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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “42”

(intro to my Who blogging, please read before commenting / previous: Episode 6: “The Lazarus Experiment”)

After the two-episode Dalek story, I think I have to call this one the least satisfying episode of this season. There’s just not a lot of there there. Like last week’s “The Lazarus Experiment,” it’s more in the style of the old series: something bad is happening, the Doctor sweeps in to fix things, all ends relatively well. And that was all fine and good for the old series, but Russell Davies has so raised the bar that even something that would have been considered brilliant in the 1970s or 80s, as this might have been — the idea of a star as alive truly is innovative science fiction — feels kinda ho-hum now.

But that’s okay, because I’m gonna tell you now: the final six episodes of this season, the first of which is next week’s “Human Nature,” are, collectively and individually, some of the best SF in the history of television. Not “the best Doctor Who.” The best SF, period. Russell Davies is a mad, crazy, wonderful genius, so I can cut him some slack on an episode like “42.” He’d self-combust if he were as brilliant all the time as “Human Nature” and — two episoes after that — “Blink” demonstrates he can be. And we wouldn’t want that to happen.
Also, I have to say this: I’m so madly in love with David Tennant’s Doctor. I mean, it’s scary, and sad, how I can’t stop thinking about him. Even in the not-so-awesome episodes like this one. Watching him running around and doing nothing is maybe second only to actually traveling with him on the TARDIS. “Burn with me, Martha”? Ooo, I think I might.

I’m so pathetic. And I don’t care who knows it.

Speaking of wanting to make mad, passionate love to the Doctor: there’s more of those hurt/comfort allusions to fanfic that was apparent back in Christopher Eccleston’s season in this ep. “I’m scared,” the Doctor tells Martha, “I’m so scared!” I don’t think we’ve ever heard the Doctor say anything like that before, or heard him quite scream like that. Makes you wanna be the one to kiss away his boo-boos, physical and psychological, afterward…

Davies’ new Doctor works more on boo-boos of the physical kind himself, too, than he used to, like in this episode. I remember in one of the old Peter Davison episodes someone being hurt or sick, and someone asks the Doctor to help that person. And Tegan has to tell these people, “He’s not a medical doctor.” But you’d be hard-pressed to guess that after “42.” I guess you pick up a lot of first aid traveling around the universe. Or maybe the Doctor watches a lot of ER on the TARDIS…

His quip about “recreational mathematics,” though? That sounds more like the Doctor we’ve always known and loved. On the other hand, I always had it in my mind when I was writing my fanfic that the Doctor’s doctorate was actually in some sort of temporal engineering, but after I’d seen all of this season’s epiodes (including those that haven’t yet aired in the States), I’m not sure the Doctor has any kind of doctorate, or any kind of higher education in his society at all.

I wonder, too, about how the Doctor comes to realize that the sun they’re crashing into is alive. Is he — as many fanfic writers have speculated — rather more telepathic than the brief hints the old show ever gave out seemed to indicate? Has Russell Davies been reading more fanfic?

I’ve been thinking over the course of all of Davies Doctor Who, from Eccleston onward, how the Doctor no longer has that kind of “posh” accent like he used to, for the most part. The Doctor gets Martha’s attention in this episode with an “Oy!”… that’s so cockney. I’ve been to Britain many times, but it’s been years now, so I don’t really know much about how British culture may have changed in the last decade or so, but I wonder if there’s been a bit of leveling out of class attitudes, and that a posh accent doesn’t carry quite the same air of authority that it once did. Or maybe I’m completely full of shit.

I’m not sure what to assume about whether the Doctor and Martha make it to tea with Mom — probably they don’t, because obviously Harold Saxon’s people would have pounced, though there’s clearly an awesome fanfic tale waiting to be written about how they managed to stop by Francine’s for dinner and yet also elude Saxon without even being aware that they did (because they maintain their ignorance about Saxon till later on in the season, as you’ll see). On the other hand, there’s also very clearly a bit of a gap between the end of this episode and the beginning of the next, as you’ll see next week, so all sorts of stuff could have happened in the interim. Those gaps were always catnip to fanfic writers, because they left such juicy openings for all sorts of missing stories to be told.

