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More about this episode
This episode was first broadcast on 19 May 2007. A brief and somewhat spoiler-ish summary of the plot: it's basically 'Planet of evil', only with a pub quiz and shorter.
First there was 'Planet of evil' and all that had come before. Then we got 'The impossible planet' / 'The Satan pit'. And now we have '42'. '42' is somewhere between an homage to, and a remake of the Tom Baker serial 'Planet of evil', which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The similarities to the previous season's two-parter are more of a problem, since it gives the impression that new Doctor Who can only do two types of stories set in outer space - either you get New New (New... New...) York in the year five-billion-and-change, or you get a grimy space vessel hurtling towards its doom while the crew are being possessed and picked off one by one.
For some reason this story doesn't quite do it for me, and I believe that the main problem is that the narrative relies too much on science and technology to create tension, and not enough on character. With the exception of Riley, who teams up with Martha and becomes something of a love interest, we don't get to know any of the space crew and when they die it has next to no impact. The Doctor's own utter terror in the second half of the episode is hard to empathise with because there's nothing leading up to it - up till then he'd been confident and slightly manic, and the story had given us no reason to believe that he was in any real jeopardy.
Another problem is that a lot of the tension in this episode is created by bad design. Having to correctly answer a question for every single door in the spaceship is an incredibly clunky way to override a lock-down. There's no good reason why an escape pod wouldn't have some kind of navigational system, however rudimentary, and there's also no good reason why the lever that needs to be pulled to retrieve the escape pod would be located on the outside of the spaceship or why it would be nearly impossible to reach from the nearest hatch.
Whatever the faults of this episode, however, this is a good story for Martha. She spends most of the episode either away from the Doctor or helping the Doctor as he's incapacitated, and for the most part Agyeman's performance is outstanding. Her brief romance with Riley is sweet and entirely believable, and the only thing about her performance that doesn't quite work for me is the almost religious reverence with which she receives the key to the Tardis at the end of the episode.
The other thing that stands out about this episode is that it looks fantastic - the use of colour is striking, and the special effects are terrific.
It boldly goes where many have gone before.
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