Category Archives: Martha

The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End

Journey’s End is everything that is wrong with modern Doctor Who all rolled into one. I was torn over whether this is worse than Voyage of the Damned, but I think it has to pip it. It… is… terrible! It’s a melting pot of ideas thrown together and stirred until it’s nothing but fanboy pulp; it’s Russell T Davies writing from the point of view of a ten-year-old playing with his Doctor Who action figures and going “and then Jack turns up and then the Daleks fight them and then Torchwood and Sarah Jane help them and then Mickey comes back and then Martha and she teleports and then they explode and then there’s two Doctors and then-…”. There is no restraint shown, it’s just trash. It’s hard to believe this is the same writer coming from Turn Left and Midnight.

It's telling that Davies wanted the Shadow Proclamation scene to be much bigger and include hordes of aliens from the past four years but they ran out of money so it had to be some Judoon and a woman with red contact lenses instead.

It’s telling that Davies wanted the Shadow Proclamation scene to be much bigger and include hordes of aliens from the past four years but they ran out of money so it had to be some Judoon and a woman with red contact lenses instead.

It’s simultaneously overblown and boring. It’s full of rambling exposition and ridiculous technobabble. It even makes fun of its own technobabble, but continues to use it to solve the plot anyway; meanwhile, interesting setups (like the Osterhagen key) go literally nowhere. A bluff amongst other bluffs with no consequence. Devices work and break and work again, people teleport in and out. Despite the two parts and extended length, the cast of characters is still too huge to get enough screen time. Even previously satisfying conclusions, such as Rose’s farewell in season 2, are undone, like prodding at a corpse to make it twitch. Rose now comes back then returns to the parallel world for really poor reasons, with a half-human double of the Doctor to spend her life with, just to thoroughly undermine one of the few good things about Doomsday.

She's back, and she's got a great big gun.

She’s back, and she’s got a great big gun.

As for the Daleks, I think they’ve given up any pretence that they’re an endangered species now. Time War? Void ships? Pah! Despite Rose eliminating “all Daleks” from existence with her godly powers, there’s somehow another army of them, grown from the cells of Davros himself, with enough power to move entire planets and destroy the Universe. No, not just the Universe, that’s not big enough anymore. We have to go bigger. All Universes! All parallel worlds, alternative timelines, past, present and future. All of reality and unreality and everything in between. The Daleks will destroy all of it. Don’t worry, though, the duplicate Doctor presses some buttons and all the Daleks are destroyed.

The 27 missing planets, pulled out of time and space, are used as a power source for the Daleks' Reality Bomb, within the Medusa Cascade. Also something about bees.

The 27 missing planets, pulled out of time and space, are used as a power source for the Daleks’ Reality Bomb, within the Medusa Cascade. Also something about bees.

I hated pretty much everything about this. Every little cliché that all the “big event” episodes have. All those TV news reports from around the world, celebrity cameos, disastrous events having no apparent consequences on everyday life, big fleets of CGI things swarming over the Earth while overbearingly bombastic music plays, the Doctor running about shouting plot things at people, and so on. There’s even a ratings-grabbing tease of a cliffhanger as it seems like the Doctor is going to regenerate (ooh, they kept that a secret!) but actually he comes back as David Tennant again because… yeah. The planet Earth being carried through space by the Tardis is the giant cherry on top of a very cheesy cake, and not in a good way.

The Doctor, the other Doctor, Captain Jack, Sarah Jane Smith, Martha, Rose and Rose's mum, take the controls of the Tardis.

The Doctor, the other Doctor, Captain Jack, Sarah Jane Smith, Martha, Rose and Rose’s mum, take the controls of the Tardis.

