We’re back, with our new series rewatch! Today we’re continuing Series Four, with this series’ companion-lite and Doctor-lite episodes, Midnight and Turn Left. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not viewed these episodes!
Midnight: The Doctor and Donna are vacationing on the crystalline planet of Midnight. The planet is flooded with x-tonic radiation, which will kill any living thing; therefore everything must be sealed in airtight facilities. Donna is relaxing by an indoor pool, while the Doctor leaves on a bus tour to see the Sapphire Waterfall. What could possibly go wrong?
The bus’s other passengers include a Professor Hobbes, going along to study the waterfall; Hobbes’ assistant, Dee Dee; the Cane Family, composed of Val, Biff, and their son Jethro; a businesswoman named Sky Silvestry, and a hostess (whose name is not given). The bus is diverted to an alternate route due to a diamond fall on the road; the route will take about four hours. The Doctor disables the bus’s rather irritating video entertainment system, forcing the passengers to talk to each other. He enjoys the conversation himself, though sometimes confusing his travel companions with talk of other universes. Dee Dee at one point talks about the lost moon of Poosh, which she has researched, leading to her selection by Hobbes as his assistant (although he essentially uses her as an errand girl). Hobbes gives an impromptu presentation (complete with visuals!) about the planet Midnight, which has no known native life due to the radiation. The strange circumstances mean that no one has really ever set foot on the planet; even the resort is prefabricated, having been landed intact on the planet.
The bus stops early, for reasons unknown. The Doctor uses his psychic paper to pose as an agent of the resort’s insurance company, and gets into the cockpit. The driver and mechanic insist there is nothing wrong with the bus, and they cannot account for the stop. They open the window’s outer shutter briefly to check the landscape; it is beautiful but barren. However, the mechanic believes he sees something approaching, before the shutter closes. They have summoned a rescue vehicle, however, and now the passengers must wait. The Doctor calms the other passengers, and assures them they will be safe; the bus uses an air recycling system, so they will not run out while they wait.
Something knocks on the hull. The Doctor calms everyone again, and Biff knocks on the door to show that the structure is sturdy; the knocking from outside repeats his pattern. Hobbes insists nothing can be out there, but no one believes him, and they begin to panic as the knocking continues. It moves around the hull, finally reaching a now-hysterical Sky. It ends with a dent in the door beside her, and the lights go out; the bus rocks violently. A screen comes on behind the Doctor briefly shows an image of Rose Tyler trying—and failing—to get the Doctor’s attention. The hostess gives out flashlights, and Biff notices that the seats near Sky have been ripped up; Sky herself seems traumatized. The hostess tries to check on the driver and mechanic, but when she opens the door, she finds the cabin has been ripped off, and radiation is outside. She manages to close the door before anyone can be hurt.
The Doctor checks on Sky, who begins behaving strangely. She repeats what anyone says to her. The Doctor tests her on harder phrases, and finds she can do even lengthy statements perfectly, even if speaking over the other person. The Doctor speculates that she has been taken over by the entity that was outside on the hull. By now, as the backup generator comes on and the lights return, Sky is speaking simultaneously with everyone who speaks. The other passengers want to throw her out, but the Doctor stops them; he thinks the entity is learning. The passengers turn on him a bit when he won’t reveal his name or world of origin; they suggest throwing him out too if her interferes. Suddenly, Sky stops repeating everyone else, and only focuses on the Doctor. He suddenly realizes that now she is saying his words before he says them.
He is now the one doing the repeating, though he seems to be fighting it. The passengers argue about whether the entity has possessed him, or whether—as he had previously suggested—it is simply stealing his voice. They decide to throw the Doctor out, as Sky—with the Doctor repeating—encourages them; and Biff and Hobbes drag him to the door. Sky seems to have recovered somewhat now, and tells them that the entity gets inside human heads. The hostess catches her out, though; she is using phrases (Allons-y and Molto Bene) peculiar to the Doctor, indicating the entity is still in her, and she has in fact stolen the Doctor’s voice. Sky realizes that she knows. The hostess grabs Sky and sacrifices herself to drag the woman out the door and into the radiation, killing them both.
As the Doctor slowly recovers, the passengers wait in awkward tension for rescue. As the rescue bus arrives, he realizes that no one knew the hostess’s name. He meets Donna at the resort, though sadly. Later they talk about the creature, what it was and where it come from, whether it lived or whether there are more. He decides to inform the resort owners, and to suggest that they leave Midnight permanently, giving it back its peace. Donna asks the Doctor what it was like without a voice, and he replies with “Molto bene”; she repeats the words, startling him, and he asks her never to do that.
