The third series of ‘NuWho’ has been a little disappointing so far, all too eager to revisit previous locations and rehash ideas, trying to iterate on some “perfect formula” that doesn’t exist. So, here we find the Doctor and Martha on a grimy industrial spaceship again, cut off from the Tardis again, terrorised by possessed humans again, as their ship spirals out of control into some stellar phenomenon… again.
42’s twist is that the whole episode takes place in the space of 42 minutes, in realtime (like 24, see?). Forty-two minutes is all the Doctor has to stop the spaceship and its forgettable crew from plunging into a star that turns out to be a vengeful lifeform that doesn’t take too kindly to being mined for fuel. On the plus side, the episode doesn’t drag for a second. Everyone rushes about, shouting, panicking, no-one has time to stop and talk. It’s one of the most continually exciting episodes of Doctor Who yet made, however this comes at the expense of almost any character development. Forty-two minutes is just not enough time to get to know everybody. Some of the characters have literally seconds of screen time before they’re offed.
It’s hard not to compare with the far superior The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit, not least because it seems to reuse a lot of the same props, costumes and set decoration. No doubt it looks good, with a striking blue and red lighting style, but it doesn’t go much further than that. You get a bit of development with the captain and her husband, a little bit with Martha, her mum and the bloke in the escape pod, learn very briefly about the crew’s mission, and… that’s about it. Not that you’d necessarily want any more than that; the episode’s primary focus is to put the characters into a fast-paced adventure for 42 minutes and see how they get out of it. It really cuts it fine, too. The Doctor has to use his quota of Stupidly Brave Things To Do In A Spacesuit per space episode and Martha gets to be a doctor again, briefly.
It’s all over so quickly that there’s barely time to question whether what’s happening makes any sense. A star that’s alive? Okay, fair enough, that’s an idea that will come back in a later series. A star that’s alive and can “infect” humans and control them? Er, sure, okay. I mean, that’s not far removed from Inferno, really. A star that’s alive and can infect and control people just because they looked at it through glass? Erm, hang on a mi-… Humans with hydrogen instead of oxygen inside of them, with eyes that glow and burn people to death without harming their own bodies? Erm, time out! Hold up, let me think about this for a-… no time, stuff is exploding, wooooo!!!
Oh well, while I’m glad the grimy industrial future got another look-in, this is a forgettable adventure within it. Fortunately, as far as I can recall, this is the last underwhelming episode in this season. A string of more original and better quality stories are about to unfold, starting with the next one. Meanwhile, more interesting things are happening back on Earth, as the mysterious Mr. Saxon is showing an unusual interest in Martha and her adventures with the Doctor. Election day is coming, and with it, the best revelation in Doctor Who’s history!