THIS EPISODE TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
COMIC STRIP ANTHOLOGY
"THE BETROTHAL OF
SONTAR" AND THE TV
EPISODE "TOOTH AND
RUSSELL T. DAVIES
'THE COMPLETE SECOND
SERIES' CYBERMAN HEAD
AMAZON EXCLUSIVE DVD
BOX SET (BBCDVD2122)
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
IN THE FAR DISTANT
FUTURE, AN ORDER OF
CAT-NUNS CURE ALL
ILLNESSES, BUT THE
DOCTOR IS SUSPICIOUS
OF THEIR METHODS. HE
MUST UNCOVER THE
TRUTH AND SAVE ROSE
FROM THE REVENGE OF
15TH APRIL 2006
David Tennant’s debut in the cinematic Christmas Invasion was such an event that this season-opening follow-up was always going to struggle to match its grandeur. However, New Earth is just about as diverse an episode as one could imagine. Fair dues, it’s far from dazzling by the revived series’ lofty standards, but it’s a pleasurable romp nonetheless.
Many of Russell T Davies’ Doctor Who scripts seem to have a statement to make, and New Earth sees him turn to the hot topics of cloning and medical experimentation for inspiration. Such issues are wonderful fodder for this series because the Doctor is such a unwavering and profound moral force, and as such, when he encounters fascinating shades of grey like the feline Sisters of Plenitude, Davies is going right back to the show’s fundamental tenets
of educating as well as entertaining.
New Earth begins with a short pre-title sequence (just
to remind viewers of all that Rose is leaving behind at
home) and then from there it doesn’t feel like any time
at all before the “New, New Doctor” and Rose are laid
on a hillside in the galaxy M87 in the year 5,000,000,
000,023 talking about how much they love travelling
with each other and reminiscing about how they shared
a bag of chips on their first “date” at the end of the world.
Outside the mind of Douglas Adams, where else could
you have a scene like that? Davies need only use a few
carefully selected words to encapsulate who the Doctor
and Rose are and what they do. A child who had never seen or heard of Doctor Who (and I’m very happy to report that this is not at all likely these days) could have tuned into this episode and ‘got it’ within just a couple
of scenes. In the same vein, casual viewers could just
tune in and get straight back into these characters in a
heartbeat. Superb writing.
Further to that, I couldn’t believe it that some early reviews of this episode criticised it for being “too fast”. How can it be? How can anything be? As long as it makes sense (which
it does) and it is entertaining (which it is) then where’s the problem? It took Davies just two lines of dialogue to set up the sinister goings on in the hospital – one from Cassandra to Rose, and an aside between two of the Sisters. Were this the classic series, it would have been the remit of the first two or even three episodes of a serial to introduce the principal protagonists - Cassandra wouldn’t even be revealed until the first cliffhanger at the earliest, and we would then have had to dutifully while away hours of our lives watching the Sisters shiftily skulk about until the Doctor finally uncovered their evil machinations. Personally, I’d rather sit and be thoroughly entertained for forty-five minutes than be mildly entertained for well over a hundred.
I was also pleased to find that the production team have opted to kick the new season off
by sending the Doctor and Rose right out there into the universe; to a new planet in another galaxy altogether. I had very few complaints about last year’s series, but the one thing that I would have liked to see was another world. And New Earth – whilst a little cartoony in places – is certainly impressive to look at. The Mill’s stunning vista combines all of those essential elements that make our Earth (well, our country) what it is– green grass, rocky shores, blue skies – but it has that fantastic element to it too; those huge moons and planets in the sky, not to mention the daunting city of New, New York.
From the start New Earth set itself up to be a sequel to The End of the World, and although it reuses many characters and elements from that story (even Murray Gold’s waltz of a score) the story is different enough to still feel fresh and entertaining. The new Doctor aside (which shakes up the whole dynamic in any event), Davies uses Cassandra extraordinarily here, her consciousness flitting from character to character as the story progresses. The whole ‘body swap’ notion may be one that is constantly done to death in science fiction, but there’s a very good reason for this - it creates tension, humour and is a brilliant storytelling device to boot.
It also allows Cassandra to be done on the cheap...
“I’m a CHAV!”
One of Davies’ funniest scripts for the series to date, at times New Earth borders on filth. Rose’s scene with Chip and Cassandra has to hold the series’ record for the most double entendres ever, and I bet there was not a ‘Dad’ in the country who wasn’t grateful for Davies’ “Curves! It’s like living inside a bouncy castle… Nice rear bumper!” scene. Move aside Peri, we have a new champion.