Random thoughts on “42”:

• Universal roaming? Oh my god, I so want that.

• Martha’s cell phone number: 07 71 191 1905. Google “07711911905” and you get a few Doctor Who-related results, but they don’t seem to resolve the question of what happens if you dial the number, other than that an answering machine answers. No way in hell I’m springing for an international phone call to find out — I’m a big geek, but not that big. If someone in the U.K. wants to call that number and report, I’d be your best friend forever.

• This episode reminds me just a smidge of the recent British SF film Sunshine (which I still haven’t reviewed, I know; I hope to soon). Is there something in the zeitgeist telling us we should be worried about falling into the sun…?

• Drat, “42” refers to the amount of time the ship has before it crashes, not the ultimate answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. What is rather fascinating, though, is that “42” is just about the runtime of these episodes, so this one unravels almost in real time. I don’t think there’s been a real-time episode of DW before…

• Oh, how creepy is it, the eavesdropping on Martha’s calls to her mom? What on Earth — or in the galaxy, or whatever — does Francine think the Doctor is?

(next: Episode 8: “Human Nature”)


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
posted in:
tv buzz
  • Maddie

    If someone in the U.K. wants to call that number and report, I’d be your best friend forever.

    Alas, MaryAnn, you just get the BT messaging service saying that the person isn’t available to answer the phone, so leave a message after the tone. Nothing cool.

    42 reminded me way too much of the Impossible Planet/Satan Pit double of the previous season, and I spent the whole episode thinking that it was going to tie in. I thought it was quite a good episode taken by itself, but given that we’d already had the whole Satan Pit experience, it seemed a bit unnecessary.

  • Joanne

    I wonder if there’s been a bit of leveling out of class attitudes, and that a posh accent doesn’t carry quite the same air of authority that it once did.

    We have a weird relationship with accents in the UK these days, I think. People like Jamie Oliver use a Mockney accent to try and attract a younger audience, be one of the lads, and so on. The traditional Received Pronunciation that some of the older Doctors (I’ve just been watching William Hartnell, and he’s a classic example) used probably wouldn’t cut it with the modern Britain RTD’s trying to engage with. And also it’s just not very common any more; most TV presenters and newsreaders have some sort of regional variation. Christopher Eccelston’s northern Doctor was, in many ways, a perfect example of that – regional authority. Fantastic.

    On the other hand, the sort of accent Billie Piper used as Rose is the sort of accent that often gets the label “chav” attached, and chav isn’t a complimentary label. Yet Ten’s accent isn’t that different.

    I’ve been wondering how different Ten would have been if Tennant had just used his own (sooo gorgeous) Scottish accent for the part. I don’t actually think it would have worked, or the delivery of the lines would have been very different – and that would have been a shame. I’ve read a bit of fanfic suggesting Ten picked up his accent from Rose when regenerating, which is an interesting theory.

    Like Maddie above, I saw an awful lot of parallels to the “Impossible Planet” in “42”. The orange spacesuit for a start, and the general colour and feel. But I thought it was a stronger episode than I’d originally thought when I rewatched it.

  • James

    What is rather fascinating, though, is that “42” is just about the runtime of these episodes, so this one unravels almost in real time.

    It’s also 24 backwards.

  • Dave

    Careful, MaryAnn. You’ll get the “RTD must go” crowd’s backs up if you link his name with Paul Cornell and Steven Moffat’s scripts. Or even Chris Chibnall’s, come to that.

