A First-Timer Watches Doctor Who: “Midnight”
So this is what happens when the Doctor travels alone: he almost gets himself incinerated. Of course, he almost gets himself killed in every episode of Doctor Who. In “Midnight,” however, his brush with death isn’t at the hands of fang-toothed aliens or exploding stars—but other people.
Presumably exhausted from their traumatic visit to the library, the Doctor and Donna visit Midnight, an unlivable planet that’s home to a fancy-shmancy spa. As Donna spends the day sunbathing, the Doctor takes a trip to a sapphire waterfall. (A waterfall made of sapphires, he explains.) You can’t just zoom there by TARDIS: to reach the falls, he will have to embark on a lowly public flight. Which is a fun opportunity to get to know some new people!
Except when they all turn on you. The airliner stalls mid-journey, which initially seems like a technical malfunction—though it’s hard to say when the windows are sealed shut. (A necessary protection against radiation from outside.) Suddenly, there’s a knocking on the outside of the plane, which gets more intense until the shuttle is rocked and the lights in the cabin go out. When they turn back on, the cockpit has been zapped into oblivion. And Sky, a not-too-talkative solo passenger, has seemingly become possessed. She can’t stop repeating what everyone else is saying.
“Midnight” uses a similar tactic from the season eight episode “Listen”: the monster is never actually seen. And Sky, who is possessed by this monster, never actually does anything bad. Instead, the true threat manifests between the passengers, who bicker over what to do while Sky repeats everything they say from the front of the plane.
Here’s where the Doctor’s helplessness comes in. His sonic screwdriver can’t do anything in this situation. All he’s got is words—but the other travellers don’t want to listen. They want to throw Sky out of the plane, and the Doctor, too—they think he’s somehow part of the threat. But the more he argues his case, the more everyone just argues. This was interesting: usually it’s way too easy for the Doctor to charm new acquaintances. But in this case, his charm had zero effect. In fact, everyone found him annoying! Ditto his attempt to actually stop the monster. When he tried to speak to Sky, he became possessed too.
“Midnight” does something Doctor Who rarely does: it shows the Doctor as inept. He can’t get people on his side. He can’t subdue the beast. Instead, it’s the flight attendant who saves the day, throwing Sky out of the plane just as everyone is about to toss out the Doctor. Although the Doctor’s journey is a continual process of fraught self-discovery, almost every individual episode ties things in a nice bow. But “Midnight” doesn’t do that at all. The Doctor has finally met his match—and it’s a group of regular humans.
Although Donna was hardly in this episode, it still showed her strength as a companion. Upon his return to the spa, the Doctor is vulnerable—he was almost killed and his weaknesses were exposed. Donna, despite her occasional bouts of belligerence, is a reliable source of comfort. Although their companionship isn’t layered with romantic tension, Donna and the Doctor’s relationship finds emotional power in its simplicity. They care for each other—no questions asked. Donna may not be the flashiest or the cutest companion, but she is solid.