Sunday, April 16, 2006

Doctor Who - New Earth

Pic by Shaun Lyon. www.gallifreyone.comI had been really looking forward to seeing New Earth, the first episode of the new series of Doctor Who. And on the whole I wasn't disappointed. The story was written by Russell T Davies and had all the hallmarks of his work - a fast and furious pace, some great dialogue and also some gaping plot holes where things just don't stand up to any sort of detailed thought. We opened with Jackie and Mickey saying goodbye to Rose as she headed off for more adventures with the Doctor ... nice I suppose, but I hope we don't spend too much time this season dwelling on the sub-EastEnders soap plots (some hope). The TARDIS arrives on New Earth in the far future, summoned there by a note on his psychic paper to visit ward 26. The CGI effects of the hospital and New New York with all the flying cars was very impressive. The first of the questions though: how could Chip (superbly played throughout by Sean Gallagher) tell that Rose was a pure blood human just from the picture transmitted from one of the spider robots? He himself did not seem to be terribly intelligent and so this information seems a bit of a leap for him. Arriving in the hospital, and my first thought was how similar the space looked to the museum in Dalek, the vast hall in The End of the World, and the levels on Platform One in The Long Game, Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways ... possibly because it was recorded at the same location?(This is an assumption, by the way, but the space does seem very familiar). Then we are into some nice comedy moments with the liquid disinfection in the lifts (question though: how could Rose continue to hear the Doctor after his lift door had closed and he was headed up?). Once the Doctor arrives in Ward 26, the mystery message seems to have been from the Face of Boe, who is apparently dying of old age, having lived for thousands, if not millions of years. He is being tended to by Novice Hame (Anna Hope) who was by far the best of the Cat Nuns - a superb piece of character acting which the series seems to excel at. Meanwhile Rose finds herself in the basement and encounters Cassandra (voiced by Zoe Wanamaker) and her cloned servant Chip. Now Cassandra claims to be the last human and has film of her attending a party with people in what seem to be very 20th Century clothes ... The presence of film seems to suggest around the 1970's or 1980's or it would have been video, as well as the styles at the party, which would make Cassandra considerably older than the Face of Boe ... but the Face was meant to be the oldest creature alive I thought (and didn't he have a baby as reported in The Long Game and yet here he seems to be the last of his kind - maybe I'm getting confused). There are some awesome lines here, with Rose referring to Chip as 'Gollum' and the 'So you're talking out your -' ... '- ask not' exchange between Rose and Cassandra. In short shrift, Cassandra uses a machine called a psychograft to take over Rose's body (she knows the term 'Chav' - a very 20th century expression. We could here also digress into why Cassandra is so horrified at this when she is in Rose's body as surely she would have known this beforehand, but we won't). Mention however must be given to Billie Piper as her performance as Rose/Cassandra is nothing short of inspired. She is totally convincing and very sexy and her kiss with the Doctor is a brilliant comic moment amonst several in this episode. Meanwhile we have discovered that the Cat Nuns have a secret ... people stashed in pods similar to those used by the Graske ... and that they are quite ruthless at destroying the people if they feel like it (though quite how a single lever on the wall incinerates just the one specific pod is unexplained.) The Doctor is starting to get suspicious, with diseases like Petrifold Regression, Marconi's Disease and Palidone Pancriosis being banded about and cured by the Cat Nuns and their mystery medicines. So the Doctor and Rose/Cassandra investigate and find themselves in the Nestene lair from Rose ... except this time it's banks of the pods all containing humans infected with every disease known in the galaxy. The Doctor realises that Rose is not Rose as she didn't care about the humans, and before we know it, the pods are opening and infected humans are on the rampage like something out of a George Romero film. But meanwhile we can ponder how Rose/Cassandra knew how to give them all a shot of adrenalin and how to open the pods (maybe it's by using the same multi-functional lever as before). But then one of the infected zombies shoves his arm in an electrical socket and every pod in the place opens ... what sort of a system is this! It's a wonder that the people had not escaped the last time there was a power failure. The CGI effects of the sickness spreading was surprisingly poor and on the Cats especially barely noticeable. But we're more concerned with Chip and his incredible ability to teleport. He gets left behind in the basement where he hides in a large empty drum ... and then he's amazingly in the isolation ward and hides in one of the pods ... but then he re-appears back in the wards ... an incredible talent to be sure. Unless there are actually many clones of Chip around ... After some bodyswapping shennanigans between Cassandra, Rose and the Doctor (what happened to the need for the psychograft machine? This seems to have been forgotten) the Doctor gets hold of all of the medicines and mixes them together, using the lifts' cleansing mechanisms to deliver the antidote to all the infected people. So ... let me get this right ... the Cat Nuns were keeping all these people as lab rats to test out cures and so on ... but when the Doctor mixes together all the cures, it cures in turn all of the lab rats ... so why were the Cat Nuns keeping them at all then? If they already had - in a single ward mind - the cures to every disease known available to them, then they surely have the best hospital going and there is no need to experiment any further. And in any case, since when does mixing all your medicines together in a vat and then spraying them over people actually work? Most of the medicines were in intravenous drip bags which suggests internal application through mixing them with the blood. What a strange and simplistic denoument. Despite the large suspension of disbelief needed here, the end play is excellent. The scenes of the Doctor bringing healing to everyone, and where he hugs the woman who has never been touched in her life are simply superb, and are very moving. But don't forget the plot ... the Doctor returns to see the Face of Boe who has woken up and isn't dying after all ... why was he in the hospital then and why did he call for the Doctor? But he delivers a cryptic message to the Doctor that they will meet for a third and final time and then he will deliver his message to the Doctor, before teleporting away somewhere else. You'd think he could figure out an easier way to tell the Doctor this ... Oh well. It all adds to the mystery and might be part of any ongoing theme or plot that this season has (aka Bad Wolf last year). As a coda, Cassandra ends up in Chip's body who then conveniently dies on her, but not before they have travelled back outside the hospital (doubtless avoiding all the NNCPD cops swarming everywhere) and back in time to that party where Cassandra was holding forth on the film. There Chip/Cassandra is the one who tells the human Cassandra that she is beautiful before dying at her feet. It's odd that Cassandra earlier recalled being told that she was beautiful, but not the messenger dying. Nor that he looked like her future cloned slave. Selective memory obviously. Overall I really enjoyed New Earth. I don't think it is perfect, but it's not at all bad. It's great fun and rattles along at a good pace, but if you scratch the surface then it starts to really not make a lot of sense. Billie Piper was brilliant as Cassandra, and David Tennant made a very watchable and entertaining Doctor. I do worry a little about the series plundering its own recent continuity quite so much (Cassandra, the spiders, the Face of Boe) but as long as they remember to try and keep it to the background then things will be fine. Next week we have a foray into Werewolves to look forward to, and reports suggest that this is one of the stronger episodes. Until then ...

