Doctor Who #760: 42

"Anytime you want to unerve me, feel free."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 19 2007.

IN THIS ONE... 42 minutes before a spaceship falls into the sun, pub quiz locks, and sun zombies.

REVIEW: No one can accuse 42 of being too original. It's an entry into the real time action genre, which 24 popularize, and on paper, it couldn't have a more standard Doctor Who sci-fi plot. It's a lot of running around on a spaceship while being chased by a creature that can kill or possess, and oh look, it was the victim all along, so even the twist isn't anything new. Chris Chibnall basically remakes The Ark in Space with The Impossible Planet as a template (cut off from TARDIS, check; people floating in space, check; a huge impossible star as a backdrop, check). Deadlock seals are now everywhere, and catch phrases ("Burn with me") are suffering from terminal diminishing returns. But that real time suspense element makes the episode rise above its ordinariness. For once, there's a reason for all the running, shouting and Murray Gold's driving beats. There's a ticking clock for almost the entire episode, a real sense of urgency. It flies by fast, the characters are breathless and desperate, the panic feels very real, especially Martha's. So as technical exercise, it was worth the trouble it must've given the director and editor (because yes, you can set your watch to it).

The ghost of Rose was finally exorcised in The Lazarus Experiment and Martha earns her superphone and TARDIS key in this episode, and I think Freema Agyeman does too. The stand-out scene here is in the escape pod, dropping towards a sun. The panic, making us feel the claustrophobia, and then the touching conversation between her and Orin, the call to her mother. But there's also the fatigue obvious on her face when it's all over. Her first time-tossed kiss, almost desperate, using Orin as a proxy, a comfort more than anything. Her bedside manner when the Doctor's life is threatened. The fun bits where a pub quiz is basically the key to getting where they need to go (ridiculous, but Doctor Who if often best when it uses the mundane in a fantastical setting, or vice-versa), calling her lifeline, the tension inherent in her mother having to plug her mouse in. And hey, in the end, it's Martha that makes the play that saves the ship. Not to say the Doctor doesn't get some good moments as well, but far fewer. It's mostly just science-actiony stuff we've seen countless times, like reaching for buttons while dangling from something, etc. The key moment (pun not intended) is when, after admitting to feeling scared while the starstuff was inside him, he completely avoids the issue with Martha. It's clear from her reaction she doesn't think much of his evasive maneuvers, but then he pulls out the TARDIS key to distract her and it works. Martha may be the new companion, but he's not quite ready to open to her.

Otherwise, 42 has a good cast. All the characters have a reality to them, and I like the Captain's no-nonsense attitude, doesn't want false hope, and so on. The effects are quite nice, and while the steamy, industrial ship interiors are just some old factory (a standard location in New Who), they do make it look claustrophobic, and Orin even makes comments about its "cheapness". And of course, there's the link back to the series' greater arc, with Saxon's people tapping Francine Jones' phone on election day. There's a bit of creep factor to this, and while Francine obviously invited them in for her daughter's sake, she doesn't seem to think much of Mr. Saxon's politics. She may have been convinced to do something against her better nature for what she thinks is a greater good.

SECOND OPINIONS: My original review, 24, 52, 42... Who has all the same ideas?, discusses how Doctor Who's always lifted ideas from other media, and how 42 fits in the "variety show" aspect of Doctor Who.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - I'm not gonna sit here and tell you this is must-see Who, but it's an exciting, Martha-centric episode, and that's good enough for me.



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