Sunday, 18 April 2010

Doctor Who: 42

“Using your mobile is cheating!”

This was rather good, I thought: a nice little real-time thriller with some nice direction, a real disaster movie feel and plenty of tension. Michelle Collins was underwhelming, but there’s not much else wrong with this. For all the (sometimes justified) criticism that Chris Chibnall often comes in for, this is not a bad debut script for Who proper.

It’s interesting that the whole aesthetic here is very much the same as the Impossible Planet two-parter- it’s a tough, gritty, frontier existence with dust everywhere. Earlier stories such as Earthshock and Dragonfire were clearly influenced by Alien, a relatively recent film at the time, but by now, almost thirty years on, its template of a “lived-in” future has become much more of a sci-fi standard.

It’s interesting how the Doctor takes charge immediately; McDonnell clearly resents his usurping of her authority (“Go on, do as he says”), but she’s too weak, and eventually too morally compromised, to compete. The characters are quite well-sketched for the running time, and there are some nice funny lines from the crew, including that one. You know the one I mean.

Martha gets some nice character stuff too, and shows bravery at the prospect of an imminent and unpleasant death. But it’s interesting that, as the escape pod detaches, the first thing she says is “Sorry”. What does this say about her? We seem to be past the worst of the unrequited love stuff, but I’m not keen on this sort of thing. Martha is being portrayed as a bit of a weak character at times, and it can make uncomfortable viewing. I don’t like the final scene in the TARDIS either, with Martha being suddenly silenced by the stony-faced Doctor, who again ostentatiously refuses to confide in her and changes the subject. There’s something uncomfortable about the way she’s expected to be grateful for such “privileges” as universal roaming and a key to the TARDIS. Both of these things echo similar instances with Rose, and the comparison makes it clear that the Doctor considers Martha to be very much second to her. All of this is awfully misjudged.

The season arc stuff, with Martha’s mother and the machinations of the mysterious Mr Saxon, is cleverly done. So far this season’s arc feels much more natural and assured than either of the previous ones.

It’s well plotted, with the sort of logically and emotionally satisfying ending we don’t always get. McDonnell, who’s ultimately responsible for the while mess, redeems herself at the end in the traditional Doctor Who manner.

Good stuff, a surprisingly good 4/5. Mind you, I must admit that I haven’t yet seen Sunshine, in spite of having owned it on DVD for ages, so I can't comment on any similarities.

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