Midnight takes home the trophy for “Creepiest Doctor Who Episode”. The classic series never really tried for this type of psychological horror (although they did try to be scary in other ways on multiple occasions), and though the revived series sometimes tries, it has yet to top this masterpiece. It’s consistently one of the highest recommended episodes of the revived series, and it’s not hard to see why. If I had to compare it a movie, the one that leaps to mind is M. Night Shyamalan’s Devil, but without the twist ending; Shyamalan’s movies catch a lot of flak, and that one is no exception, but I’m talking about its premise more than the execution. Like this episode, it involves several people trapped in a small space with inconsistent lighting…and one is not at all what he or she seems. I do think this episode does it better, however.
It’s not often we get to see the Doctor actually overwhelmed by a situation. He usually has a trick up his sleeve, or knowledge that someone else is in a position to use, or…something, anything. Let’s be completely honest, though: Here, the Doctor loses. His usual methods are wrong; there’s no saving or negotiating with the disembodied creature. He’s caught completely off guard when it takes hold of him, and he is completely stripped of anything that might be used to get him out of the situation. There’s no TARDIS, no companion, nowhere to run; he has no knowledge of the thing he’s fighting. The only reason—the ONLY reason—that he survives at all is that someone else sacrifices herself. At the end, he is haunted by all of this, and carries that trauma out of the episode.
The Midnight entity—for lack of a better term—fascinates me. We often get disembodied villains and possessions in Doctor Who, but we usually get some resolution. We know, for example, the origins of the Warp Core in Dust Breeding, and we know what came of it. As for the Midnight Entity, we just…don’t know. Where did it come from? Is it native to the planet? Was it always disembodied? What did it want? It seems to want people to die in the radiation, but why? What’s in it for the entity? Does it have a plan? Did it survive when its host died? We just have no idea. Perhaps it’s better that way; not every mystery has to be solved—that’s good storytelling. But I can’t help wondering anyway.
This is the first “companion-lite” episode, unless one counts Love and Monsters, in which both Rose Tyler and the Doctor only appeared briefly. We’ve had a few Doctor-lite episodes thus far, and will have one again with the next episode. I can’t complain; Donna’s reactions to things have been carefully cultivated all seasons, and her peak, if you will, is about to happen in the next episode; this situation would have required too much from her, and would have made the next episode feel anti-climax by comparison. This episode feels very brief; it moves quickly, and there’s enough tension to make you forget the time, so it feels like it passes quickly. That’s okay, though; the story is told perfectly in the allotted time. It is and remains one of my favorite episodes, and competes with Turn Left and Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead for best story of Series Four, in my opinion.
Some continuity references: The Doctor has encountered endangered shuttle buses on alien worlds before (The Greatest Show in the Galaxy) and will again (Planet of the Dead). Rose appears on a screen, but the Doctor misses it; she appeared as such before (The Poison Sky; this is also part of the series arc). The mention of the lost moon of Poosh is a part of the series arc, soon to be resolved. The Doctor knocks four times on the bus wall, a bit of early foreshadowing of his regeneration (Planet of the Dead for the first mention of the related prophecy, and The End of Time for the regeneration); this also echoes the Master’s drumbeats, as he demonstrated in The Sound of Drums by knocking on the tabletop. He mentions a friend in a different universe (Rose in Doomsday; the wiki also suggests this could refer to Romana in E-Space in Warrior’s Gate). He mentions previous companions Rose, Martha, Donna (still current, of course), as well as the TARDIS and the Medusa Cascade (which has been mentioned many times, and will be seen in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End). He uses his John Smith alias (many past appearances), but to less than stellar success. Not continuity, but worth noting: Professor Hobbes is played by David Troughton, son of Second Doctor actor Patrick Troughton (no relation to this episode’s director, Alice Troughton). This is not his first appearance; he appeared at a young age for a cameo in The War Games and in The Curse of Peladon, and has voice acted often for Big Finish Productions. Had this episode been aired as originally planned (as #8 of the series), it would have been the fiftieth story of the revived series; The War Games, Troughton’s first appearance, was the fiftieth story of the classic series. Unfortunately the order was changed, though it remains the fiftieth revived-series story to be filmed. This episode also does not feature the TARDIS, either inside or outside, the first since Genesis of the Daleks to not include it.
Turn Left: In an alien marketplace, a fortune teller reads predicts Donna’s future. In the process, she discovers the event that led to Donna meeting the Doctor. She mentions being in the car with her mother at a T-intersection; Sylvia tried to persuade Donna to turn right to seek a permanent job, but Donna chose to turn left and go to her newly-acquired temp job at H.C. Clements, where she would later meet the Doctor. The fortune teller asks what would have happened if she turned right, and Donna feels something crawl onto her back. Under the fortune teller’s power, the past changes, causing a truck to cut off Donna’s route momentarily; in that time, Sylvia persuades her, and she turns right instead of left.
