Saturday, 14 June 2008

Don't knock it till you've tried it

The one predictable thing about new Who is that – like the Doctor himself - you never know what you’re going to get into next. Midnight was one of those no one saw coming.

You know, a lovely old lady of the Watcher’s acquaintance often uses the word ‘different’ to describe things she’s tried, in the spirit of necessary adventure, but probably wouldn’t want to try again, thanks all the same. She uses the word kindly, diplomatically, but Midnight – a show partly about fear of the different - probably falls into just that category. And yet, and yet…

If anything it was probably scarier than the last story, with which it shared some ideas. There, when the isolated humans faced an exterior threat they stuck together, more or less; here, the intruder unleashed something really nasty - a frenzy of murderous paranoia and self-loathing.

The babble of doubling, hating, blaming voices and the booming knocks really did seem to suck the air out of the place, the tension wracked up by Alice Troughton’s (no relation) edgy direction. Are they sure this is kids’ TV?

This was, in some ways, Voyage of the Damned remixed, scaled down and made self-consciously theatrical, the big sets and simplicity of that Christmas Day confection pressed into a suffocating space where words are weapons and nobody is in a hurry to be noble (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Bad Wolf?, anyone?).

It certainly gave the brilliant-as-ever Tennant the chance to polish his Dane, as they say (no, it’s not a euphemism; he’s doin’ Hamlet, innit?). Words or action, Doctor? Well, cornered and unsure he demands silence and inaction – most unheroic.

And how perfect that this most verbose incarnation (‘A skinny idiot ranting about every single thing that happens to be in front of him!’, no less), having failed to persuade or out-brain his fellow passengers, almost dies because the words suddenly run out and they don’t trust clever types. That’s… y’know… like… heavy…

(Heavyweight cast too: you seldom see anything less than excellence from Lesley Sharp (those eyes!), but Lindsey Coulson and David Troughton (most definitely some relation) too? Many viewers of the Watcher’s vintage might shudder to see lovely young King Peladon is now a balding older man in a cardy, but there’s always the videos, and he’s still absolutely magic.)

But all that said, what was RTD OBE’s script really getting at? There’s deep, unsettling obliqueness… and then there’s sub-Star Trek-ian portentousness that can’t quite remember what it wanted to say. Which was this?

Team Watcher Might need another look at it all before deciding… but you can’t help admiring this format-stretching effort from the big man. All-over-the-place is, after all, just an undiplomatic way of saying different, and different is what we like

Anyway, next time: the Doctor’s dead, Rose has risen again and Donna’s doomed – we’re heading in strange directions in Turn Left…