Doctor Who #726: New Earth

"So where are we going?" "Further than we've ever gone before."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Apr.15 2006.

IN THIS ONE... Cassandra's back (LITERALLY), body-swap mayhem, and cat nuns farming plague zombies.

REVIEW: "Further than we've ever gone before" being, in this case, about 23 years later than the last furthest they've been. Unlike RTD's other future episodes, New Earth isn't as concerned with satirizing some contemporary phenomenon - there's an extreme two-tier medical system, but the episode's understanding of medicine is so slapdash as to make this irrelevant - and more focused on doing a sequel to The End of the World, bringing Cassandra back, etc. For whatever reason, this creates a rather random episode, one that doesn't really have the thematic underpinnings other episodes have enjoyed. We're finally on an alien planet but it's "just like Earth". Cat nuns running a hospital. Why not? The masks are really nice. They're farming plague zombies. Ok sure. Let's throw in Cassandra and give her the ability to switch between bodies. And the Face of Boe finally gets some dialog and it's all enigmatic prophecy that won't pay off until Series 3. What does any bit of this have to do with any other bit? The answer is nothing, and while it makes for a visually interesting episode and provides some amusement, it's ultimately unremarkable.

One of my problems with New Earth is that things happen for no other reason than the plot demands it (which was something I attacked over and over again back when I was doing Star Trek: Voyager reviews). The new humans grown are infected with "every disease ever", have no experience outside of this, and yet escape, can talk, have a consciousness poached from "the machine", and are later cured by putting all the medicines on hand into the same bucket and spraying them with it. Even if this was pharmaceutically possible, these were intravenous drugs that likely don't work on skin contact. So the plot is ridiculous, and the climax feels like a completely bonkers deus ex machina. Cassandra uses a machine to transfer her consciousness into Rose, but from then on, has the ability to jump into any individual, because SCRIPT. You mileage may vary on the farcical comedy this produces. For me, Billie Piper is a pretty good Cassandra, but Tennant is way over the top, though I don't suppose dialog about Time Lord genitalia can be done with a straight face. The ending is equally suspect, as there's no reason to create a paradox and send Cassandra-in-Chip to tell her former self she's beautiful except to toy with the audience's emotions (still a very nice moment, but manipulative as hell). Maybe he's picking this up from her mind when they were in the same body, but it's not explained, so it just looks like he's acting on a conversation she had with ROSE, not him. Cassandra finally accepting her mortality is completely out of character as well. The Face of Boe is dying because he's kind of bored I guess, because he's all better when the Doctor restores his curiosity, and there's some strange dialog where the Doctor seems to have forgotten he saw the Face on TV in the year 200,000, so stress the idea that LEGEND says he's millions of years old? And if the city of New New York is a new outpost born of an Earth revival, why is it built on crummy old basements that look much older than 23 years? It all feels pretty shoddy to me.

Usually, when the plot is "don't look at it too hard", it means the episode is more important on a character development level. On that score, it starts out pretty well. In the short scene that seems to come right off The Christmas Invasion, I love the contrast between Mickey and Jackie being left behind. As before, he lingers at the TARDIS site and Jackie walks away, not even looking behind her. (And of course, Rose HAS to be a little cruel to Mickey during the goodbyes.) One on New Earth, the visuals are impressive, etc., but it's more about exploring a new dynamic between Rose and the Doctor. Not sure I care about making them too much like a couple, but when Rose says she "loves this", she's really saying she loves HIM, and goes on to talk about their "first date" in those terms. Cassandra playing around in Rose's head means we can spill the beans about finding the new Doctor "foxy", and uses Rose's body to kiss the Doctor who though stunned, doesn't object or talk about boundaries. Tennant's funny in that moment, but it's a pure "let's put this in the trailer to incense the fans, and make the 'shippers squee" moment. Bit cheap, really. The other big shift, character-wise, is that the Doctor now thinks of himself as the final moral arbiter in any given situation, which follows on from his destruction of Harriet Jones. This, along with the mention of a prophecy that calls him "the lonely god", is taking us into the Christian symbolism RTD will be remembered for. I think that if you give me a choice between "Christ figure" Doctor and "Rose's boyfriend" Doctor, it's getting caught between a rock and a hard place, but I'd have to go with the boyfriend. Treating the last of the Time Lord as a god get pretentious and obvious fairly quick, leading to some of least favorite moments in all of New Who.

THEORIES: If you'll permit, I'm tracking the effects of the Bad Wolf on the series POST-Parting of the Ways. After all, Bad Wolf Rose said she could see everything that will ever be, and made some changes to both the "objective" past and future, so why not her timeline's future? One of these is getting a foxy Doctor who at least LOOKS age-appropriate for the next time somebody thinks they're boyfriend and girlfriend. Am I right? Did the Bad Wolf make her a sexy boyfriend? We've had references to her falling for the 9th Doctor, but that relationship seemed kind of icky - he was a daddy substitute - and might have been a love without lust. Doc10 offers the possibility of both. Sound crazy? Corroborating evidence to be presented before the end of this week.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Every episode in Season 2 was prefaced by a "TARDISode" on the BBC website, none of which made it to the DVD boxed set (annoyingly). Some were prologues that led into the episode, some provided color for the world the Doctor was about to visit. In New Earth's case, the TARDISode was a television commercial for the cats' cure-all, featuring Novice Hame, who I guess was the fresh new face of the sisterhood. It breaks format at the very end with a scream, so maybe we're watching an outtake from the commercial shoot. In other words, it feels more promo (like the 9th Doctor running from a fireball) than canon.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Cassandra is an amusing character no matter whose lips she speaks through, and the end of her arc is at least interesting and emotional, but ultimately, New Earth is throwing things at the screen that dazzle, but don't convince.

2 comments:

Bill Doughty said...

I've always kind of wondered if the parts of the script where Cassandra attempts Rose's accent was at least a little bit of an attempt to take the piss out of Billie Piper's own attempts to sound more working class an' fings. :)

Siskoid said...

Nahhh, surely not. But RTD is a naughty, naughty man, so who knows?

 

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