New Who in conversation: New Earth (S02E01)

Watching New Who – in conversation with David McDonald, Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely
David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 6 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all. We’re going to work our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, as our blogging points. Just for fun! We have already talked about:
“Rose”, S01E01
“Dalek”, S01E06
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special

“New Earth” – Season two, episode one
The Doctor – David Tennant
Rose Tyler – Billie Piper


Keeping in mind we’re reviewing this episode as the official Season Two opener (rather than because it was a Hugo-nominated ep or any such point of interest!), “New Earth” starts out with Rose and the Doctor leaving Jackie and Mickey behind and heading off on their new journey.


I wasn’t really sure what to think about this episode. It’s very ambitious in that it tries to tackles some complex moral issues (at what point does something become human, do the ends justify the means, medical ethics), which is something I really enjoy in science fiction, but I think that it was a case of great concept and average execution. It’s an odd mix of some very light hearted scenes and some far darker undertones which took a little bit of adjustment.


Yes, whenever I remember this episode I cringe about it and only remember the bad bits, but when I watch it, I mostly enjoy it. Though I hate the opening scene of the ridiculously-happy-honeymooning Doctor and Rose, as it represents the overall smug tone that I think was laid on far too thick this season (rewatching the season, it’s not quite as prevalent as I remembered, but comes in irritating fits and starts). I would have far preferred some hint that she is still uneasy about his transition rather than the whole NINE WHO? attitude.


Rose: Can I just say, travelling with you, I love it.
Ten: Me too.
Rose, I do not think he means what you think he means there. Self-centred much?


I am glad that we have already been introduced to Ten before this episode, because I don’t think I would have liked him that much had this been my first experience of him. He certainly has certainly has a streak of arrogance about him, with his claims of being the ultimate authority!


Ha, well, come on. He’s the Doctor. Tom Baker did much the same. I do think with Ten we basically get two Doctors – we get the one on the page, who is quite shifty, egotistic and judgemental, and then we get the one that’s basically David Tennant being charismatic. Much as I enjoy David Tennant being charismatic, I do think it means we swallow a lot of behaviour which should make us feel more unsettled than it does.


That’s an interesting point Tansy – has this been interrogated in fandom? Ooh, is there an article for the next Chicks Dig Time Lords in that?! It’s a little scary when you think about it – we accept bad behaviour because what, the guy is cute and charismatic? Hmm, maybe Alisa is on to something with her concern as she ploughs grumpily through New Who…


Doctor Who is the most over-analysed TV show in history, I think it’s probably fair to say there isn’t much that hasn’t been interrogated! The issue does get clouded of course by the fact that Ten is quite a polarising Doctor – on the one hand the most mainstream popular Doctor since Tom Baker, and on the other hand a Doctor quite despised by several vocal corners of fandom. Then again, let’s face it, there’s a whole lot of nostalgic childhood memories which lead us to remember Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor as being much less of a bastard than he was, in fact, on many occasions.

Though of course, David Tennant is much prettier than Tom Baker, so bonus get-out-of-jail-free points there!


But, it’s no different from Jack, surely? From what I have seen of him so far he gets away with a lot of behaviour that we would normally consider appalling. He is a charming rogue, but still a rogue.


That’s absolutely true, and like Ten, Jack is a polarising character. Those who love or like him and John Barrowman’s performance, tend to be diehard fans, but those who dislike him REALLY dislike him. The same can be said of course of the companions – Rose and Donna in particular have raised a lot of ire as well as fan squee over the years.

Hmm. Basically, Doctor Who fans love and hate stuff. A lot. Loudly.


I get the impression Billie Piper had a lot of fun with the possession scenes, and there were some absolutely hilarious lines, but the ones with the Doctor were pretty clumsy and I didn’t enjoy them half as much. Cassandra was a much more interesting character in this episode, and I thought her death scene was quite moving.


Cassandra is a great villain, and her performance is totally the best thing of this episode, which is amazing considering it’s mostly a voice-only performance. Billie Piper also does very well – it’s rare for her to get to do outright physical comedy, and she rises to the challenge. It’s so WEIRD to think of her being the veteran at this point, and David Tennant the newbie.