The next scene shows the Christmas party at Donna’s new job, when the Racnoss Webstar attacks. The Webstar is destroyed by the army, though without the superlaser that was originally used at the behest of Harold Saxon; many people die. One of the partygoers notices something terrible on Donna’s back. Donna runs to the Thames, near where the Webstar attacked, and sees UNIT removing a body—the Doctor’s body, as he drowned in the flood that killed the embryonic Racnoss. Rose Tyler appears and inquires about the body, seeming stunned that it was the Doctor, despite Donna’s reassurances; she disappears moments later.
Months later, Donna loses her job; the company is floundering because the Thames remains closed off, cutting them off from several major business contacts. The Royal Hope Hospital is transported to the moon; when it reappears, the lone survivor, medical student Oliver Morgenstern, describes the events, including the death of fellow student Martha Jones. A woman named Sarah Jane Smith had saved the situation and stopped the out-of-control MRI weapon, but had died doing so, along with her son and several young associates. Rose appears again and tells Donna to go to the country for Christmas, and surreptitiously gives her the means to do so.
Donna accepts the advice, and takes Sylvia and Wilfred away for the holidays. On Christmas morning, the news shows the starship Titanic crashing onto Buckingham palace, destroying most of the city. The maid comes in and sees something on Donna’s back, but reports it in Spanish, which Donna does not speak.
Now refugees due to the radiation from the crash, Donna and her family move to a refugee village in Leeds, where they share a house with two other families. Crisis aid from America fails to arrive when sixty million Americans are turned into juvenile Adipose. Later on, Luke Rattigan and the Sontarans activate the ATMOS system, poisoning the atmosphere. Donna is accosted by a soldier who sees something on her back, but he releases her upon finding nothing. Rose meets her again, and tells her that Torchwood is on the Sontaran ship. Jack Harkness’s team clears the air with an atmosphere converter, but dies in the process, and Jack—who is immortal—is captured by the Sontarans. Rose refuses to identify herself, but says that she has crossed reality; she explains that in an alternate reality, Donna saved the Doctor’s life, preventing all of the intervening tragedies. The darkness now looming threatens all universes, not just this one. Donna leaves, but Rose tells her she will be needed—and has three weeks to decide. She warns Donna that coming with her means Donna will die.
Over the next few weeks, England degrades into a form of martial law. The Italian family in Donna’s house is sent to a labour camp, horrifying Wilfred, who lived through the end of World War II. That night, through his telescope, he sees that Orion is missing from the sky, and other stars are disappearing. Donna finds Rose and agrees to join her.
At a UNIT base, Rose shows Donna the TARDIS, which is dying without the Doctor. She places Donna in a circle of mirrors and lights, which is augmented with technology from the TARDIS. When she switches on the lights, Donna can finally see the creature on her back: a giant beetle. Rose calls it a “Time Beetle”, which feeds off of changes it induces in time. Donna wants it gone, but it can’t be removed; to get rid of it, she must travel in time. It is not only the beetle that is bending reality, but Donna herself. Rose places her back in the circle of mirrors, which is a rudimentary time machine (as the TARDIS cannot be used). Donna says she understands about dying now—if she changes her past, the entire world will cease to exist, to be replaced by the Doctor’s world, which is better. Rose simply says “I’m sorry”, and sends Donna back in time.
Donna arrives four minutes prior to the decision at the intersection, and half a mile away. She heads that direction, but realizes she won’t make it. She sees the truck that intervened coming toward her, and realizes what Rose meant about her death; and she steps in front of the truck.
As Donna dies, Rose appears and gives her a message for the Doctor. Donna’s younger self sees the traffic that is now backed up, and turns left instead of right.
With the timeline restored, Donna awakens in the fortune teller’s stall, and sees the time beetle fall off of her back and die. The terrified fortune teller flees the booth. The Doctor enters the booth and finds Donna, who hugs him, though she doesn’t know why. He examines the beetle, and says that it is part of the Trickster’s Brigade; usually it would only affect one person, and the universe would compensate. In Donna’s case, the changes affected the whole universe, forcing an alternate timeline. It’s not the first coincidence about Donna, and the Doctor muses on others, concluding that she and he are somehow linked. She downplays herself, but he calls her “brilliant”, which triggers her memory of Rose’s message. He recognizes Rose from Donna’s description, and the words that she gave to Donna: “Bad Wolf”. Suddenly terrified, the Doctor runs into the square, and sees the words “Bad Wolf” everywhere, even on the TARDIS. Inside, the console room is glowing red, and the cloister bell is ringing. The Doctor tells Donna that it is the end of the universe.
