One of the many downsides to adulthood is that, for me anyway, my spare time to watch and rewatch and rewatch favorite television the way that I could when I was in high school or college is a lot more limited. And so there are some contemporary Who stories I’ve never come back to. And since the next three episodes of series three are stone-cold classics that have demanded as many return visits as I can justify, “42” has been completely overlooked. I haven’t seen a frame of this story since it was first shown. There just hasn’t been enough time.
And boy, did I ever miss out, because apart from the exceptionally silly explanation of what this episode’s foe is, “42” is pretty terrific. It’s Chris Chibnall’s first script for Who – he’d written four episodes of the spinoff Torchwood prior to this – and, thanks in part to some excellent direction by the always-reliable Graeme Harper and a guest cast that spends every second of this “real time” adventure at maximum sweat and volume, it’s an extremely tense speed-of-light thriller, brilliantly edited and huge fun to watch.
It also succeeded in wrongfooting our son very amusingly. At one point, the Doctor has been infected by the strange enemy. He’s in agony, screaming in pain, and we very rarely see the Doctor so weak and battered. In between shouts, he tells Martha that there’s this thing that happens to him when he is about to die… and I heard our son gasp. Was this it? Was he about to regenerate again?! Well, I said last time that he’s starting to figure out the rules of television, but he hasn’t realized that Who saves regenerations for the big season finale. Although I do wish they wouldn’t. I realize this just isn’t the sort of thing that the BBC would allow these days, because they line up the publicity and the merchandising months ahead of the show, but wouldn’t a completely surprising mid-series regeneration be the best thing ever?