|Production Code||Series Three Episode Seven|
|Dates||May 19 2007|
With David Tennant,
Written by Chris Chibnall Directed by Graeme Harper
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.
|Synopsis: The S.S. Pentallian is hurtling towards a sun and the Doctor has only 42 minutes to stop it.|
Hot Ship - Over and Over by John Nor 9/6/07
As I described in my review of Gridlock, as Doctor Who stories can be set anytime, anywhere, so Russell T guards against the show feeling incoherent by having us visit certain times and places again. And so with this episode we return to the era of human future history last explored in The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit: the "used universe" of the 42nd Century.
This episode shares some of the cinematic influences of that two-parter (e.g. the Alien films) but the clean, blue lines of the escape pod demonstrate that Soderbergh's version of the film Solaris is also an inspiration. (The idea of a sentient celestial body is also similar to Solaris.)
The escape pod sequence, although partly inspired by Soderbergh with the image of Martha receding into the distance, has another wonderful accompanying image of the Doctor silently mouthing "I'll save you!". This must be the most poetic sequence of images since Nu-Who appeared in March 2005. (Well done Graeme Harper.)
Just as the 50 million and first Century is sometimes portrayed as whimsical (as I describe in my review of Gridlock), there is a harder aspect to the stories set in the 42nd Century and to the science depicted (e.g. with this episode illustrating -273 degrees C).
The stirring theme that I liked so much in Gridlock is back here to underscore the peril in the story as the Doctor strives to save Martha. This episode looks great and sounds great. Chris Chibnall has harsh critics for his scripts for Torchwood, but I thought Cyberwoman and End of Days were great fun, and this Doctor Who episode is a slightly more serious though similarly fast-paced story.
The ongoing arc storylines seem tightly woven this year, with the appearance of Elize Du Toit as Sinister Woman tracking the Doctor for Mister Saxon, after the previous episode began this idea of Saxon's interest in the Doctor. Martha is finally accepted by the Doctor here, with his surprising admission that he is scared showing he is finally able to speak to her without evasion.
The season continues with another excellent episode.
A Review by Paul Williams 18/7/07
For the first time ever I could not watch a Doctor Who story through to its conclusion. Ten minutes before the end I had changed channels, remembering the few positive aspects of stories such as Timelash, Time and the Rani and Horns of Nimon. 42 was postponed for a week to allow for the Eurovision song contest. Quite frankly, the worst entry in that tournament would attract more points than this.
To begin with, the science seems flawed. No ship could be that close to the sun and have any chance of survival. It was established in The Moonbase that once you'd entered the gravitational pull of the sun there is no escape. Add on a spaceship that none of the crew could control or understand, an over-extensive security password system that asked riddiculous questions for the time and age (this diversion allowed Martha to phone home in the same annoying way that Rose did), and the obligatory alien possesion. When dialogue such as "it's picking us off one by one" can be predicted, there are serious problems and we have reverted quickly back to running around corridors. These shorter stories should not need padding.
On the rare occasions when the ninth and tenth Doctor have left Earth, they have usually landed on spaceships or planets that resemble or are modelled on Earth. We've seen spaceships under threat before; The Girl in the Fireplace for instance dealt well with the stereotype, and should not be here again. Amateur copies of Alien are not the way forward for Doctor Who. It needs orginality, not men with shining eyes and space helmets or isolated human groups under pressure from an unseen monster.
If Doctor Who is to survive it needs to avoid alienating the casual viewer. Seven people with limited or no knowledge of the programme, but a good understanding of science fiction, watched this with me. All agreed it was not worth waiting for the end; in fact, they wanted it switched earlier.
By Numbers by Mike Morris 16/10/07
One of the things that people are fondest of saying about Doctor Who is that it isn't science fiction. In a way it's a meaningless statement, almost as meaningless as the phrase "science fiction" itself. What we mean, probably, is that it isn't "hard" science fiction, or maybe that it's not space opera. Personally I don't know where science fiction stops or starts, why Phillip Pullman - say - isn't thought of as science fiction, or why - for that matter - CSI Miami isn't either. Still, blurry as the edges might seem to be, there's no getting away from the fact that 42 is squarely, resplendently, proudly, a sci-fi story.
