This episode was… exciting, suspenseful, emotive and delightfully agitated. It had a brilliant concept for a Doctor Who story—a spaceship is going to collide with the sun and the Doctor has 42 minutes to save them all. It’s one of the advantages of the New Who format of single-episode stories that the show can do these fast-paced, exhilarating race-against-the-clock stories. Nevertheless, I felt that, even with a wonderfully hectic “42-minutes-to-save-everyone” premise, this episode involved a lot of padding in the form of repetitive running around. In that respect, it was a fairly standard runaround, albeit an exceptionally well-produced runaround—it was all seized with an urgency and desperation that made it wonderfully exciting to watch. The grungy, steampunk aesthetic was also very effective in this regard. The sun creature thing that infected the crew members was an effective villain and posed a genuinely menacing threat, especially when it infected the Doctor—you know that when the Doctor is threatening to regenerate then the monster is serious business.
Despite the thrilling urgency of this episode, its best moments were the quieter moments, such as that between Martha and Riley in the escape pod drifting into the sun, and between a distressed Martha and her mother on the phone. As we get a glimpse of the mother-daughter dynamic between Martha and her mother, we get an idea of what makes Martha want to be with the Doctor: her mother seems very controlling and their relationship less than perfect. We’ve already seen that her family is not altogether functional. Martha likely wants to escape the frustrations of an unsatisfying personal life just as Rose wanted to escape the tedium and dissatisfaction of her ordinary life. Indeed, Martha as good as admitted it when she was speaking intimately with Riley. I like that. The Doctor’s companions are all extraordinary in some way: they all have some reason to leave their normal life behind and live a romantic, unreal life of danger and adventure with the Doctor; it’s very few people who would leave their life behind like that, but the Doctor’s companions are extraordinary, in more than one way. I think it makes for a more interesting Doctor-Companion dynamic, because both the Doctor and his companion are running in some way, and shunning ordinary life for some reason. It’s one of the reasons why Clara, trying to balance her “real” life and her TARDIS life, hasn’t really worked for me (although the final moments of Last Christmas look promising).
David Tennant and his character were excellent in this episode. Tennant has been far more consistent and robust over the course of Series 3 than last series, and he positively shone in this one, displaying with finesse the breadth and depth of his range: now indignantly demanding the crew’s obedience, now impassionedly pleading with Martha to believe he would save her, now agonisingly trying to resist the sun creature inside him. I was in awe of the Doctor’s bravery and determination in venturing outside the ship to rescue Martha, justifying Martha’s unwavering belief in him. Martha herself was unfailingly amazing in this episode, surpassing herself in justifying the Doctor’s choice of her as companion.