Episode 3.07 “42”
Written By: Chris Chibnall
Originally Aired: May 19, 2007
Synopsis: “On a spaceship headed straight for the centre of the sun, The Doctor only has 42 minutes to save Martha and the rest of the ship’s crew from an inevitable doom…” (Wikipedia)
I always get this episode confused with the “Impossible Planet”/ “The Satan Pit” story from Series 2. They both involve a claustrophobic space station where one crewmember gets possessed by an alien malevolent and starts sabotaging and killing in creepy ways. The color scheme is also similar, with hot orange and reds predominating. The earlier story is better, but this one has its charms.
The Doctor: “Keep moving, fast as you can. And Martha, be careful; there may be something else aboard the ship.”
Martha: “Anytime you want to unnerve me, feel free.”
The Doctor: “Will do, thanks.
The title refers to how many minutes the crew has before the ship’s course into the sun is irrevocable; of course, it also refers to the episode being set in the 42nd century, not to mention the Meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything (according to Douglas Adams, also a writer for the classic show). Conveniently, it also happens to be just short of the standard episode length, leaving a couple minutes on either side for the pre-title sequence and the credits. But anyway, the show plays out in real time, frequently reminding us how much time is left before everyone crashes into the sun. There’s lots of running, shouting, and perspiring, as is the norm for Doctor Who, and it’s all enjoyable, if not superb. We’ve seen this done before, but it’s always a bit scary when the alien malevolent so ruthlessly kills some people, and then possesses others.
Two side characters stand out: the captain, a woman named Kath, and a friendly, but lonely, crewmember named Riley. I liked them both, as I was meant to. Kath is an excellent leader, being strong and loving simultaneously. She can take the Doctor’s advice while retaining her authority (the Doctor has a way of nullifying or “commandeering” the authority of nearby authorities, intentionally or not). She is clearly heartbroken as her crew starts to die off but continues to give orders, not least because the possessed killer is her own husband. It’s hard for her to fight him, to treat him as a monster to be fled from or killed, but the Doctor reminds her that her husband is already dead, and that the thing inhabiting his body must be stopped. When the moment comes when her possessed husband has her trapped, and she looks in his eyes with a face full of love and sorrow, whispers “I love you,” and presses the button that sends them both floating out of the airlock towards the sun, you want to cry and cheer at the same time. It’s a beautiful moment.
While the Doctor and Captain Kath are trying to figure out how to restart the engine of the sabotaged spaceship, Martha tries to fix other areas of the ship with the aid of Riley, a warm-hearted young man who quickly falls in love with her. They work well together, and the scenes where they work their way through a series of doors that can only be unlocked by answering trivia questions that the crew thought up when they were drunk (such as “CLASSICAL MUSIC: Who had the most pre-download Number Ones: Elvis Presley or The Beatles?”) manage to be funny and tense at the same time. The romantic element is sweet also. Martha is a sensitive, observant person: she pays attention to people and their feelings. So it makes sense that Riley, who explains to her how he really has no one to love him in all the world, nor to love, becomes attached to her. In one instance they are trapped in an escape pod that’s been forcibly ejected, and believe they are going to die, enveloped by the fire of the sun. It gives them a few minutes to open up to each other, and Martha realizes that here is a man whom she could love, who is already ready to love her back. There’s a little sadness, a tinge of regret, at the end, when she steps into the Tardis to leave him, still hoping against hope for the Doctor, but consolation in the fact that they both are a bit stronger and happier for having met each other.
The concept of a star being alive is a beautiful one that has been used in much other fiction (such as A Wrinkle in Time). I don’t really like the way it’s used here, though. The spaceship is mining the sun’s plasma for its fuel, and this action is equated with some kind of horrific torture or rape, for which the sun seeks revenge by possessing members of the crew and turning them into serial murderers. The writers are clearly trying to shove some kind of moral down our throats, but which is it: that mining for resources is bad, or that non-biological creature abuse is bad? Or both? The former moral isn’t very moral at all. The problem with the latter moral is that the crew had no way of knowing that the sun was a living creature, nor likely even the concept. This renders the Doctor’s angry accusations rather unfair; it’s one of the annoying traits the writers keep giving the otherwise pretty excellent Ten. He’s too easily angered, and often fails to consider the entirety of a circumstance and its context. But fortunately, this “message” isn’t given much weight, and the writers are more interested in the fate of the crew, as are we.
There are some interesting moments for the Doctor and Martha as well. At one point the sun actually manages to possess the Doctor himself, causing our favorite Time Lord to feel more fear and pain than he usually does. He cries out to Martha commands and pleas while clawing at his eyes and trying to stay on his feet. “I’m scared! I’m so scared!” he gasps, as she holds him. He even starts trying to explain regeneration, showing how close death seems to him, as well as his memory of Rose’s shock at experiencing his previous regeneration uneducated. But his fear is something deeper than mere death – he’s afraid the sun will make him a mindless killer, as it has some of the other crew. His peace-loving hero’s heart breaks at the thought.
The dénouement is nice too. Back in the Tardis, safe, the Doctor finally gives Martha a key. A Tardis key. Of course, he could have given it to her at the end of the last episode, when he officially accepted her as a full Companion, but nevermind. I guess the writers wanted to spread out their heartwarming moments. Still, the giving of the key is a sign of the Doctor’s complete trust, and I think we can all agree that Martha richly deserves it.
The Doctor: [explains his plan]
Captain Kath: “That is brilliant.”
The Doctor: [quite pleased] “I know! See? Tiny glimmer of hope.”
Crewmember: “…If it works.”
Captain Kath: “Oh believe me, you’re gonna make it work.”
[Crewmember leaves to do his job.]
The Doctor: [smiling] “That told him!
Credits: All screencaps from killcolor.