The Good: Decent effects, Aspects of concept, Adequate performances
The Bad: No real character development, Derivative plot
The Basics: “42” is too simple a concept, hinging as it does on a real-time threat, to be considered worthwhile or enduring Doctor Who!
Doctor Who, despite doing a number of episodes that were high-concept, did very few “concept episodes.” “42” is one of the few and the concept is pretty simple. “42” is, like 24, an episode in (pretty much) real time. So, the entire episode is predicated on a ticking clock and the clock is a literal one; death and destruction are set for forty-two minutes from the start of the episode.
“42” is an episode that is easy to get confused with “The Satan Pit” (reviewed here!) largely because the sets are so similar and the sense of menace seems familiar. Having encountered possessed people on a dingy, dark craft before, it’s hard to make it feel incredibly fresh a year later. Yet, Doctor Who makes the attempt with “42” and by having a slight variation on the Ultimate Evil In The Universe.
Upgrading Martha from passenger to Companion, The Doctor upgrades his human friend’s cell phone for universal calling through time and space when they detect a distress call. The TARDIS lands on a ship that is spiraling out of control, its engines dead. In forty-two minutes, the cargo ship will crash into the sun. The ship’s engines are out of control because the Captain’s husband, Korwin, has sabotaged the ship. While Martha Jones and an engineer work their way toward Auxiliary Control, hampered by a series of encoded locks that are inspired by trivia. As Korwin begins killing his way through the crew, the Doctor tries to figure out exactly what has infected Korwin.
Captain McDonnell encounters her husband, who has already infected another crewman with his burning eye parasite, and has to put him down. The delay causes The Doctor to miss the opportunity to save Martha and a crewmember from being jettisoned in an escape pod. The Doctor puts his faith in the ship’s crew while he attempts to save Martha’s life. In the process, The Doctor determines the nature of the infection and has to rely upon Martha like he never has before.
“42” is one of the least memorable episodes of Doctor Who, not just because it has a look so similar to “The Satan Pit,” but because it is so plot-intensive and pretty much neglects any real character development. In fact, arguably the purpose of “42” is to create a sense of indebtedness and trust between The Doctor and Martha Jones. As a result of “42,” Martha Jones entirely owes The Doctor her life. That sets up The Doctor having to put his life in her hands in the subsequent episode.
The redeeming aspect of “42” is that The Doctor is suitably heroic in it. This is an episode where The Doctor risks his life for Martha explicitly and his life is entirely in her hands. Outside David Tennant failing to portray his stated fear in a compelling and true fashion, The Doctor and Martha and their performers are all adequate and interesting. Tennant’s big performance moment is not his period of Hot Damn Heroics, but rather his time stuck in a tube, acting like he is burning up from inside.
But this is an episode that even the heroics are muted on. “42” is a “simple problem, simple solution” episode and it has incredibly low replayability. While not, strictly, bad, “42” suffers from being entirely unmemorable and simplistic.
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Third Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the second season of the Tenth Doctor here!
For other works with Adjoa Andoh, please visit my reviews of:
“The Lazarus Experiment” - Doctor Who
“Smith And Jones” - Doctor Who
“New Earth” - Doctor Who
For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!
© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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