It’s not all bad, but it almost is. Admittedly, amongst all the running around, there’s some nice moments between the reunited characters. Wilf is good, as he always is. Doing a crossover with The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood is an interesting idea, and I’ve been keeping up with both shows in parallel, so the events line up properly, but I can’t imagine the average viewer doing the same, given the target demographic for them. The return of Davros is a big moment and he is as bonkers as ever and looks disgusting, as he should. Oh, and German Daleks. It’s almost worth it for German Daleks. “Exterminieren!” Aaaaand… that’s it. That’s basically the extent of anything good in this finale.

Davros' new hand is shocking! Sorry.

Davros’ new hand is shocking! Sorry.

Even Donna has to leave, and to make sure she can never come back, there has to be some memory-enabled killswitch in her head, because in modern Doctor Who, you can’t just part ways like ordinary people. Donna has, frankly, been fantastic, and she deserves a better end than this. She has been the moral compass for the Doctor on more than one occasion, and the best decision they made was in removing any possibility of romance right from the start so that she could have balanced motives and behave in a more human fashion. She will be missed.

Unable to retain the Time Lord knowledge, Donna's memory is wiped. Because the Doctor can do that, apparently.

Unable to retain the Time Lord knowledge, Donna’s memory is wiped. Because the Doctor can do that, apparently.

Season 4 has been really good, so it’s a shame that it had to end on such a duff note. This is the ultimate lesson in why “less is more”.

The Doctor’s Daughter

It’s funny, I seem to recall The Doctor’s Daughter being really bad, but I rather liked it this time. I was probably remembering the story’s weaker elements, which are, admittedly, still a problem. For instance, instead of bringing the Doctor’s fictional daughter back (played by a previous star’s actual daughter, ho-ho!), the episode literally invents one, then kills her off, then decides not to kill her off after all so she can come back for more episodes, and then subsequently does nothing with her for the next six years (and counting). We know very little about the Doctor’s past (as Donna says, he talks a lot but doesn’t say much), but it seems to be outside of the show’s scope to actually fill in any details about his life, such as his family (and, lately, his name). Preserving the mystery is more important.

Now that she's married to David Tennant, I wonder if she still calls him Daddy. Actually, I don't want to know.

Now that she’s married to David Tennant, I wonder if she still calls him Daddy. Actually, I don’t want to know.

Anyway, this episode isn’t primarily about the Doctor’s new daughter, it’s about two warring factions on a pre-terraformed colony planet. It’s one of those stories that questions what it means to be a soldier, whether there can be peace without victory, and whether the Doctor is really the pacifist he thinks he is. Yeah, it’s lightweight and the characters are thin, but it’s pretty smart. It also throws a curveball when Donna works out what’s really been going on. Wars that have been raging for longer than collective memory are a common sci-fi trope, but this has a terrific twist that I had completely forgotten about, and for once it’s the companion that works it out. Another point for Donna.

Martha is welcomed by the Hath.

Martha is welcomed by the Hath.

Martha’s story is more incidental, having been accidentally dragged through time in the Tardis at the end of the previous episode. As such, she provides the needed exposition for the Hath’s side of this conflict (and knowledge of Time Lords for Donna’s benefit), but her adventure with her fishy friend just sort of stops when he accidentally dies saving her and nobody else is there to be influenced by it. The ending is also a bit silly, as this advanced terraforming equipment is activated by smashing it on the floor. Yeah, it’s symbolic but it makes little sense. And what exactly happened to Jenny’s gunshot wound at the end? It’s just gone. It smacks of a last minute reshoot.

The terraforming machine, the source of the colonists' creation myth.

The terraforming machine, the source of the colonists’ creation myth.

Aside from that, I liked the episode. It does feel rushed, like a big story crammed into too short a space, but that’s somewhat fitting given what’s actually happening. The Doctor’s a tad preachy in this, but that’s what he does, drop in on people and tell them what they’re doing wrong. The Hath look cheap and so do the sets, but this was probably a low-budget episode and, frankly, it makes a change from the overblown global disaster stuff from the previous episodes. This tells a more personal story and is more effective as a result. On reflection, then, surprisingly good.

