Eight Angry Passengers

What an interesting little episode “Midnight” turned out to be – a fascinating contrast to the two-parter preceding it. It was as if RTD had the very experience SM had last year with “Blink” – the constraints of a low-budget filler episode released his creativity, which worked best without adulation and limitless resources as his disposal.

DT has said that “Twelve Angry Men” is his favourite movie, and that suggests that whilst he’s brilliant on camera, the limitations and opportunities of theatre stretch him most rewardingly. This was an unusually theatrical episode, almost devoid of special effects and far more claustrophobic than anything usually seen in TV drama. All we had was this bunch of people and a formless threat.

Ironically, SM is the one who generally goes on the most about the power of an unseen menace being worth a truckload of special effects, but RTD illustrates that more graphically here than it was shown by the recent two-parter. Many stories have claimed to take the Doctor out of his comfort zone and he was certainly out of his element here – no TARDIS, no companion and no obvious claim to moral authority.

The third of these seemed to take a long time to sink in. After all, it doesn’t come naturally to Time Lords. The Doctor’s motto is generally “Never apologise, never explain” – a risky strategy without a human interpreter/enabler who knows him well. One of the most painful things about the story was his gradually dawning awareness that he’d given these people no obvious reason to accept him as an insider.

Of course, most of the time that’s the last thing he wants to be. He glories in his separateness, his superiority and his mystery. All things SM played up to, in FOTD. Why should he tell anybody his name? Why should he lower himself to listen to their in-flight entertainment when he finds it irksome, and why shouldn’t he wander into the cabin and poke around in the works?

That’s why we love to watch him but here they turned out to be real disadvantages – because he hadn’t got his companion to build bridges and gently nudge him away from his anti-social tendencies.

There’s a great innocence about the Doctor because, for all his horrific experiences, people have usually been around to protect him. Here, he dug himself a pit and fell right into it. The last thing that ever occurred to him was that the people around him, who frankly irritated him, would hold his very life in their hands. It raised some interesting questions about the way groups under pressure regard the outsider and how much the individual might reasonably be expected to conform to type, or at least offer an explanation.

I suspect there weren’t any particularly clear intentions to fit this particular episode into the narrative arc of the series, but one thing it definitely illustrated was how difficult the Doctor finds it to operate alone, and how alien many of his assumptions about human behaviour are – and by inference, I found myself wondering what the reality might be behind some of the other species he dismisses with a wave of the hand and a few sweeping generalisations.

Coming back to Twelve Angry Men, here was another examination of the shifting allegiances of a group under pressure and how dangerous and irrational they can be. Kudos to RTD for taking on such a tricky topic and making it into thought-provoking drama – not to mention all the actors involved, who were uniformly brilliant.

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3 thoughts on “Eight Angry Passengers

  1. Yes. This is exactly why that episode worked, and why it was far superior to Moffat’s botched two-parter. We can nitpick details to death, as some people on my flist have done, but in the essential elements it worked really, really well. Fear of the unknown. Mob rule in the absence of an acknowledged leader. The Doctor rather more powerless than usual – and, unusually for him, faced with people who refused to accept his authority and viewed him with considerable suspicion. You’re right that Donna’s absence (or the absence of any companion) made this easier.
    The real monsters in this were, of course, the humans – which is why the identity and motivation of the alien almost doesn’t matter. The humans weren’t interested in finding out what it was, what it wanted, how to help it. They just wanted it dead, regardless.
    As you said, brilliant acting all round, and RTD definitely showed Moffat how to do it. I’m really, really regretting the coming handover.

  2. It didn’t seem to me that the Doctor was irritated by the other passengers; he was the one to initiate all the talking, after all, but being who he is and companion-less to boot certainly shot him in the foot here. Reason, with a dab of charm, does you absolutely no good when you’re facing a mob, no matter how small. And there is an aspect to which he did it to himself; he says that they shouldn’t interact with it, they should stay away, but he just can’t. stop. talking. He can’t stop trying to figure out what it wants and he plays right into its hands.

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