Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Doctor Who Season 3 - "42"
Sorry - the bad pun is my way of relieving my feelings over this episode which seemed so promising and was so poor. Chris Chibnall, the man largely responsible for the much-maligned (by the fandom of the Whoniverse) Torchwood spin-off from Doctor Who (which stars John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness), wrote "42". It's set in real-time (like 24), but in 42 minutes rather than hours. I've never seen 24 but I know plenty of addicts so I was quite excited by the idea - and the set up seemed fairly interesting: the Doctor and Martha find themselves on a spaceship that's 42 minutes from crashing into a sun. What made the story so poor for me, was how it rehashed ideas from New Who's seasons 1 and 2, without doing them better, or very differently, or any more compellingly.
So, to begin at the beginning. The story starts with the Doctor fixing up Martha's phone so that she can now call anyone anywhere or anywhen (echoing Nine's fixing of Rose's phone in "The End of the World" but without the funny dialogue). The Doctor tells her it's a "frequent flyer's" privilege (OK, that did make me smile). Martha's about to test this out when the TARDIS picks up an emergency distress call, onto which the Doctor latches (and is it me, or is he using his feet to reach switches and buttons on the console rather more often this season?). They land with a bump, go outside and find it's boiling hot. Three members of the spaceship's crew - the Captain (played by guest star Michelle Collins), one older man and one younger man explain the situation, and then a young female crew member comes racing into view as the doors start slamming and locking behind her. The Doctor immediately suggests using the TARDIS as a "lifeboat" off the ship, but finds the room in which she's landed is incredibly hot (so hot, in fact, that the TARDIS' wooden exterior ought to have gone up in flames !) and she can't be accessed (echoing "The Impossible Planet" where the TARDIS is "lost" in an earthquake).
They then spend the rest of the episode trying to get the engines on the spaceship working again, trying to open the 29 doors between them and the front of the ship so they can "jump-start" the engines - which involves Martha and the young crew man Riley in a pub-quiz race against time - all the doors are deadlock sealed (so the Sonic Screwdriver can't be used to open them since, as we know from "School Reunion" the Sonic Screwdriver can't open deadlock seals) and each one is coded to a randomly generated question, the answer to which can only be entered once (which must be the most pointless, senseless security system ever invented!) Riley tells Martha that the crew got drunk one night and thought up the questions, figuring they'd be the only ones who could answer the questions, thereby ensuring the ship could never be hijacked - though looking at it, I had to wonder who would *want* to hijack such a junk heap! Of course, some members of the crew have changed since the questions were set, leaving the Doctor to supply the fourth number in a mathematical sequence of Happy Primes (which results in him lamenting dumbing down since no one, apparently, teaches recreational Mathematics any more). Interestingly, given the Tenth Doctor's credentials as a fan of 20th century popular Earth music (as established in Season 2's "Tooth and Claw" and "The Idiot's Lantern"), he couldn't answer the question about who had the most pre-download hits Elvis or The Beatles - which results in Martha making use of her new "Universal Roaming" on her phone, to ring her mum and ask her to find the answer online (and her conversation, where she pretends to be on Earth not half a universe away from home, echoes "The End of the World" again when Rose rang her mum from Platform One).
To complicate matters (as if they're not already complicated enough), the Captain's husband has been possessed by something mysterious (echoing season 2's "The Impossible Planet" / "The Satan Pit" two-parter in which Toby Zed is possessed) which causes him to kill two of his fellow crew members and "convert" a third to its cause (just as the possessed Toby kills Scootie Minestra and converts the Ood to the cause of the "Devil" in that two-parter). The Captain's husband goes after Martha and Riley, and they hide in an escape pod, which is then launched from the ship. The Doctor arrives too late to stop this, so shouts for a spacesuit so he can go through the airlock and activate the magnetic mechanism that's on the outside of the spaceship to pull the escape pod back. Martha has every faith in the Doctor rescuing her and Riley, but still makes a tearful phone call to her mum to tell her mum that she loves her, and ask her to tell her father, brother and sister that she loves them. We see a mysterious woman (much like last episode's mysterious man) apparently recording and/or trying to trace Martha's call on behalf of the mysterious Mr Saxon, but she's thwarted when Martha winds up the call after Mrs Jones starts asking if Martha's with "that man" (the Doctor).
The Doctor manages to re-engage the magnetic clamp to recall the escape pod but whilst he's standing in the airlock watching for it to return, he sees that the sun is alive (don't ask!) and is infected as the Captain's husband had been. Of course, not being a human, he's able to resist the infection longer and Martha arrives in time to help him to the medlab where he tells her to freeze him at -200 degrees for ten seconds (see picture above). The Doctor is panicking about the fact that the infection in him will get stronger the nearer the ship gets to the sun, but Martha assures him that she'll save him, just as he saved her. Of course, the Captain's infected husband notices the power surge in the medlab and cuts the power before the temperature can reach -200 and freeze the infection in the Doctor's body. So the Doctor sends Martha to the front of the ship to eject all the fuel the ship is carrying - the crew have been "mining" the sun as a cheap (and illegal) source of fuel, and the fuel is carrying living particles from the sun. Martha initially refuses to leave the Doctor but he insists. In the meantime, the Captain's gone to restore the power to the medlab but her husband stops her. She runs off and he follows, and she sacrifices herself to take him with her out of the airlock and into the sun (echoing Rose's actions in sacrificing Toby Zed to save herself, Zack and Danny on board the rocket that's flying away from the planet orbiting the black hole in "The Satan Pit").
Having ejected the fuel, the ship's engines are restored, the Doctor discovers the TARDIS is only marginally over-heated instead of reduced to cinders, and he and Martha go off, leaving Riley and Scannell (the only other surviving member of the seven-person crew) to await rescue. The episode closes with the Doctor giving Martha a key to the TARDIS on a chain (another frequent flyer privilege) and a quiet "Thank you."
The only thing that saved this episode from earning a 1 out of 5 rating is the lovely work done by the team at The Mill and the team headed up by Ed Thomas; the moments between Martha and the Doctor in the TARDIS; and the terror displayed by the Doctor when he knows he could become a monster instead of being the one who fights the monsters.
Fortunately the upcoming two-parter "Human Nature" / "Family of Blood" is written by Paul Cornell (an adaptation of his Seventh Doctor novel Human Nature) who was responsible for writing one of my favourite season 1 episodes, "Father's Day".