  • Poly

    “I’ve read a bit of fanfic suggesting Ten picked up his accent from Rose when regenerating, which is an interesting theory.”
    That’s not fanfic, it was at the Christmas Invasion script, the idea that the new Doctor picks up some of his new features from the companion, some kind of imprint. But they never got to film that part of the script.

  • I agree that 42 was lame.

    I’m also looking forward to Human Nature and Blink. People were discussing them at Armadillocon last week, and pretty much said what you just said – may be the best SF on TV ever.

    I rather liked last night’s Master of Science Fiction, though I wish Jerry hadn’t looked so much like Data.

  • MaryAnn

    You’ll get the “RTD must go” crowd’s backs up if you link his name with Paul Cornell and Steven Moffat’s scripts. Or even Chris Chibnall’s, come to that.

    Why?

  • Sarah

    I believe it’s only in the last ten years that the BBC news services made an effort to introduce regional dialects into their broadcasts. The kind of people who you hear reading the news often go pretty far toward shaping your concept of what ‘authority’ is, and the Doctor, whatever else he may be, is an authority figure.

    You’ll note how little success news anchors who aren’t white, male, and old have had over here.

  • Dave

    Why?

    Because the net (well, Outpost Gallifrey) is full of outspoken fans who think that at best Davies deserves praise for bringing the show back and at worst is a frivolous hack who laces his scripts with silly jokes, pop music, cultural references that will date the episodes, inappropriate gay/sexual innuendo and deus ex machina endings. To them, Doctor Who must be “adult” and “gritty”, Davies can do no right and Moffat is da man. Their latest war cry is “Moffat or Cornell for showrunner”.

    I don’t agree with them – and the writers in question seem to have nothing but respect for Davies (who won the British Academy’s Dennis Potter Award for television writing last year) – but if you hang around these fan circles long enough it’s hard to avoid these guys. Which is why I’ve stopped visiting the new series discussions on the OG forums. Too depressing.

  • Dave

    Oh, and I forgot the other charge laid at Davies’s door. That he’s turned the show into a soap opera.

  • This episode reminds me just a smidge of the recent British SF film Sunshine

    Yes! I thought of it a couple of times while I was watching that movie a couple weeks ago. What I thought was, “Wow, that episode was stylized and defanged.” It’s like a cup of decaf versus a double espresso. Nothing wrong with the decaf, but the espresso, hoo boy.

  • MaryAnn

    You’ll note how little success news anchors who aren’t white, male, and old have had over here.

    By “over here,” Sarah, I assume mean “the U.K.”? Cuz it’s been the same in the States, too. Gray-haired white guys are where it’s at, unless it’s fluffy morning talk-show bullshit (not the the evening news isn’t bullshit either, except everyone thinks it’s serious), and then “ethnic” and female is fine.

    Is it my imagination, though, or are we seeing more challenges to the Doctor’s authority, as in this episode? Or am I forgetting too many instances in the old series of people asking, Hey, just who the hell are you, anyway?

  • Judy

    Regarding the title “42”–I thought it was a deliberate reversal of the title of the TV show “24” plus the fact it tied into the way it played in real time.
    I thought it was ok, but nothing like Blink, which is one of the best TV shows I’ve ever ever seen. Stands alone–don’t ever have had to see Doctor Who to enjoy it. Stephen Moffat is a genius.
    And as an American, I too get baffled by the cues I don’t pick up because of the differing accents or the continual jokes about Wales.

  • Katie

    I agree with everyone that ’42’ did bring to mind ‘Impossible Planet/Satan’s Pit’ only those two episodes, ‘Satan’s Pit’ especially were just amazing. Simply amazing…the Doctor’s travel down the pit and then his experience in the pit…brilliant!

    ’42’…eh. But I love the Doctor in it so it’s watchable.

    I still don’t like Martha’s Mom and still say that she comes off as just a mean bitter woman instead of someone strict and concerned for their daughter. She just seems really really mean.

    “…laces his scripts with silly jokes, pop music, cultural references that will date the episodes, inappropriate gay/sexual innuendo and deus ex machina endings.”

