I’d love it if you’d explain how Midnight is actually about rape! I’ve never heard that interpretation before, and it sounds really fascinating.
It’s one of those “once you see it, you CANNOT UNSEE IT” things. The major connection leading into it is that New Who often uses telepathy as a G-rated metaphor for sex. It’s most obvious in Girl in the Fireplace, of course; I seem to recall once hearing that even the cast and crew casually referred to the Doctor digging through Reinette’s memories as “the mind sex scene.” But even when it’s less blatant, there’s still a recurring theme that the contents of your own head are the most precious and intimate part of you, and having that tampered with is one of the most horrifying violations imaginable. (Moffat carries that theme still further, into “your perceptions and memories are so crucial that they are actually what determine reality,” but that also shifts the source of the horror somewhat: his monsters don’t just fuck with your head, they distort the very nature of what’s real by doing so, and the reality distortion ends up taking top priority on the “oh fuck no” list.) And s4, in particular, plays up the skin-crawling wrongness of having Something Else (or Someone Else) rummaging about in your head over and over and over.
But, okay, that doesn’t mean episodes like Forest of the Dead are actually about rape, though they’re darkly fascinating when viewed with that subtext in mind. Midnight, though… oh man, Midnight. I’m not going to lie, Tennant’s acting is one of the biggest reasons I cannot unsee it—his face when the thing is possessing him, every inch of his body language when it releases him, “it’s gone it’s gone it’s gone it’s gone,” the understated but painfully obvious trauma afterwards. It’s one of the few episodes where the Doctor walks away traumatized by what just happened, and AFAIK the only one where he’s incredibly shaken up over something that happened TO HIM, not some action he feels guilty for or something that happened to a person he feels responsible for. (‘42’ is a possible other contender—and again with the things that crawl into your head—but it’s arguable that what terrified him there wasn’t the homicidal sun burning up his mind from the inside, it was the prospect of harming the people around him while he wasn’t himself.) It’s… well, it’s the only episode that sticks the Doctor squarely in the victim role, on which more in a second.
And the other thing is that there are two huge central focal points to the horror in Midnight: the thing that gets inside you and steals your voice, and the way ordinary humans turn into a pack of rabid hyenas and start eating their own when they’re scared and under pressure and don’t know how to deal with an invisible threat. Neither of those things are… exactly conducive to a “yeah the rapey subtext is interesting but it’s completely irrelevant to the main plot of the episode” line of reasoning. The whole thing is about vulnerability, blame, fear of the menacing unknown, the human loathing of powerlessness, words, who controls the discourse.
A few things that jumped out at me once I was in “cannot unsee” mode:
- We never do find out much about the monster, but it doesn’t pick its targets at random. It unfailingly seeks out the most vulnerable person in the room. Sky was the most afraid of it, so it latched onto her first. The Doctor, trying to flatter himself that he’s in some sort of control of the situation, wonders whether it’s started copying him exclusively because it wants the cleverest voice in the room, but even he doubts that. The truth is, if you watch the scene closely, it doesn’t stop mimicking everyone else and focus in on the Doctor until the precise moment when everyone else has turned against him. At which point it plays on his vulnerability to convince them that since he’s the one being attacked, he’s the unclean one and all this unpleasantness will be over if they just cast him out.
- The first line of the episode is “I said, NO.” The last line is “No, don’t do that. Really, don’t. Don’t.” Coincidence, probably. Ditto the fact of the single speech with suggestive undertones (“…and then you came—bodies so hot, with blood, and pain…”) being forced out unwillingly from the Doctor’s lips. And the gratuitous Goblin Market quotes, which sound creepily sexual even before you remember the REST of the poem.
- Subtext or no, the thing that really appears to freak the Doctor out about this incident is being stuck in the victim role. He’s not just taking his lumps in the course of saving the day (“
For your sake I have braved the glen / And had to do with goblin merchant-men”); in fact he’s been rudely booted out of the role of saving the day, and is stuck powerless, voiceless, motionless, no plan up his sleeve, having terrible things done to him and just wishing to still be alive when it’s over. And he struggles against it, afterwards: in the context of the wider series, “The hostess, what was her name?” isn’t just a way to honor the person who ultimately saved his ass, it’s an attempt to add another name to the list of people whose deaths he feels guiltily responsible for. Responsibility is a kind of power, and it’s the exact kind that was wrested away from him when he tried to assert it in this episode. You’re not responsible for things you had no control over. (And ahaha let’s not even get started on Ten’s issues around THAT, or we’ll be here all night.)
- Really though, this is just the rest of the episode completely failing to contradict my gut reaction to Tennant’s FACE, which was “whoa—holy fuck, Ten’s getting mind-raped and it ain’t even subtle.” Every time I go “Am I wrong?”, the rest of the episode goes “No, you’re really, really not.”
(Edit: Oh fuck you Tumblr stop eating my line breaks. This isn’t even funny anymore.)