Much like “The Long Game“, “New Earth” is an episode I think I enjoy a bit more than a good chunk of the Doctor Who fandom. Mind you, I am always surprised that “New Earth” was actually the Series 2 premiere. “The Christmas Invasion“, the preceding Christmas special, felt way more like a series opener than this episode. The typical job of a series opener is to establish all the main cast members and set up the themes and story arcs of the season. The Doctor, Rose, Mickey and Jackie were all introduced in Series 1, and the seeds of the Torchwood arc were already planted in “The Christmas Invasion” (which will receive a significant amount of progression in the following episode, “Tooth And Claw“), so “New Earth” really doesn’t have to do any heavy lifting for a change. Instead, Russell decides to write a frothy, comedy romp to kick off the series.
“New Earth” serves as a sequel to “The End Of The World“, which further showcases how the Tenth Doctor is still the same man as the Ninth Doctor while also being very different from him in a lot of areas, having a lot of laughs along the way. The end result of Russell’s decision is one of the most gleefully silly episodes of his tenure. I’m actually surprised “New Earth” works as well as it does, considering how jam packed it is; it’s basically the opposite of “The Christmas Invasion”. “The Christmas Invasion” was very slow-paced and was pretty thin on plot, “New Earth” is very fast-paced and it tries to juggle several different ideas at once. It tries to be a body swap comedy romp with Cassandra, a zombie plague story with the human lab rats, a debate about the ethics of animal testing, a cautionary tale about the dangers of vanity, and a major tease for a Face of Boe arc. On paper, this episode should be a hot mess of clashing tones and subplots, but onscreen, it’s completely hilarious, largely because of Billie Piper and David Tennant.
Something I admire about the way the Doctor is written in this episode is how often Russell T. Davies stresses his love for life and his zest for new experiences. There’s a wondrous scene early on where the Doctor and Rose take a moment to marvel at the sights of New Earth, from the flying cars to the apple-grass, which perfectly illustrates why the Doctor likes to travel. Later, Ten seems to enjoys every second of repelling down an elevator shaft, and gets pretty ecstatic about watching a new species of humans be born. It strikes you that the Tenth Doctor is still so young in these early episodes. Aside from the time war regrets he inherited from Nine, Ten is still unburdened by the trauma of future episodes like “Doomsday“, “Last Of The Time Lords” and “Journey’s End“, and it’s strangely heartwarming to see him be so footloose and carefree in this adventure.
The new Doctor endears himself to us even further by showing plenty of kindness and sympathy to the Face of Boe, even if he knows nothing about him (the Face knows a lot about him though), and we’re shown again that Ten is a very hands-on Doctor when it comes to the problem of the week, concocting a fairly ridiculous plan to stop the oncoming zombies and using himself as live bait. Ten’s gift of gab is here to stay, since he jabbers away for most of the episode, but underneath his breezy geniality, the Tenth Doctor is very hotheaded when it comes to injustice and atrocities. His outburst at Harriet wasn’t just a fluke, Ten can turn his mood around on a dime, and he barely restrains his fury when he discovers the cat nuns have been genetically engineering their own people to inhumanely experiment on from birth to death. Despite that, thanks to character development, Ten has got a better handle on his wrath currently. The Ninth Doctor let the Lady Cassandra die violently for her crimes, the Tenth Doctor decides to do her a kindness and make her happy before she expires naturally. Whether it’s out of pity, or because he decided to give her some modicum of forgiveness is up to your interpretation.
Despite the regeneration anxiety in “The Christmas Invasion”, the Doctor and Rose have clearly, gleefully, grown closer than ever. By now, Rose is on her way to becoming a seasoned companion. She knows to ask questions, arm herself when she random dude knows way more about her than he should, and she tries to avoid walking into an obvious trap, which still happens anyway, since Cassandra outwits her. Rose actually isn’t in this episode much, since she spends most of it being possessed by Cassandra, but that doesn’t mean Billie Piper isn’t given a lot to do. Billie Piper and David Tennant are both clearly having a ball getting to act way out of character when their characters are possessed by Cassandra, chewing so much scenery and doing their best Zoe Wanamaker impersonations as the whiny diva.
The B-plot of the episode concerns the Sisters of Plenitude, supposedly wise and aloof cat nuns who run a hospital in the far future. They’ve learned to cure all ailments on New Earth, at a high cost. In secret, they genetically engineer their own human lab rats to test horrible diseases on, using the process of elimination to find antidotes. There’s something very disturbing about their complete disregard for the life they’ve created; they purposely distance themselves from the clones and dehumanize them at every turn so they don’t have to feel any shame or remorse for their actions. Being born so you can be experimented on, and having no purpose in life other than to suffer for other people’s benefit before you’re executed is a rather nightmarish concept to find in an otherwise lighthearted episode, and it actually seems like a precursor to the Flesh two-parter in Series 6. In any case, the cat nuns get their just desserts when the zombies revolt, expose them and utterly wreck their hospital. The final C-plot centers around the ancient Face of Boe, and his personal nurse, Novice Hame. All of their scenes feel a lot more portentous in retrospect, in light of what happens in “Gridlock”, one of the most poignant episodes in Series 3.
