Saturday, 17 August 2013

New Earth

It couldn't last. After the grand departure of the Ninth Doctor and the triumphal debut of the Tenth, along comes New Earth to open Series Two and it is the first real disappointment of the new run. The problem is that there are lots of nice details, but they just don't add up to very much. Cassandra is fun, certainly, either in the flesh or hiding inside Rose, but she never feels like a threat, let alone a villain. The story should be the Cats' mistreatment of their test subjects, but we don't get enough of it; firstly Cassandra's presence muddies the waters, and then the patients themselves become the problem, lurching around the hospital, spreading disease. Pulled in three directions, the story loses its way. Although the Doctor heals the sick, he never gets to be seen defeating the Sisters of Plenitude. Although Cassandra is given her peaceful sendoff, it lacks the emotional hit of other episodes - we simply don't care about her enough. The only climax this episode has is the curing of the patients but it's sadly nonsense: the Doctor heals everyone by mixing all the medicines together and, weirdly, this desperate attempt at magic works rather than just poisoning everybody. It feels like an attempt to evoke the joyous ending of The Doctor Dances, but it comes across as contrived and unconvincing.

At least he does it himself. Once again the Tenth Doctor manages to impose himself upon the problem at hand, a marked difference to his predecessor. Suddenly both the character and the show have received an injection of vigour and it has done them the world of good. Tennant hits the ground running too, seemingly immediately comfortable in the role and displaying all the trademark compassion, anger and whimsy we now associate with this Doctor.

The design work is very effective, with excellent use made of the Wales Millennium Centre, and the cat masks in particular look fantastic (why weren't the Sisters the focus of the episode?). But some effects shots are weak and, impressive vistas apart, I don't feel that I've really seen much of New Earth by the end. Perhaps, if this were an episode 7, this wouldn't seem so disappointing. But it's the season opener and so expectations are higher.

Without the usual Next Time at the end of the previous episode, the boys watched this without any expectations at all. Chris gave it a 9. He thought this one was the scariest so far, claiming that the horror of the infected patients was more believable than the Gelth or Gasmask zombies we saw in Series One. Notions of disease and contagion do provoke instinctive disgust, especially in children - just look at playground reactions to ideas like 'The Lurgy'. Of course this makes it all the more impressive that the Doctor works to save these people, despite their unclean status. William also thought it was "incredibly scary", but he was more horrified by the inhumane treatment of the test subjects. He also said he wasn't keen on Cassandra coming back (he felt she had had her story) and gave an 8.

The Next Time made them sit up though. "OOOOH, the WEREWOLF one!" they cried. "Can we watch it NOW?"

Having just done some calculations (we need to watch 87 episodes in 98 days in order to be finished in time for the 23rd of November), I didn't hesitate. On it went, straight away.


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