New Earth Reviewed

Last night I witnessed – on two occasions – what happens when talent fails to be properly reined in. What happens when an otherwise good idea is taken too far…

On the second of the two occasions, a fat, blonde girl from Newcastle was performing on stage at the local club I attend and suddenly, without warning, broke into a rendition of what is probably the last great protest song – Labi Siffre’s “Something Inside So Strong”. This lady sang it with such complete – and misplaced – conviction that I was sure she was going to follow it with “Biko”.

The point is, she thought she was doing it for the right reasons, despite the fact that it was performed in a smoke-filled club, not the Ghettos of Soweto. Because of this it sounded awful; which brings us to New Earth…

“Disappointing” isn’t a word I’ve associated with Doctor Who since Season 24 back in 1987 where we were treated to Sylvester McCoy’s debut, the risible Time and the Rani. I had believed things have moved on. There are some similarities – new series opener, the last of consecutive stories penned by the same hand (Pip and Jane Baker had previously completed the final instalment of The Trial of a Time Lord) and definitively embarrassing and badly produced instalments of the canon.

Just to take stock, any failings we saw last year were due to something more or less “new” being created. The Doctor Who team now has approaching 2 years experience of making the show, so if I feel any disappointment as a Doctor Who fan in an episode that was written as an opener in the modern-day television sense of the word, then something is seriously wrong.

You may or may not know the term mise-en-scene – briefly it encompasses everything in the frame of the camera or theatre stage that the audience sees. It covers things such as costume, set design, visual effects, lighting, and movement of the actors. With the exception of a couple of bad CGI flying cars, in New Earth this aspect was perfect. Billie and David Tennant were also spot on – but I’m anxious to see what happens when someone else gets the opportunity to play with them. This Doctor has only had one writer so far, and he isn’t serving him well…

Not only has Russell T Davies written the closing episodes of Series 1 Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways, he preceded them with the slow-paced and thought-provoking Boom Town and has since followed them with The Christmas Invasion as well as that “Children in Need” cutaway. Again, for a season opener, you would expect a writer of Davies’ repute to give us something better than the mismash of ideas we were subjected to in New Earth, his fifth (sixth if you count the cutaway) Doctor Who script on the trot. There is a strong argument for him not writing as much next year if last night’s episode was anything to go by.

I’m not so much concerned by the reappearance of Cassandra and the Face of Boe – the latter evidently reminding us who he is to seed his final appearance and the “revelation” that he opted not to give us last night – as they are incidental to what is wrong with New Earth. The sci-fi concepts too are fine, performing what a perfect sci-fi story should – questioning the path that we are taking with medical technology and research. The sight of the “lab rats” covered in plague has come very close to real-life the incident in north-west London where six volunteers showed severe adverse reactions to the drugs that were being tested on them. This is what science fiction is all about, this is what makes us imagine what can be or what might be, and in the end gives us hope.

Yes, Davies has – as ever – given us some very meaty topics to go away and consider. But they were skated over. The concept of the Sisters of Plenitude was great. But we barely saw them. The fantastic moment when we witnessed the extent of their Plague Farm coupled the wonder of seeing humans frozen in Ark in Space with the shock of observing reanimation in Tomb of the Cybermen could have been the catalyst for something fantastic. Instead we get “Shaun of the Dead in Hospital”.

And we get body-swapping. That oh-so-funny concept that if it hadn’t been on it’s knees by the early 1990s has well and truly been stabbed through both hearts and cremated since last night’s instalment. And while we’re on the subject of “done to death” – three episodes on the trot have featured “ethereal gob” drifting to and from the Doctor and his erstwhile companions. Despite the fact that the body swapping isn’t fun and devalues the character of the Doctor, the idea that Cassandra can “gob” herself into any body she pleases is visually disgusting.

I haven’t enjoyed writing this. I recently received an email asking if I would critique the episodes more strongly in my reviews for Season 2. It’s more than a little bit ironic that with the first episode of the new series I feel 100% compelled to do that. However, it also raises the bar for the reviews for the rest of the series, in much the same way that RTD raised the bar with Series 1 and has failed to match it with the shows 2006 return.

Russell T Davies’ sixth Doctor Who episode on the trot Tooth and Claw is next week. There isn’t much it has to do to be better than New Earth…

Anthony Dry was also less than happy…

Well quite frankly, and I sincerely hate saying this, I thought last nights opener was shocking. This site is dedicated to Doctor Who, we love the show but there’s no way I can bring myself to defend something that just isn’t good enough. Where was the Big Bang of a beginning to season 2? The season should have opened with something to really get into, to grab the audience – big things are expected this year. Last year Doctor Who returned after a 16 year or so it was understandable that the opener had to cover a lot of new ground and provide an introduction for those generations who never saw the classic series.

But this year there’s no such excuse. Indeed there’s no excuse period. At least in the classic series they suffered from no budget, poor casting and virtually no backing from the Beeb, but the new series has the best of everything, quality cast, great writers, big budget and massive backing! So why bring back Cassandra a little over a year after her last appearance? What was the Face of Boe doing there? Last nights episode just seemed so pointless, it was fare for the eight year olds amongst us, the body swapping, the gags, the zombies, it was all too overplayed.

There were some positives. David Tennant was good – I like Tennant I think he will be a quality Doctor and he’s a quality actor but the man has been given the poorest openers since Sylvester McCoy and I hope he doesn’t suffer from it. Meanwhile Billie Piper did well, but I still think the show is revolving around her slightly. Fine she’s experiencing time-travel, she’s excited. We get it.

So all in all a disappointing start but next weeks look like the kind of standard we should be expecting week in week out. Considering what the show has at its disposal, we deserve something a bit darker, hopefully less slapstick and in an interesting setting. One final note which I’ve expressed this on many occasions; the 45 minute format doesn’t work for me. The likes of New Earth suffered from this format last night, with no time for pacing and a rushed ending. Only some shows suit this method and I don’t think Doctor Who is one of them…

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