Midnight was the tenth episode of the fourth series of the BBC Wales version of Doctor Who. It was the first “companion-lite” televised Doctor Who story. It also featured the third abrupt cameo of Billie Piper as Rose Tyler in the series before her role in the seasonal arc fully unfolded.
In production terms, it was the first episode of Doctor Who to be filmed primarily in narrative order since the practice was abandoned around the time Jon Pertwee began portraying the Third Doctor. It was the only story in which the antagonist was never even partially glimpsed, leaving the threat to be realized by the actors and the sound editors. It was also the second episode of 2008 to guest star the child of an actor who had played the Doctor: David Troughton as Professor Hobbes, his father playing the Second Doctor.
The sound team of Tim Ricketts, Paul McFadden, Paul Jefferies and Julian Howarth shared a Royal Television Society Award and a Welsh BAFTA for their work on this episode.
The Tenth Doctor and Donna spend some leisure time on the crystalline planet Midnight. It orbits so close to its sun that the X-tonic radiation exposure would vaporize any unprotected living thing on its surface in a split second. Donna receives a call from the Doctor, who wants her to go on a trip to see the Sapphire Waterfall, but she insists that she’d prefer relaxing at the spa and sunbathing. However, the Doctor warns her to be careful because of the X-tonic radiation. Paying him no mind, Donna agrees to try out the anti-gravity restaurant (with bibs) once he gets back. Despite her warning him to be careful, the Doctor jinxes himself: “Taking a bus full of strangers across a diamond planet called ‘Midnight’, what could possibly go wrong?”
He boards a shuttle bus ride to the Sapphire Waterfall. Other passengers include the Cane family (Val, Biff, and their teenage son Jethro); Professor Hobbes, who is investigating the waterfall; his assistant Dee Dee Blasco; and recently-divorced businesswoman Sky Silvestry. Before they take off, the driver informs them they are taking a different route to the Waterfall Palace because of a diamond fall on the regular path. For the long journey to their destination, the hostess activates the pre-rendered entertainment for passengers, consisting of several annoying television programs. Most of the passengers find the entertainment to be rather irritating, rather than pleasing. The Doctor discreetly disables them with his sonic screwdriver; most of them are thankful for the small mercy that they’ve been granted. This forces the passengers to talk and get to know each other better.
The Doctor has an amusing conversation with Biff and Val. Later, during the passengers’ meal time, the Doctor talks with Sky about traveling, remarking that he “had a friend who went to a different universe” (Romanain E-Space or Rose in Pete’s World.) After the meal, the Doctor talks with Dee Dee about the lost moon of Poosh over coffee in the back. Later, Prof. Hobbes, who has been studying Midnight, presents a slide-show about it; he considers himself an expert because no one has ever researched it before, and that essentially nothing is known about Midnight. X-tonic radiation would vaporize any known form of life in seconds, so Midnight has been totally undisturbed for millennia. Hobbes notes even the Leisure Palace was prefabricated and dropped in from orbit. Jethro points out, to the disapproval of his parents, no one can really know anything about the planet, or whether or not life resides there. Hobbes agrees with him; no one has ever really set foot on Midnight, and no one has any real idea what is on or underneath the surface.
Suddenly the shuttle stops, which prompts everyone to being speculating what has happened with increasing panic as the ideas grow more and more out of control. Using his psychic paper, the Doctor checks with the shuttle’s driver and mechanic, confirming that there’s nothing wrong with the vehicle. He convinces them to open the shutter to look outside as the landscape is beautiful. The mechanic believes he sees a shadow moving towards the bus before closing the shutter. The crew call for a rescue vehicle while the Doctor returns to the main cabin. Everyone asks the Doctor what he heard and begin to panic when they misinterpret a guess about the amount of oxygen they have. However, the Doctor calls for silence and prompts Dee Dee, an expert on vehicles as her father is a mechanic, to explain; the air is recycled, so they can breath for years inside the bus without any worry. Everyone calms down.
