TV Show Review: Doctor Who Episode 3.07 “42”

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.

That space suit sure looks familiar.

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.


  1. Hunter says:

    Entertaining and enjoyable review– mainly because I share your appreciation this episode. I frankly didn’t watch much of Season Two because 1.) my days off at work changed 2.) Ten’s first outing, with his Rude and Not Ginger attitude was a complete turn off, sorry. I warmed up to Tennant after School Reunion (I saw the SyFy trailer with Sarah Jane and made the effort to record the episode) and Girl In the Fireplace, but o many about the show bothered me, and the only reason I kept watching until Season Three were the teasers featuring Freema, and I’m even going to pretend that appeal of Freema wasn’t an ethnic thing. That said– I had nothing at all to compare 42 to. I loved this episode, and saw it as the First and (unfortunately the last), time we see Martha and the Doctor in the kind of teamwork that wasn’t fraught with angst. I very much enjoyed the bonding between Riley and Martha and was very sorry to see him left behind. (Rose got Adam, Mickey, and Jack!) I also took a liking to the Captain– she seems almost blueprint for the leader we meet in Waters of Mars much later. The little scene between Martha and the Doctor, (“I’ll save you!”), was melodramatic and could have been a music video, but it hit the perfect pitch for Doctor Who. Again this is the last time we get any inkling that the Tenth Doctor might actually appreciate and like Martha for who she is, rather than Ten feeling free to dismiss Martha’s efforts and her feelings for who she is Not.
    I think people who have been in tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, or other natural disasters would have a different view of the Sun ‘s– in this case Nature– taking umbrage with humanities misuse of her gifts, but yeah, considering what the Time Lords did, Ten’s preaching about it was irritating. However, as the series progresses well in to Season Three and Season four, there is a method to Davies showing this almost insufferable superior side of the Doctor. We have to see the Tenth Doctor place himself and his morals above everything and everyone to understand his fall.

    1. David says:

      Aw, I liked the “rude, and not ginger!” parts; thought it a fun way to explore the ways in which the Doctor’s personality can change during regeneration such that even he isn’t sure how he’ll turn out. Plus, it’d be great to have a ginger Doctor. I haven’t got on to the Specials yet, but as I really liked Captain Kath, what you say sounds good. You’re also right that this is one episode where they don’t get dragged down so much by the tension inherent in their relationship. I look forward to all future episodes, despite whatever annoyances remain present.

      As I do these reviews, I’m getting to like Martha better than I did initially. I never disliked her, and she still hasn’t left much of an emotional impression on me, but my respect for her character is growing. I wish I’d gone into this much detail about the relationships when I reviewed Series 1 and 2.

  2. mjschneider says:

    Another nice review, especially the consideration of its place in the history of the Doctor and Martha’s relationship. I like this episode quite a lot, and for a lot of the same reasons. One of my favorite scenes is Martha’s phone call, when she finally figures out that she might die out there in the cosmos with the Doctor, and nobody would ever know where she went. More than that, I like that this is one of the few action-oriented Who episodes that works. Most of the ones that feature a lot of the running, jumping, and ‘splosions tend to use those as filler, which takes time away from exploring the provocative ideas.

    This episode does feature a provocative idea, and it is a shame that it wasn’t explored more, but I felt that the breathless construction and the clear emphasis on teamwork-based survival justified sidelining the whole “sun is alive” plot point. It didn’t bother me at all that the Doctor reamed them out for mining the sun, though. The episode establishes that there are galactic laws ruling such mining operations specifically for that purpose, and that the captain and her husband disregarded them as a shortcut — a highly immoral and unethical act. I’m not sure that it was an allegory for anything in particular, but the point it made — that taking illegal, unethical shortcuts can have dire moral and material consequences — was really brought home by the immediacy of the danger in this episode. I don’t think all suns are necessarily sentient in the Whoniverse, but it is apparent that some are, and there are probably laws and procedures for determining that that were flouted prior to the events depicted here.

