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June 21, 2008

Repetitive Stress

Midnightev There's one big disadvantage to doing an eleventh hour, if you will, review of Midnight.  To put it quite simply: most everything has already been said.  There's nothing new under the bright, instantly-lethal sun.  This means that most of the points I'd most likely have made, someone else (or everyone else) already has, and I'll just end up repeating their observations.  While I generally try to litter my posts with my own voice, I'll probably end up stealing those of everyone else.  I guess I'll use this as an excuse to do a fairly short review (It could happen!) and maybe I'll manage to avoid echoing each and every point the other reviewers have already made, though I probably will.  At least I can be fairly certain of not falling into the trap of parroting French philosophers, since I'm at best vaguely aware of their existence.

Of course, if I really wanted to creep you all out, I'll start repeating all of the other reviewers before they've written their review.  I'm still working on that.

Doctor Who: Midnight

Seven passengers set sail that day for an eight hour tour...an eight hour tour:

I have to admit...the beginning of this episode had me worried.

No, not the part before the opening credits, where Donna and the Doctor have their little phone call.  That worked for me.  I'm even tempted to rattle on at length about how marvelous Donna is, even in an episode she barely appears in...but I should probably restrain myself.  My affection notwithstanding, I can save my adulation for the next episode, which, if I'm lucky, will be positively dripping with Catherine Tate.

As they settled in for their package tour, I felt sure the episode was going to be a rehash of Voyage of the Damned, complete with hamfisted satire of some easy target, cackhanded scripting from, to repeat even myself, "the inconsistent hand of Russell T. Davies", broadly-drawn caricatures, a culminating deus ex machina, and probably a liberal use of magic wands and pixie dust.  Having never seen Hitchcock's Lifeboat, the beginning of the trip had me fully expecting something more along the lines of a sci-fi version of Gilligan's Island.  The whole part where the Eurovision Song contest was layered over early twentieth-century cartoons and an "artistic installation" for a bus containing a total of seven passengers "and variations thereupon" was just annoying, and Murray Gold's intentionally-cheesy mallet-driven lounge score didn't help matters.  Title-cards telling us how far the bus has gone, the suburban family, a slide show of the Professor's holiday...little of this held any promise.  Even Dee Dee's lost moon, Jethro's foreshadowing and Sky's ex leaving her for another galaxy didn't go far to improve matters.

It's like all this repetition forms some sort of repeated meme.

Of course, the shadow of the Christmas special did fall especially hard over Midnight in the harsh exotonic sunlight.  The repetition doesn't just happen diagetically in the episode.  The Doctor, sans companion, is on a tour with a bunch of stereotypes when disaster strikes.  It even repeated the part where the hostess sacrifices herself to take down the villain, though this time without the loss of an innocent forklift.  It's like all this repetition forms some sort of repeated meme.  Of course, as someone who watched Doctor Who: Confidential mentioned way down there in one of the earlier reviews, apparently this was intentional.  While I'm repeating everything I'll just nick this bit from Stuart's fine review way down there: "it’s the same story, another group of tourists on the brink of death and indeed as he also identified in Confidential (as usual nicking everything I wanted to write here), he wanted to see what happened when humanity actually acted realistically in the face of the Doctor’s platitudes."  There.  I think that's almost recursive.

Unsurprisingly, I was pleasantly surprised; everything was all uphill from there.  When the bus finally grinds to a halt, the episode finally starts moving.

In Case of Emergency, Break Glass:

Humans sure seem to be disturbingly flighty, frail creatures.  As soon as the bus develops some plot-conveniencing engine trouble, the fear sets in.  The panic begins and in a no time at all they begin to turn on each other like a pack of hungry cannibals at a dinner party (with apologies to Raymond Scott).  The shrieking might get to be a bit much ("I don't need this.  I'm on a schedule!  This is completely unnecessary!"), but, as everyone else keeps saying, all this shouting and hair-pulling is how people actually react when faced with minor delays and life threatening circumstances, so it's no surprise that in a few short minutes they're ready to start tossing people out of airlocks.

Of course, the Doctor doesn't do himself any favours, what with trying to cover for the flim-flam and then his general arrogance and insufferable cleverness and "John Smith" and all that.  Insert point here that everyone else has made about why the Doctor needs his companions around to protect him from himself.

It's like all this repetition forms some sort of repeated meme.

