This week, I’ve been writing the proposal for my honours project. Unfortunately, sitting in a library for multiple hours a day doesn’t make for an exciting blog post. So I thought I’d do another mini-case study inspired by my research like I did with Shrek Swamp Sim, where I talked about Freud’s concept of the uncanny. So today, I will discuss the Other, abjection and doppelgangers and how they relate to my favourite episode of Doctor Who, Midnight.
Midnight aired in 2008, at the height of the David Tennent era. Although it seems like a simple bottle episode on paper, it’s a perfectly paced little horror drama.
A sci-fi tour bus filled with a group of tourists travelling across a planet inhospitable to life has a breakdown. As they wait for rescue, they hear a knock at the door. And while each tourist reacts to this impossible threat in a way fitting their character, the lights go out. In the darkness, whatever was outside seeks out the weakest in the group and possesses them. Unfortunately, the victim, Skye, was a bit of a loner and outsider, so she was already slightly mistrusted by the group.
Now, what does the possessed victim do? Does she start levitating and screaming in tongues? Does her neck snap round and projectile vomit? Nope, she merely copies what people say, just like that irritating game children play to annoy their friends. Already my uncanny sense is tingling with the connections to innocence and childhood but let’s not go there. Let’s talk about the Other instead. Everything that we consider to be in our image, be that physically, mentally or socially, is referred to as the Self. By contrast, everything we believe to be different, opposite and deviant from our self-image we call the Other. The alien entity in Midnight is a manifestation of the Other; what it is exactly we don’t know, but all the characters and audience know that it’s terrifyingly different and strange.
What happens next is the possessed Skye starts speaking precisely in time with the other characters. At this point is some of the characters turn from fear to violence. Going by these reactions, a definite theme of this episode is xenophobia, which is often connected to the idea of otherness. By speaking in time with the other characters, the lines between the Self and Other become blurred. This blurring and breakdown of the distinction between Self and Other is called abjection. Blood, pus and vomit are very primal examples of things that can cause an abject reaction since they remind us of our mortality and that we are not so different from a corpse that we think of as Other.
Skye has essentially become a doppelganger of all the characters, a trope that is well suited for exploring abjection. In Twin Peaks, a doppelganger of the mild-mannered and kind FBI Agent Dale Cooper goes on a rampage, destroying Cooper’s life while he is trapped in the limbo-like black lodge. This scenario is uncomfortable for an audience to watch as they may have grown attached to Cooper and now witness as his double commits horrible crimes. This is a very literal but very effective visual depiction of abjection.
The rest of the episode deals with the human reaction to abjection as the characters debate killing Skye. In a short 45 minute duration, this episode uses the Other and abjection to explore xenophobia, racism, fear of the unknown and childhood innocence, all tied up in a nice bow of cosmic existential horror. No wonder 10-year-old me didn’t sleep for days after.