Lesley Sharp in Doctor Who episode "Midnight."

Happy Birthday to the Scariest ‘Doctor Who’ Episode of All Time—No, Not ‘Blink’

Today is the sixteenth anniversary of the most terrifying Doctor Who episode to date. No, it’s not “Blink,” as good a story as that one is. It’s “Midnight.”

Recommended Videos

“Midnight,” written by Russell T. Davies, is a deceptively simple story. The Doctor (David Tennant) goes solo on a shuttle trip to a distant planet where the surface is deadly. He befriends his fellow passengers with no problem, but then the shuttle stops unexpectedly and something is outside. The audience is as in the dark as the characters, as the something appears to possess one of the passengers. Suddenly, the woman, Sky (Lesley Sharp), begins copying the other passengers’ words, eventually speaking exactly in sync with them. Everything they say, she says at the exact same time, and it horrifies everyone to the core—horrifies them enough to start thinking about killing her, in fact.

Their paranoia soon spreads. When the Doctor tries to stop the other passengers from killing Sky, he falls under their suspicion, as well. Eventually, the thing possessing Sky manipulates the situation until the passengers believe the Doctor is the new host, and they’re about to throw him out of the shuttle when the Hostess (Rakie Ayola), the person in charge of the shuttle, deduces that Sky is definitely still possessed and sacrifices her own life to throw her from the shuttle instead. Recovering from the ordeal with the other passengers, the Doctor asks if anyone knew the Hostess’s name. They didn’t.

Midnight has some pointed subtext

“Midnight” was the precursor to Davies’ excellent “Dot and Bubble” in many ways. Both of them are about putting ordinary humans in front of a monster and seeing what they do. In “Dot and Bubble,” it transpires that the humans are too racist, entitled, and arrogant to save themselves. In “Midnight,” the characters are more sympathetic, but there’s an undercurrent of “fear of the other” in their actions.

At one point, Val (Lindsay Coulson) demands to know if the Doctor is “an immigrant,” and that raises an uncomfortable idea. Are these characters scared of the Doctor because he might be possessed like Sky, or because he’s so clearly (being a Time Lord) not one of them?

It’s hard not to read “Midnight” as a metaphor for British society and how we react to anything we deem “other.” British newspapers such as the Daily Mail use fear to sell their hatred of immigrants, constantly implying that they’re dangerous criminals who will never be truly British. In more recent years, that fear of the other has also shifted to transgender people, with prominent British figures such as J.K. Rowling dehumanizing them in the media.

Under the surface, Davies seems to be saying with this episode, we’re all terrified of whatever we don’t understand. And, being a very savvy writer, he’s clearly intentionally made it so that most of the people on the shuttle are white, and Sky is the only one who we know isn’t straight. The person who brings up the “immigrant” question, Val, is a middle-class white woman.

The Doctor tells the shuttle passengers that they have to be “better than” their base instincts to murder, but as the episode continues, they prove that they are not. They take Sky’s word over the word of the “immigrant” Doctor, and a Black woman who no one bothered to learn the name of pays the price. It’s a Doctor Who episode that lingers in the mind long after the credits roll, and has lingered with me for sixteen years now. It poses the uncomfortable question: If you were in that shuttle, would you try to throw the Doctor out as well? And if so, why?

The Mary Sue is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more about our Affiliate Policy
Image of Sarah Barrett
Sarah Barrett
Sarah Barrett (she/her) is a freelance writer with The Mary Sue who has been working in journalism since 2014. She loves to write about movies, even the bad ones. (Especially the bad ones.) The Raimi Spider-Man trilogy and the Star Wars prequels changed her life in many interesting ways. She lives in one of the very, very few good parts of England.