Doctor Who 3.07: "42" review

Original UK airdate: 19 May 2007

Written by: Chris Chibnall

Directed by: Graeme Harper

Rating:

If proof were needed that Martha’s been well and truly absorbed into the Who-niverse, this episode closes with the Doctor symbolically handing over a set of TARDIS keys. With half the season gone it’s an eloquent way of saying Ms Jones is no longer a passenger; perhaps she’s finally forced her way into the place in the Doctor’s hearts once occupied by Rose?

The episode's 24-style, real-time format could easily have felt like a gimmick, but the premise of an out-of-control spaceship 42 minutes away from crashing into a star never overwhelms the real story; the Doctor and Martha's evolving relationship. Chibnall's script cleverly shifts the balance of power back and forth between the lead duo, giving each their fair share of saving the day. Both Tennant and Agyeman get to show off their emotional range - Agyeman, in particular, is unafraid to put herself through the wringer - and the scene where the Doctor shouts “I will save you” as Martha is launched, helpless, away from the ship in an escape pod, provides the season’s most powerful moment so far. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that, in a brilliantly audacious move, the scene’s shot in near-silence; frankly it’s genius.

While the monster wandering around the grimy, Alien-influenced spaceship is fairly conventional, the combination of a face-obscuring gas mask (anyone seen Dead Man's Shoes?), heavy breathing and a lethal beam of light coming from the eyes ensure it’s a creepily effective bogeyman. Coupled with an ominous ticking clock, it helps to create a wonderfully tense 42 minutes - even the Doctor admits he's scared.

But even when you’re mere moments away from being turned to toast there’s still time for a laugh, and a wonderful sequence where Martha has to answer pub quiz questions to negotiate a series of locked doors (did Elvis or the Beatles have more number ones? Hmm…) shows that in space, someone can hear you phone a friend. Which brings us to the episode's other trump card. The mysterious Mr Saxon may be somewhere on the other side of the universe, but he still manages to leave his mark on "42" courtesy of sinister government agents (one of whom used to be in Hollyoaks - mysterious) who are tapping Martha’s mum’s phone. On election day! Now we know Saxon’s tracking Martha’s “chipped” mobile, the second half of the season's set up beautifully. Roll on next week...

Best line: “Talk about dumbing down. Don’t they teach recreational mathematics any more?”

Richard Edwards

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