The first episode of David Tennant’s first series started with a… whimper that could have been a bang. It’s true: my view of New Earth is that it was an unspectacular story that nevertheless had a lot of potential and could have been executed much better. The plot—of cat nurses on humanity’s new home in the distant future concocting advanced remedies for all manner of afflictions by breeding their own humans, infecting them with deadly diseases, and testing their remedies on them—was quite an original and interesting idea, but the episode, I think, rather let itself down by pitching itself to a certain audience, namely, children. We saw this in the way the episode spent a lot of time on faux action sequences, such as the Doctor and Rose/Cassandra running around to escape the diseased people. A particularly grievous plotting offence this episode committed was the resolution, where the Doctor just mixed all the remedies together and sprayed them at the diseased. I mean, come on. That resolution was worthy of a first-time fanfic writer, not a professional writer of a high-profile television drama. Honestly, it felt like the producers were following a “How to Make an Authentic Doctor Who Episode in 10 Quick Steps” guide when they made this. All the standard, predictable plot and production devices were thrown in, knowing the audience wouldn’t notice that they’d been skived. It felt like the writers were simply going through the motions, and that the episode was made with little critical scrutiny about how it could have been improved so as to make this episode stand out and not be ultimately consigned to being the forgettable, positively average episode that it is.
That said, there were a few golden moments and features of this episode. Both Billie Piper and David Tennant showed off their acting abilities when they were playing their characters as possessed by Cassandra. David was particularly hilarious when he was portraying Cassandra’s fascination at finding herself in a male body—a male Time Lord body no less. The scene where Cassandra, in Rose’s body, gives the Doctor a big wet snog to the Doctor’s dishevelled astonishment, was also brilliant. The character of Chip, played by Sean Gallagher, was also amusing, albeit creepy, although Gallagher gave a wonderful performance at the end when he was possessed by Cassandra, and was coming to terms with her (his?) impending death. I wasn’t so impressed with David’s manic, jumping-up-and-down elation at the end when the diseased people were being cured. That felt like cringe-inducing overacting again.
I wasn’t sure what the purpose of including Cassandra in the story was, except perhaps to tie up her character. I’m not sure whether I think Cassandra’s inclusion was beneficial or irrelevant to the story, but, at the very least, I think her inclusion facilitated the few genuinely quality scenes of this episode, and her absence would have made an already forgettable episode even more forgettable. The final scene where Cassandra, in Chip’s body, confronts her younger self and tells herself that she’s beautiful before promptly snuffing it at her feet was… beautiful. It was easily the strongest scene of the entire episode. Shame that it had nothing to do with the plot.
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