Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Terrorvision Part 2: More Who Horror

So, as I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I like Doctor Who, and I feel this show is somewhat relevant to this blog. Sure, it's not very bloody compared to most films I write about in this thing, but every once in a while, it manages to scare the living daylights out of me, and one particular episode I find profoundly unsettling in a way that I'm sure the show's primary demographic, that is to say young'uns, probably won't get. The episode is Midnight, episode 10 in the otherwise fairly unremarkable season 4.

The plot of the episode is fairly simple. The Doctor (David Tennant) has left his companion Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) behind to take a guided shuttle tour of the planet Midnight. The planet is bombarded by so strong sunlight that nothing living could possibly exist out there. However, midway through the trip, the shuttle is besieged by... something that tries to get in. One of the passengers starts acting funny, repeating everything that's said, it eventually becomes evident, or at least as evident as anything gets in this episode, that the creature, whatever it is, has possessed the poor woman, and tension arises as to what to do with her.

Now, what I really love about this episode is how it uses group psychology, conformity in the face of uncertainty and several other psychology-related things, it's really almost too clever by half. It's also interesting because pretty much for once, The Doctor doesn't really know what's going on, he's as clueless as the rest of the tourists. Sure, he takes a different stance, but he's also used to weird shit going on, and not quite as species-centric as the human tourists, but that might be on account of his race being pretty well extinct by now. But back to the group dynamics, it paints a rather grim picture of how humans react under stress, some people have theorized that it's a power of the Creature to fuel paranoia and similar through some preternatural mechanism, but I see little evidence for that. If anything, it's a commentary on how humans react on something ostensibly threatening they do not understand.

It's also somewhat refreshing, in a slightly terrifying sort of way, how we never learn all that much about the creature, all we know is that it more or less wraps the passengers around it's little finger and completely locks down the doctor, and that only a well-timed sacrifice managed to stop it from reaching civilization and doing god knows what. The way the doctor reacts is also very telling, we're talking about a man who has faced down space nazis, creepy angel statues that won't do anything to you until you look away, alien witches, the creature that inspired every satan-like character in existence, gas mask zombies, sentient carnivorous darkness, werewolves and more generic humanoid alien than you can shake a stick at, without batting an eye, but this thing more or less wrecks him.

Production-wise, this thing is also very simple. It's what my friends over at TVTropes would call a Bottle Episode, which is to say an episode made to use as little of the show's budget as possible, thus allowing more extravagant season openers and finals. Now, it could just be me, but I tend to like these low-budget episodes more than the extravagant finals, but then again, the Russel T. Davies-era finals had their own issues, I guess I might get to that later. Midnight might be the most bottle-y of bottle episodes, because it's more or less entirely set in one location, which considering the claustrophobic nature of things just as well could be a kinda big bottle. Sure, there's an effect shot or two, but there's little spectacle, which forces the episode to rely on acting, and Tennant brings his A-Game, and writing. I'm actually a little surprised that the writing is as good as it is in this thing. Russel T. Davies is mostly known for making extravagantly silly season finales during his run of the show, but here, he really brings the scary and awesome.