42.



TV In a homage to the plot of this week's Doctor Who, I shall be attempting to write this review in forty-two minutes. Since I'm not actually on a space ship plunging into a sun, I will instead be using a rather fetching egg timer. When it rings, I'm done. My time starts ... now ...

It would be an understatement to say that I've never been a fan of Chris Chibnall's writing; he somehow managed to turn out the very weakest episodes of Life On Mars and I certainly didn't find very many positive things to say about Torchwood once he really took the reigns as show runner. It was a mess in fact and so I was pretty disheartened to hear that he'd been given an episode of Doctor Who to mess up. So it comes as a pleasant surprise to say that on this occasion he's delivering a blistering little script that managed to pack an emotional punch as well as genuinely had this writer hugging a cushion.

Granted the story was fairly generic stuff, a reworking of plot elements from a myriad of texts, everything from Lem's Solaris to Doctor Who's own Planet of Evil, throwing in the real time element of tv's 24. And if I wanted to be critical I could note that yet again there was a bunch of people turned into killer zombies via some kind of alien mind control, with masks once again hiding away the individuals humanity. At least on this occasion they didn't march on mass, but there was certainly a goodly amount of striding through corridors.

What I think set it apart were the thematic and emotional elements; this was a story about comradeship and togetherness, from the brilliant idea of making the security questions for the doorlocks based on information about the crew who would then have to remember each other's lives in order to survive, the disbelief from Michelle Collins that her husband could be gone and that final choice to use that togetherness in her final fate to the fact that this was the first story in which the Doctor and Martha really seemed to care for each other and needed each other's help to survive.

I don't know if sight unseen you could tell that this was a Graham Harper directed episode, but it was still a brilliantly put together piece of work, genuinely looking like a feature film in his shot selection, the cameras forever moving. There's no comparison in the action choreography and editing here to something like Evolution of the Daleks, the cross cutting between stories superbly achieved, never riding over the mini-cliffhangers inherent in the story from the first reveal of the dead husband walking to Martha drifting towards the sun in the space craft (which incidentally might be one of the best moments in the series, even if to a degree it too was inspired by the Soderbergh version of Solaris).

Really stonking lighting design too, the set and actors often reduced to primary colours, faces shaped from deep reds and blues. It's refreshing to see the series experimenting with such things and a much prefer this to the rather flat lighting that has greeted some of the other stories in this latest series. I've been rewatching some of the earlier new Who stories lately and it's pretty amazing to see how such fundamentals were being tossed about early on but somewhere along the line became so uniform (insert more grumbling about the over lit Tardis set).

The Radio Times weren't very nice about Michelle Collins' performance. Having not actually seen her in anything other that Sea of Souls (really), I can't say that she looked too incongruous as the Captain of a space ship and she worked really well within an ensemble that also included the wonderful William Ash, whose career I've been following for years since Children's Ward (oddly enough). Of course they were all mostly there to be picked off by the alien force and unlike The Satan Pit mostly without much heroism.

But I think a measure of the confidence of much of this new series is that in the midst of this race against time it still managed to progress the Mr Saxon story. Again, this was another repeat of one of the elements of the first series, the call home from the far future, but twisted. Frankly, I miss Jackie; but then we haven't seen enough of Francine yet to make a judgement, just lots of moaning. Watching the agents of Saxon tracking the call, of course brought to mind the mind control of a certain man who must be obeyed and I can't ...

Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing...

Time's up. But I've got so much more to say! The clever way that the Tardis was kept out of reach! The deadlock seal's effect on the sonic screwdriver being Doctor Who's plot condition along the lines of not being able to transport through shields on Star Trek! The lack of a proper Hitchhiker's reference considering the title! The dodgy science - shouldn't the ship burn up before it reaches the sun? I've seen Danny Boyle's Sunshine you know! Those amazing CG effects! Plus I wanted to say some more about all of the business to do with the Pub Quiz machine as door opener...

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