A few moments later, something begins knocking on the hull. Again, everyone panics, but the Doctor temporarily pacifies them as he listens to the knocks with his stethoscope. Biff knocks thrice on the door to prove the ship is sturdy; the knocks repeats his pattern. Everyone freaks out as the Doctor knocks four times on the hull to confirm if there is something outside despite Prof. Hobbes’ constant attempts to make everyone believe nothing can be outside. However, everyone ignores him since his idea is incorrect. The knocking moves around the shuttle, making its way towards Sky, who has become hysterical, remembering a past threat her partner made to her during the divorce. The knocking stops as a dent appears in the door Sky is next to.
The lights fail and the shuttle is violently rocked. When the lights are restored, there is a working screen behind the Doctor, who turns away when he sees a singer on it, but it quickly turns to a muted video of Rose, who is shouting, “Doctor!” No one notices. The hostess distributes torches and everyone looks around to see if any are injured. Jethro notices the seats near Sky have been ripped off the floor and she is cowering in the corner. The hostess fails to contact the crew in the cabin, realizes the main generator is down and opens the door to the driver cabin. Only X-tonic light can be seen, forcing her to close the door. The Doctor opens up a systems panel with his sonic screwdriver to examine it for any faults, but behind the face plate are several cut wires; the driver’s cabin has been ripped away, vaporizing driver Joe and mechanic Claude.
Jethro calls everyone’s attention back to the cowering Sky; the Doctor kneels next to her and tries conversing with her. Sky initially remains motionless, but is coaxed into turning around by the Doctor. Attempts to get her to speak cause her to start repeating what everyone else says. Deciding to test how good Sky can copy them, the Doctor says the square root of pi, becoming amazed she repeated every number even when they were talking over each other. The Doctor speculates about what is happening and what will happen to Sky, believing the entity that was knocking on the hull has taken over her consciousness. The back up generator comes on and the Professor tries to have everyone calm down and be rational. However, Jethro and the Doctor notice that Sky is speaking simultaneously with Hobbes, and everyone else for that matter.
The passengers contemplate throwing Sky outside, horrifying the Doctor, who thinks that the entity might be trying to learn. He tries to calm everyone down, but he fails when the passengers become suspicious of him, especially when he proves unwilling to reveal his real name or origin and admits to feeling a thrill from the situation. The passengers contemplate throwing him out too, if he gets in the way of them trying to save themselves. However, as the Doctor protests that they will need him to survive if the entity turns out to be malevolent, Sky stops repeating everyone and focuses solely on the Doctor. To try reasoning with the consciousness in Sky, the Doctor attempts to offer it help with finding a voice of its own without stealing his. However, when the Doctor asks the entity if it can agree with him, he has spoken after Sky.
The Doctor is now repeating Sky’s words, motionless and clearly strained as if fighting something. Most reason that it’s the Doctor that is possessed now, as Sky can move again. However, the hostess and Dee Dee think this is just the next step: stealing the voice of another as the Doctor had predicted. The other passengers refuse to listen to reason and decide to throw the Doctor out the nearest door, all the while being goaded on by Sky, who is strangely happy despite the madness going on. The Doctor shows minimal signs of resistance to being pulled towards a door by Biff and Hobbes as Sky describes how the entity is insidious and gets inside the humans’ heads.
However, the hostess realizes that Sky is not talking in her own voice; she uses two phrases the Doctor had used earlier (Molto bene and Allons-y). The entity in Sky has stolen the Doctor’s voice. “Sky” notices the hostess is not fooled by her performance and is fearful. To save the Doctor, the hostess sacrifices herself to drag the entity out of the bus and out into the X-tonic sunlight, vaporizing them both. The Doctor slowly recovers from his paralysis; Val tries defending herself by saying she knew it was Sky. The passengers wait for the rescue vehicle in a haunted silence. When the rescue bus finally comes for them, the Doctor realizes that no one knew the name of the hostess.
Back at the spa, the Doctor mournfully reunites with Donna. After they converse about what happened on the bus, Donna prompts the Doctor to tell the Leisure Palace Company to leave Midnight; the entity may still be alive or there may be more than one of them out there. Donna can’t fathom what the Doctor would be like without a voice. The Doctor tells her, “Molto bene”, with a smile. Donna copies him. Disturbed, the Doctor tells Donna not to do that, then looks away, clearly still haunted.