Dark Side of the Sun

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This story comes across a little like a reality TV programme set in hell. Contestants are forced to cooperate and battle for their survival against a relentlessly ticking clock, extreme physical tests, rogue team mates and, yes, general knowledge questions, all in a Dante-esque setting of lurid fiery colour and unbearable heat.The premise of this story is relatively straightforward and wastes no time in getting started.  Which is a good thing too because our heroes are cut off from the TARDIS and have 42 minutes to save the SS Pentallion and its gritty, industrial, surnames-only crew from plunging into a sun, in real time. 

The main strength of this episode, and apparently defined by the keyword ‘suffering’ in the Production ‘tone meeting’, is that the Doctor and Martha are both fed through the wringer as never before – and with barely a sonic screwdriver in sight! It’s wonderfully refreshing to see the vulnerable side of Tennant’s ‘Super Doc’, needing the urging of a minor character to find the strength to fulfil his promise to save Martha. And most movingly, the Doctor desperately admitting his fear as she struggles to return the favour.  Having him succumb to the threat and be taken out of the picture is a very welcome move, allowing Martha to move centre stage and take charge for a while.  “More pace and energy!” was apparently Director Graham Harper’s war cry during the filming of this episode and it certainly shows, but what surprises is how effective the quieter, more emotional moments are amongst all the super-heated frenzy.Martha’s ‘last moments’ in the escape pod, both with her mother and Riley are sensitively handled and very affecting.  But the standout has to be the demise of Michelle Collins’ ‘Ripley unleaded’ character, spinning slowly to a fiery oblivion in an almost balletic embrace with her doomed husband.  Of course this might also be seen as a good lesson never to work in the same business with your ‘other half’.  Not only do we have a beautifully directed story unfolding in real-time, but two over-arcing storylines are also advanced: the claws of Saxon tighten a little more around our heroes, and more significantly the Doctor and Martha’s relationship appears to move to the next level.42 does exactly what it says on the tin, and does it well without trying to be too clever.   In fact, the only aspect which leaves me dissatisfied is its probable reception from Fan viewers in particular.  I really wonder if we are being spoilt more then we realise; in years gone by I‘m sure that this story: ‘The one with the sun’ would have been a season highlight, but this year will probably be regarded by the majority as merely average and adequate.AH

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