The Lady Cassandra was an entertaining villainess in “The End Of The World”, but here I would argue she’s the real star of “New Earth”. Having found a way to escape back in Series 1, Cassandra rather hypocritically despises the Doctor and Rose for letting her die, and eagerly plots her revenge the next time she sees them. Cassandra didn’t just have all those surgeries because of her vanity, she also wants to cling to life at any cost (despite already being centuries old). She hijacks Rose’s body so she can have a flesh body again, and tries to steal Rose’s life for her own. Her attempts to fool the Doctor don’t last long though, not only because of her terrible fake accent and her inexplicable knowledge of future technology, but also because she’s so incredibly selfish to the point of sociopathy that she can’t possibly be Rose. Her attempts to kill the Doctor and blackmail the Sisters backfire horribly, so she’s forced to tag along with the Doctor for the rest of the episode, which is surprisingly fun.
Much like in “Boom Town”, a subdued, amoral antagonist is forced into a position where they have to cooperate with the Doctor and Rose to survive, while they’re still holding their own agenda. Eventually, “New Earth” reiterates the aesop of “The End Of The World”: everything has its time and everything ends. More than that, times change and species evolve because they have to. Cassandra’s whole experience in this episode with the clone humans finally taught her that lesson, so she finally relents and accepts it’s time for her to die, having wasted her life. Before that happens, the Doctor takes her back to a nostalgic, simpler time: before she had destroyed her body to preserve her ego and she had some compassion for people other than herself. It’s actually a pretty messed-up scene – a talking skin flap in the body of a dying clone compliments her past self, consequently setting herself on the path to ruin via a bootstrap paradox – but it’s also a sad one, a good example of how Doctor Who can be completely strange yet moving at the same time.
With principal photography being shot at the Wales Millennium Center (which proves to be a pretty beautiful, clinical, sterile setting, particularly in the patients’ wing), James Hawes once again returns to helm “New Earth” and his direction for this episode is a massive step up from his work in “The Christmas Invasion” (though again, the script for “New Earth” probably gave him more to work with). With the help of some tight editing, he frequently lends the episode a strong sense of kinetic energy, through sequences like the Tenth Doctor firing up the TARDIS at the start, the establishing shots of the hospital and the surrounding territories, the zombie chase through the restricted areas of the building, and the Doctor and Cassandra’s hasty jump down an elevator shaft.
“New Earth” is another good day for Doctor Who when it comes to the show’s CGI, which manages to convincingly creating a line of flying cars on New Earth’s surface, and a labyrinth of cages in the secret chamber of the Sister’s hospital (I like how sickly green the lighting always is in these scenes), though it fares less well with portraying the spread of the zombies’ diseases. As a sequel to “The End Of The World”, Murray Gold revisits several of his pieces from that episode for “New Earth”, like like the gentle, innocent wonder of “Rose’s Theme” (which the show has actually been getting a lot of mileage out of for the last few episodes), and the wavering, alien sass of “Cassandra’s Waltz”. The rest of Murray’s material has a lithe, bouncy, playful touch, and he composes a new, quiet, dignified piano piece titled “The Face Of Boe“, hinting at the long, old life the character has had, filled with many secrets. “The Face Of Boe” would receive a pretty heartfelt and appropriate expansion in Murray’s score for “Gridlock” the following season.
“New Earth” is an unorthodox story to start a brand new season with, but it’s also a fun one and one of Russell T. Davies’ better romp episodes.
* I’ve never asked before, so I’m going to ask now, why was the lighting in this show so overexposed during Series 1 and 2?
* “So where are we going?” “Further than we’ve ever gone before!”
* “Rose Tyler! I knew it. That dirty blonde assassin!” “She’s coming here, mistress” “This is beyond coincidence, this is destiny! At last, I can be revenged on that little-” “Bit rich, coming from you”.
* This episode is set unfathomably far into the future, and Cassandra stores her precious memories on a 20th century movie projector. She really likes her retro stuff.
* “Mistress?” “Moisturize me“.
* “Arms, fingers, hair! Let me see! Let me see! Oh my God. I’m a chav! Look at me, from class to brass!”
* “She’s… she’s with the Doctor. A man. He’s the Doctor. The same Doctor with a new face! That hypocrite! I must get the name of his surgeon”.
* “This Doctor man is dangerous” “Dangerous and clever. I might need a mind like his. The Sisterhood is up to something. Remember that Old Earth saying, never trust a Nun? Never trust a Nurse. And never trust a cat”.
* “What I don’t understand is, what have you done to Rose? I’m being very, very calm. You want to be aware of that. very, very calm. And the only reason I’m being so very, very calm is that the brain is a delicate thing. Whatever you’ve done to Rose’s head, I want it reversed. Because these people are dying, and Rose would care!”
* “We understood what you did to us. As part of the machine, we know the machine. And we will end it!”
* “Goodness me, I’m a man. Yum. So many parts. And hardly used. Oh, oh, two hearts! Oh, baby, I’m beating out a samba!”
* “What do we do? What would he do? The Doctor, what the hell would he do?” “Ladder. We’ve got to get up!” “Out of the way, blondie!”
* “All our good work, all that healing, the good name of the Sisterhood! You have destroyed everything!” “Go and play with a ball of string!” “Everywhere, disease. This is the human world. Sickness!”
* I know it’s supposed to be frightening, but the way that sped-up shot of Matron Casp dropping down the elevator shaft is framed makes me burst out laughing every time.
* “Oh, chavtastic again”.
* “Oh, I hate telepathy. Just what I need, a head full of big face”.
* “I can take you to the city. They can build you a skin tank and you can stand trial for what you’ve done” “Well, that would be rather dramatic. Possibly my finest hour, and certainly my finest hat”.