11 April 2016

New Earth

Series 2006+10  

Ten years on from its original broadcast timelines revisits David Tennant’s debut season.

I remember watching `New Earth` at a friend’s flat and hating it (the episode not the flat) because it seemed too frivolous by half. It was easy to blame David Tennant back then as this was his first full episode and I had this idea- briefly as it turned out- that he might be terrible as the Doctor. Luckily the season quickly delivered `Tooth and Claw` and all was forgiven while `New Earth` was largely forgotten. In fact I think it’s the episode from the whole of Tennant’s tenure I’ve watched the least so I was oddly looking forward to seeing it again. Is it really as bad as I thought it was a decade ago? This is very much the approach of re-reviewing the 2006 episodes by the way, to pick up on particular aspects rather than review them as if new so this is an interesting place to start.
What strikes me now is that behind the frantic exterior Russell T Davies’ script is focussed on two main issues. One is medical ethics; when the truth about the secrets of the hospital is revealed it makes for a horrific concept in amongst the apparent body swap japery. The argument for this practice is put persuasively enough so that the Sisters’ aims at least can be applauded; it’s just their methods that are suspect. Do the ends justify the means? The Doctor is certain they do not though of course he speaks from the considerably advantaged position of someone who can- and recently has -regenerated. Incidentally isn’t this just what Cassandra is doing?

Just as these bodies have been `grown` to use as carriers of every known disease it is a neat parallel that Cassandra herself requires a carrier to prolong her life. The opportunity for Billie Piper to have fun with Cassandra’s excesses is obvious but RTD is careful not to make her a wholly despicable character. The fact that she can identify with the released carriers’ lot (even commenting that they’ve never touched anything) seems to put her own shallow life into perspective. It might have been interesting to have explored this further but the episode doesn’t really. 

This was the first full David Tennant episode we saw (he’d spent a lot of `The Christmas Invasion` in post regenerative slumber) and he displays quite a range; his joy travelling in the early scenes is contrasted with indignation when he discovers the Sister’s secrets. It is hard to imagine other Doctors in this episode (except perhaps Matt Smith) and there is enough evidence to suggest he will be great. I don’t know what I was thinking ten years ago!
Visually `New Earth` reflects the confidence the series had at this stage when all concerned knew they had a hit on their hands.  The opening vistas of New New York are a lovely tribute to old fashioned but futuristic sci-fi book covers while the use of real Cardiff buildings adds appropriate scale. Of course eagle eyed viewers would recognise the staircase leading into the secret intensive care which looks rather the same as that we saw a year earlier in the Auton base; perhaps Acme Staircases have a wide customer base? Cardiff residents would find the hospital entrance familiar too.
It’s an ambitious story in many respects and somehow the production even gets away with not building a set for the hospital wards. As for the cat-nun faces they are the production’s triumph. I’d assumed when I first saw this that they were CGI but learning afterwards they are moulded makes them very impressive indeed.

RTD writes with similarly bold intent; the script is packed with innuendo and a couple of clever cuts to dialogue that leave you with the impression this is teetering on the brink of comedy. As for the way the Doctor cures all the carriers this is perhaps the only episode where you could get away with such a preposterous medical cure! I wonder if any real doctors have tried something as simple as chucking everything into a bucket!

More than anything the episode seems designed to convey this new Doctor and Rose’s love of adventure- Rose is proactive long before she is taken over by Cassandra. I think this is what made some people like myself dislike `New Earth` at the time. Joi de vivre can easily appear smug if not used carefully and to really appreciate this episode you should probably watch it again after the end of the season and it will throw both scenarios into relief.

Tardisode: This takes the form of a tv ad for the hospital in which it is declared “We never lose a patient”. At the end of the ad, one of the patients screams. Presumably this ad was never broadcast in the fictional New Earth world!

Factette: The hospital entrance and other areas were filmed inside the Wales Millennium Centre which was only opened in November 2004 about a year before filming. It’s been in the series – and Torchwood - several times but the most Welsh thing ever to happen there was in 2006 when the venue was used for an attempt to get the most people called Jones in one place. Exactly why they should do that remains a mystery but they got over a thousand!

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