Doctor Who – “42”

Not the answer to life, the universe, or anything else.

It isn’t terrible, but it’s very nearly the weakest of the season to date for me. The concept is as close to a real-time episode of Doctor Who as we’re likely to see (hey, ’42’ is like ’24’ in mirror image) but the overall effect is not so much intense as gratingly one-note. All the early scenes feel heightened, overly-shouty and populated by ciphers rather than real characters. By the time we learn enough about the characters to understand them, it’s very nearly too late to care. Even the Captain’s allegedly poignant final moment just doesn’t evoke any emotion in me. Add to that a setting that feels like a retread of last year’s ‘Satan Pit’ two-parter and there’s not a great deal here to enjoy: call it the Chibnall-factor, but by mid-way through my attention was actively wandering.

It doesn’t help that large chunks of the episode appear to make very little sense. Why have your auxilliary controls in a room protected by 29 password protected locks–if there’s an emergency won’t you need it in a hurry? Why put the controls to recall your escape pod on the *outside* of the ship–what the hell use is that? How does your stasis pod lower the temperature to -200 degrees C without having a door? If the Sun is sentient then that still doesn’t explain why it cares so much about getting its hydrogen back–isn’t it using vast quantities for nuclear fusion and blasting billions of tons of itself into space? If your cyclops-o-vision is hot enough to blast humans into a carbon shadow, how come your helmet is okay? Come to that, how come it doesn’t just burn a narrow band of the person you’re staring at? In fact, how come it doesn’t burn the wall? And why not burn people through the glass window of the airlock instead of doing complicated things with the controls?

Some of the Martha material is good, particularly her scenes in the escape pod and the final scene in the Tardis. I also very much like the scene of the Doctor and Martha shouting to each other separated by a vacuum, because I’m just a sucker for melodramatic partings, I guess. For the rest of the episode Tennant feels a bit too relentlessly manic, and there isn’t much to distinguish this from countless other “Doctor takes charge” episodes. His possession and fear are more interesting, but they don’t do enough with it.

So ultimately it’s a fairly “meh” episode. The ticking clock premise is a neat idea but the execution feels overly-familiar, superficial and under-developed. Next week looks a lot more promising.

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