Doctor Who’s Cheapest Episode Gave Us One of The Scariest Hours of TV

At its most low-budget, Doctor Who managed to deliver its most underrated horror episode.

Originally Published: 
Inverse Recommends

The most celebrated horror from the Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who (ie. the seasons starring Christopher Eccleston or David Tennant) was penned by the show’s first resident grumpy Scot, Steven Moffat. It’s significant, then, that in Davies’ last full season in charge, the boundary-pushing queer writer turned to hard, psychological horror with a tight, invasive bottle episode that should be remembered as one of NuWho’s brightest diamonds.

“Midnight” puts the Doctor on a sightseeing trip across an uninhabitable alien canyon, with mountains made out of diamond and no possibility for life to exist. (His companion, Donna Noble, would rather unwind at a spa — after seeing what waits for them out there, I don’t blame her.) Thanks to the Doctor’s intrusive chumminess — the shuttle hostess raises her eyebrows at his cry of “Allons-y!” — the few passengers settle into a breezy calm as they roll across the planet's surface.

We get a peek of the outside when the Doctor convinces the drivers to raise the protective shields for a brief moment: it’s majestic, vast, and barren. But the mechanic thinks he spots something outside, he’s sure of it — a shape, a living thing, just out of sight but definitely moving — towards them. It’s a chilling moment from the Blair Witch Project school of horror: you can scrutinise the landscape all you want, but you’ll never catch sight of the thing you’re sure is watching you.

Something starts knocking on the exterior of the shuttle, persistently, almost responding to the noises of the passengers inside. It scales the length and breadth of the shuttle, eventually honing in on a single passenger — the lonesome, vulnerable Sky Silvestry. After a tremendous collision, the passengers scramble for torchlight, casting their beams on Sky’s back – she’s on the floor, facing the corner, surrounded by ripped up seats. When she does turn around, with wide beady eyes and mouth slightly agape, she starts repeating everything the passengers say. Every word, every inflection, every voice; something has gotten into Sky and wants to latch onto those around her.

The best speculative fiction is often a product of production limitations, and in the season’s cheapest episode, Davies confronts his audience with an idea that offers no easy solution or escape: What if something got inside our bodies, kept us alive, but robbed us of all autonomy, and nobody had a clue what was actually happening? The “Midnight entity” has no clear weakness, it has no hubris or ambition to take advantage of, it doesn’t even have a face. It takes our most basic motor functions and runs them like a broken record until we have completely relinquished control.

“Midnight” is the kind of speculative sci-fi that taps into our deepest, most primal fears.


Rarely do we see a band of helpless humans fervently distrust the Doctor, but especially after Sky starts copying the Doctor’s speech in perfect sync with him, nearly everyone in the shuttle turns against his confident, abrasive leadership. In a snappy sequence, everything that we see as compelling and cool about the Doctor is questioned in overly suspicious tones. Even as fans of his adventures, you do have to admit that, yes, the Doctor’s whole deal sounds fishy from their point of view.

When Sky starts speaking ahead of the Doctor, making him repeat her speech (Tennant does incredibly as the most powerful man in the universe losing control of his body), it’s enough to convince the passengers to toss him out into the unforgiving crystalline wasteland. Sky is only defeated because she casually drops an “Allons-y,” tipping the hostess off that the entity has stolen the Doctor’s words – in a sudden act of violent, sacrificial heroism, she opens the shuttle doors and ejects them both to be vaporized outside.

A horrid silence settles over the shuttle. They’ve just been terrified about sharing a space with something dangerous, they’re not comfortable with what’s left behind after it’s cast out. Even though it never infiltrated their bodies, that unknown entity infected them with fear, which controlled their behavior in the same way Sky’s body was taken over. With Davies taking back the Who reins for a new era of skyrocketed budgets, here’s hoping he remembers the smallest stories leave us the most shaken.

This article was originally published on

Related Tags