The genius of this script lies in its simplicity. It’s a group of people in a room talking for forty-five minutes. That’s really it. The simplicity of the script facilitates the intimate study of these people that made up this story. What happens when you put a group of ordinary people in a locked room with an unseen monster? That was the question this phenomenal script set out to explore. A disturbing study in group psychology, this captivating story presented us with a grisly vision of humanity in stark contrast to Doctor Who’s usual gushing celebration of our species, showing us how a group of ordinary humans can turn into a lynch mob. When the ship first stops, we initially see the Doctor trying to reason with the confused group as it starts to become hysterical—and successfully manages to calm them all down… at first. When the creature makes an appearance, thudding on the exterior of the ship and eventually taking over Sky, the Doctor increasingly loses his control and hold over the group as their fear drives them to become ever more hysterical. The Doctor struggles to reason with them and keep them calm. Their fear took them beyond reason, however: the critical moment came when the Hostess suggested, “We should throw her out.” At that point, the group had gone beyond the point of no return, and the Doctor’s vain pleading was not going to prevent the inevitable lynching; their fear was too powerful.
I’ll say it again, this is a truly disquieting and compelling study in group psychology. The group’s increasing fear and hysteria took them so beyond reason and inhibition and sensibility such that they were driven to almost commit murder, almost two murders. The sight of the helpless Doctor being dragged by Biff and Professor Hobbes through the shuttle, egged on by others—particularly that odious Val woman screeching “Throw him out!”—was exceptionally powerful and chilling. The group, in their fear, had talked themselves into a frenzy, feeding off each other, bringing themselves to the point that they resolved to do something none of them would normally ever contemplate. They turned on the Doctor when he tried to persuade them out of their murderous frenzy. Here we see what fear makes humans do when they’re scared and in a group. Even Jethro, easily the most reasonable and level-headed of the lot, in the end succumbed to the collective hysteria of the group, almost committing murder alongside his father and Professor Hobbes. Only the Hostess’s heroic act of self-sacrifice stopped them from throwing the Doctor to his death, and it was obvious the group were horrified to realise what they’d almost done. Who was the real monster here?
This script relied on a cast of convincing, realistic, fleshed-out characters, and that’s what we saw: seven well-developed, relatable characters whose dialogue made for a chillingly realistic playing-out of events. We were familiarised effectively with all of them at the beginning of the story: charming, if flawed, but essentially ordinary people. We saw them transform into monsters over the course the episode. It was all the more disturbing, watching these people become frenzied murderous animals, when you remembered how charming and quaint and normal they all seemed at the beginning. The acting all-round was just superlative, the passion and the fear and the hysteria of the characters was all eerily believable. Lesley Sharp as Sky was particularly captivating, her facial acting as she played Sky possessed by the creature genuinely chilling. David Tennant, needless to say, was magnificent—easily one of his best performances yet.
I think this is probably Russell T Davies’ best script. It’s certainly his tightest. It’s powerful, compelling and unnerving. It’s one of the few times Doctor Who in the revived series (or at all, really) has ventured beyond its standard formulas and into genuinely provocative, creative territory. It’s one of the most bracing and thought-provoking stories Doctor Who has ever done. Who would have thought such a simple concept could be realised so powerfully? Its simplicity is its genius: it’s simply humanity laid bare, naked, in all our ugly glory. Warts and all.