    Anyway, it’s a strong episode, and I really liked your comments on the Doctor’s possession.

    1. Hunter says:

      Lets hope all suns in the Whoverse are not sentient. Do you recall how the Doctor choose to say goodbye to Rose? :0

      Of course there are new theories connecting the star stuff of a supernova to the elements making up the stuff of life…but I degress.

      One of my favorite scenes is Martha’s phone call, when she finally figures out that she might die out there in the cosmos with the Doctor, and nobody would ever know where she went.
      That was one of my favorite moments as well, and I thought it was a wonderful show case of Freema’s acting. Those quiet moments work for me more than the big, emotive scenes. I very much identified with Francine, who at the time was being told outright that her daughter was with a dangerous man. I often speculated if Saxon had showed Francine footage of the Doctor seeming to kill her niece?

      It didn’t bother me at all that the Doctor reamed them out for mining the sun, though. It didn’t bother me because I thought the lecture was undeserved. I dislike the Tenth Doctor’s ranting, period. This preachy, jugemental attitude towards the actions of humanity is one of the elements of the NuWho Doctor’s personality that I’m really sad that Moffat decided to carry over to the Eleventh Doctor. Except for Six, who was the Agnst, Rant Master of the Doctors until Ten, (And he ranted at the Time Lords, not humans!) the Doctors weren’t much on lectures or preaching — but did more gentle observation/teaching moments and encouragement.
      After a while Ten makes us wonder why we would want to be human.

      1. mjschneider says:

        The thing that bothers me about Ten’s rants is that RTD seems to endorse them uncritically. In the classic series, the Doctor took potshots at humanity all the time — sometimes justly, sometimes not. But it served to remind us that he is an alien, and that he’s not always empathetic or a paragon of virtue. With Ten, I felt the opposite. I felt that RTD was using the Doctor as a humanist mouthpiece for his own more misanthropic views. (Isn’t that what Torchwood was for?) Which wouldn’t even be that bad, except for, as you said, the “preachiness.” Again, though, there is precedent. How about that original Silurian arc? Pertwee got quite a few monologues about humanity’s barbarity, and frankly, those monologues are some of the livelier moments of the era. So this isn’t exactly new stuff. I actually like the Doctor’s rants from time to time. I just wish the show would frame them more ambiguously, treating them more as shadings of character, or offering a different, outside perspective, rather than presenting a straight-up sermon from the spacetime pulpit that we are not allowed to question. *shrug* Oh well.

        1. Hunter says:

          Well, I have to admit, I haven’t see most of the classic episodes in over a decade when they stop showing them on PBS. And this is aging myself, but I saw most of the Fourth Doctor episodes when they originally aired on CBC and PBS. I simply don’t recall him being preachy. The First Doctor was a bit skittish and thought us primative, however, I’ll have to seen if I can find some of the scenes you spoke of.

    2. David says:

      To both:

      The provocative sun plot might have been much better had they really put it front and center and developed it. You’re right that the episode did say that the fusion mining was illegal, so the ship shouldn’t have been doing it. I just don’t remember them making clear that there was already knowledge of stars potentially being alive; my impression was that the crew didn’t know and had no way of knowing. If the crew did know or have a way of knowing that the sun was alive, then they are more at fault and deserve castigation (which makes the Doctor just, but still preachy). It’s the script’s weakness that it introduces the idea without making the circumstances clear.

      The phone scene was also very good, especially for Martha herself. Yet while I totally understand her mother’s fears — they are completely legitimate with the knowledge she has, and are still legitimate even if she knew the truth about the Doctor! — it just feels that this is the only side of Francine that the show gave her. She always felt one-dimensional, and since that one dimension is so serious and constantly working against the hero of the show, it makes her unlikable to me. There wasn’t enough levity, nor any real insight into her soul that I recall.

