THIS EPISODE TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE TV
EPISODE "THE LAZARUS
EXPERIMENT" AND THE
GRAPHIC NOVEL "THE
'THE COMPLETE THIRD
EXCLUSIVE DVD BOX
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
A SPACESHIP HURTLES
TOWARDS A STAR,
AND THE DOCTOR AND
MARTHA HAVE ONLY 42
MINUTES TO SAVE THE
19TH MAY 2007
42 could only have ever gone one of two ways. After a fortnight’s deprivation,
this episode was either going to fully satisfy two weeks’ worth of pent-up cravings or it was going to crash and burn. And whilst the Pentallian might have avoided that particular fate,
in my opinion Chris Chibnall’s episode didn’t.
To try and focus on the positive, I enjoyed Joseph Lidster’s prologue that he posted on the official Doctor Who website last weekend. It took me back to the days of the Doctor Who Magazine New Adventures prologues, which is quite fitting really, given that we’re headed back into Virgin territory next week.
What’s more, I love the gimmick of 42. A ‘real time’ Doctor Who adventure, 24-style, is not unprecedented, but it’s still a first for the television series. And unlike the advert-ridden 24, 42 is truly an adventure set in real time. No four-minute recaps. No commercial breaks. 42 clocks in at just under forty-five minutes ( five or six minutes longer than most episodes of
24, once the fat has been trimmed) and they are forty-five minutes of real time action.
As for the cryptic title, it has so many possible connotations. We have the obvious – 42, bec-
ause at the start of the episode the Pentallian
has just over forty-two minutes before it will
crash into a star. 42, because the episode is
set in the 42nd century. 42, because it’s the meaning of life, at least according to Douglas
Adams, and in his novel The Restaurant at the End of the Universe his characters face
a similar dilemma to the protagonists here. 42, because it’s 24 backwards, the television
series that this episode emulates in microcosm. And 42, because showrunner Russell T Davies wanted to chuckle at the Radio Times billing: 42 7/13. A “playful” title doesn’t quite cover it; it’s almost X-Files worthy.
However, a clever title alone does not make an episode. In a real time setting it is vital to keep things moving along quickly and keep things exciting. When watching 24, for example,
I often find it hard to believe just how quickly the minutes have ticked by. Sadly though, here
I experienced the opposite sensation. 34 minutes to impact? Still? You must be joking…
More positively, 42 looks absolutely stunning; the red, orange and brown grading really helps the viewer to feel the heat. Indeed, the look of the episode put me very much in mind of last year’s superb Satan Pit two-parter, but whereas that thrilling story put the Doctor up against the Devil incarnate, 42 can’t decide whether its baddie wants to be Darth Vader from Star Wars or Cyclops from X-Men.
David Tennant made me laugh on Doctor Who Confidential when he said that Michelle Collins “in a vest and smothered in baby oil” was one of the best things about the episode; with that I can agree wholeheartedly. The vest and the baby oil help, obviously, but so does Collins’ wonderful performance. One of the most memorable scenes in the whole episode sees McConnell open the airlock and have herself and what is left of her husband blown out in to space. The shot of them both floating above the sun is a stunning and powerful image; romantic, even.
“The wonderful world of space travel. The prettier it looks, the more likely it is to kill you.”
Similarly, Freema Agyeman puts in another phenomenal performance here. 42 documents Martha’s first trip in the TARDIS as a ‘proper’ companion, as it were. She gets her mobile phone jazzed up by the Doctor – “universal roaming” is activated – and, in one emotional scene at the end, he gives her a key to the TARDIS. Most importantly of all though, 42 sees Martha truly step up to the plate and become the Doctor’s equal.
First of all, it is down to the Doctor to save Martha. Once again, Graeme Harper excels in
his direction: the escape pod is jettisoned and Martha drifts silently and gracefully away
from the Pentallian. No music, no sound. Just the cold silence of space.
“I’m scared. I’m so scared… it’s burning through me.
There’s this process… this thing that happens if I’m about to die…”
But then Martha has to return the favour, just like Rose always did. Here though, this does feel just that little bit more important. I’m pretty sure that the Doctor has not freely admitted
to being afraid before, and even if he has, he has certainly never cried out that he is scared as he does here. Granted, he’s said “I know, me too” and things to similar effect, but this is really something else. Here the Doctor faces a fate worse than death; effectively his worse nightmare. Here he faces the prospect of not only becoming a killer, but a mindless one.
And to be fair to Chibnall’s script, from T-10 minutes and onwards 42 improves dramatically. The scenes with the Doctor on the outside of the ship are nothing short of breathtaking as Murray Gold’s imposing score kicks into first gear. The momentous piece of music that we first heard a fortnight ago accompanying the ‘coming soon’ trailer is used here to stunning effect. When you consider that Gold is prolifically churning out such… um, well, gold… out
for episodic television, you really have to take your hat off to the man.
“It’s alive… that sun’s alive… a living organism.
They scooped out it’s heart, used it for fuel and now it’s screaming… it’s living in me.”
There were also a few other things that I enjoyed about this episode. The shot where the sun- light leaves the Doctor’s eyes stands out as a suitably chilling bit of CGI, and I also liked the pub quiz-like fashion in which Martha and Riley had to try and open the bulkhead doors. The Elvis versus The Beatles question was especially good fun, as was the ensuing ‘classical music’ joke – a nod to Vicki’s notorious quip in The Chase, perhaps?
“It was nice, not dying with you.”
I also liked that Martha got to enjoy a gentle romance with Riley. Until now, she’s been a bit of a doormat for the Doctor, but at the end of this episode she certainly wastes no time with Riley. What I’m not sure about though is whether or not the Doctor saw their kiss or not on the scanner. Inside the TARDIS, he is clearly very shook up about what he has just been through, but I think his vacant expression says a little more than that.
For me though, the most rousing part of 42 was its Martha’s Mum / Mister Saxon / Election Day subplot. Although it’s unclear whether Mrs Jones is being leant on by Saxon’s people,
or whether she’s happily helping the seductively sinister Miss Dexter (Elize du Toit) to carry out her investigations, I’m rapidly developing something of a dislike for Martha’s mother (just as I’m sure I’m supposed to). Things are certainly getting very interesting very quickly…
“Have you voted? Mr. Saxon will be very grateful.”
And so whilst 42 does have its charms, ten minutes of high-octane action at the end do not excuse over thirty minutes of relative tedium. For the first time since 2005, I have to say that this week Doctor Who was not the highlight of my viewing – an especially hilarious edition of Friday Night With Jonathan Ross (incidentally featuring John Barrowman and an exclusive clip of Utopia) has stolen that particular honour.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
When is now? “Present” events in this episode are set shortly after The Lazarus Experiment (2008).
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