As for whether it's a good story - hmm, well, sort of, maybe. It's hard to know what to say about it, really. It fulfils the primary criteria of being entertaining, in a lots-of-people-running-about sort of way, and there's an adversary who's properly threatening. While the thing-in-the-helmet probably isn't as scary as it really should be - of which more later - at least we're back in the realm of things that are actually there, and I'd lay odds that any ten year-old would find this about five times as frightening as the CompuBlob from The Lazarus Experiment.
The story's central gimmick is that it's set in real-time (although that actually breaks down slightly in the middle of the story), following the 42 minutes before a spaceship plunges into the sun. Now, leaving aside the obvious theft from 24, a programme which I find about as entertaining as watching a sink back up, there's definitely the core of an idea here. It was a surprise that - according to the Confidential episode - the addition of this element happened relatively late, as it's hard to really see what the story had going for it without this. Like The Lazarus Experiment, it's a dreadfully thin plot and while The Lazarus Experiment does at least have weighty concerns at its heart, 42 is primarily about people trying to open a bunch of doors by solving quiz questions. This is the sort of thing that could only possibly work with a ticking clock in the corner; without it, I fail to see why the thing was commissioned at all.
(Course, it's entirely possible that Rusty was telling porkies. I wouldn't put it past him.)
If there's a problem then, it's that the tension doesn't really work as well as it should. Graeme Harper is generally listed in my book as He Who Can Do No Wrong, but his style has obviously altered since the days of The Caves of Androzani. Then, he could do tension better than anyone else - witness the almost unbearable cliffhanger to Part One of Caves - but his Nu-Who stories have been much more action-orientated (and, before now, to no less effect, I might add). A shame, since what this really needed to be truly memorable was some of that cross-fading and atmospheric work that we see in Caves and Revelation of the Daleks, but what we get is too frenetic. Or, to put it another way, the story needs to be directed like Alien, but instead it's more like Aliens. The clock-ticking just doesn't seem as doom-laden as it should and as a result it feels like the tacked-on gimmick that it is. To compare it to its obvious progenitor, 24, it's far too conventional; 24's use of split screens builds a genuine sense of time going by that's absent from this.
Apparently, That One With The Devil In It from last year was an influence for this story's look. I like that. I like the fact that Doctor Who is returning to different time periods and giving each a distinct look, that the year 5 billion has a tweeness as consistent as the wire-strewn look of the 51st century or the clunk-click utilitarianism of... erm... whenever this one's set (the time period's not explicitly stated, but the fact that I just slotted it in with That One With The Devil In It shows how good Doctor Who is becoming at this sort of thing). It's a mistake, though, to pretend that the utilitarian look is something that Doctor Who invented or something even remotely new.
On the plus side: blimey, hasn't Tennant been good this year? His performance here is pitched in sympathy with the rest of the show, i.e. frenetic with a capital "frenetic", but he doesn't half convey the tension well. His scenes when fighting possession are beautifully played, particularly the wonderful moment of vulnerability when he tells Martha "I'm so scared" - one of the nicest moments of the third series, that, which almost justifies the rest of the episode. It's probably worth mentioning that, although we - as fans - are used to the idea of the Doctor becoming possessed, it's not actually happened in the new series and does provide a who's-going-to-save-us-now jolt.
Martha also does well. The scenes with her mother do actually work, and at this point her relationship with the Doctor is achieved very nicely; look at the final scene, when the Doctor pulls away from any meaningful conversation with his characteristic cheerfulness and Martha recognises it for the rejection it so clearly is. In fact, the last ten or fifteen minutes or so do genuinely work very well - perhaps because, at this point, the frenzied edge to the whole thing has been earned.
The problem, really, is that it takes too long to get there. Early on, there's so much shouting and running around that we don't actually get to grips with the characters of any of the crew, with the possible exception of Yer One From Eastenders. And there are some truly bizarre moments of characterisation: in the middle of the emergency situation a crew member starts to bitch about her boss and then turns off the communicator when she knows there's a killer stalking the crew. It's actually stated at one point that the crew are being picked off one by one, but it's not as if this isn't something we've seen a thousand times before. And as for the revelation about where the threat is coming from... predictable isn't in it.
