Aired 15 April 2006
Following the surprising success and strengths of the inaugural series of the relaunched Doctor Who, the programme faces a stiff challenge heading into its second year. Aside from needing to prove that the show has lasting power and can outperform what it’s already achieved, it also has the unenviable task of needing to further define the newly-introduced David Tennant incarnation of the titular hero after viewers gained a brief glimpse of him towards the end of ‘The Christmas Invasion,’ in a sense creating another reboot for the franchise.
‘The Christmas Invasion’ was an unquestionable success despite reserving Tennant’s true presence until the end because of a tight script and cinematic scope, and it inspired a great deal of confidence about what his tenure could become; unfortunately ‘New Earth,’ the first proper episode of the second series, fails to live up to that early potential and makes some questionable choices regarding characters and plot that ultimately make this a forgettable episode.
Despite the potential that the New Earth setting in the year 5,000,000,023 affords, this is never really explored thoroughly. After a brief respite on a field that- a bit heavy-handedly- hints at a burgeoning romantic relationship between the Doctor and Rose, the two head into the very technologically and visually impressive hospital staffed by feline nurses. Yet while the Doctor gets a first-hand view of some of the miraculous medicines on display and offer, Rose accidentally finds her way to the very depths of the institution, coming upon none other than Cassandra seen previously in ‘The End of the World.’
Cassandra made for a quirky presence in her first appearance, but the stretched sentient skin of sorts just wasn’t interesting enough to warrant a repeat visit, especially since her presence here undermines what was assumed to be her death earlier. She hasn’t changed a bit in the interim, though she now has her new attendant, Chip, who absolutely adores her and would do anything for her. Ultimately, these two do have a very touching moment towards the end thanks to the Doctor’s innate kindness, but the path getting to that point is an unfortunately grating and wandering one.
On the plus side, the technology that Cassandra now possesses allows for both Billie Piper and David Tennant to really show off their range, even though that does mean the dreaded and hated body-swapping dynamic comes into play. Billie Piper, in particular, completely delivers Zoe Wannamaker’s speech patterns perfectly, and both actors get some truly comedic lines as Cassandra gets used to her new bodies. It is through this device that a very heartfelt explanation of Chip’s life is given as well.
Tennant gets some very good moments throughout the episode to help flesh out his character more, proving to be equally adept at carrying a more character-driven scene such as the subdued meeting with the Face of Boe and the more manic and action-packed scenes when the hidden secret behind the hospital’s glorious success is revealed and the people grown just to be test subjects for diseases are released. Tennant shows that he is also quite good at delivering a towering inferno of anger, though the script lets him down a bit and the underlying threat likely meant to be entailed as he discovers this secret just falls a little flat. And while it’s a nice twist to have the zombie-like lab rats only want to feel love and be touched, the resolution of dousing them all with some of every cure within the hospital fails to resonate and feels quite rushed without adequate payoff.
In the end, ‘New Earth’ is a bit of a mixed bag, but it’s definitely not the strong start to the new series that it should have been. Tennant and Piper put in good performances given the demands of the script, and credit must be given to Donna Croll, Adjoa Andoh, and Anna Hope, each of whom manages to bring a distinctive flare and is able to work through the prosthetics of the feline costuming. However, despite the very strong visuals and nice set pieces, the more forced and childish humour along with the climax just don’t leave any lasting impression. Every series is afforded an average or lacklustre episode, and hopefully as the series finds its footing things will even out some more since even Tennant’s amazing charisma can only overcome so much. Still, the promise of the Face of Boe to reveal a great secret in the future does offer some lasting intrigue.