NEW EARTH – 15th April
Written by Russell T. Davies.
Review and Commetary by Andrew Panero
You seem to know that something has arrived as a cultural phenomenon these days when you start to see the porn parodies appear. Last year there was the controversy over the ‘Abducted by the Daloids’ (sic) film and this year we have the Adult Channel running ‘Doctor Screw’ (even sicker), which seems to be based directly on the new series. How long before the lawsuits start flying one wonders?
Which is deeply ironic given that the new series itself is often played on the level of parody; there were numerous examples of this in this current episode, from the use of contemporary idioms such as ‘chav’ to the Doctor describing the Face of Boe as “pure text book” enigmatic. RTD seems to have enjoyed himself immensely spinning this little yarn; there were more one-liners than I could keep count of and the campness levels were reaching overload at times.
One year after the airing of the first series and there is already a great deal of established continuity to work on, particularly with this story which is basically a sequel to last year’s ‘End of the World’. So in the opening sequence we have Rose and the Doctor departing in the TARDIS from the same playground Rose sat in during ‘The Parting of the Ways’, the ‘Bad Wolf’ graffiti still faintly visible on the asphalt.
The Doctor travels to the year 5 billion and 23 in response to a message on his psychic paper (which for the first time we see actually producing writing). He travels to New Earth (set up after the old one was destroyed) in a distant galaxy some twenty odd years after the POTW. There he finds a hospital run by Cat-like nuns called the ‘Sisters of Plenitude’. He and Rose are spied on by Spider-bots as they admire ‘New New York’ (so can we now count ‘Futurama’ as amongst Mr. Davies influences?) Whilst the Doctor visits his enigmatic friend the Face of Boe, the evil Lady Cassandra who has survived her apparent destruction in the last series entraps Rose. In classic Doctor Who style she takes over Rose’s mind, transferring her life essence from her trampoline body into Rose’s more curvy one. (‘It’s like being in a big bouncy castle’ being one of her best lines).
Billie Piper than spends much of the episode out of character as Cassandra’s spirit skips around from one body to the next, causing trouble. There is a mystery within the hospital that Cassandra has been curious about for some time, so she uses the Doctor to uncover whatever it is she believes the Sisters are hiding. This turns out to be vaults full of human clones, grown in tanks so that they can be experimented upon to find cures for the numerous ailments the human colonists on New Earth suffer from. So what starts out with good intentions gets warped into the most horrifying evil imaginable, a nice use of tragic irony by Mr. Davies.
Into this mix is thrown the mischievous Lady Cassandra, who out of sheer malice it seems, unleashes an army of diseased clones on the hospital, clones whose very touch is lethal since they have been infected with every sickness going. Only the Doctor can sort out the mess now, which he does with apparent ease by mixing up a concoction of colourful liquids and spraying it at the unfortunate ‘patients’. This miraculously cures them of all their diseases and the Doctor grandly declares the birth of a new species of human being.
This is something that annoys me about Russell T. Davies writing; the way in which he comes out with the most implausible, almost cop-out type resolutions to beautifully constructed nightmare scenarios. What I’m beginning to realise as well, is that a lot of the time these endings are deceptively straightforward, that in essence he has his eyes on a bigger picture than the individual episode. So whilst the Ninth Doctor was a angst ridden individual who was genuinely quite helpless and needed rescuing by Rose on numerous occasions, so the present Doctor comes across as superhuman, almost God-like in his powers. ‘If you want to take it to a higher authority, there is none,” he tells the Sisters of Plenitude at one point.
The point I am trying to make is that RTD is more interested in the character arc over the entire series rather than the technical problems of plausibly resolving his plots. In order to help signpost the way for the viewers (or at least the more vocal and critical ones) he drops curious hints in the ‘Radio Times’ and within Doctor Who Confidential. So for example in the RT he refers to the Doctor and Rose becoming ‘over-confident’ and that this could be their undoing. Given that this is the case, starting the series where the Doctor saves everyone from a dire and apparently irresolvable fate with ridiculous ease helps to set up that sense of hubris.
Which leaves us with the Face of Boe, a creature who we already knew from the last series to be unfathomably old, ‘some say he is millions of years old, but that is impossible’ one of the Sisters remarks to the Doctor. There is a legend that at the end of his life the Face will impart a message of vital importance to the ‘lonely god’ a.k.a. the Doctor. Having been led to believe he would die this episode and reveal his great secret, we are cheated at the last minute when the Face decides it is not time to die just yet and teleports off with the message that the Doctor and he will meet again for a third time.
So how well does this episode work, in total? Well, we have the nods to the past which always seems important when setting up a new Doctor, to counterpoint this we have a symbolic setting on ‘New Earth’ to emphasise to everyone that things are also different. We have the Doctor establishing himself as a much more exuberant and confident character and the introduction of a series hook in the shape of the Face of Boe’s final message. We have spectacle aplenty, weird aliens, futuristic cities and giant heads in smoky glass tanks. The script, for all its weaknesses, is very sharp and funny and above all entertaining. If I were to give a number to it, I’d say seven out of ten, good enough to wet one’s appetite for what is to come.