7 comments:

Penelopecat said...

Is it really so inconceivable that the Face of Boe, a giant floating telepathic head in a tank, painted as this creature of legend, one of the oldest living things in the universe, has simply outlived his own offspring?

David said...

Not at all ... but if you're from a race which lives for a long time then this does seem strange. Usually offspring outlive their parents. But of course, yes, Baby Boemina could have died in the interim.

Anonymous said...

Just saw the episode. I had the same problem with this that I had with THE LONG GAME. I think the story consepts are bigger than the 45 minute time frame allows them to be (GAME with the great concept of a piece of meat controlling television and the resistance to that, NEW EARTH with the concept of killing one creature so another can live). That said, the episode was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it. I just wish they would have gotten into the Cat Nun plot and morals of that more.

-Erik

TimeWarden said...

As good as the flying car effects were in longshot, when the Doctor and Rose are in closeup there wasn't a single one to be seen in the space above their heads which I thought rather destroyed the illusion!

Did you notice, at the start, the word Wolf was still visible on the ground even though attempts had obviously been made to scrub it out?!!

Why did the Doctor materialise so far from the hospital when it is clear that is his purpose for the visit? Shades of "Revelation". These days there isn't time to spend a whole episode walking to the heart of the action!!!

Tim

Stewart M. said...

I was utterly disappointed by the absolutely horrid body-swap plot device. One of the most tired, childish, cliched SF concepts in existence.

Anonymous said...

Chip seems to have had some intelligence downloaded into him, which gave him the ability to not only determine that Rose was a pure-blood human, but to know what a modern mobile phone was as well as knowing that Rose spoke with a Cockney dialect.

David Kelm said...

In "Monsters and Villans", RTDwrites that no-one knows why The face of Boe is so long-lived, and that al of his six children (Boemina) lived a natural span of 40 years. As for Chip being able to spot that Rose was a pure-bred Human: surely that was because he and cassandra were specifically looking for one so that Cassie could use her mind-swap machinery to jump into him/her and prolong her life? Her frame and circumstances looked less than ideal and she would be too much of a racist to want to inhabit anything "less" than Human, so her spiders were presumably set to look for human like signs? As for the film projector- I think that trying to portray a futuristic but old-fashioned image projecting method would have represented wasted effort from the production team: the story was set "in the future", and the nightclub scenes were "sometime long ago" so an easy visual cue for this would be to use a visual shorthand that would cue this for the viewer. Us fans can then construct elaborate theories as to the fashions and technology, but I saw it simply as an effective production shortcut...