Still, I think it could be good to collect my thoughts in one place, so here goes. Folks that know me from here and there would recognize these thoughts already.
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I have mixed feelings about this episode. Not exactly negative feelings, mind you, but highly contradictory feelings.
On one hand, I thought that the episode felt less like a Doctor Who episode and more like a Twilight Zone episode. It's got a similar pacing to typical Twilight Zone episodes, specifically "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street". I'm not sure how familiar folks are with that story. It's about a lazy afternoon on a typical block when the lights and power go out. The people gather to discuss the blackout when the power goes off and on without reason in different houses and people start blaming each other until they start fighting. At the very end, the camera pulls back to reveal two aliens who were responsible for the power outages and they discuss how it is human nature to blame each other and destroy ourselves. It's very powerful social commentary about prejudice and hysteria... which is exactly what "Midnight" was about too. So, that sort of threw me emotionally because it wasn't what I expected from a Who episode. I loved it very much because of it. I think that it's the sort of episode that make people of all ages think. "Midnight" is social commentary, not uncommon in Who, but the delivery of this kind of social commentary is not typical of the series.
On the other hand, I thought the episode was a brilliant character exploration of the Doctor. It solidifies the need for the Doctor for a companion, someone to be his backup, when dealing with other people (goodness gracious, can you imagine the trip to the Library without Donna and River who both know him?). When he's by himself, he comes off to others as arrogant and his "I'm clever!" line totally fell flat. He can't help himself, since this regeneration is a bit rude - he can't help but correct other people and he has a difficult time empathizing with others or communicating effectively with those that do not empathize with him. (Gosh, in this respect, this is very much like Mike and me. We're both not particularly empathetic and we're both rather clever and I know that we tend to come off like this. So this episode really hit me hard.) Also, he is really private about himself. He doesn't give any indication of what makes him different: he's NOT human, he travels in a TARDIS, he's seen all these brilliant places and the wonders of the universe and in this episode, he is made completely impotent. There is no fancy box that's bigger on the inside. Just him, the stuff in his pockets, and a love to see the universe. The fascination of new life and the willingness to understand and to help everything really comes through. In other words, there's a part of me that thinks the episode is very much a Doctor Who episode!
How much love could I have for Lesley Sharp? NOT ENOUGH. Seriously, I saw her in Bob & Rose (which is a must-see) and Second Coming (another must-see) and she's just brilliant. I still need to get my hands on Clocking Off. I think that her performance was amazing and so difficult. I wouldn't be surprised if this role was written for her or that Team Cardiff would work hard to get her in this role (Russell has worked with enough people to have his favorites and it's interesting to see when he brings out "the big guns" in his arsenal to bring to Who when great, high impact performances are required).
It's great to see Lesley and David working off each other. They are both really amazing and there's this great energy between them that was awesome to see. And David's performance at the end was just so awesome and intense and just... it makes me shudder.
You could tell that this was to be the "low budget" episode, to help save up the finances for the big finale. It's an intimate piece and I thought it was good. I didn't love it, though. It doesn't inspire me to write tons of fanfic about it and I'm largely uninterested in the other characters, excepting perhaps Dee Dee and Jethro. I don't have the awe that I think I should about the planet of "Midnight" (although it does amuse me that Donna and the Doctor are at a self-described "pleasure planet"). I'm most tired of the old "mothers are bad" trope that Russell demonstrates. I know that it's understandable to have a primary instigator, a bad guy, but I really wish it wasn't always a mother character. I find it interesting that the two smartest passengers other than the Doctor were also the two youngest and both were repressed by older, authority figures (who were less competent).
Two big things that I saw were definitely interesting and two minor things that amused me:
1. The very quick Rose flash. I think that it clarifies that Rose was not saying "Donna" in "The Sontaran Stratagem" and was, in fact, saying "Doctor". The time setting of "Midnight" is not clear (in other words, I'm not sure if the people on board the shuttle were humans-in-the-future, like the same time setting as the Library or if the time setting is present time, like the not-humans-but-look-like-humans people from "Voyage of the Damned"). My *guess* is that the story is taking place in present time and Rose is trying to contact him on their "shared present timeline" (notice that when the Doctor travels to a different time period, like in the Library, Rose doesn't reach him).
2. The Christina Georgina Rossetti poem "Goblin Market". I think that the story of the "Goblin Market" (of a bad choice that leads to another making a huge sacrifice for the one that made a bad choice) highly reinforces my thoughts about how the ending of the series is going to play out. See below for more thoughts on this...
3. ROMANA REFERENCE! He's so talking about Romana, not Rose, with Sky.
4. David Troughton! I love it when Who becomes a family affair. I mean, he has appeared in Who in the past, but it is still wonderful to see it in New Who. So awesome to see two offspring from former Doctors in this season.
Going back to "Goblin Market":
The quote from the show is this:
We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?
The lines are spoken by Laura in the poem as a warning to her sister, and yet she is the one that ends up giving into temptation and eating the goblin fruit. Laura is sort of “doomed to die” but then her sister Lizzie ends up making a choice where she’s beaten by the goblins, but is coated with the pulp. She tells Laura to eat the pulp off her (woah sexual imagery) and thus saves her sister.
After an in-length discussion with Mike, specifically about the lines and the plot of the episode, I came to the realization that the lines quoted in the episode make *really* good sense in context.
Essentially, the lines are a warning in the poem. It is saying that goblin fruit need to be feared and be treated as dangerous because it is the unknown. There's an emphasis because it is foreign and strange that it should be feared, avoided, be treated as dangerous, and eventually be destroyed. It fits perfectly in the situation in "Midnight". That's exactly how the other passengers begin to treat Sky and this new presence. It doesn't matter what the Doctor said (that we should be cautious but at the same time, have a degree of excitement because this was something new - a new lifeform, a new conciousness) because it is ALIEN and DANGEROUS.
This ultimately leads to them deciding that it should be destroyed.
And what's really interesting is that this is exactly what the alien learns from humanity. First it was echoing our voices and thoughts. Then it was able to state our thoughts while we were having them. It was learning from us... and what did it learn from us? To fear. To create dissent. To destroy. And it took the one person that could possibly stand in its way, the one that was most clever and most sophisticated and most understanding and convinced the others to throw it that out, that positive force. Very strong social commentary.
I do think the poem fits with my thoughts of the theme of the season as a whole. Ever since April, I've thought that this season will have an overall theme about "choices" and as the season has gone on, it has just confirmed my thoughts more and more that someone will have to make the hardest choice. Now, the poem is about sacrifice. I think this points to the Doctor and Donna, about making hard choices and making sacrifices to do what is right (my brain always inserts "and not what is easy" afterwards; thanks Harry Potter).
As a summary:
I liked the episode as a whole. There is quite a bit to love in it. Will it be on my favorites list of New Who episodes? Probably not. Will I watch in the future? Probably not. Is it the type of episode that, upon watching, would increase my squee? Probably not. It doesn't inspire me, I'm not convinced it will give me more with multiple viewings (if you think otherwise, let me know what I bits you think deserve a rewatch). It scares me in a really negative way that makes me uncomfortable and I don't like it because of that. I respect it for being able to feel but I don't like it. I've read criticisms of the episode and while I understand what folks didn't like about it (the pacing seems to be the Big One, although close behind it is the strange set-up and the Donne-liteness), I still look at the positive bits I do like and think that the negative bits are worth the positive ones.
Three more to go. Aa! It kills me.