The dialogue has its moments of funny – a lot of almost naughty words cut off by some clever wordplay.


And, Tansy, another kiss that isn’t really a kiss!


Believe me, this is a running theme of RTD’s Doctor Who, along with snow at Christmas that isn’t really snow because they don’t really get snow at Christmas in the UK (except for that time they did). Fake-out kisses to keep the fans wondering, and to liven up previews. I choose to find this funny rather than deeply irritating – it reduces stress!


There’s a very hand-wavey solution to the problem here – there’s quite a few of those I’ve noticed! I kind of prefer the episodes when there’s a more solid saving of the day. The declaration by the Doctor of the “flesh” as a brand new subspecies is a bit dramatic – although that whole premise is a bit shaky for me – how could they possibly have raised adult humans for so long in that way, especially if they were quite aware and alive? OOOH, TANSY! It just occurred to me that there’s “flesh” central to Season Six. Coincidence?


Huh, interesting, I hadn’t made that connection (about the flesh). This is probably one of the worst ‘wave the sonic screwdriver’ solutions to an episode, though you will see many more in the years to come. Sadly. I have more issue with the general ick of the zombies than with the solution to the problem – and when it comes down to it, I really didn’t care much about anyone in the story apart from Cassandra, the Doctor and Rose. I’d say it’s one of the worst scripts that RTD has personally written – there are others that are more broken, but they have better awesome bits to balance it out.


I really enjoyed Chip’s performance – both as the “flesh” and when he is Cassandra. A really interesting player! I do like it when the bit parts are strong. And I loved the cat nuns – thought they were very well designed!


Chip is one of the best ‘proper’ aliens that New Who has done as far as his design and personality – too often, they do the quick fix of grabbing a random Earth animal and putting it in an amusing costume, which starts to get wearing after a while. I do like the cat nuns, though. They look extraordinary. The new show shied away from aliens and alien planets in particular far too often, always desperate to get the human angle in somewhere – I don’t think New Earth was a substitute for a real alien planet (one not colonised by humans) but it was the best we were to get for some time.


I found Chip’s storyline quite moving, really. The love he felt for Cassandra was quite undeserved, yet in the end it was what redeemed her. That’s the sort of thing a sentimental sap like me wants to see. Don’t get me wrong, I do like the melodramatically evil characters too, but the idea of redemption is a powerful one when it is done properly and believably, and Classic Doctor Who was littered with it. We see the Doctor as a catalyst, no world is ever the same once he has passed through (for better or worse), and I have always loved when we see his presence changing people for the better.


Doctor Who has always had extraordinary villains, and some wonderful actors over the years to play them. It’s one of the things the show does best – I guess because the Doctor, for all his flaws, is the embodiment of chaotic good, and such a huge character, that he needs huge villains to balance him out.


The actor who played Chip did a wonderful job, and I thought that actress who played Cassandra did well too, especially when she was more than a voice emanating from a piece of skin, which is entirely understandable!


Zoe Wanamaker! One of a long list of really impressive names they got in to play guest roles in season one (before the show proved how popular it was going to be). Something New Who has done very, very well since 2005 is casting, not only getting in really major actors, but also matching them well to characters. I can think of only a small handful of bum choices, and a whole bunch of exceptional ones.


The cat nuns could have been very bad indeed, but they were handled very well and looked extremely convincing. They actually looked like aliens, rather than intergalactic furries. They were also quite chilling in their approach to medical science, you could believe they honestly thought they were justified doing these terrible things for the sake of the greater good and that they regretted the necessity of it. I thought this made them all the more creepier than if they had been doing it because they were … well, evil.

So far, the special effects have been great in this season


I think it’s obvious right from the word go that there is more money going into this season than the last (where there were a few scenes occasionally filmed in cupboards, etc.) and that the production team are actually figuring out how to spend that money effectively. It’s a mostly silly episode that looks great.


So overall, we’re a bit “meh” about this episode on its own. I will say this though – it’s worth watching because we come back to New Earth, and some of these characters, later 🙂


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28 responses to “New Who in conversation: New Earth (S02E01)

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