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maryann johanson, striking from a hidden base

‘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

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