The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky

The Sontaran Stratagem harkens back to the old 1970s Doctor Who serials, not just because it re-uses the titular villains but because the whole set-up is like something Jon Pertwee would have been involved in, having to begrudgingly get along with the military (UNIT) while temporarily trapped on Earth. It even features human workmen who become possessed and/or cloned, which was a regular staple of the old serials, probably because it was cheap. Thankfully, the Sontarans themselves look a lot better than the old rubbery masks, but they’re still very much the same villains.

Colonel Mace leads UNIT at this time. He's no Brigadier, that's for sure.

Colonel Mace leads UNIT at this time. He’s no Brigadier, that’s for sure.

In later series, the Sontarans will become the comic relief, particularly the Doctor’s friend Strax, with his casually violent remarks and failure to understand human ways, but these Sontarans are still the threatening military force that they once were, treating humans as pests to be eradicated. They only know of war and glory, it’s all they live for. This should make them boring, but it doesn’t; however, it needs a tragic angle to give it depth, and that’s where Luke Rattigan comes in. Tricked by the Sontarans, this naive young genius is the equivalent of what would have been some jaded old company director in a Jon Pertwee episode, working with the enemy for his own goals. It does highlight some of the differences between then and now.

Luke destroys the Sontaran ship by overheating their Xbox 360.

Luke destroys the Sontaran ship by overheating their Xbox 360.

For instance, back then, the (third) Doctor wasn’t a famous figure revered throughout the galaxy. The aliens or other forces he faced didn’t know him, and he often didn’t know them either. And although the world was put in danger, whether by volcanic eruption, invasion by dinosaurs, or assault by Autons, the world at large didn’t see any of it happen. Conversely, the modern series is absolutely obsessed with the whole wide world being put through horrible things without stopping to think about the impact it ought to have. Every time they do one of those news report montages telling us it’s the end of the world, I just cringe. How many times can it really be the end of the world? It’s utterly incongruous with other characters’ continued insistence that there’s no such thing as aliens, but more importantly, it’s just boring. There is no impact anymore; there is no greater threat. The Doctor can stand there on a planet that’s about to be killed with toxic gas, but I just won’t believe it’s going to happen. He’ll wave his sonic screwdriver around and everything will be fine again.

Commander Skorr presumably takes his helmet off so that the other Sontarans know who he is.

Commander Skorr presumably takes his helmet off so that the other Sontarans know who he is.

So, this two-parter is a mix of some good old-school set-ups with some bad new-school wrap-ups. It’s not as good as it could be, but it’s not too bad either. The Sontarans are just about right (war chanting aside), the script is often sharp and funny, Donna continues to impress as a companion, it’s nice to see Martha again, although she’s so bland that you can’t actually tell when it’s the clone version on screen (or maybe that’s the point), and the throwbacks to the Doctor’s past with UNIT are a nice touch (particularly that he can’t remember if he worked for them in the 70s or 80s!). But there is just too much screwdriving this and deadlocking that, winning with technobabble yet again, and everyone is fine and happy and going about their normal lives after the ordeal is over. It’s grandiose and overblown because it has the technology to do it now, but that doesn’t mean it should.

That's a great plan, Doctor... unless you're an aeroplane.

That’s a great plan, Doctor… unless you’re an aeroplane.

Utopia / The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords

On Saturday the 16th of June, 2007, I was over at some friends’ house. They were Doctor Who fans, in a stronger sense than I. I had only been watching the last couple of seasons, casually but with growing interest. As I recall, there were rumours at the time of a particular character returning to the show, so as we sat down to watch Doctor Who that evening, there was an air of anticipation. I’d never watched the programme in a group before then, nor, sadly, since; but there was something special about that night, an excitement in the air that hasn’t been repeated. As Professor Yana looked up from that old pocket watch, into the eyes of his former assistant, and mouthed those four immortal words, a great cheer erupted from the room. It led into the best twist this show has ever thrown out, something it had been saving up for the right moment to have the biggest possible impact. That moment was now, and whether it was the atmosphere of that room or simply a work of great suspense, it left with me an affection for this thing called Doctor Who that I have not felt since. Those four simple words, as delivered superbly by the great Derek Jacobi, were: “I… am… the Master.”

