Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Story 184 - 42

In which the TARDIS materialises on board the SS Pentallian after picking up a distress signal. On leaving the ship, the compartment in which it has landed suffers a massive rise in temperature. The Doctor and Martha discover that the Pentallian has lost its engines, and in 42 minutes it will plunge into the sun around which it is orbiting. The crew comprises the captain, Kath McDonnell, and her husband Korwen, plus engineers Orin Scannell and Dev Ashton. Abi Lerner is the vessel's medic, and there are two younger crew members - Riley Vashtee and Erina Lessak. Korwen is taken ill, and it is found that his body temperature is rising. The Doctor believes he has been infected in some way, and that he can no longer be human. He starts helping Scannell repair the engines. It is necessary for the crew to reach the bridge at the front of the ship, but to get there they need to get through dozens of doors which have been locked down. Each door is individually protected by a password based on a quiz question, which the crew devised months ago.

Some of the questions are personal to the crew - such as favourite colours - but others are more general knowledge. When faced with a question about the most sales between Elvis and the Beatles, Martha decides to call her mother, Francine. Korwen, meanwhile, has woken up and he kills Lerner. When the others rush to the medical bay, they find that she has been incinerated. Korwen dons a welding mask to hide his face, as his eyes can blast out searing heat. Erina is next to be killed. When he reaches Ashton, however, Korwen transfers some of the infection into him, making him a killer also. The Doctor is curious about the ship's engines. They are of a design which enables vessels to scoop up energy directly from a sun. They should be banned, and Kath explains that they are due to be refitted after this trip. Francine has been worried about Martha, as she has heard one of Korwen's victims screaming over the tannoy system in the background to her call. She tries to warn her daughter about the Doctor, after being given information about him from someone working for Harold Saxon. Martha and Riley are attacked by Ashton, and take refuge in a life-pod. Ashton activates the launching sequence, which will send the capsule into the sun.

Kath kills Ashton by using the stasis chamber in the medical bay to freeze him to death. The Doctor dons a spacesuit and opens the airlock in order to re-magnetise the hull and draw the pod back to the Pentallian. He succeeds, but makes a shocking discovery about the star. This sun is a sentient lifeform, and the spaceship crew have scooped part of it into their engines. It has deliberately infected Korwen, and through him Ashton, in order that this energy can be returned to it. The Doctor is also infected. It has been found that the infected men can be temporarily disabled when subjected to freezing temperatures, so the Doctor has Martha place him in the stasis chamber to lower his body temperature. Korwen sabotages power to the chamber before the Doctor can be freed of the infection. Kath apologises to her crew for getting them into this, then lures her husband into an airlock. She opens the door and both are sucked out. Martha, Riley and Scannell finally reach the bridge and the Doctor orders them to vent the fuel. Once this is done, the sun releases its grip on the ship and it can start to break free. The Doctor is freed of the infection. Martha calls her mother back, to reassure her she is alright and will be home soon. Francine points out that it is election day. Francine has not been alone at her home. A young woman has been listening in to the calls. She works for Harold Saxon...

42 was written by Chris Chibnall, and was first broadcast on 19th May 2007, following a one week break for the Eurovision Song Contest. The director is Graeme Harper. This was Chibnall's first Doctor Who story, after acting as show-runner on the first series of Torchwood. Active on the fan front when he was younger, Chibnall had appeared on the BBC viewers' opinion show Open Air back in 1986, representing the DWAS on a panel which was highly critical of the Trial of a Time Lord season. After the success of the ITV series Broadchurch, he will be taking over from Steven Moffat in 2018, and has already cast the first female Doctor.
This story holds the current record for the shortest title, and the only one not to include any letters. It was inspired by the US TV series 24, starring Kiefer Sutherland, in which the action in each episode takes place over a 24 hour period. 42 minutes is roughly the length of a Doctor Who episode, once you skip the opening and closing titles. We do not get an on screen clock here, however, but the ship's computer gives regular countdowns to the ship's destruction.
Chibnall has also said that the title was a reference to Douglas Adams' answer to Life, the Universe, Everything.

The principal guest artist is Michelle Collins as Kath. She was famous for a long-running role in Eastenders. Riley is William Ash, Scannell is Anthony Flanagan (Shameless and Life on Mars), Korwen is Matthew Chambers. As Ashton we have Gary Powell, whilst Abi Lerner is Vinette Robinson, and Erina is Rebecca Oldfield. A couple of the cast (Robinson and Ash) had appeared in Children's Ward, for which Russell T Davies had written a number of episodes. It had been intended that Bertie Carvel would have played the agent of Harold Saxon after his appearance in The Lazarus Experiment, but he was unavailable and so we have the "Sinister Woman" introduced instead - played by Hollyoaks' Elize du Toit.

Story Arc: It is the day of the General Election when Martha calls her mother - an election prompted by the Doctor's undermining of Harriet Jones at the end of The Christmas Invasion.
The Sinister Woman works for Harold Saxon.
Martha's phone has the Archangel Network on it.

Overall, a good first effort from Chibnall. Director Harper gives the episode the pace and energy it needs to rattle along - fans of Doctor Who Confidential will know that he always asked for more of these two things. A good cast, and some impressive special effects, though the science is a bit rubbish - especially the re-magnetising of the escape pod.
Things you might like to know:

  • The spaceship was originally going to be called the Icarus - as in the man who flew too near the sun. However, the production team got wind that Danny Boyle was going to have a ship named Icarus in his forthcoming Sci-Fi movie Sunshine, so the name was changed to Pentallian. Icarus can be glimpsed written on a computer screen, as the change came after filming.
  • The name "Pentallian" came from Revenge of the Cybermen. The Pentallian Drive was a vital component of Nerva Beacon's transmat system.
  • Fans of reused props will recognise the stasis chamber as the redressed MRI scanner from Smith and Jones. The Doctor's spacesuit is reused from The Impossible Planet / Satan Pit story, though coloured red to match the "heat" theme of this episode.
  • The Sinister Woman is never named on screen, but Elize du Toit has stated that she was called Miss Dexter.
  • When released as part of the DVD Files part-work, the accompanying magazine claimed that the spaceship was to have had Ood aboard.
  • A couple of possible Hartnell era references - the Doctor survived extreme freezing in The Space Museum, and the Beatles are described as playing classical music - as Vicki had also described them in The Chase.
  • It may be purely coincidental, but the Torajii sun only infects men, and only kills female crew members. Unless the 13th Doctor has to be rescued by Bradley Walsh every 5 minutes, I think we can safely assume this does not reflect any willful sexism on Mr Chibnall's part.

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