50 for 50 — The Greatest Stories in Doctor Who History — #1

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At the beginning of this momentous year, I was lucky enough to be one of four people who put together their personal lists of their fifty all time favourite Doctor Who stories. Each list was varied and eclectic and sometimes we were unanimous, other times we differed and often went wildly off piste. But each time it came for us to review something from our list, we each delivered, in our own inimitable styles, a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining read and I’m proud to have been part of the project. And now that project is reaching it’s End Of Season finale, and I’m honoured that it falls to me to review my top story of all time.

When I was working on this list, which seemed to regenerate each time I wrote it, I always ended on the same story. A story that I was surprised to find at the top of my choices, to be honest. The reason being because it’s written by Russell T Davies. Much as I and most fans are in his debt for bringing our beloved show back to our screens, I am actually not a massive fan of his writing. I find his stories too hung up on emotional baggage and too much like being in a soap opera. In fact, there is not a single RTD written story on my list.

But then, out of the blue, we get Midnight. A story that is so staggeringly good that it makes me wonder why he couldn’t write like this all the time. And the story that sits proudly at the top of my all time countdown.

There has never been a story like Midnight, before or after. A story where everything relies on performance, performance, performance, the likes of which we have never seen before. But more on that later.

The story starts in a lighthearted way and is a bit of a romp for the first ten minutes. The cleverly observed characters having fun and relaxing. And that’s why, when the terror starts, it hits home all the more.

Apart from a few scenes, mainly at the beginning and the end, the story is staged on one small set. In fact, it would work very well as a stage play. The shuttle interior is cramped and claustrophobic and because of the lethal radiation outside, there is literally no escape. No simple wave of the sonic can get the Doctor and his travelling companions out of this one.

From the very first moment that the pilot thinks he sees movement outside (which we never see), the tension mounts. The simple act of the knocking on the shuttle exterior is frightening enough, but when you realise that it’s trying to communicate, it makes the hairs on your neck stand on end. The very fact that we never, ever see what the creature looks like and we never know it’s true intentions makes this Extonic monster, in my mind, one of the most frightening in the whole 50 years of the show. Everything is done with suggestion, though the use of sound, music and performance.

Ah yes. Performance. Each character aboard the shuttle is a fully rounded, individual human being. And each performance is second to none. From the paranoid mother, to the college professor (played by Patrick Troughton’s son David), to the undergraduate to the unnamed Hostess, all are outstanding and make the ensemble piece gel wonderfully.

But even these performances can’t compare to those of Leslie Sharp as Sky Silvestry and David Tennant. Firstly, the very thought of a creature that can steal your voice is chilling enough, but played like these two fine actors do, it hits the heights of award winning, in my opinion. For the scenes where Sky and the Doctor are talking in unison to work, each had to have split second precision in their delivery. The script is tremendous, speeding along at warp factor 6 and is also very witty. And Tennant and Sharp deliver it flawlessly. It’s breathtaking watching them in action.

And then, when the Doctor actually has his voice stolen, the complete terror in his eyes in chilling. Never have we seen the Doctor this scared, before or after. He is completely helpless and totally in the hands of his fellow passengers. He is utterly terrified and David Tennant does all of this with his eyes. An incredible performance.

Midnight doesn’t conform to any of the “rules” that New Who had written for itself. Explosions, running around, big scary monsters, CGI special effects and a sonic screwdriver that became a “get out of anything” device. It relies on the story and it’s characters and some amazing turns by all the individuals concerned. It explores themes of isolation, mob mentality and how fear can affect judgment in a head-on way that leaves you quite taken aback and really makes you wonder what you would do in a situation like this. You’d hope you’d not be one of those willing to throw people to their deaths to save your own skin. But would you?

Midnight is perfect. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve watched it and it doesn’t miss a single beat and is as chilling to watch with each repeat viewing.. Did I say repeat? I didn’t mean that. No, really, I didn’t.

And so that’s it. Our journey is over and what a journey it has been.

This is the end. But the moment has been prepared for.  — Steve (Thank you Steve!)

Alan’s #1 — Fury from the Deep (Thank You Alan!)
Andy’s #1 — ???
David’s #1 — ???

What’s this?  Where are the other #1’s?  What this space tomorrow and Friday…