“42” – Review: Redux

Sinister Woman “Thanks for all your doing Mrs. Jones. Mister Saxon will be very grateful.”

42

It seemed to me that Torchwoood’s head honcho and first time Doctor Who writer, (now perhaps better known for “Broadchurch”) Chris Chibnall’s introduction to the bigger stage of the Whoniverse was a somewhat derivative storyline. Any genre fan worth his salt (never understood that phrase… answers on a postcard) would be able to spot at least a dozen similarities between this story and many other movies and programmes of a similar ilk. However, if you flip between either using the phrase“rip-off” or the phrase “homage” you can view “42″ from two completely different perspectives. The main driver, and also the pun contained within the title, is that the episode runs in real time, so the 42 minutes of the episode un-fold without a pause (in the same way as popular US series of the time, “24”). It is a device which works extremely well and gives the events a relentlessness and pace that work so well that you wonder why they haven’t performed the same trick again.

Let’s start at the top. This episode had a great cast: Cindy Beale (now almost better known as Michelle Collins) was captain of a spaceship on a collision course with the sun, the always watchable Anthony Flanagan played her sidekick, Orin and William Ash played an all action Riley who was also a little love interest for the yearning Martha.  Speaking of whom (and I feel the need to mention this again), Freema Agyeman put in a fab performance almost in celebration of her character became a fully fledged, key carrying member of the TARDIS crew.  You could almost see the tenth Doctor closing the chapter of his life titled ‘Rose’ as David Tennant continues to shine and make himself a national treasure with each passing week.

Story-wise, there was a healthy dose more of silly science as a living, conscious sun took its revenge on the crew for using “fusion scoops” to scrape away a part of its being. As we now know, this was not the last living sun to be seen in Doctor Who after the recent, and massively opinion-dividing, “The Rings of Akhaten” reintroduced the concept. Once you can get your synapses around that rather fanciful idea, you can find a nifty little tale hiding underneath.  Martha and Riley race to unlock a series of seals while the Doctor tries to solve the mystery, all the while trying to stay out of the way of the possessed Korwin. The complex comings and goings as the crew were bumped off, possessed and generally run ragged were handled well by veteran director Graeme Harper and the viewers could keep track of it all with ease.  Underpinning everything was the countdown clock that worked okay as a device but never quite delivered as enough of a threat.  I half expected to see split screen views a la your average Jack Bauer adventure.

There are lots of visual echoes of last series’ “The Impossible Planet”/”Satan Pit” two-parter here but “42” doesn’t quite live up to its spiritual predecessor. It has that same frontier feel with dirt and machinery and oil and industry as mankind explores the galaxy and leaves its mark. We even got to see the Doctor’s spacesuit again. Another repeating theme was that another companion decided to phone home in a crisis (you could almost hear the traditionalist fans grinding their teeth) but this time it served purpose over and above an emotional anchor for the Doctor’s human travelling buddies.  We got to see that Martha’s mum, Francine, was well and truly up to her neck in it with Saxon’s henchmen (henchpeople?) who were doing their best to track the Doctor’s activities for their undoubtedly nefarious reasons.  Even though I know what’s coming I am still looking forward to the payoff on this one as I watch it again six years later.

Highlight: The real-time events

Lowlight: I’m not completely bought into this living sun idea.

Talking Point: Midway through Martha’s series… how is she working out for you?

Demon’s Run Rating: 13 out of 20

Original BBC1 Broadcast: 19th May 2007

Marathon Status: 35 episodes reviewed

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