Cable for One – Doctor Who – 3-07


Yeah, I know there wasn’t a column for “The Lazarus Experiment” last. I’m moving to Toronto early next month and I’ve been pretty busy lately getting ready for that. I’ve got most of the details worked out now, so I’ve got more time for other things. About the only real major thing yet to be figured out is where I’m going to live when I get to Toronto. But the move isn’t for another 2 weeks, so it’s not like that’s important, right?

Before we move on to “42”, here’s the (very) quick version of my thoughts on “The Lazarus Experiment.” The actual science was kind of silly, but it was a pretty good episode. Plus it marked the first appearance of what looks to be our major arc of the season, with the mysterious Mr. Saxon. Definitely a step up from the previous two outings.

“42” reminded me of something that’s really been bothering me for a while as far as the new “Doctor Who” goes: the almost complete lack of benevolent aliens. Sure we’ve had the occasional friendly alien (like the Face of Boe and some of the cat people), but on a whole, Doctor Who is far more human-centric these days. Granted, much of the time, the ‘aliens’ the Doctor helped out were indistinguishable from humans, but it helped expand the universe. It’s not a huge deal, but it seems out that no matter when or where the Doctor goes, he always ends up in the company of Earthlings. Even so, this was the first episode of the season to be set somewhere other than Earth or New Earth.

The aliens we did get were kind of iffy. We never really saw how they transfer on to the ship. I’m guessing it has something to do with radiation exposure, as the Doctor ended up with an alien hitchhiker, while Martha and Riley, though they got considerably closer to the sun, were unaffected. I’m not quite sure why an alien lifeform that lives on the surface of a star ever would have evolved the means to infect and control passing travelers.

On a side note, did the actual problem (with a living creature accidentally ending up in an engine) make anyone else think of a episodes of Star Trek:TNG and Voyager? I’m too lazy to look up the episode names, but both those series had at least one episode where an energy based lifeform inadvertently ended up trapped inside the engine, with chaos ensuing.

The (quasi?) realtime nature of “42” was a bit of a mixed blessing. It definitely helped to build tension, and even gave the writers an excuse to have an on-screen clock for much of the episode, counting down certain doom. Even in situations where you know there’s no way that the clock will ever reach zero (or reach what is signified by the zero. The clock did actually hit zero in this instance, as it didn’t stop counting down, even when the ship turned around) it can still be an effective, if somewhat cheap, way to make things just a little more nerve-wracking. It was nice to have a more long-term countdown, allowing tension to build over the course of an entire episode, as opposed to the standard, much shorter, countdowns one usually sees.

On the other hand, being on the clock the entire episode really detracted from the guest stars getting any substantial character development. The countdown began literally seconds after we met the crew, and it played out almost like a slasher film. Like in a slasher flick, most of the crew obviously was there for the express purpose of being killed off. Even the fate of Captain McDonnell, arguably the most developed character amongst the crew, was obvious early in the episode. The only surprising bit is that any of the crew was spared at all. If not for the need to deal with the ship, I think Riley and Orin could have easily ended up dead as well.

When looking at the impact this episode has on the season as a whole, the mystery of Mr. Saxon continues to deepen. I’m pretty sure what’s going on there, based on very vague spoilers I’ve heard for later in the season. For those of you lucky enough not to stumble over any spoilers, I won’t discuss that here (Granted, avoiding spoilers is seemingly impossible to do anymore when it comes to Doctor Who. Even though I was very careful to steer clear of potential spoilers, I had all the major cast changes of the last couple seasons spoiled for me well in advance. I think the only way to really avoid spoilers when it comes to Doctor Who is to either stay off the internet completely; as much as I love this show, that’s not a sacrifice I’m willing to make). I can still talk about the Saxon related stuff that happened this week though.

There was something very sinister about Martha’s mother, Francine pumping her for information. Yes, she loves Martha, and obviously her motivation in working with Saxon’s associates is to protect Martha. I’m sure she thinks that the Doctor’s got Martha in his thrall, in a kind of cult leader and worshiper sort of relationship. Because she has noble intentions, I’m willing to cut Francine a little slack, but the whole thing came off as really creepy. Even if the aim is to ultimately help the child, it just feels wrong for a parent to lay a trap like that.

Ultimately, while “42” was an exciting episode, and laid the groundwork for some interesting future developments between Martha and her mother (and Mr. Saxon), it also served to remind us that it’s best for all involved that Doctor Who stays away from conventional horror.