2.1 – “New Earth”
The new Doctor and Rose travel to a hospital in the far future, summoned by a message on The Doctor’s psychic paper. There they cross paths with one-time enemy Lady Cassandra O’Brien (Zoe Wanamaker), who has a plan to blackmail the hospital by threatening to expose its dirty secrets. Body-swapping and zombie antics ensue before The Doctor is able to sort things out.
“New Earth” follows one of the less-likely templates for a post-regeneration story by having a recurring female villain pretend to be The Doctor’s companion, amid a large helping of scientific nonsense. Admittedly, it’s a little more successful than the similarly themed “Time and The Rani” but that’s really not saying much.
The most visible problem with the episode is the very choppy editing. There are several scenes where the lack of two-shots is so conspicuous that we forget the characters are supposed to be in the same space; leaving in a rush from one side of the screen, then entering at a leisurely pace from the other side. This artificial urgency then just stops, five minutes from the end of the episode, when The Doctor is able to cure the zombie plague rather easily by mixing together all of the cures.
The difficulty with this isn’t so much the basic mechanism (all the cures for all the illnesses) or even that the cure is contagious (still, might have been nice to set that up as an unexpected side-effect earlier in the episode). After all, this is Doctor Who, not bloody Horizon. But that ending still rings false. It’s just not big enough. The cures for all the illnesses in the world are contained within IV bags that The Doctor can dangle off his limbs and then mix up in a pot only slightly larger than one I might cook my Uncle Ben’s in! No, given the scale of the onset of the apocalypse, we needed something much bigger production-wise. This is then followed by two epilogues – first with the Face of Boe (a pointless remnant of a version of a script before series 3 was picked up and a prime example of why writers must kill their darlings), and then with Cassandra.
So, given that overall it is bobbins, how about the moments? Is it redeemed by the performances? Well, there are certainly some good bits. Anna Hope gives a captivating performance as Novice Hame (they should get her back some day), Michael Fitzgerald’s Duke of Manhattan is funny and Sean Gallagher is amazing and touching as Chip-as-Cassandra. But those performances are lost amid the puerile body-swap farce that is most of the rest of the episode. The closest the script comes to genuine wit is the near-swearing of “that little – bit rich” and “talking out of your – ask not”.
The use of possession as a plot element here is curious given the position of “New Earth” in the running order, something that the production team were themselves unsure of – series 2 nearly started with “Tooth and Claw”, which is again on-paper suitable but, as we will see, has problems of its own. The episode is about Rose and the new Doctor’s “first date”, in a semi-familiar setting to give extra time to highlight that. But we get about maybe 5 minutes of getting-to-know-you scenes before they are separated and we don’t get Piper-as-Rose and Tennant-as-Doctor for more than a brief time until the denouement. And even then, it’s not about The Doctor and Rose as the focus is firmly on Cassandra. As I said, Sean Gallagher is spectacular here, but he can’t compensate for the thorough moral wrongness of this being treated as a redemption arc for Cassandra when in fact no such redemption is taking place. The Doctor takes mercy on her and so gives her a chance to fulfil a predestination paradox. Not to give her the opportunity and ability to repent, but to flatter herself, and in the process make meaningless the one thing that had given her life any point.
Cassandra isn’t the only character who is unrepentant in this story. Rose has something to answer for too. She’s been travelling with The Doctor enough to have seen all sorts of people, yet she still is taken aback by the cat people, to the extent that she vertbalises it. Has she learned anything from her travels with The Doctor? And does she learn anything from her experiences during “New Earth”? No more than the rest of us, frankly…
There’s lots of good ideas in here somewhere, but the execution just doesn’t work. The Doctor is good, probably, but he doesn’t get the opportunity to demonstrate it, whilst Rose’s smugness is clearly visible here. “New Earth” needed a new draft of the script, perhaps another couple of drafts. Oh, and definitely more Zoë Wanamaker. A sadly poor 4/10.
Written and edited by Abigail Brady