Season 28 Episode 1 – New Earth, by Russell T Davies

May 8, 2008

review by Martin Odoni.

ORIGINAL THOUGHTS (16/4/06):
Great plot; the concept of people being bred just to siphon diseases from the rich and well-to-do made me feel slightly squeamish.

As with last year, the atmosphere is still too zany for my taste, and there are some serious logic errors, but it was still a good start.

FULLER REVIEW (26/7/06):
Well, lets look again at New Earth, as it was the one episode of the season that I made absolutely no effort to try and review properly first time out. And I can now do this with the benefit of extra hindsight. ‘Benefit’ is probably not the right word though, as this episode does not do well on a second or third viewing. In the end I find myself realising that it’s extremely average, if that’s not a contradiction in terms. Some things in it are just medicore, and others manage to be both really good and really bad at once.

For example, the anti-heroic Cat-people are sympathetic characters, and they look absolutely brilliant, but the idea of them is clearly just lifted straight from the Cat-race in Red Dwarf. The scenes with The Face Of Boe sound like real deep-and-meaningful stuff, but nothing comes of them and so it starts to look like padding (and of course blatant self-congratulation by Russell T. Davis for inventing the character in the first place). The depth of the Doctor’s relationship with Rose is there at first, but it suddenly turns into a really tiresome schoolgirl crush.

And then there’s Cassandra. She was quite an interesting character originally, a neat parody in some ways of the modern obsession with slimming. But in other ways, bringing her back seems like another way of filling up plot-time, and her return has some enormous self-contradictions that are impossible to reconcile.

For instance, she’s from the unimaginably-distant future, yet she uses the term ‘chav’ to describe Rose. I bet you anything you like that in reality the term will be going almost unused in twenty years’ time. (Already, similar terms like ‘Scallies’ and ‘Townies’ are going out of fashion.) Why would the term survive five billion years? It’s far too modern-day referential, a common mistake in stories like this (and not just in Doctor Who, to be fair), as is Chip’s reference to the cockney dialect.

Cassandra has developed an obsession with looking slimmer and slimmer and slimmer, to the extent that she’s gotten rid of almost all of her body. She then throws away her super-slim form, possesses Rose, and is really excited about possessing a curvaceous body and ‘a nice, rear bumper’. Why the sudden reversal of attitude?

To be fair, there are some nice ideas e.g. the first disinfectant scene, and the actual plot concept of breeding entire races for the sake of absorbing disease remains a very, scary and intelligent one, but it’s handled lazily.

What is established when the Sisters Of Plenitude try to justify the practise is that it’s the only way of curing many of the diseases on New Earth. And yet, the Doctor is able to cure all the diseases that the infected carriers have by mixing a load of disinfectant in a modestly-large bucket, washing it over a few of the carriers, and then getting them to touch each other. Oh. So the diseases just happened to be curable after all? (The viruses don’t even put up much of a fight, do they, if just one touch of disinfectants wipes them out at a stroke?) It does kind of make the whole breeding-a-race-of-carriers thing seem a bit superfluous really.

David Tennant has a better second outing than his first in The Christmas Invasion – mainly because he’s given more to do of course – but the moments when Cassandra possesses him are an excruciating exception. He is atrociously camp in them, not that there was a lot he could do to avoid it. But he comes off badly when compared to Billie Piper, who handled the long spells of Rose being possessed far better.

As I say, the moral message of the story is valid, but it’s laid on very sanctimoniously. The Doctor’s ferocious proclamation that there is no higher authority than himself is disturbingly arrogant, and leaves the audience feeling very abashed about the whole idea of daring to disagree with him. It’s just not right. One of the strengths of Dr Who of old was that it would present moral dilemmas and offer ideas on them in a more withdrawn way, allowing the audience to draw its own conclusions, instead of hammering into them what to think.

So, I’m afraid the story doesn’t work nearly as well as it seemed to on the first showing; and it was no classic to begin with. I can only give it 4 out of 10, sadly, although I guess it’s a relief in hindsight that there were no noticeable Torchwood plugs at this stage…

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