Ultimately, I enjoyed 42 in an absent sort of way. It doesn't annoy me as much as The Lazarus Experiment does, although it's equally generic and I'd entirely understand someone disliking it far more than I do. It's clearly filler, and - irritatingly - has no desire to be anything but filler. More annoyingly still, it's pitched at "science fiction fans" in a way I've no desire for Doctor Who to be, with cartoonish derivations of traits like "gritty" and "edgy"; words that could only be used in connection with 42 by by SF-geeks who think The Matrix is a philosophical series of films about the very nature of existence, barely watch anything that isn't set in space, and certainly never watch anything that's truly gritty. 42 isn't gritty or edgy, it's silly and unimaginative. The season cranked it up a notch from this point onwards, thankfully, which sadly means that 42 stands out as the one from Series 3 which you really didn't need to watch at all.
A Review by Graham Pilato 30/1/08
Somewhere between a good episode of 24 and a terrible hour of haste to get the pigsty house pretty for the fat and critical neighbors suddenly coming over, this episode exists as a rather strong piece of sensationalist Doctor Who sci-fi thriller. Everyone can relate to the need for haste stuff, but the sudden urgency for the exorcism of energy beings and the trivial pursuit of doom is a little extraordinary. And it comes off here as a kind of filler episode of Doctor Who-y stuff. It's not bad at all -- it's actually quite exciting -- and wonderfully not embarrassingly so at all, despite all the inadequate aspirations to be 24 or perhaps a TV version of the last act of Danny Boyle's recent film, "Sunshine". But this is a case of a show that was clearly designed to bolt and shock and run, and it just comes off as being a bit like the race to get the house cleaned.
It's just so familiar and so expected, despite such a pace of things falling apart just so fast. Thankfully, the music is thoroughly convinced by the plot, because I think half of the swallowing of this wild pill is its powerful music. Far more than is usual for Doctor Who, though it does happen often enough, the exciting music and expertly paced and pitched camera work here just plain keep one gripped as can be. The wild plot aside, David Tennant's very affecting acting aside and some truly gorgeous CGI work this time around aside, this one's success is all about the main production team and their efforts.
Though the plot was mad, the meta-gameshow was pretty wonderful early on.
Thanks for the ride, Doctor. Good of you to finally show Martha some real faith and give her a TARDIS key...
It was lovely to see the Doctor admit fear for once. And it would certainly be real fear for such an occasion... It's fearsome stuff for one that expects to have to start killing innocents.
A Review by Joe Ford 10/4/08
After a slight knock with the (still entertaining) Lazarus Experiment, the near-flawless series three gets right back on track with this fantastically energetic and pulse-racing story.
I want to tell you a vaguely embarrassing story. I remember when I was younger I caught the repeat of Revelation of the Daleks on BBC2. I was blown away. Drama seemed to squeeze from every second of the story and the highpoint of the story for me was the end of episode one. Looking back now, it is a bit of a copout to have a statue fall on the Doctor but through my naive young eyes it was seat-wettingly exciting. I can remember (being the loner I was at the time) being so thrilled I spent the evening up in my room re-enacting the scene and (genuinely!) tipping my wardrobe over me for added realism. You might wonder what this has to do with the episode 42? I think there are moments in Doctor Who that just scream out to the excited child in you and demand you to act them out in real life. Ace drowning in the airlock in Battlefield, the Doctor desperately running across the surface of Androzani with bullets at his heels, Leela jumping out of the window to escape Mr Sin. I think I have (like most people) become more cynical and unadventurous in my adult life (I turned 27 recently...) but 42 reminded me of what it felt like to be so excited about a television programmed you want to run around screaming about monsters and saving people from great catastrophes. Poor Simon (who adored this episode), he had to put up with me rushing to the car as if it was going to explode, running around the supermarket looking for the bomb that was going to go off ANY MINUTE and then rushing up the stairs on the way home because the flat was going to take off any minute with dangerous criminals inside! Are these the ravings of a madman? Possibly, but thank you Doctor Who for reminding me how brilliant escapism is. I haven't had so much fun in ages.