I couldn't help cheer myself as those last two words left Derek Jacobi's lips after a suspenseful pause. It was a memorable evening. Subsequent viewings have lacked the same impact, sadly.

I couldn’t help cheer myself as those last two words left Derek Jacobi’s lips after a suspenseful pause. It was a memorable evening. Subsequent viewings have lacked the same impact, sadly.

Things have changed since that night; I’m not the “n00b” I once was. I’ve now seen all of the old serials and know who this Master character actually is and why he’s so important. I know that he was last seen in the 1996 TV movie, falling into a time/space vortexy thing at the heart of the Tardis. I’ve also started watching Torchwood in parallel, so Jack Harkness’s sudden arrival at the start of Utopia now makes a bit more sense. Jack’s character has taken a turn for the dour throughout the first season of Torchwood, not unsurprisingly so, having been brought back to life, travelled back through time and forced to live on Earth for over a century. But as soon as he’s back with the Doctor, that brooding character evaporates and the Captain Jack from Doctor Who is back, full of life and energy again.

Jack Harkness, intergalactic flirt, comes back to life in more ways than one.

Jack Harkness, intergalactic flirt, comes back to life in more ways than one.

Utopia is ostensibly a standalone episode, before the significance of its plot becomes apparent towards the end of ‘part 3’. On its own, it’s an uplifting tale of human perseverance and longevity, of hope amidst despair, as the last ever human beings at the very end of a dying universe, jet off in a last ditch effort to find a new home. But at the time, this plot fell by the wayside next to the more exciting revelation of the Master, disguised as the human Professor Yana, using the same metamorphosis technique that the Doctor only recently used to become human himself (how convenient!). The whole history of Doctor Who is recited in an info-dump that would have been excessive were it not intercut with Yana dramatically hearing the words in his mind that he should not understand: Vortex, Time War, Daleks, Regeneration. The build up of the music, the professor’s expression, the flashbacks of the Face of Boe reciting those words, “you… are… not… alone”, as the B plot suddenly becomes the A plot, the rocket full of humans now insignificant next to this, it is one of the best dramatic sequences they’ve ever done. It’s also the end of this particular run of high quality episodes, which has, in my opinion, yet to be bettered.

The perception field overcome, Professor Yana finally opens the pocket watch and the Time Lord essence hidden within comes flowing out.

The perception field overcome, Professor Yana finally opens the pocket watch and the Time Lord essence hidden within comes flowing out.

Everything after this can only fail to live up to expectations. It’s not that The Sound of Drums and Last of the Time Lords are necessarily bad, in fact this is probably my favourite of the three ‘finales’ so far, but it’s as totally overblown as finales always are. More so, frankly; the stakes are so ridiculously high this time that the planet Earth couldn’t possibly recover from everything that happens to it, so the big reset button has to be pushed, rewinding time to its previous state before the invasion of the spheres can even happen. That’s what you get when your plan to rule the world relies on a fragile paradox machine to keep everything held together, and then you let an immortal with a machine gun inside of it. John Simm is fine in his own (perhaps overly comedic) way, playing a version of the Master for the modern age, his exuberant personality and dramatic flair a mirror for the type of Doctor that David Tennant plays now… and yet, every time he’s on screen, I wish the role was still played by Derek Jacobi, who not only does a superbly menacing Master, but skillfully portrays the kindly human professor too. Still, had he stayed, the following episodes would have turned out quite differently.

Saxon says "yes" to gassing.

Saxon says “yes” to gassing.

