A First-Timer Watches Doctor Who: “42”


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Travelling with the Doctor would be an opportunity to realize a lot of fantasies. Going to outer space, for one. Meeting alien life forms. Freedom from the limitations of your life back home. Knowing the future. Witnessing the past. Et cetera. But of all the wishes the Doctor fulfills, the biggest might happen in this episode, when he grants Martha unlimited cellphone coverage to anywhere in the space-time continuum. And on her dinky flip phone! It makes sense that she is just excited about her new cell perks as she is about actual time-travel.

And she’s going to need her new long-long-long-long-long-distance coverage. In this episode, Martha and the Doctor find themselves trapped on a rickety cargo ship that is plummeting towards a star. The engines have failed, and there’s only 42 minutes before the spacecraft is incinerated. Making matters worse, crew members keep getting infected by a mysterious being that wants everyone to die. Or more specifically, to “burn.”


This episode definitely brought back memories of “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit.” There’s the heat; the greasy, run-down space ship; and the burning-hot monster with the deep, Satan-ish voice. (Even if we don’t actually see a devil-like beast in this episode, the themes are undeniably similar.) However, while last time the Doctor faced and destroyed the Beast, this time the monster enters him. The Doctor has been a little meaner, a little harder, since Rose’s departure. Being possessed by a cruel and fiery spirit could be read as a reflection of his own harsher persona.

Although he does seem to be warming up to Martha. First he unlocks her cellphone, then he gives her a TARDIS key at the end of the episode. This was a major milestone in the Doctor’s relationship with Rose, but here it felt a little forced—like he’s just going through the motions with a new girl. Given that this episode so strongly recalls “The Satan Pit”—one of the most intense narratives between Rose and the Doctor—it’s hard for this landmark with Martha to bear much emotional weight.


I am very curious to know what Martha’s mother is up to, however. What did Harold Saxon tell her at the end of “The Lazarus Experiment”? And who were those suits in her house in the final moments of this episode? What has made her so suspicious of the Doctor?