Anyway, back to the episode. Wasn't it stylish? Graeme Harper is already well known for his dynamic direction but this episode must have still been something of a challenge. Basically, 42 starts out running and develops into a strong sprint before climaxing in a rocket-fuelled dash. The pace never lets out and, despite a few quiet moments, it maintains its energy throughout. Obviously, the experimental nature of doing an episode in real time is a treat but it forces some strict rules on the story, not allowing it to deviate from the main plot for a second. I can say with some degree of honesty that I haven't watched anything, not even surrounding episodes of Doctor Who, that has managed to packed in so many dramatic scenes or built to such a pulse-racing finale. Voyager (spit spit spit) attempted a very similar episode set on a Maelon ship with B'lanna Torres getting all hot and sweaty but that didn't reach a hundredth of the energy of this episode, hampered by the usual restrictions placed on any Star Trek series that doesn't have the word "nine" in the title.
It surprises me that this comes from the pen of Chris Chibnall because his scripts for Torchwood were hardly works of art. Episodes such as Day One and Cyberwoman strained credulity beyond even my limits, and his story structure and motivations for his characters left me cold. Shocking then that 42 is his tightest script to date, not wasting a single second. I have no date that the science of this episode is a load of science-fiction nonsense that left Ms Sheik (my gorgeous and frighteningly intelligent physics teacher) tutting with disgust but frankly this is all set in the future so let's chuck realism out of the window. Chinaball picks a couple of cliches (real time, disaster movie, race against time) and applies a fresh lick of Doctor Who that spruces them all up, adds a Doctor Who tradition (possession) and presents a dynamic script with lots of exciting scenes for the cast get their teeth into. For instant impression on transmission only Gridlock has impressed me more. His characterisation here knocks spots off of anything he attempted on Torchwood with McDonnell and Riley coming across especially well. Who cares if its plot resembles Planet of Evil? Of which I have no doubt some people will moan about, in the end of the day this feels like a completely different story with one plot similarity.
Billie Piper must be steaming at the ears to see the sort of material Freema Agyeman is getting this year and the sort of stories she is getting to be a part of. The more I see of Martha, the more I like her and after last week's recognition that she and the Doctor make a great pair and should continue travelling together, they are suddenly an iconic pair, like the Steed and Mrs Peel of modern day telly. Martha gets to go on a rollercoaster emotional ride in 42 but it is good to see her getting so involved in the stories and her scenes with Riley, especially those in the escape pod, crackle with feeling. It helps that the script stays the right side of maudlin, but the performances really sell the desperation of the situation. I also love how readily Martha throws herself into danger for the Doctor; no sooner are they out of the TARDIS in 42 and she is thrown into one death-defying situation after another. Even hot and sweaty and with the threat of impending death by sun or emissaries of a sun organism, Martha still rushes to save the Doctor's life and be with him when he is in pain. She's excellent.
Tennant gets to flex his acting muscles this week, as the script manipulates him into the position of a victim. Simon and I exchanged worried glances (completely forgetting these are fictional characters) as the Doctor screams with pain as his mind is invaded and his body temperature taken to extreme levels. When he is suddenly telling Martha that he could kill her at any minute I was so hooked in to this episode an atom bomb could have exploded right next to me and I wouldn't have noticed. Tennant is typically authorative otherwise, exploding across the scene like a firework. In an episode where everybody is acting their little socks off and running about to keep things as fast-paced as possible, Tennant is the most noticeable and the fastest.
The lighting gives 42 some really strong visuals: the blistering heat of the sun highlights many scenes and simple tricks like wafts of steam bleached blood-red help add atmosphere to proceedings. I love the scene in the escape pod, bleached blue but with Martha's face framed in a tangerine orange. Murray Gold's score is especially bombastic this week, some might say intrusive, but an episode that is throwing so much drama at you I feel needs a score that you notice. He certainly got me jumping up and down in my seat like a deranged loon during the episode's climatic moments.