    Ummm…hasn’t this always been part of Sci-Fi? Hasn’t Sci-Fi always been a metaphor for our current cultural and political state? I guess I missed the part where Sci-Fi was only fantasy. Obviously I won’t be visiting those sites.

    MaryAnn you’re so not the only one in love with David Tennant’s Docotr. And speaking of David Tennant’s real accent (sigh)…is it wrong I spent a good portion of Friday on YouTube listening/watching interviews with him because it’s so lovely?

    Oh my gods…’Human Nature/The Family Blood’…I’ll save all my thoughts for next week but…oh oh oh!

  • Charlie S

    I don’t think 42 is the least satisfying episode of the season because Graeme Harper did give some above-average direction even though he’s not up to his fantastic Sam-Peckinpah style direction peak that he used to be with “Caves of Androzani” and “Revelation of the Daleks”? I mean, there was some good suspense and some great moments such as the silent shouts in space as Martha was ejected in the pod was a great moment.

  • MaryAnn

    Katie wrote:

    I still don’t like Martha’s Mom and still say that she comes off as just a mean bitter woman instead of someone strict and concerned for their daughter.

    Agreed. Her level of hatred toward the Doctor simply is never justified — not here, not anywhere in this whole season. That’s very frustrating.

    Charlie S wrote:

    I don’t think 42 is the least satisfying episode of the season because…

    Charlie, sweetie, calling the the least satisfying episode of the season is as if I had said, The gooey cherry cordial one is my least favorite truffle in the Godiva box. I’m still gonna eat it… :->

  • Charlie S

    MaryAnn, do you think Graeme Harper has lost his creative peak directing Doctor Who after his heyday directing “Caves of Androzani” and “Revelation of the Daleks” (Granted, I know you didn’t care much for “Revelation of the Daleks” even though it did offer some boldly grim, slickly directed moments and action scenes that were above-average even for the Colin Baker era.
    Good examples of slick action scenes are the start of this clip:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3I8LDEpvZrU
    or the end of this clips
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6rnZBTQ4bM4)?

    Along with Graeme Harper, there seem to have been some decent directors like Douglas Camfield(The Web of Fear, Inferno, Terror of the Zygons), Paddy Russell (The Massacre, Pyramids of Mars, Invasion of the Dinosaurs, Horror of Fang Rock) and David Maloney (Genesis of The Daleks, Planet of Evil, The Deadly Assassin, Talons of Weng Chiang) who would have become talented film directors sucessfully, even winning Oscars, by now if they moved on from the BBC to doing films just as much as Ridley Scott moving from directing for the BBC to directing films because those directors seem to bring a feel, style and look to their directing all to their own. What do you think, MaryAnn?

  • MaryAnn

    I’ve never really thought about DW directors before. Even the old show was so dominated by the writing, so I tend to think more about that. (Robert Holmes wrote the best of the old series, I think…)

  • Charlie S

    Well, MaryAnn, the show was also dominated by the directing and the performances. I mean, the show wasn’t always dominated just by the writing because some stories needed help elevating the stories by the direction and the actors carrying a presence, especially with a low-budget (thank god, we had some clever producers, writers and directors who knew how to make effective use of the show on a low budget.

  • MaryAnn

    I meant the show was dominated by the writing over the directing — clearly, I think, the performances by the actors playing the Doctor dominated over both those aspects.

  • Charlie S

    Well, that I agree with. Of course, many low-budget BBC sci-fi show productions including the classic series have a huge advantage over glossier American scifi shows, and that is a creepy atmosphere from the right blend of low-lighting and scary, dark, claustrophobic sets. When you see that sort of atmosphere, it’s like watching a story where the inhabitants enter strange, creepy haunted houses with the same feel as the Blair Witch Project (Nigel Kneale’s creepy 1972 sci-fi/supernatural BBC TV play The Stone Tape springs to mind there) . A real pity we can never capture that same atmosphere, even if it was low-budget looking, in newer slicker, BBC productions.

