New EarthBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 17 October 2006 - Reviewed by Jordan Wilson

“Oh my God! I’m a chav!”

Notes: Unless intuitively obvious or otherwise noted, what follows is opinion; as the ‘in my humble opinion…’ tag rapidly grows tedious. Some spoilers follow.

There’s no messing about. Doctor Who: New Earth is the first in the 2006 thirteen-part run of 45-minute episodes comprising Series 2. In the fleeting and welcome pre-credits montage, the latest Doctor (David Tennant) fires up his TARDIS. This is juxtaposed with shots of companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) bidding au revoir (?) to her loved ones – all two of them: Mickey Smith and Jackie Tyler (Noel Clarke and Camille Coduri). And then our two travelers are off, “further then we’ve ever gone before” promises the Time Lord. What ensues is a sequel of sorts to The End of the World (2005), and arguably one of writer Russell T. Davies’ strongest entries to date. It is, unsurprisingly, hurriedly-paced, effectively injecting the viewer with their weekly ‘hit’ of Doctor Who. By the outcome, one might very well feel visually fatigued. Indeed, largely due to this, New Earth feels like a mid-series story. There is no pause for an extended celebratory re-introduction, as the brisk opener readily attests.

In reciprocation to a mysterious message, from a familiar Face (voiced by Struan Rodger), our protagonists materialize in a distant and decidedly Welsh future, after the year five billion. There, they must contend with two primary plots, touchy-feely ‘zombies’, and various other story elements. The colloquialism ‘bursting at the seams’ springs to mind. Effectively, this is also Rose’s first televised visit to an alien planet (see suggested by Boom Town, 2005). By this point, I had almost forgotten that they existed in the Doctor Who universe.

Plot A, if you will, pertains to (at least) a trio of cats dressed as nuns. Go figure. In their clinic, the Sisters of Plentitude subject home-grown human vegetables to various interstellar illnesses and diseases, so as to devise illicit cures for their genuine patient population. Cue some old-school self-righteous indignation from the Doctor. Plot B concerns the return of another familiar character, Lady Cassandra [O’Brien] (Zoë Wanamaker), who is out for revenge (well… money). Her method? Possessing Rose’s body! During the course of the show, we witness Cassandra’s ever-changing form; she switches between human, a “bitchy trampoline”, an ethereal body-swapping vapour, and a mind-stealing entity. In the previous series, I felt Piper’s acting was very sincere and plausible (in stark contrast to the Doctor and his universe). Here, she impresses us further; with her depiction of “Cassandrose”1 (“I’m a chav!”) – suggestive of a fairly broad range. This extends to some amusing scenarios, although unfortunate lines akin to “it’s like living inside a bouncy castle” (and “Oh, baby! I’m beating out a samba!”) will, undoubtedly, remind avid viewers who penned the screenplay. Nonetheless, Piper’s performance is a highlight of this week’s episode. Her depiction of Rose is circumscribed to the very first few scenes, where – aside from an amusing elevator incident – she summarizes for us that she loves universe-trotting with her companion.

Wanamaker is also on form, although her Cassandra appears somewhat more ‘on the attack’ than interpreted previously, largely due to the dialogue. Referring to Rose as “that dirty blonde assassin” implies either warped rationalization, or Davies’ poor recollection of his own screenplays – the Doctor was the “blonde assassain” in The End of the World. Arguably, Rose is guilty by association, a scapegoat; as Cassandra does not recognize the “new new” Doctor.

Tennant is promising. As with the untitled Children in Need special and The Christmas Invasion (2005), my primary, trivial, criticism at this point in time, is that I find his occasionally-high-pitched voice irritating. Here, he is as quirky and eccentric as his previous outings implied; and morally self-righteous (“HOW MANY?!”) and self-mythologizing (“There is no higher authority”). I do not care for this “lonely God” business, though. Unfortunately, his outraged scenes do not develop the traditional ‘animal experimentation’ debate. From the given information, the moral of the story is ‘don’t keep zombies in cells in your basement detained via a simple and collective open-close switch’. Or something. However, as I noted in my Christmas review, this ‘superficial’ presentation of moral issues does allow the individual viewer to interpret them as he/she pleases. Regardless, a third fine and enjoyable performance from Tennant.

Unfortunately, our introduction to the detained ‘zombies’ heralds the onset of major absurdities in plotting. For instance, Cassandra no longer requires her “psychograft” for body-swapping. Furthermore, the Doctor’s solution to The Night of the Living Dead, as you will see, is blatantly impractical (whereas, of course, the rest of Doctor Who is not…). Nonetheless, it is all entertaining and engaging, with fine performances from the primary dramatis personae, and the supporting cast: Cassandra’s Welsh sidekick Chip (Sean Gallagher); and the Sisters Matron Casp, Sister Jatt, and Novice Hame (respectively: Dona Croll, Adjoa Andoh, and Anna Hope). As are the petrifold regression-ailed Duke of Manhattan and bespectacled Frau Clovis (Michael Fitzgerald and Lucy Robinson). James Hawes directs.

Is this production suitable for you?

The verdict: 3/5. Relentless, surreal, well-acted, engaging, and sometimes amusing; New Earth requires the suspension of disbelief. Not perfect, but another fun romp from the regular writer. An appropriate series-starter.

Target audience(s): General. Based upon my experiences, it is light-hearted and watchable enough for most viewers.

Certificate recommendation: U-PG. ‘Zombies’. A few minor sexual allusions children will overlook. Nothing major, and given today’s desensitized audiences, I feel PG is probably pushing it. Colourful atmosphere. (Being cheeky, that probably equates with an ‘18’ from the BBFC, who have not been desensitized since the Fifties… [But, then I am stereotyping somewhat])