It's worth noting how strong some scenes are in 42. Whereas some previous episodes (especially in series one) might have shied away from 42 seems to thrive and exploit the horror of its situation. There are some lovely gruesome deaths, my favourite being the technician who is throttled to death whilst smoke suggests the blistering of his skin whilst he screams with absolute horror. I suppose in an episode where the stakes are this high you have to show that the pain is very real.
Other points of interest:
Not literate, but damn cool.
Stellar by Greg Long 13/7/08
I am going to do something I rarely do. I am going to praise an episode of the "new" Doctor Who. What is more, I am going to praise an episode that most fans seem to hate, 42. I admit, 42 has its weaknesses. The name itself seems to be a gratuitous and distracting wink at either Douglas Adams or the program 24 or both. There are also quite a few plot holes, but, to be fair, there are far fewer holes than we are used to getting from the new series.
But enough of the weaknesses. 42 has some powerful strengths that more than make up for them. Unusually for a new-series Who story, it actually hangs together in something like an internally consistent manner. At the very least, there aren't the sort of jarringly arbitrary intrusions of mundanity that we have been given in other episodes, such as robots based on Anne Robinson or ocean liners in space. The script does squeeze in a Beatles reference, but it has some justification at least. The characters, too, hang together rather well throughout. They never collapse into camp or act out of character for the sake of a cheap gag. We don't even have to put up with anyone who is evil for the sake of being evil. The regulars are great. Tennant shows once again just how well he can play drama if given a script that allows him to do it and Agyeman demonstrates once again that Martha was the best companion to feature in new Who. It is, admittedly, rather hard to swallow the scene in which Martha is plummeting to her death in a capsule without showing any signs of terror, but given the script that Agyeman was given, it's hard to see what else she could have done.
It is too much to hope that 42 reflects a renewed interest in taking Doctor Who seriously. More likely, 42 was produced in attempt to emulate a genre, that of "realistic sci-fi horror". Even so, it is a exciting, fast-paced adventure about spiraling to certain doom while being hunted by aliens on a spaceship. It feels like Doctor Who and good Doctor Who at that.
A Review by Finn Clark 30/1/10
I remember quite liking 42 on first broadcast. Nothing much wrong with it.
I'd still stand by that latter sentence, oddly enough. It doesn't make actual mistakes as such, apart from casting Michelle Collins. However, I got rather bored on trying to rewatch it this morning, because it also largely fails to be good.
Where to point the finger? How about Chris Chibnall? He's the only 2007 Who writer not to return in 2008, you know, if you don't count The Infinite Quest. (Well, apart from Paul Cornell.) Torchwood-haters were fearing the worst from Chibnall's arrival and it seems they were far more correct than I'd expected. This episode is pretty much what you'd get if Torchwood had a spaceship, being a forgettable pastiche of a specific horror sub-genre. I'm not objecting to the horror elements, by the way. I watch terrible slasher flicks all the time. That's not the problem. My objection is simply that there's almost nothing in the story or characters to hold my attention. I don't really care what happens to the S.S. Pentallion and sometimes I couldn't even tell its crew apart.
No, really. Have you seen the story? Quiz question: who survives? That shouldn't be a mind-bender, surely? After all, it's not as if the story's trying to play on any other level. The only thing stopping it from being a slasher film is the lack of actual slashing, thanks to the fact one shouldn't go around killing people with knives on Saturday evenings on BBC1. I'll even help you answer my question by giving the names of the characters: Kath, Riley, Abi, Dev, Orin, Korwin and Erina. There. That's already more clues than you should need, but you still can't do it, right? That's okay, I can't either. I watched the episode only a few hours ago, yet even I couldn't tell you who made it through to the end. All I know is that they're played by two actors who might as well have been identical twins as far as I was concerned. They look the same, they're played the same, they're dressed in the same grimy industrial aesthetic and of course they're written the same.