In all seriousness though, Billie Piper is exceptional here as both Rose and Cassandra.
At first, I had to listen very carefully to make sure that Zoë Wanamaker had not overdubbed Rose’s ‘Cassandra’ lines as Piper nailed the character’s voice so completely. Even the ‘Cassandra’ mannerisms – which we didn’t see in The End of the World – feel entirely apposite.
“I’m the Doctor and, if you don’t like it, if you want to take it to a higher authority, there isn’t one!”
Similarly, New Earth gives David Tennant the opportunity to play the Doctor on a lot of different levels. It feels like such a long time since we were properly introduced to him in
The Christmas Invasion, and even then we were only really given fifteen minutes or so to see what he could do. Here, however, we get it all. We see flourishes of his ready wit and charm as he waxes lyrical about the hospital not having a shop, and warns Rose to watch
out for the disinfectant; we hear his utterly flat and unemotional voice as he learns of the Sisters’ experiments on sentient lab rats; and, most importantly of all, we see the anger burning his eyes as he threatens the Sisters.
I also enjoyed his brief, reverent scene with the Face of Boe. The first hints of the show’s mythology in this season are incredibly well done; Novice Hame’s dialogue almost poetic.
“It is said he’ll talk to a wanderer. To the man without a home. The lonely God.”
It is also something of an event in itself to have the Face of
Boe speak, and fortunately they’ve got his ‘voice’ just right –
very soft and wise; nothing too theatrical. Whatever his big
‘secret’ is is something that will be widely speculated about
until he meets the Time Lord for the third and final time next
year. I love the Doctor’s childish reaction to being told that it will have to wait – “Oh! Does it have to!” My thoughts exactly.
And then, of course, we come to the kiss, and just like all the Captain Jack stuff in The Parting of the Ways, it is a load of fuss about nothing. It isn’t even Rose that kisses him;
it’s Cassandra! She has been living as a piece of skin for who knows how long, and so
it’s little surprise that she’s a bit sexually frustrated! Moreover, I thought that the kiss felt
very natural and in keeping with the light-hearted nature of the story, even giving Tennant another chance to further demonstrate his versatility as an actor. It’s evident that the tenth Doctor has a ready wit and is generally very funny in a cocky sort of way, but the kiss gave Tennant a chance to be funny in a much more slapstick manner with his incredibly high-pitched “Yep… still got it”, the tidying of the hair, and then the puzzled (but not appalled, I noticed – he loved it!) look that he had on his face.
However, a few moments did give me pause. I could’ve done without seeing the new Doctor mincing about with Cassandra in his head – “ooh baby! I’m beating out a Samba!” – and, though he’s tough when he needs to be – “Give her back to me!” – in this episode Ten is a little too vulnerable for my liking; just look how easily he finds himself in Cassandra’s power. Knocked out by perfume indeed. Particularly in his first full-length episode, the new Doctor could have done with being a little more proactive.
“So many parts. And hardly used!”
That said, his solution to the hospital’s problems does much more for the new incarnation, but even there his flourish of brilliance is marred to a certain extent by the plot contrivance. The Doctor’s convenient concoction is very much in the style of the “anti-plastic” deus ex machina seen in the ninth Doctor’s debut episode, Rose, but this time without the excuse
of having to cut back on plot to expose the characters being introduced.
Finally, the resolution of Cassandra’s story gives the episode a surprisingly downbeat and even rather stirring ending. Having taken over the willing but dying body of Chip, her loyal ‘half-life’ clone, Cassandra is finally prepared to die. Her experience in the body of one of
the lab-rats, privy to their intense suffering, had somehow changed her, and so the Doctor allows her the privilege of visiting herself in the past (in the last moment that she can ever remember being happy) and dying in her own arms. A very sombre ending to an otherwise upbeat and amusing episode.
All told then, Tennant’s Doctor had without question the best opening story of any Doctor to date with The Christmas Invasion, and so inevitably New Earth suffers from that ‘difficult second album’ syndrome. I think it’s fair to say that it is my least favourite of the revived series to date, but that’s hardly a condemnation given the overall standard. New Earth is
light and fun; it happens fast and it’s over quick. And when approached with this in mind,
and particularly without the weight of unrealistic expectations, it’s hard not to enjoy it.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
When is now? The pre-title sequence of this episode must take place in late December 2006, shortly after the events of The Christmas Invasion. This is because these events come before those depicted in School Reunion, which must take place in the first week of January 2007.
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