Midnight Showing

(Spoilers for Midnight and the whole of Series 4 ahead.)A couple years ago, I made the case that the Doctor's telepathy was responsible for sending out "trust me" vibes, essentially explaining why, even in the absence of psychic paper, he and his companion could insert themselves into any situation and have people follow their lead, including the native authorities.

Well along comes Midnight in which the Doctor loses the civilians' trust rather eye-openingly and something else in the bargain - his voice. By examining this lean, mean episode from the most unlikely of sources - usually baroque carnival barker Russel T Davies - are we to see a new model for the Doctor's "telepathic seduction" that requires a vocal component? After all, isn't the Master's hypnosis highly dependent on words? "I am the Master and you will obey me. You will obey ME!!!"

Telepathically abetted or not, the Doctor manipulates people through TALKING. Fast talking, talking sense, speaking out of turn, taunting enemies, pep talking friends... it's all in the voice. And it's true that before he speaks, a lot of people he encounters are suspicious, ask too many questions, or are downright hostile towards him. Midnight shows us what it would be like if the Doctor couldn't use his powers of persuasion. Check it out: In the first minutes of the episode, everything's fine. While the transport provides entertainment, and some passengers have brought their own, the Doctor insists on getting to know them, on speaking to each and everyone of them, gaining in turn their trust. (In his line of work, you just never know when it'll become useful.)
Then, the accident and the creature that possesses Sky enters the craft. Let's note exactly when the trust between the passengers and the Doctor starts to break down. It's once the suggestion of throwing Sky out has been broached and the Doctor has vetoed it. By then, the creature inside Sky has been "repeating" everyone's speech simultaneously for a while. Normally, the Doctor should be able to contain those murderous thoughts, bring everyone to order, but he can't. What's happening?

If his power is in his voice, Sky's acts as a sort of interference. You could say copying him dilutes or corrupts his message, and cancels out its persuasion. After all, the creature is no doubt telepathic and may have the same kind of "voice hypnosis" the Time Lords do. Sky knew it's coming for her. Paranoia? Or sensing its presence? In any case, it's able to inhabit a person, and to "repeat" BEFORE a person's spoken, it must be able to read one's thoughts, and link to its mind. By the time the passengers turn on the Doctor, it may have eroded his ability to be trusted entirely.
Suddenly, everything that should strike someone as odd about the Doctor IS odd. He has no name, has no fixed address, talks to people randomly, seems entirely too interested in dangerous phenomena, is too smart and nosy for his own good... And that never struck anyone before because...? (It has, of course, but some people will always be resistant to his charms.) And why are these people suddenly capable of murder? If the creature has stolen the Doctor's convincing tones, then might it not be able to influence people to its way of thinking? Instead of doing the right thing (which the Doctor seems to most inspire), they want to do Sky's bidding.

And by the time Sky has completely stolen the Doctor's voice and left him catatonic, they really are doing her bidding. She's the charmer they unreasonably trust. She explains it thus: "He makes you fight. Creeps into your head. And whispers." She says this about the Doctor, but means the creature. Don't they sort of have the same ability, though? The Doctor's "vibes" whisper good, positive things, but it's a similar principle, making you more open to accepting his presence. A bit like the TARDIS' chameleon circuit? And like it's universal translator?

Every time I watch Midnight, I feel the same tension and apprehension, largely due to the sound design. So my hat's off to the creep masters responsible.

Things to watch out for
Donna's Destiny: There's a parallel between Sky and the finale's Donna, isn't there? Both characters take on the Doctor's characteristics, in essence become a Doctor with the use of the Doctor's words (though Donna does not take, she shares).
They call it foreshadowing: The Doctor says whatever nonsense comes to mind to test Sky. This includes the "Medusa Cascade". When repeating Sky, he gets to say "I'm coming back to life." A hint of his aborted regeneration in the finale?
Where's my planet?: Dee Dee wrote a paper on the Lost Moon of Poosh.
Dusty Rose: The Doctor mentions leaving a friend in a different universe, and then that very friend shows up on one of the shuttle's entertainment screens.
How does she do that anyway? I'll touch on the subject next time.

And next time: What if the Doctor had never met Donna?


snell said...

I think this episode shows why the Doctor almost always travels with a companion--because it immensely helps his credibility to have someone "normal" on-site who completely and totally trusts him. That, perhaps more than any "telepathic vibe," helps him "sell himself" to strangers.

Picture how Midnight would have played out if Donna (or Martha, or Ace, or Tegan, or...) had come along. The presence of someone who absolutely and totally believed in the Doctor might have been enough to keep the crowd from turning against him, their faith "rubbing off" on at least some of the others.

And just to be a tad more cynical than you, rather than Sky "influencing" the rest of the passengers, I see the events as "people really, really suck when things get bad and scary." Not controlled or influenced or nudged, just all giving in to their worst natures...which the Doctor usually manages to prevent. But in a setting bereft of scientific solutions and companion back-up, this time he couldn't. Which is why the Doctor is so dispirited at the end.

And who would have thought such pessemisitc cynicism could come from the pen of RTD?

Siskoid said...

If Tegan had been there, well let me tell you, they wouldn't have run out of peanuts!

But seriously, your view is as valid as mine. And the Doctor's vibe, just like Sky's, only nudged people to where they were able to go. Just like he can't turn, say, Davros, into a good guy just by talking to him. Good just isn't in him.

Humans are the real monster. That's been a Doctor Who trope since the beginning.

Matthew Turnage said...

I had forgotten it was about time for this review, so it was pure coincidence that I re-watched this episode last night.

On previous viewings I had become very engrossed in the characters and their interactions, but I was really struck by the sound and music on this viewing. They really sell the tension very well.

One of the most fascinating things about the episode to me is that the mother (I forget the character's name) is the one pushing the most to throw The Doctor out, and yet she never attempts to physically do so herself. Her husband is eager to comply, but she manages to convince the Professor and Jethro to go along as well. She's either the one most manipulated by Sky or the one manipulating the other passengers most, depending on how you look at it.

Her statement to The Doctor at the end, "I said it was her all along," is one of the most monstrous things in the whole episode.


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