In fairness, Chibnall very occasionally tries to do characterisation. I wouldn't go so far as to say he succeeds, but there are one or two moments in this episode in which an incidental character says something that isn't merely functional. Unfortunately these moments tend to be irritating. "I reckon you'll find someone worth believing in." "I think I already did." Gyaaah. Drop dead, why don't you? Then there's the moron who's complaining about being ordered about, despite the fact that she's on a spaceship that's doing a death dive into the sun. Naturally, the speech ends with "kill me now." Guess what happens next? This scene alone should have got its perpetrator barred from ever again writing dialogue for television.
The exception to all this is the regulars. We've got Tennant, Agyeman and a bit of the ongoing story arc in the form of phone calls home to Francine Jones, which are easily the highlight of the episode. All that I loved. Adjoah Andoh is far more watchable than any of the other guest characters and there are sinister foreshadowings for Mr Saxon. Interrupting all the oppressive slasher death for a domestic ding-dong with Mum adds a lot of texture and makes the episode feel far more Whoish. Unfortunately all this was created by Russell T. Davies at the start of the season, so things are looking even grimmer for Chris Chibnall if we focus only on his original story elements.
I like the set-up for the story. It has a strong, simple SF idea at its heart and it's the kind of fairly mindless story that often makes for good horror. That's not an insult, by the way. Horror tends to be almost all in the execution, not the conception. I also like the way it's so specific in its homage, not just trying to "do horror" but knowing exactly which sub-genre it's aiming for.
I also like the aesthetic, which plugs into the "arc welders and engine parts" universe of the 42nd century that we previously saw in The Satan Pit. The Doctor's spacesuit is even the same as the one they used in that earlier story. Admittedly, that in itself isn't proof of anything, but it was apparently the production team's intention for these stories to share the same era. The 42nd century's scary. I liked the spaceship's exterior design and I particularly appreciated the clunky low-tech handle for remagnetising the hull and retrieving the escape pod. The only problem with all this is that if you're not careful, everything can tend to look samey. The Satan Pit had lots of ethnic diversity in its cast and lots of other pointers to help the audience keep everything straight in their heads. This, not so much. The crew of the S.S. Pentallion are dirty, grumpy, anonymous and mostly Caucasian. I only remember Michelle Collins (in a bad way) and that tough bald guy who only gets a couple of scenes. They should have given him more to do.
Obviously, Freeman and Adjoah are black though, so it would be silly to accuse this episode of being lily-white. I liked all the regulars here, with my favourite moment being Tennant's "stay away from me". Well, actually that's not true. The best parts of the episode are obviously Martha's phone calls home, but I was taking that as read. Incidentally, I admired Freema's way of telling us information we already know, in this case the Doctor's magical phone upgrade. She's his eternally astonished Watson, isn't she?
Michelle Collins is poor. I quite liked her at first and was wondering why everyone's been so down on her. She's charmless and she looks like an old boot, so at least that fits the part. Unfortunately, she gives a lettuce leaf of a performance, without weight or audience interest. The tragedy is that Chibnall's written her quite a sizeable role, which in the hands of a better actress could have been powerful enough to carry the episode. I actually feel sorry for Chibnall here. It's not his fault that they gave his story's lynchpin role to someone who's not really showing up.
Oh, and dodgy editing sucks her out through the same door twice, the first time quickly and then again in slow motion.
In fairness, I liked this on first transmission. It's the kind of empty but exciting story that might work quite well for many people if you haven't seen it before. However, on a rewatch, it has little to offer. There's running around, but it doesn't mean anything. There's a substitute slasher killer, but he doesn't actually do much killing. There's the real-time concept, but I'd nearly forgotten about that and the only thing which reminded me was the story's title. It's not as if we get any 24-ish split screens or anything. This is a perfectly competent piece of grim SF nonsense which shouts at you for forty-five minutes, then stops. That's pretty much all you need to know, really.
It really is like Torchwood, isn't it?