Harold Saxon, of course, was the Master all along. Russell T. Davies must have been planning this as far back as The Runaway Bride when the name Saxon is first dropped. We never see him, of course, but everyone on Earth knows him, due to the telepathic field that the Master has managed to bounce off of satellites around the planet. For me, this is the best series arc yet. Better than clumsily name-dropping Torchwood everywhere they go; a better resolution than the Bad Wolf wizard turning up to wave its magic wand and save the day. This is the Doctor staring the Master in the face for more than a year without him even knowing it, finding him in the far future, and then being responsible for sending him back to the past to become the person that has been cropping up all throughout the season. It’s inspired, it’s superb, and it’s a shame that it has to have such a blow-out ending.

Swarms/fleets attack the Earth again. Yawn.

Swarms/fleets attack the Earth again. Yawn.

A giant rift, presumably unrelated to the Cardiff rift, and indeed the visually similar 'crack in the universe', opens in the sky above the implausibly high-tech aircraft carrier, Valiant.

A giant rift, presumably unrelated to the Cardiff rift, and indeed the visually similar ‘crack in the universe’, opens in the sky above the implausibly high-tech aircraft carrier, Valiant.

It’s great that Martha gets to save the world, seeing as this is her final regular appearance, but “the power of love” saving the day is such a lame and overdone thing now, and would Martha really be able to traipse across the whole planet in just a year? And still look so clean and pretty at the end of it? The Doctor temporarily gaining invincibility is too similar to the end of The Parting of the Ways. Yes, it is sort of set up in advance by the whole psychic satellite thing, but the details don’t have enough time to sink in, so the resolution feels very much like “winning with technobabble”. Just once, I’d like to have a low-key finale, a plot that doesn’t involve “huge swarms of invading things”, big CGI set-pieces and ridiculous levels of peril. I will give it bonus points, however, for the correct use of the word “decimate”.

Why does the Doctor turn into Dobby from Harry Potter when he's super-aged? This is very silly.

Why does the Doctor turn into Dobby from Harry Potter when he’s super-aged? This is very silly.

There were some nicely “big” moments that did work for me. All of the flashbacks to Gallifrey, complete with colourful costumes and big collars, were nicely done. We hardly ever learn anything about Time Lord society, but here we get a short history lesson about 8-year-old Gallifreyans looking into the Time Vortex as part of their initiation into the ‘Academy’ (whatever that is). It’s suggested that the Master has been hearing the drums in his head all of his life, but this is the only time it’s ever been mentioned. It’s worth noting, however, that the drum rhythm (da-da-da-dum, da-da-da-dum) is the same as the baseline in the Doctor Who theme, a rhythm directly associated with the Time Vortex at the start of every single episode. I’d never noticed before now, but that’s clever. There’s also an in-joke where the Doctor scoffs at Martha’s suggestion that he and the Master are brothers (this almost happened for the third Doctor’s finale, but the death of Roger Delgado meant it was written out). The story ends with another jokey suggestion that the almost immortal Captain Jack is in fact the Face of Boe himself – however, whether this should be taken at ‘face’ value (har!) is open to debate. It’s certainly a fun theory, but it could equally be Jack’s idea of a joke.

I think he'd have to have a lot more work done to end up looking like a giant head in a jar. I wouldn't put it past him.

I think he’d have to have a lot more work done to end up looking like a giant head in a jar. I wouldn’t put it past him.

Martha leaves us as a regular now, returning to the family that needs her, the only people on Earth who will remember the events of the ‘missing year’. Martha makes the decision to move on from the Doctor for the sake of her own feelings. I don’t like the fact that Tennant’s version of the Doctor has to be this heart-throb angsty wanderer that everyone keeps falling for, however I absolutely prefer this way of companions leaving of their own accord, and not through contrived set-ups, magic gateways and overblown emotional music.

But where would a finale be without some twist of an ending, whether it be a mysterious hand finding a ring at the Master’s burning remains or… the Titanic breaching the wall of the Tardis? What?