  • Douglas Adams

    Come on – 42 is obviously a reference to “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”.

  • MaryAnn

    Mmmm, nope. There’s nothing in the episode that can remotely be connected to your book, Doug.

    How’s the afterlife? Do you get broadband ther? Or do you have to dial up? Cuz that would suck.

  • Douglas Adams

    From the Wikipedia article on the episode “42”–
    “When asked whether the title referred either to that television series or to the work of Douglas Adams (see Life, the Universe and Everything), he said yes, and acknowledged that “It’s a playful title”. Adams was a writer and script editor on the original Doctor Who series. A key plot point in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy story (book and television serial versions) is the protagonists being trapped on a spaceship which is pre-programmed to crash into the sun (as part of a rock concert special effect); the number 42 is a key element in the Hitchhikers Guide stories. “

  • MaryAnn

    Yeah, Doug, I know all those things. And I have no doubt that the writer of this episode knew that people would think of Douglas Adams when they heard the title of this episode. But still, I wouldn’t call the title particularly “playful” unless there was something in the episode that made us think of the ultimate answer to the ultimate question. That’s all.

  • t6

    One of my favorite bits is that the ship captain was played by Michelle Collins…and as a big Eastenders fan, it was cool to see a brunette Cindy Beale running around in space.

  • Rosie

    I’m in the UK and I called Martha’s number. Turns out it was the props guy (Nick Murray I think his name is). I had a nice conversation with him about what it was like to work on Doctor Who. What a pleasant man.

  • MaryAnn Johanson

    How bizarre that the show would use a real number that wasn’t set up as a kind of viral marketing thing… Poor Nick Murray. His phone must have rung off the hook.

  • Mimi

    God, I love everything you write, Mary Ann, but when you write things like this, I just want to pack up the car and drive to New York and back, tonight, just to high-five you:

    Also, I have to say this: I’m so madly in love with David Tennant’s Doctor. I mean, it’s scary, and sad, how I can’t stop thinking about him. Even in the not-so-awesome episodes like this one. Watching him running around and doing nothing is maybe second only to actually traveling with him on the TARDIS. “Burn with me, Martha”? Ooo, I think I might.

    I’m so pathetic. And I don’t care who knows it.

    Out and proud, my pathetic sister.

  • Mimi

    Also:
    — a lot of the internal links in these old DW posts don’t work anymore, which is a bummer.
    — your comment system apparently hates me and my attempts at html tags (like quotes in the above comment). Oh well.

  • MaryAnn

    I’m fixing the broken links, which have occurred because the old Geek Philosophy postings are now at the new MaryAnnJohanson.com, but the URLs aren’t mapping as they should.

    If you want to quote, you need to use the “blockquote” command. (I’ve fixed it in your comment above.)

  • Lythea

    This was the first (and only) episode (at least of this new batch, which is all I’ve seen) bad enough that I couldn’t sink into the story and stop mocking ridiculous bits. But in the midst of all that, I was still delighting in the Doctor, and the wonder of that made me realize that I’ve finally stopped wishing that David was Christoper. What can I say, I’m just too loyal…

  • Merlin

    Love your blog!

    I just rewatched “42” and I think that the Doctor’s line about being scared was not for himself but that he was scared of “killing them all.”

    There is something gut wrenching about the Doctor’s screaming, DT does it so well though, this episode and “Human Nature” contain screams that rip my heart.

    Gawd I am going to miss ten :-)

  • christine

    oh my god i cant believe the negativity about this episode! i think it is FABULOUS and i really cant understand why anyone wouldn’t adore every last drop.

  • Well, now that Pluto is no longer a planet, they’re going to have to rewrite this entire episode. So maybe that’s why MaryAnn was so negative about it. ;-)

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