A Review by Yeaton Clifton 4/7/12
I think that they missed a really good story here. I mean, if they had put more astronomy into it, it would have held more interest. There is no such thing as hitting the surface of a star. What we call the photosphere of the sun is about 1 six thousandth as dense as air. You would experience 6,000 degree temperatures if you were close to the sun, but the only thing that would change when you hit is surface is that you would suddenly not be able to see outside the spaceship. Close to the sun, blinding light takes up a huge area, the heat is strong enough to melt steel and there are deadly X-rays. Whatever it was that happened in 42 that made them able to look at star close up without going blind it took away the real sense that this was a star, which is something that was present in The End of the World. Since nothing particular happens when you enter the star, except that you are surrounded by light, if they had actually entered the star, the story would be a lot more interesting. A discussion of how to keep out X-rays when you are inside the corona of a star would be more interesting than anything that happened in this story.
What does happen in this story has a lot to do with Martha dealing with possibility that she will die, and making phone calls home. This brings back memories of Peri in The Caves of Androzani. The trouble is that I really do not buy this is Martha, who is on the whole more mature and brave than Peri. Second problem is that a companion in terror never sustains a story, and reminding us how many minutes the story took to be completed is unwise if the story drags on, and is not very original. A story that consists of being confined to spaceship where the characters spend much of the time running though corridors is very original - if you have never seen much Doctor Who. Aliens who posses members of the crew and make their eyes glow is also very original - if you have never seen much Star Trek. On the other hand, a plot that revolves around a person realizing that when the broke the law they were really hurting someone and did not know it is not very original. So, what is there in 42, besides corridors?
I admit, I watched this a few times to see I wasn't missing something. Since the author swears he is fan, it is hard to see how he could just retread what has already been done. I mean, it really looks like it was done by someone who just did not know all this stuff has been done on Doctor Who before. I believe it has more story than The Lazarus Experiment, and it isn't terrible. But it is one story in series 3 that is far below the quality of most of the rest, and all it needs is a little more: more science, more interesting characters, or even more creative images. And we do expect more from Doctor Who.
Crash And Burn by Matthew Kresal 9/2/13
When 42 was first broadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel in 2008 here in the US, the TV Guide magazine promoted it as "Doctor Who does 24", or words to that effect. That is, like the Fox thriller series, this was going to be an episode that was to take place in real time. As a premise, it's an interesting one for Doctor Who and, indeed, if there was an episode of the series that it would work for, this could be it. Unfortunately, it's a premise that is far more original than the script itself.
While I can't speak for Chris Chibnall's other writing (be it Torchwood or anything else), his Doctor Who scripts haven't been hugely impressive. Perhaps ironically for someone who can be seen in a 1986 clip featured on the DVD box-set of The Trial of a Time Lord complaining about the quality of that season of the old series, Chibnall contributes one of the weakest scripts for season three. This is an episode full of cardboard characters and, once you look past the real-time plot, this is an episode whose plot is ripped off entirely from Planet of Evil, the fourth Doctor era story made three decades earlier. There is not even an attempt to hide it: there are "infected" characters with glowing eyes and a last minute saving of the spaceship in question just before it crashes into planet/star.
Still, there's always some good to be found. Graham Harper's direction is first rate and full of energy, but even that can't hide the fact that, despite the ticking clock, characters manage to stand around doing very little in a couple of places in the episode. There are also some highly impressive special effects shots, including the shot that closes the opening teaser sequence (which was the longest special effects sequence done for the new series up to that time). These though are cosmetic touches to an otherwise lacking episode.
And what about the real-time plot? Well, there's no particular reason for the whole "42 minutes" business. It doesn't create any further tension than what has already been established by the fact the ship is hurtling towards the star helplessly. It's a ticking clock, yes, but one that doesn't add anything to the story at all. It's a gimmick, in other words.
Ultimately, 42 is a weak episode built around a gimmick. Not even the direction of Graham Harper or indeed the impressive special effects can hide that fact. Thankfully, though, the best of series three (and arguably the new series to date) was just waiting to be broadcast…
Burn... with... me! by Evan Weston 2/4/15
If Jack Bauer ever met the Doctor, I'd have to imagine the result would look something like 42. Chris Chibnall's debut episode is an obvious homage to the hit American television series 24, and though Chibnall's story doesn't quite match Kiefer Sutherland mowing down terrorists with a pistol, 42 gets a lot right. However, all of the elements never seem to coalesce into a satisfying whole, leaving the viewer a bit empty afterwards. Still, it's a mostly successful story.