      I obviously can’t comment on the classic series, but I agree with both of you here. Not only is Ten too preachy and almost anti-human at times, but it always sounds like RTD lecturing us. Oh he definitely gives us moments where we are intended to question the Doctor’s justness (and I’m so glad he redeemed a certain previously besmirched someone in the Series 4 finale), but elsewise it can get quite nasty.

      As a side note, it’s great seeing two classic Whovians conversing. Made my day to log in and see your comments.

      1. Hunter says:

        First, you are absolutely right. Although Kath was out of line for mining, there was no way for her to know the Sun was alive, and this lecture comes from a Time Lord who used the energy of dying star to haunt — erm — say good bye to his almost-a- girlfriend.

        With Ten and the Rude and Ginger bit: Unlike many fans I had seen some of– but not the entire series — Secret Smile in which David portrayed a Piece of Slime. No better word for it. That sneering, nasty image of David was still in my head during his debut on Who. I know that’s unfair, (Poor sir Michael Gambon got a shudder for me in Harry Potter, because I had just seen him as a lecherous old man in Gosford Park-but his Dumbledore was warm enough to dispel the image.)

        In a way it is a credit to how brilliant an actor David is that I couldn’t shake the image of him as Pond Scum. Having him be nasty to Harriet Jones, and let an alien fall to his death- with what was supposed to be Dirty Harry swagger– didn’t help. And the change in Rose, from selfish, but strong minded and compassionate herione to smirking, smug, entitled fangirl didn’t help me appreciate the side of the Doctor, that Ten’s anger revealed either. Nine brought out the best in people. Ten made them insecure. And I agree, that there is little humor in Ten’s rants, we realized we are supposed to take his judgement as if from On High. It was very– unsettling.

        One of the things I noted when the BBC had Martha Jones My Space up, was that Martha contributed a lot to Francine’s distrust because she wasn’t exactly open with her mom about him. The BBC blog has Martha regret that she “lies” to her Mum about the Doctor. Rose brings Ten Home, Martha closes Ten away from her family– but more on that when you get to the finale. And again, YOU, like the Tenth Doctor far better than I did (As opposed my eventually looking forward to seeing David every week) –so I always cheered at the comeuppence episodes.

      2. mjschneider says:

        It’s been a while since I’ve seen the episode, but I seem to recall that the crew did not know about the sun mining being illegal, but the captain and her husband did. So they were totally in the wrong, and they — or she, rather — deserved the tongue-lashing. My recollection is that all this was made clear, but maybe I just filled in the blanks afterward.

        Re: the Doctor’s anti-human attitude… I’m always champing at the bit when you do these reviews, because a lot of the stuff you bring up has a longstanding, established context, and I really can’t wait till you start in on the classic series. There are moments when the Doctor can be downright nasty about humanity, especially Three and Seven. The condescension toward us is part of all of them, but since a lot of the classic series dealt in social criticism, it wasn’t uncommon for “humanity” to stand in for whatever villainous activity the show was allegorically criticizing. The Silurian story from Pertwee’s first season is a straight-up condemnation of Cold War recalcitrance, and the Doctor’s relationship with UNIT (or any other humanoid military organization) always has an edge to it. It has been taken down now, but a couple of years ago, there was this great video on YouTube that poked fun at NuWho as being a pansy version of the classic series. It was highly facetious and selective, of course, but it was cool nonetheless. One of the best parts was the juxtaposition of clips from the new show where the Doctor is praising humans to the heavens for their ingenuity, hardiness, etc., then show clips of the old Doctors not bothering to contain their disgust. In general, the Doctor does love humans, and as Hunter said, tries to guide us or encourage us along, but he is a Time Lord, and Time Lords are genetically predisposed to be condescending, self-righteous jerks, and that comes through plenty. One of the episodes from season 5, “The Beast Below” is an excellent example of a newer episode in the classic vein, and when you get to it, you’ll see why. It’s not “anti-human,” per se, but it’s a reminder that humans aren’t always the noblest of the creatures the Doctor encounters…

        Great discussion. I’m enjoying this.

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