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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Doctor Who and Horror


Now that it is a good ways into October, I have begun my October-y ritual of Shlocktoberfest: a spat of horror films that I like to revist, usually involving one of the three (well four) Evil Dead movies, Re-Animator, Event Horizon, and a joyous slew of schlock goodness streaming via Netflix.

But really, sometimes there are good horror things closer to home:

Doctor Who.

And horror.

Together.

Yeah.

I'll admit that I was too young to ever watch the old-school Doctors, and instead was introduced to The Doctor via David Tennant. They say you never forget your first Doctor. You also rarely forget something that scares the ever loving crap out of you. For many people new to Doctor Who, that started with the episode "Blink," which introduced the creepy garden angel statues that move and try to kill you when you're not looking at them. Creepy, yes. Faintly. I had an ongoing debate with a friend over why I've skipped this episode multiple times in re-re-rewatching Doctor Who episodes.

It's not scary to me. (And as a fan of the show, it mostly lacks the presence of the main characters). Granted, I pretty much always fall asleep at some point during The Exorcist and The Omen, so perhaps my scare-o-meter is a bit skewed. However, the episode "Midnight" is brilliant psychological horror. Allons-y to horror!

Basically The Doctor, our intrepid hero Time Lord (a very human looking, two-hearted, 900-year-old alien), decides that he wants to go on a trip in a train upon the planet Midnight, which revolves around a star with deadly X-tonic rays and is made of diamonds. While on the train we are introduced to the passengers: the usual suburban father, overbearing mother, and emo-goth son out on holiday, the overly proper put-upon hostess, the curmudgeonly professor and his shy, smart, and often denigrated student assistant, and the irritable business woman just come out of a serious relationship.

But when the train malfunctions, the drivers are killed as the pilot's cabin is mysteriously ripped off the train, and something starts knocking on the door, this episode gets dark. The business woman starts screaming. Then she looks as if she becomes possessed by something alien, predatory, and eager to feed. As the business woman begins to repeat exactly what every passenger is saying, then speaks exactly in unison, the everyday passengers go from happy normals on holiday to frightened potential murderers. 

What the episode does right:

·        Good horror writers know that the most terrifying thing is not the monster itself, but rather people's reactions to the monster. Better horror writers leave the monster unseen and wispy, because time and time again you find that nothing is so scary as what your imagination paints as your own personal scary-thing. My imagined monster-under-the-bed is different than yours.
·        People who are frightened are way scarier than monsters. It's why the old school Twilight episode "The Monsters of Maple Street" still resonates even now.
·        A broad cast of normal, everyday characters plunged into making choices based on their fear.
·        A small, inescapable space. Like the Antarctic base in The Thing, the spaceship in Event Horizon, or the remote cabin in the woods in well, everything horror. In the case of this episode it's a space-train...and you can't go outside. And something has come inside.

What is "meh" about the episode:

·        Because this is Doctor Who it has to end on an up note at least a little. It could've gone farther, scarier.
·        It was wrapped up a little too nicely, involving one character sacrificing herself for the greater good when throughout the entire thing she was rather an antagonist. It didn't ring true.

So horror fans...ever come across something creepy and scary in something not normally branded as horror?

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