Blink

Blink is a “Doctor-lite” episode, a recurring event once per season that gives the main cast some down time and gives the writers the chance to do something a bit different, the chance to show what the Doctor is all about from an outsider’s perspective. Love & Monsters was pretty naff, although it showed promise. With Steven Moffat writing this one, Blink is, shall we say, a considerable improvement. In fact, it’s not only my favourite episode of Doctor Who, it’s one of the finest 45 minutes of British television I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch.

Should-have-been-companion Sally Sparrow explores the spooky house like a member of the Scooby Gang.

Should-have-been-companion Sally Sparrow explores the spooky house like a member of the Scooby Gang.

It’s remarkable to think what this episode achieves within such a short space of time. It introduces us to the life of Sally Sparrow and her friends, while creating an incredibly clever story around a predestination paradox. It’s the first mention of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff, and, of course, it’s the first appearance of the Weeping Angels, a brand new scary monster, the first new baddies that are good enough to stand toe-to-toe with Daleks and Cybermen. Monsters so good that they have been gradually ruined through overuse and degraded into shadows of their former selves.

This is, of course, the cleverest way to defeat the Weeping Angels. See, even the resolution makes sense! This episode does nothing wrong!

This is, of course, the cleverest way to defeat the Weeping Angels. See, even the resolution makes sense! This episode does nothing wrong!

But all of that is still to come. For now, these ‘quantum-locked’ creatures are terrifying, preying on our deep-rooted childhood fears, the monsters that exist when we close our eyes. Not only is the idea of creatures that turn to statues when you look at them a wonderful piece of science-fiction, it plays into the real world, making any children watching at home suddenly fearful of the statues they see around them in a brilliantly cruel way. “Don’t blink, little Timmy, or they’ll get you!” That’s so much worse than the clockwork clowns, Moffat, you ingenious bastard.

Larry resists the urge to blink. I would have tried alternating each eye, but there you go.

Larry resists the urge to blink. I would have tried alternating each eye, but there you go.

Blink manages to tell this terrific and complicated story without falling over itself. Here we have a story whereby the Doctor and Martha have been zapped back through time by the Weeping Angels and have to use a specially-prepared set of documents to communicate by forty year delay with the person who gave them said documents, before she gave them to them, in an effort to get her to activate the Tardis and send it back to get them. The scenes with the DVD recording are particularly well done, and what’s great is that it handles all of this with good humour and wit and doesn’t dwell too much on the technicalities. It’s both clever and excellently structured.

Somehow there's even time for tender moments like this, as old Billy dies in the presence of the girl he met for two minutes a lifetime ago.

Somehow there’s even time for tender moments like this, as old Billy dies in the presence of the girl he met for two minutes a lifetime ago.

Blink is one of those rare episodes that you could equally turn to as a great introduction to newcomers and as something for long-time fans to enjoy. It’s not often that Doctor Who deals with the perils of time travel in such a thoughtful way as this, and to create the best new monster the series has had in forty years as well is an amazing achievement.

Human Nature / The Family of Blood

Doctor Who can be a pleasingly versatile thing when it wants to be. While this season has been a little run-of-the-mill so far, the format is due for a shake-up, starting with this imaginative two-parter that sees the Doctor become human in order to hide from a family of pursuing aliens.

Amongst the journal of John Smith's dreams are images of the Doctor's former incarnations, for the first time since the show's 2005 revival.

Amongst the journal of John Smith’s dreams are images of the Doctor’s former incarnations, for the first time since the show’s 2005 revival.

These episodes may essentially revolve around the Doctor having to outwit aliens of the week in Earth’s history, but they also tackle broad themes of love, war, prejudice and many more, and do so with excellent writing and performances. As the Doctor’s anchor during his transformation, Martha’s role from the position of a humble servant is difficult but absolutely critical and she really comes into her own here. John Smith’s relationship with Joan as a human may be rushed, but it’s touching, and it’s heartbreaking to see the Doctor essentially having to give up a “normal” life and become a lonely wanderer again. We see the struggle he has to go through to give up a life that he realises isn’t his and we see Martha have to bury the feelings she feels she cannot have.