I like to think of Turn Left as Doctor Who Unbound for television. It’s the revived series’ first “what if…” scenario, unless one wishes to count Father’s Day (I personally don’t; I consider that episode a closed loop within the regular universe, not an alternate universe). We face the question of “What if Donna never saved the Doctor from the flood that defeated the Racnoss?” It goes on to highlight all the major threats to Earth since that time (The Runaway Bride), and how they played out without the Doctor. It also neatly eliminates all of the Doctor’s allies and potential allies, showing just how much the Doctor influenced their lives. Torchwood 3 (under Jack Harkness) dies defeating the Sontarans (The Poison Sky), with the immortal Jack taken captive by the Sontarans; Sarah Jane Smith and her entourage from The Sarah Jane Adventures die along with Martha Jones in the Royal Hope Hospital (Smith and Jones). UNIT continues to exist, but is severely damaged in the crash of the Titanic (Voyage of the Damned). It’s an interesting parallel with the series four finale, where all of those individuals will make guest appearances.
All of the Tenth Doctor’s companions are, at one time or another, called upon to sacrifice themselves, though it doesn’t always work out that way. For Rose, it’s mostly metaphorical; she sacrifices her happiness and her life with the Doctor by being transported to Pete’s World in Doomsday. For Martha, it’s more literal, as we’ll see in the series four finale, although it doesn’t get carried out; she also put her life on the line for a year in Last of the Time Lords. Donna, who is perhaps the most purely loyal companion of the three, literally sacrifices her life here, by dying so that history can be saved. She embraces it with eyes open, too; she has three weeks of warning that she will die. It’s hard to continue on that path of increasing intensity, therefore future companions of the Eleventh Doctor will subvert the trope; Clara, for instance, will sacrifice herself countless times through her various “shadows”, and then will ultimately be unable to sacrifice herself. Amy and Rory will several time play with the concept of sacrificing themselves not for the Doctor, but for each other. River is in the unique position of being a (sort of) companion of the Tenth Doctor as well as the Eleventh; with the Tenth Doctor, she played it straight and literal, sacrificing her life to save his, but with the Eleventh, it will be subverted, as he sacrifices his regeneration energy (representative of his life, as he points out) to fix her after saving her life from the Weeping Angels. (There may be better examples, as well—something something Pandorica—but I’m short on time and that is the one that comes to mind.)
If Midnight is creepy, Turn Left is ominous. It constitutes this series’ Doctor-lite episode. It’s a great setup for the series finale, and it accomplishes that while working in an alternate universe. It was a great bit of misdirection, as well (or at least it would have been, if not for the “next time” clips broadcast at the end). Rose’s brief appearances throughout the season could easily have been viewed as leading up to this episode, not the finale, as she has extensive appearances here; the fact that she is also in the finale could have been completely hidden until broadcast (again, if not for the next time clips). The episode does foreshadow the finale quite well—you miss a good part of the experience if you only watch the finale and skip this episode—as well as tying in with the spinoffs in progress at the time (Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures). I’ve picked at the episode’s logic with regard to the alternate universe’s events, but I can’t find any flaws to criticize; if anyone else can find a place where it breaks down, I’d like to know.
Continuity references: I’m going to skip the obvious references to episodes in this series, which admittedly is most of them. To mention them would be to spoil it for people who don’t care for that. Other than those: The Trickster’s Brigade appears in more depth in The Sarah Jane Adventures, which foreshadow this episode to some degree (Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?) There are parallels with Father’s Day, where someone Rose knew dies in her presence to repair a timeline. The Bad Wolf messages are seen again, for the first time since Bad Wolf, though they were mentioned in Doomsday. The Cloister Bell is heard again (Logopolis, et al). Lucius Dextrus mentioned something on Donna’s back in The Fires of Pompeii; that episode is not included in the list of changes here, though perhaps it should be, as the volcano only erupted because of the Doctor and Donna. The Time Beetle resembles and functions like the Eight Legs of Metebelis III (Planet of the Spiders). The circle of mirrors resemble the one used to reveal the Mara in Kinda. The Doctor’s death and the resultant problems is a bit of a recurring theme (Blood Heat, Final Genesis, The Wedding of River Song). It’s worth mentioning that Harold Saxon, aka the Master, is not included among the list of catastrophes that the Doctor was not present to prevent; he was not present to release the Master from his altered form at the end of the universe, meaning Saxon never arose.
Overall: Two great episodes, filling out a great second half to the series. There’s a definite progression in seriousness throughout the series, and these episodes fit right in, and set us up well for the finale.
Next time: We’ll see the series four finale with Stolen Earth and Journey’s End! See you there.
All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.