TARDIS File 03-07: 42

TARDIS File 03-07: 42

The Big Idea: The Doctor and Martha arrive on a spaceship in deep space which is 42 minutes away from crashing into a sun. The countdown begins…

What’s So Great…

  • First and foremost, Graeme Harper’s superb direction. The actions starts at a very quick pace and the tension never lets up until the final moments.
  • The first attempt by Doctor Who (on television at least) to do a story in real time—and thanks to Harper’s direction the attempt is not found wanting.
  • “Burn with me” is a great catch-phrase that can easily be imitated in the playground, office or just about anywhere.
  • The CGI work, particularly on the outer space scenes, is quite brilliant for television. The opening “cliffhanger” is enough for each fan to ask why there haven’t been more episodes in the new series set in space

Quick Bits of Trivia: This is the fifth story that Graeme Harper has directed for Doctor Who, the previous four being The Caves of Androzani, Revelation of the Daleks, Rise of the Cybermen and Army of Ghosts/Doomsday. This is also the first story of the new series to be predominantly set on a spaceship in deep space (the other stories set predominantly on a spaceship had the spaceship near Earth). The story’s similarities to Danny Boyle’s film Sunshine (coincidental as the film had not been released in Britain yet) became a little too close for comfort when it was discovered both stories featured spaceships called Icarus, necessitating a last-minute rechristening of the ship (see Things to Geek Out About…  below). The writer of this story, Chris Chibnall, is the head writer on the Doctor Who spin-off series Torchwood. He also once appeared on television as a teenager in 1986 criticizing the then-current 23rd season of Doctor Who on the BBC!

Things to Geek Out About…

  • The season-long “Saxon” arc is gaining further prominence, with it now transpiring that they are getting assistance from Martha’s mother, building things nicely for what should be a cracking season finale.
  • The Doctor tries—and fails—to explain to Martha about regeneration as he’s put in the stasis chamber.
  • The ship’s name Pentallian is a nod from Executive Producer Russell T Davies to the Pentalion drive in the classic series story Revenge of the Cybermen (1975)

Not to Complain But… There are perhaps a couple of similarities in the setting (spaceship falling into the sun) and the costume and set design to last season’s two-part epic The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit.

All Things Considered… 42 starts the second half of Series Three off at a blistering pace and very high-quality, which will not let up until the end of the season. Doctor Who‘s answer to 24, 42 is one of the most tense episodes in the series’ long history. Graeme Harper is the big hero of this episode. While the script is good, what truly makes the episode special is the direction, giving the script the required frenetic pace and energy required to truly provide a “real time” story with the tension and suspense that it deserves and needs to truly succeed. Without such accomplished directing of Harper, 42 would be a much more average production. While the superb CGI effects evoke memories of 2010, Harper’s direction is at times also reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The scene where the escape shuttle containing Martha and Scannell embarks from the spaceship is an obvious homage to 2001‘s shuttle departure scenes, complete with shots through space-ship portholes and a lack of sound (and incidental music) where there would otherwise not naturally be any. Apart from being a very cool tribute to one of the greatest “space” films of all time, the technique also provides a genuine sense of realism which works well with “real-time” aspect of the story.

One thing that makes 42 such a great as a modern-day episode of Doctor Who is that this is a story that could never have been done effectively in the original series. Never mind that the idea of doing “real time” stories was largely un-heard of (if at all) when the original series was on the air, the show’s format of 25 minute episodes shown over several weeks would have greatly reduced the impact of a “real time” story. Indeed had they attempted this story in the original series it would likely have been called “25. Another 25. 25 Again. 25 One More Time” — we’re being a bit silly, but you get the point. This is somewhat of an irony, because many episodes in the series first two seasons were almost recorded in “real time” due to very few recording breaks being allowed.

David Tennant is at his best in this story, genuinely giving the audience the feeling that he is scared, which is one of the most difficult emotions for any actor playing the Doctor to portray convincingly, given the nature of the character.

42 would stand out as one of the better episodes of the first half of the season (from The Runaway Bride through to The Lazarus Experiment) but actually ends up being the weakest episode of the second half of the season. This says much more about the extremely high quality of what is to come rather than any lack of quality on the part of 42. Indeed, 42 is a pure delight, and not a bad answer to Life, the Universe, and everything!

Line of the Week: “Where was I ” “Here Comes the Sun(?)?”

Index of TARDIS Files

TARDIS File prepared by Gian-Luca Di Rocco

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