The best thing about 42, bar none, is the production design. The inside of the S.S. Pentallian is a gorgeous smorgasbord of reds and oranges, swirling around tight corridors with smoke and steam pouring from every orifice of the ship. If the production crew wanted to convey a sense of heat, they did a heck of a job. The interior design of the Pentallian owes a good deal to the base from The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, but 42's iteration is far more compact, adding to the episode's sense of pressure. Really, everything about the design promotes the story's main goal, which is to tell an extremely tight and tense tale. The actors have sweat seeping down their faces almost constantly, and even the villains wear bright red masks to denote how hot the inside of the ship is.
Freema Agyeman turns in her best performance since Smith and Jones as Martha, and while she only gets better from here, this is the start of her character's transformation into something more than just another Rose. Martha is forced to use her smarts to save the day for the first time, and she does it brilliantly and naturally. Agyeman's heartbreak at the realization that she'll never see her family again is palpable and real, and her excitement towards the climax is revitalizing. She's the star of the show. David Tennant is solid as the Doctor, sliding into the leadership role seamlessly. His best moments come near the end, after he's possessed by the sun.
Unfortunately, the rest of the crew isn't nearly as compelling as its obvious parallel from The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit. None of the characters are given nearly enough room to develop, and a few are strictly there for plot purposes. Captain Kath McDonnell is profoundly annoying throughout, played by an angsty Michelle Collins. Her recklessness in the backstory makes it hard to feel sorry for her character, and while her sacrifice and love for her husband is touching, it loses most of its impact because we never see Korwin alive. Riley is the other character 42 really wants to explore, but he ends up reminding you more of Bruno Langley's wretched Adam from The Long Game than anything else. He's at his best when Martha is bouncing off of him, and not the other way around. Abi and Erina are killed off before they can do anything, Ashton is a gruff soldier who ends up a villain - the polar opposite of his counterpart, Mr. Jefferson - and Orin is simply there to help the plot move along. This is probably the most disappointing aspect of 42, along with its weak environmental message (more social grandstanding from Doctor Who writers, yippee).
However, the story itself does mostly achieve the tightness it desires, and it's really fun. Chibnall makes a great decision to have the Doctor and Martha arrive via distress signal, right in the middle of the action. While this does hurt Captain McDonnell's character, it helps work the plot into high-gear right from the get-go and establish a pressurized mood. Korwin makes for an effective monster, uttering his creepy "burn with me" catchphrase as he incinerates the crew. The danger feels surprisingly tangible throughout, as characters die left and right and the situation becomes more and more desperate. 42's greatest strength lies in its stakes, as Chibnall heightens the drama throughout. First it appears Martha will die, but instead of the Doctor simply doing the inevitable and saving her, he exposes himself directly to the sun's possession in a brilliantly orchestrated twist. His fear is genuinely disturbing, and though you know in the back of your mind that the Doctor is never in real danger, Martha's fumbling makes you worry.
As for the episode's gimmick... it's a mixed bag. The allusions to 24 are done intentionally across the story, with the shots of the countdown clock easily placing first in the gratuitous references category. Those are often hokey, and, to make matters worse, the clock seems to speed up or slow down depending on the pace required by the script. However, the time crunch aspect really helps heighten the aforementioned stakes and intensity, making 42 one of the better thrill rides in the show's history. With four minutes on the clock and the Doctor completely incapacitated, I was on the edge of my seat, regardless of how little I cared for the supporting cast.
42 is a bit of a throwaway, but it's also an interesting experiment on Doctor Who. Doing a real-time episode is a lot of fun, and Chibnall clearly knows what he's doing and makes it work. Had the supporting characters been allowed to flesh out a bit, we could have had something really special on our hands. As it is, we get natural progression of the Doctor-Martha arc, a tightly written script, and a ballsy plot that flings us from one end of the spectrum to the other as disaster nears. It's the weakest of the back-half Series 3 episodes, but it's still a worthy entry into the canon.