Midnight: Nothing happens
I'm not a fan of monster movies, but I can tell you how to plot one. It should go something like this:
Act I, Introduction: Establishes characters, setting, situation
Act II, Problem: Establishes the central problem
Act III, Complication: Bring in a twist, a new development so the situation doesn't begin to stagnate
Act IV, Defeat: Protagonist(s) try to resolve the situation and fail. There should probably also be another twist/development in here, too
Act V, Resolution: Protagonist(s) try to resolve the situation and either succeed or fail again if it's that kind of movie
We can quibble about details, but that's the basic structure. Here's what “Midnight” does:
Act I, Introduction: The Doctor and Guest-Stars-of-the-Week are trapped in a disabled land rover hours from any help.
Act II, Problem: The mysterious force which disabled the rover somehow enters the vehicle and infects Mrs. Sylvestry, causing her to sit in a corner whispering ominously
Act III, ... Problem: Mrs. Sylvestry sits in a corner whispering ominously
Act IV, Problem
: She sits in a corner whispering ominously
Act V, four minutes of Problem with Mrs. Sylvestry whispering ominously, two minutes of her getting up and speaking weirdly while the Doctor is reduced to whispering helplessly and one minute of Resolution in which Mrs. Sylvestry is killed and the Doctor saved in the process.
progression from the beginning of Act II until the end of Act V. Mrs. Sylvestry just sits around whispering—which quickly goes from mildly creepy to amazingly dull—and the other people in the rover stand around getting paranoid while the Doctor tries ineffectually to figure out what's going on.
There are some developments, but they're minuscule and uninteresting. When Mrs. Sylvestry finally stands up and paralyzes the Doctor, it's at best a half-baked development, nowhere near good enough to justify 35+ minutes of holding pattern.
“Midnight” has been hailed as Deconstruction
. Fair enough, Tropes Are Not Good
, after all. However, the climax hinges upon the all-time Doctor Who
get-out-of-plot-free cliché (Heroic Sacrifice Ex Machina
) played straight.
This episode sucks.
30th May 11
1st Jun 11
Midnight is a very strange episode. The first time I saw it I absolutely hated it (I had to force myself to stay awake), after I found loads of people raving about how awesome it was I went back and watched it again.
The second time... yeah I can sort of see it, the last few minutes (from when the creature hones in on the Doctor) was quite scary if you could see it in the right way. It's more about how actual normal people work and what would probably happen more than it's about the Doctor. But I will agree it takes far too long and the characterisation I could really see there was that they were all normal people (I do somewhat remember the Professor being a lot more arrogant and a bit self-righteous later on). It's like taking the generic bystander who always runs away from the monster or asks the really stupid questions (the woman with the cocktail in the Lazarus experiment springs to mind) and making them the only characters. In other words forgettable but more realistic.
I suppose that's true of the whole episode when you first see it you are bored to tears, when you rewatch it has some brilliant moments and a really clever concept without any real distractions. But that's half the problem, it drags because there just isn't enough to really fill out the story. So brilliant in part, boring in whole.
3rd Sep 11
28th Feb 12
29th Feb 12
(edited by: Scardoll)
The thing about Doctor Who is the resolutions often feel pretty sketchy and unearned. It's very technobabble in and technobabble out, the charm comes from what happens in the middle. But it means that Doctor Who fans are very likely to throw around that DEM phrase :D
29th Feb 12
(edited by: Tomwithnonumbers)
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10th Mar 12
14th Mar 12
2nd May 12
1st Aug 12
Thanks everybody for your comments and perspective. Apologies for the late response, but I've been busy with studies.
Scardoll: "Are Doctor Who fans chronically inflicted with the urge to misuse the phrase Deus ex Machina
Yes, my bad, it wasn't Deus ex Machina
. The phenomenon I was trying to pin down is the show's habit of basically just throwing in a great big "instant resolution" button for one of the characters to press (usually dying along the way, for one-off characters). But you're right, that's not quite the same thing.
@weatherwax: You're right that "Midnight" didn't work for me. A lot of well-written stuff doesn't work for me. A lot of badly-written stuff does work for me; Dan Brown's "Robert Langdon" books come to mind. You could argue that the latter sucks, and you'd probably be right. My problem with "Midnight" is not that it doesn't work for me, but that it also sucks.
I'm afraid my review was hampered in that I only had so many characters, so some of the explanation cut short. I brought up the monster movie formula, not because I feel that's the only way it could have worked as an episode, but because I thought it would help to illustrate why it doesn't work.
The key to my criticism of "Midnight" is actually in the review title, not the formula, and it's the reason why (unlike a bunch of other stuff which doesn't work for me, personally) I honestly don't
see why it works for some people. I perceive that it does, and I've heard all the arguments (and their good ones) but I keep coming back to "yes, but nothing happens
. You could cut out ~2/3 of this episode's running time, and barely notice there was anything missing. That's atrocious television.
You're free to argue that it doesn't suck, of course, just as you're welcome to argue that stuff I consider underrated does suck (the Star Wars prequels being probably one of the easiest targets), but I stand by what I say.
30th Nov 13
30th Nov 13
I think we're probably going to have to agree to disagree about this episode.
However, since you've put forward a good, cogent argument, I'm going to go ahead and share my thoughts in response.
People go through (what should be) life altering experiences all the time on Doctor Who: most commonly, they see other people killed, sometimes their friends and loved ones. Occasionally, you'll have episodes where we see humanity broken down (I'm thinking in particular of series 6's "The Rebel Flesh"/"The Almost People," which I also found heavy-handed and badly plotted, but it at least had
Yes, things happen in "Midnight": a little happens at the beginning of the episode, and a little more at the end, but for a good 30+ minutes in between, what happens in the story is absolutely feck-all.
I'm hampered by never having actually seen any of the movies on either of those lists, or "Frost/Nixon" or "To Kill a Mockingbird
." And I've only seen parts "12 Angry Men
" once, a couple years ago. However, by my standards, I would say that stuff does
happen in "12 Angry Men
.'' Sure, it's just twelve guys in a room talking, but through their talking, things change (most obviously, the jurors' votes); we gain new insight into the events of the murder, as well as the characters of the jurors. I genuinely feel like I've missed something for not having watched the movie all the way through (and I definitely noticed that I'd missed stuff at the time).
Whereas in "Midnight," it's the same scene repeated ad nauseaum, with the only difference being that with each reiteration, the intensity is cranked up a notch. I haven't seen "Haruhi Suzumiya," but I imagine watching "Midnight" from the first few minutes after Mrs. Sylvestry is possessed until the part where the Doctor is paralyzed as analogous to the Endless Eight in microcosm. Everything
in the episode is at a complete standstill for over half an hour; there is zero progression (whereas there's plenty of progression in "12 Angry Men
Mrs. Sylvestry talks in a cryptic and slightly
creepy way; the Doctor tries unsuccessfully to figure out what's going on; and the other humans are paranoid and lashing out in their fear. Rinse and repeat. And repeat. If you ask me, it isn't even all that interesting the first time around. The first repetition is entirely superfluous, and the repetitions take up the majority of the episode.
I agree that it doesn't matter whether it's a lot of big events or one small event that puts characters on a journey (or, indeed, happens along the way); but the journey itself - no matter how subtle and understated - still ought to consist of more than a lot of pointless farting around.
1st Feb 14
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