Now this episode was good for more than a little speculation when its title was announced some time ago. Could it be a tribute to Douglas Adams? Or something else altogether? Well, it turned out to be something else, as it happens. Reversing the digits might have offered a clue, because rather in the manner of 24, the action takes place in real time over the 42 minutes (or thereabouts) of actual episode time.
Moments after the Doctor upgrades Martha’s mobile phone to “Universal Roaming”, which will ensure she’ll never have a problem getting a signal again, the Tardis picks up a distress signal, and materialises on a rather battered looking and distinctly warm space ship. The ship’s a bit battered because someone has sabotaged its engines, and it’s warm because it’s heading uncontrollably towards a sun. The computer system helpfully offers a countdown: impact in 42 minutes. The Tardis is trapped behind a sealed door, and it’s too hot for anyone to get to it, so the Doctor and Martha will have to help divert the ship rather than just giving everyone a ride.
It should be possible to reset the auxiliary engines and steer the ship to safety, but there’s a bit of a problem. An emergency lock down has been activated, which has sealed a series of doors between the main part of the ship, where the crew are, and the control room. Not only are the doors locked, but thanks to a delightfully silly security system, each door can only be unlocked by typing in the answer to a question: the questions having been set by the crew some time before. Martha goes with Riley, one of the crew, to try to open the doors and get the controls working.
Meanwhile, the Doctor begins to find out what’s been going on. Korwin, another of the crew appears to have gone mad – he enacted the lock down and was responsible for the heat pulse that damaged the ship. With the Doctor’s help, the crew manage to sedate Korwin, leaving Abi Lerner in the medical bay to watch over him.
Martha and Riley are getting through the doors. Riley knows some of the answers, but when they’re faced with one left by a former crew member, Martha tries calling her mother, Francine. This turns out to be a classic frustrating mother-daughter call, and not altogether helpful.
Abi reports something strange: Korwin’s physical make-up is changing. He gets up, and walks towards her, with his eyes closed. Then he speaks:
Burn with me
and opens his eyes. A blinding light blazes out and Abi is vaporised.
As the countdown to destruction continues, the crew work on repairs, Martha and Riley keep opening doors, and Korwin prowls around. He kills another crew member before infecting another, Ashton, with whatever it is that’s making him act so strangely.
Martha and Riley get chased into an escape pod, which is ejected, giving the Doctor another problem to deal with. A crewman manages to freeze Korwin, which appears to put an end to that problem, while Kath McDonnell, the captain, manages to force Ashton into a cryogenic chamber, putting him out of action.
As the Doctor gets a spacesuit on and heads for the airlock to try to rescue her, Martha makes an emotional call to her mother. But her mother isn’t alone – there’s a woman there listening in, and who seems to be trying to trace the call. The Doctor just manages to reach outside the airlock and pull the handy “bring back the escape pod” lever that all good ships have in hard to reach places on the hull rather than in some boring internal location. As the pod is coming back, he looks at the sun and just has time to say
before he is infected. He manages to keep control of himself long enough to confront the captain: she mined the sun for cheap fuel using an illegal scoop, neglecting to carry out a scan for lifeforms. And this sun is alive, and a wee bit annoyed about having part of itself torn out.
The Doctor instructs Martha and the captain to take him to the medical bay and use the cryogenic chamber to freeze the infection out of him. While they’re doing that, the previously frozen Korwin revives, and turns off the power to the medical bay, leaving the Doctor only semi-frozen, and completely infected.
As Martha dashes to the control room to dump the fuel, the Captain manages to drag Korwin out of an airlock and the Doctor tries to resist being taken over.
As the fuel is dumped and returns to the sun it was stolen from, the Doctor is released and the ship’s auxiliary engines manage to lift it to safety.
And so the Doctor and Martha return to the Tardis, which is none the worse for having been exposed to extremely high temperatures. Inside, the Doctor gives Martha her own Tardis key, and Martha calls her mother once more, to apologise for the overly emotional call she made earlier.
This time, there are more people listening. People who look like they’re auditioning for the parts of “creepy secret agents”. Francine invites Martha to come for a meal. Martha asks what day it is, and is told
it’s Election Day
After Francine hangs up, one of the creepy secret agent types tells her
Mr Saxon will be grateful
This was a nicely crafted episode, with lots of edge-of-your-seat excitement, some appealing characters among the crew, a lovely threatening catchphrase in “Burn With Me”, and a lot more of Martha showing herself to be an intelligent, resourceful and strong character in her own right. The “real time” thingy kept the suspense going nicely and made the whole episode that wee bit more exciting. All of that would have been plenty to be going on with, but addition of the “Mr Saxon” thread gave it that final bit of polish that created as near as you’re going to get to a perfect episode.
We’re now just past the half way point in the series, which means we can expect things to start getting bigger and better from now on.