When the knocking begins it sets off more tension than in Poe's "The Raven" (sorry, it's as close to French philosophy as I'm likely to get...you already got your Gilligan's Island).  Once it (whatever it is) gets inside, it doesn't take long to reach a point where the mob mentality takes over.  Once the hostess suggests throwing people out of the bus, the adults of Cane family in particular begins to salivate.  I'll leave the observations about "this way lies fascism" to Frank, since he already wrote at length on the topic.  Midnight owes a substantial debt to a thousand other enclosed-space horror movies, but Davies has managed to craft an effective slice of the genre.

Score One For Murray Gold:

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't reiterate everyone's glowing praise of Murray Gold's score and the "special sound".  Rumour has it this is also addressed at length in the aforementioned Confidential.  While never quite reaching to the level of questionable excess so many of his past efforts have striven for, Gold's score does a fairly relentless job of ramping up the tension from about the moment everything starts to go pear-shaped.  The score and "special sound" combines very well with the mixing and sound design of Sky's vocal acrobatics to really accentuate the feeling of the alien about the whole situation.

Midnight Oil:

Midnightsky What really keeps a mechanism like Midnight running smoothly is the performances, and I rather think the cast acquits itself better-than-average in the episode, even if there are a few needlessly arm-flailing bug-eyed moments and a bit too much of the macho posturing from the thuggish Biff Cane ("Calling me a coward??"). 

It's like all this repetition forms some sort of repeated meme.

Lesley Sharp turns in a fairly stellar performance as Sky Sylvestry; sure it was a little bog-standard screaming and panicking early on, but I largely blame the script for that; once she's possessed, she's positively alien, even when she stops repeating what everyone's saying.  (An especially nice touch from the director is the use of the silhouette to frame her, which highlights the alienness very effectively). 

I liked the Professor and Dee Dee...both fine portrayals of well-written characters.  I particularly thought Dee Dee rang of potential companion material, though she was, admittedly, no Catherine Tate.  Tennant is also quite excellent in Midnight, pulling off "helpless" far better than he's managed anywhere else in the last three years of his, to quote Neil quoting someone else, being all David Tennant-y (I particularly liked his "experimentation" with Sky's voice games), and despite some script-induced caricature problems, Lindsey Coulson evokes a hell of an effective look at garden-variety suburban evil.

Rough in the Diamond/The Dark Side of the Sun:

Of course, this wouldn't be one of my reviews without me finding something about the episode to bitch about, so here I've finally found my own voice.

Okay, so maybe the entire concept of "exotonic sunlight" is all bollocksy nonsense to begin with...but not as bollocksy as the idea that someone would decide to put a resort somewhere where the sunlight vaporizes people.  Space is big, or so they tell me.  Humans have, apparently, managed to reach other galaxies.  Why, of all bizarre ideas, did they decide to put their pleasure palace in one of the few places where the sunlight is lethal.  It's like the ultimate adventure holiday.  It's almost as ridiculous as the idea that they'd upkit the whole thing and move when the Doctor tells them that something scary lurks in the light.

Also sort of grating on me: A planet with no dark.  Made of diamonds.  Incredibly bright light at all times.  And what did they choose to name it?  "Midnight."  Calling the planet Midnight seems to be either a too-cleverly ironic name for any of the planet-naming scientisty types, or perhaps a senselessly arbitrary and cynical writing decision on the part of the writer.

Sky even calls on the mob to cast the Doctor out into "the sun...and the dark!"  I saw that sunlight.  That was no dark sun.

It's like all this repetition forms some sort of repeated meme.

Interestingly, this episode chose to put the Doctor in imminent danger for his life, and I'm all for that...but somewhere in the back of my head I'm having difficulty suspending my disbelief that his life is actually at risk.  No, not just because he's the star of "Doctor Who" and for all sorts of inviolate financial and narrative reasons he's obviously not going to die.  The big problem I have is that, last I looked, he's already got a future.  All of one episode back we learn he's going to spend a great deal of time wooing Professor River Song over a period long enough to fill a thick diary...which was interesting in its own right, but sort of drains a lot of future-Who of dramatic tension.  Maybe it's one of those "time's in flux" wibbly-wobbly things.  Idunno.  Maybe it was all a terrible, regrettable mistake, like some idiot mistaking the Doctor for being "half-human"...or Torchwood.


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