John and Joan, and the life that could not be theirs.

John and Joan, and the life that could not be theirs.

This is one of David Tennant’s best performances, with the Doctor and John Smith showing off his range as an actor. I think I actually preferred him as the ordinary school teacher, without all of that Time Lord wackiness and bravado. There are many dual roles in these episodes; one in particular that stands out is that of schoolboy Baines, whose snooty arrogance transforms into ice-cold menace as he is inhabited by a member of The Family. The crooked smile, the vacant stares and the calm voice are brilliantly performed. It’s also pleasant to see a historical episode where the period characters actually behave like they’re from another time. It is both gripping and infuriating to watch some of these scenes play out, with all the class and racial discrimination, all the pomp and ceremony, and training children to fight a war that nobody knows is coming. The theme of war feels a little surplus to the main story, but it’s another touching and well-written facet and concludes with a tear-jerker of an ending.

The possessed Jeremy Baines senses the Doctor's presence.

The possessed Jeremy Baines senses the Doctor’s presence.

This story doesn’t deal with ultimate good or evil. The conclusion isn’t a moral victory, or scarcely a victory at all. The entire ordeal is torturous for the Doctor, the sort of thing that will affect him for the rest of his live(s), one would imagine. Was it right to create John Smith, only to destroy the possibility of his future, in order to become the Doctor again? And how many lives could have been saved if he’d never gone there in the first place? True, it’s a battle of survival and for the greater good of the Universe, but then the Doctor goes to rather excessive lengths to cruelly imprison the Family in the end, seemingly an act of cold-blooded revenge.

This story plants the idea of a personality hidden within a pocket watch with a perception filter protecting it, nicely foreshadowing the upcoming reveal at the end of the season.

This story plants the idea of a personality hidden within a pocket watch with a perception filter protecting it, nicely foreshadowing the upcoming reveal at the end of the season.

Although that raises the question of how threatening the Family was in the first place. They were going to chase him relentlessly through time and space, and yet the Doctor, once recovered, was able to waltz into their spaceship, press some buttons to blow it up and then systematically trap each of them in a personal hell. Could he not have done that in the first place without all of that painful genetic manipulation? And turning Baines into a scarecrow is hardly inconspicuous; somebody is bound to pull the sack off his head at some point, leading to all sorts of awkward questions. (Unless he put a perception filter around him, I guess.)

Yes, the scarecrow soldiers are a tiny bit silly, but I think they're pretty scary too.

Yes, the scarecrow soldiers are a tiny bit silly, but I think they’re pretty scary too.

Despite some minor nitpicks, then, this is a really great example of the high standards the show can achieve. It’s the sort of thing that you might expect to not get made because “there’s not enough action” or “the kids will find it boring”. Thankfully, such nonsense didn’t stop it this time.

42

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.

The S.S. Pentallian falls into the gravity of a star.

The S.S. Pentallian falls into the gravity of a star.

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.

Okay, who had "scary monsters hidden by helmets" on their Doctor Who Bingo card? Anyone?

Okay, who had “scary monsters hidden by helmets” on their Doctor Who Bingo card? Anyone?

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.

The pod launch sequence is rather well done, actually. A few minutes of silence are all the more poignant in an episode where time is of the essence.

The pod launch sequence is rather well done, actually. A few minutes of silence are all the more poignant in an episode where time is of the essence.

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!!!

Despite his eyes being ON FIRE, the Doctor is absolutely fine a few minutes later. He should join the X-Men.

Despite his eyes being ON FIRE, the Doctor is absolutely fine a few minutes later. He should join the X-Men.

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!