After a weeks delay due the Eurovision contest, Doctor Who returned last weekend with "42"
. The title may or may not be a play on the TV show 24 or a reference to the answer to life, the universe, and everything.
"42" opens in the TARDIS as The Doctor puts the finishing touches on Martha's cell phone so she can call anyone anywhere – "universal roaming". Suddenly a distress signal is received and the TARDIS lands. Our heroes find themselves in the engine room of a ship and it's sweltering in there. They begin to make their way around but are confronted by three crew members immediately upon exiting the room. The ship belongs to McDonnell who informs them that the engines are dead and that the ship is spiraling towards a nearby sun. Impact is in 42 minutes.
The Doctor finds himself unable to rescue everyone in the TARDIS as the room it landed in has gotten up to 3000 degrees. Instead he gives the crew a pep talk and organizes them. Martha and one crew member go about opening the series of hatches that lead to the control room while the rest go to the engine room to assess the damage which turns out to be pretty bad. The engines have been sabotaged. A call from the medical room finds Korwin, McDonnell's husband, in a bad way. Rushing to aid, Korwin is found writhing in pain with his eyes clenched shut. "It's burning me!" he screams. He is sedated and Abi, the medic, goes about trying to find out what's wrong while the others head back to work on getting the ship running again.
A short time later, Abi gets on the comm to update everyone on Korwin's condition when she screams. Korwin has arisen. His closed eyes and calm demeanor belie his menacing intentions. Abi backs up against a wall as Korwin opens his eyes which now emit a bright, intense light. Satisfied, he dons a rather eerie looking helmet which has a sun visor. The Doctor and McDonnell rush to Abi's aid but it's too late. All that's left of the medic is her shadow burnt into the wall.
Meanwhile Martha and Riley are hard at work opening the doors by answering a series of questions which the crew set during a bout with John Barleycorn. One of the questions prompts Martha to use her newly-tweaked cell phone to call her mum to have her find the answer on the Internet.
McDonnell dismisses The Doctor's theory that Korwin has sabotaged the ship and is somehow able to vaporize people but she eventually comes around. Back in the engine room, Ashton is hard at work and he send Erina for some tools where she runs into Korwin and meets her doom.
Korwin then heads to the engine room where he finds Ashton. But instead of killing him, Korwin converts him by clutching the sides of his head. With two of these vaporizing zombies running around, things are looking bleak. Ashton stumbles upon Martha and Riley and they flee to an escape pod for refuge. Riley and Ashton now engage in a battle of computer skills as the former seeks to halt the ejection of the pod while the latter manipulates a touchpad in the corridor to launch it into the sun. Ashton eventually relents and puts his fist through the controls which once more activates the launch sequence. The Doctor arrives shortly after he's left only to witness the pod slowly drifting away from the ship with Martha banging on the window.
This scene is a bit of a featherweight version of the one in last season's finale where The Doctor screams as he loses Rose. The Dulcinea teared up as we watched it and, indeed, it was a very touching scene which was made all the more effective by the absence of incidental music. The Doctor's shouts of "I will save you!" are lost in the ominous silence of space as the pod slowly drifts towards oblivion.
The Doctor conceives a plan whereby he would reconfigure the magnetic pull off system to bring the pod back and he dons a familiar looking space suit that I'd swear we saw in "The Satan Pit" from last season. In the capsule Martha urges Riley to have faith in The Doctor. She calls her mum to speak with her one last time. Back on earth, Francine has company. As she speaks with her emotional daughter, a sinister woman is sitting in the background in front of a device of some kind, presumably recording or tracing the call.
The Doctor succeeds and, climbing back into the ship, he stands in awe of the threatening sun. Staring at it he has a Solaris
moment and realizes that the star is alive. The pod docks and Martha and Riley are ecstatic to be alive. The Doctor, however, is on the floor in sheer agony with his eyes eerily clenched shut. McDonnell appears and The Doctor explains that the sun is alive and that, like Korwin, he too has become infected. We find out that McDonnell had illegally scooped matter from the star for fuel and that this injured the creature.
Martha takes The Doctor back to the medical room wherein lies a stasis chamber which he hopes can put the kibosh on the process which seeks to turn him into a vaporizing zombie. The freezing process goes well until Korwin discovers the power surge being sent to the stasis chamber and promptly cuts it off. This forces The Doctor to battle the force inside of him alone so he sends Martha off to the control room at the front of the ship to get the crew to jettison the fuel taken from the sun. McDonnell confronts what remains of her husband and confesses her sin of having taken fuel from the sun. Luring him into an airlock, she opens it and the couple are sucked into the vacuum of space.
Reaching the control room, Martha uses the comm to tell the crew to jettison the infected fuel. They manage to do so just as time runs out. The remaining fuel is enough to get the ship's course corrected and away from the star.
With the room holding the TARDIS back to normal temperatures, our travelers bid the remaining crew adieu. After they take off, The Doctor presents Martha with her very own key to TARDIS – she is now a more or less permanent member of the crew. Martha joyously phones her mother again. Francine notes that it's Election Day in England and invites her daughter 'round for tea that evening. Martha accepts the invitation and hangs up. Francine turns around and we see the sinister woman flanked by two men in suits. The woman takes the phone that Francine had been using and informs her that "Mr. Saxon will be very grateful".
When I began watching "42" the first thing that leapt to mind was how it reminded me of "The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit". In both cases, the TARDIS lands and becomes lost; the metallic, utilitarian rooms and corridors have a similar feel; and there's an infected crew member running around killing in both stories as well. At first I found this annoying but eventually got over it and just immersed myself in the story. With the timer here counting down until the moment of impact, "42" is played out more or less in real time just like the show 24. This worked to the episode's advantage. There are times when I feel that the new series' 45-minute format adversely affects the show by forcing revelations to come too soon. Some themes don't get enough play and suspense is sometimes sacrificed by the need to fit the story in an allotted time. The real time plot device mostly rids "42" of this problem and provides explanation for the barrage of action and paucity of elaboration.
But for all the plot devices, the true star here is Martha. We see a plethora of sides to her character in a short time. Her faith in The Doctor was demonstrated in the escape pod and her loyalty by her unwillingness to leave him as he struggled to fight the creature inside of him as he lay helplessly in the deactivated stasis chamber. But she's also a woman of action. Martha volunteers to help get the doors open at the beginning and makes the mad dash to the control room at the end. For his part, The Doctor seems to have turned a corner and come to some kind of peace over his loss of Rose by giving Martha a key to the TARDIS.
Getting back to Martha, I think she's finally started to differentiate herself from Rose. While they both have family issues, Martha seems less conflicted internally. After all, she's older than Rose and has shed all that teenage anxiety. While it's not that adults don't have anxieties of their own, Martha seems to have much more self-confidence. She seems to be traveling with The Doctor less to escape her family and more to experience adventure and to learn, to grow. Her family is more of an annoyance than something to escape from.
While I wouldn't label "42" as throwaway, I do think that, in retrospect, it draws a bit too much from previous episodes, especially "The Impossible Planet". But it does manage to further the Mr. Saxon story arc and, more importantly, it solidifies the relationship between Martha and The Doctor.