So after a break for last week for Eurovision, Doctor Who was back this week with their take on a real-time episode, 42, where the Doctor has a mere 42 minutes to save a spaceship from crashing into a star.
Behind the Sofa, the Doctor Who review blog site posted an item last week entitled 42 seconds, pointing out that thanks to the TARDIS the plot should really be very simple, so as always, they need a plot device early on to take the TARDIS out of play. Indeed when the time travellers first meet the spaceship crew the Doctor heads for the TARDIS before discovering that he cannot re-enter the area where the ship has landed due to the heat – heat which will only increase as the spaceship heads closer to the star. Whatever happens, they have to get the ship away from the star.
To add to the crisis, the main engines have been sabotaged, and the ship has been put into lockdown, closing and sealing all the thirty odd doors along the length of the ship to the controls that might save them. The doors all have deadlock seals rendering the sonic screwdriver unable to help, and alongside this the ship has a security system that asks security questions worthy of a pub quiz in order to open each door.
Just to cap it all off, some strange creature is infecting the crew and killing other crew members.
Although the ship in crisis plot has been done before, the episode was generally entertaining, and maintained the tension well. This was definitely from the grungy industrial school of spaceship design too. You knew the crew were dodgy right from the first moment you meet them when they ask whether the Doctor and Martha are police. It transpires later on that they have been illegally scooping fuel from the star, without realising that the star is actually alive – which is now protecting itself, trying to regain the part of itself that has been scooped in to the ship to use as fuel.
The episode marks a return to the directors chair for longtime Doctor Who director Graeme Harper, who keeps the episode ticking along at quite a pace. Perhaps the only point where it seems forced is the moment where the Doctor, who is fighting being taken over by the sun creature, asks Martha to use a stasis machine to save him by freezing him to -200 for ten seconds. Once he’s explained this there is a moment where rather than getting on and saving him, Martha has a speech, which gives the bad guys just enough time to turn off the power, and leave the Doctor with seemingly no hope.
Alongside all of this, we also saw some more development of the Mr Saxon story. In the Lazarus Experiment we saw Martha’s Mum being warned about the Doctor by a strange man, who we find out at the end of the episode is working for Mr Saxon. During the course of 42, Martha uses her newly enhanced mobile phone to phone home three times, and we see more strange people in the background apparently trying to trace the call. At the end of the episode it is again revealed that they work for Mr Saxon, and in a follow on from the Vote Saxon posters that have been around, it is election day too. Whether we’ll see more of this plot-line building over the next few weeks I don’t know, but somehow from what I know of the plot of the much anticipated Human Nature next week, I’m not sure it will quite fit in.
Although there have been episodes I haven’t liked, so far this season there haven’t been any I’ve really loathed. I had question marks over 42 in my mind, party because of the absolutely dreadful Chris Chibnall Torchwood episode Countrycide. However, I’m glad to say I was pleasantly surprised. Hopefully the enjoyment and appreciation will continue with the later episodes as we have some pretty eagerly anticipated episodes coming up, particularly Human Nature next week. Quite how the story will work putting the tenth Doctor into a story originally built around the scheming seventh Doctor of the New Adventures – hopefully Paul Cornell will have managed to retain the elements of the story that make it so popular with long time fans, whilst making it accessible and believable as a tenth Doctor TV story. Interestingly, the eBook version of Human Nature on the BBC website is currently disabled, hopefully it will be back following the showing of the episode, as it will certainly be an interesting exercise to compare the two stories and see where things have changed.