sky Silvestry is a single woman traveling alone. She keeps separate from the other passengers in the beginning, chatting briefly only with the Doctor. The Doctor and an hostess, a stewardess of sorts for the shuttle company, round out the party.

Dee Dee and the other passengers

In the end…

     After an uneventful beginning, the small group find themselves trapped, alone in the darkness, awaiting rescue by the company. When a presence from outside moves among them, they begin to panic. Their slow descent into paranoia is remarkably well written. The unknown that mocks them wearing the face of Sky Silvestry is too much. As their fear rises, the vestiges of humanity fall slowly away. It demonstrates how, when removed from the touchstones of our civilized lives, humans can quickly dissolve to their more primitive state. Their fear and panic triggers a desperate survival instinct. Except for the doctor, it would be easy to see them standing in front of the cave, throwing stone at the darkness. This episode is deceptively quiet and a bit different from we’ve come to expect of the current Doctor Who series. It would be easy to dismiss it a a filler episode. But things are not what they seem on the surface. The ending doesn’t tie itself up in a neat little bundle. Questions remain. Midnight will linger with you long after the closing credits roll.