The idea of Doctor Who doing a "Real Time" story really appealed to me from the word go and while it was an extremely good story, I feel the real time element was not really necessary.
A ship hurtles towards a sun and the Doctor must stop it before they die as well as stop the alien threat that has invaded the ship. It’s an age old Doctor Who story and while the ticking clock served to let you know when things would get really bad, the story would have worked just as well without it.
Maybe I am being a bit harsh, I know they were trying to emulate shows like 24 but to me the best kind of real time stories are those that utilize the one long fluid camera moment.
The X-Files pulled this off with their episode "Triangle" which was filmed in four eleven minute takes. But the best example has to be the Alfred Hitchcock film Rope starring Jimmy Stewart where the movie was filmed in two fluid camera takes with only one cut in the entire film which was hidden so the audience didn’t know there was even the one cut.
To me the episode would have been much more effective and "edge of your seat" exciting had they done it this way. But that would have to be a personal gripe, for the feel they were going for they did a very nice job and the episode certainly didn’t suffer where the story was concerned. Write Chris Chibnall certainly knows how to churn out a great script for the good Doctor.
Doctor Who has always been home to the absurd, so the thought of a living sun is right at home in the show. In fact this story has many touches of the original series with its representation of crewmembers being possessed and having the ability to possess other crewmembers to help in the aliens fight harkens back to the Tom Baker story The Invisible Enemy where minimal crew were being possessed by a space nucleus.
The two stories even share the fact that the Doctor has been possessed and needs to be saved by his companion.
While we’re on the subject of companions, why not talk about Freema and her alter ego Martha? She really is developing into a thoroughly modern companion. She holds many of the same traits of the original companions such as fear, bravery, a likeable personality, the slight sense of space travel become not a fun situation once you run into an evil alien race. And yet she has been nicely updated to show how strong she can be when left without the Doctor, as well as showing us that when the chips are down you can still see the worry she is trying to suppress by throwing herself full force into the cause to stop the danger.
This is something that Rose was lacking. While she was a fun character she could at time be a little to happy about being in a bad situation. Even the Doctor knows when to show how serious the situation has become. A superb example of this occurred in 42 when we saw for first time in the shows history just how scared the Doctor can get. When faced with a threat he can’t control – or worse a threat that can control him, he finally found the courage to confess how scared he really was. It took every ounce of who he was to hold himself together enough to tell Martha and the crew just what needed to be done in order to survive, not just the threat of falling into the sun, but the threat of the Doctor killing them all off first.
David Tennant has had many opportunities this series to show off the God-given talents he has as an actor, but none as compelling as this story. I feel there is a good possibility that we may have to hand over that compliment to the next story in line Human Nature after it airs, but it would in no way dull the effects of this story.
Even the supporting casts this year have been top notch; no one hamming it up on screen or changing the tone of the story by not capturing the overall feel of the story. Each and every character in this episode had genuine fear and emotion in their eyes. Even the character whose eyes we could not see. And that says a lot. That could also be the magic of Director Graeme Harper who, it can arguably be said, directed the most emotionally moving screen in all of Doctor Who when the Doctor and Rose became separated in the end of Doomsday.
It seems that the third time would be the charm as the new series has really found its feet. All the elements that needed polishing on the last two series seem to have been nicely sorted out. If the rest of the series is as good as this story then I for one will be a very happy Doctor Who fan.