There are greater crimes than being just plain dull, and I can hardly say that 42 defied any expectations. From knowing Chris Chibnall's work on Torchwood I was anticipating two things: empty spectacle for its own sake, and terrible dialogue. 42 provided both and little else.
Was there a single original idea anywhere? It was essentially a straight rip-off of Planet Of Evil fed through The Impossible Planet (did it even repeat a few music cues?) and The End Of The World, and took as much from the new series's own conventions as it did from science-fiction in general. So it is that the 2D stock characters on board the ship blend quite neatly with the Doctor going “aaaaauuuuughh!” when he finds out what system they're in. The Impossible Planet (which I enjoyed) had that too, but it had the benefit of an interesting story and a pace that lent it an ominous elegance, while this is little more than characters shouting at each other.
Okay, so we never saw the sonic screwdriver here, which I suppose helps to aggrandise The Lazarus Experiment's excesses. But the plot details are as perfunctory as they come: how does the Doctor rescue the shuttle? By pulling a lever. In a novel twist though, the switch is in an inaccessible place! Groundbreaking stuff! The Doctor can be healed by freezing, which he can survive because of his superpowers. Thankfully the episode manages to salvage a smidgeon of dignity by pulling the rug from under that one.
Right, good points. It looks like Saxon is shaping up to be the best arc to date, largely because of a completely new approach. Gone is the done-to-death device of reading it on a flyposter or overhearing a conversation – now Saxon is actively (albeit indirectly, as it should be) worked in to the fabric of the episodes themselves. Great stuff, and certainly a huge leap from last year. The best thing about the episode though is probably David Tennant.* When he becomes infected by the sun, his desperate agony is really, genuinely compelling and it really raised the episode from the doldrums.**
Just as I was about to award it average on the strength of that alone, Chibnall came up with one staggeringly dreadful dialogue disaster (“You'll find someone to believe in”. “I think I already did”) and blew the whole gig. Ah well, c'est la vie.
Boring script, boring characters, boring plot...there are far worse episodes but 42 is never going to be fondly remembered round my way.
* Yes, I did just say that.
** Seriously, I just said that.