Sunday, January 4, 2015

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same On “New Earth!”

The Good: Billie Piper’s performance, Creep out factor of the plot, Cool foreshadowing
The Bad: Ridiculous plot, Pacing, Erratic balance of humor and horror, Special effects
The Basics: Alternating between creepy and ridiculous, “New Earth” acts as an effective sequel to the first season episode “The End Of The World!”

Doctor Who is good at telling serialized stories. However, most of the episodes that are serialized are major episodes that are part of important, big arcs. There are a few exceptions and one of the most obvious is “New Earth.” “New Earth” is, effectively, a sequel to the first season episode “The End Of The World” (reviewed here!). Mirroring the journey of Rose Tyler and the Ninth Doctor, Rose and the Tenth Doctor’s first off-world journey is to the distant future. Like “The End Of The World,” “New Earth” features characters in the far-distant future who are not quite human. The episode largely hinges on having seen “The End Of The World” as the main antagonist is Cassandra, the villain presumed killed in the prior episode. “New Earth” also features the Face Of Boe and in this episode, it is given more of a backstory and significance, with the assumption that it will return in the future.

Unfortunately, “New Earth” also features a shockingly blasé possession storyline. Amid a horror story involving medical experimentation is an utterly ridiculous storyline that has a disembodied version of “the last human” bouncing between various characters. While that affords Billie Piper and The Doctor with the opportunity to give dramatically different performances from their usual.

Having resolved to go out further than they had before, Rose packs a backpack and leaves Jackie and Mickey behind to join The Doctor in the Tardis. In the year 5,000,000,023 in the galaxy M-87, the TARDIS lands on New Earth. The Doctor and Rose are spied upon by Cassandra and her assistant. Taking his cue from the psychic paper, which is asking him to come to Ward 26, The Doctor takes Rose to the nearby hospital at New New York. When they are separated, The Doctor meets with the cat people who run the hospital and Rose finds herself brought into the presence of Cassandra.

When Cassandra inserts her consciousness into Rose’s body, she learns that The Doctor was with Rose and wants to get revenge upon him. Pretending to be Rose, Cassandra goes to Ward 26, where The Doctor is distracted by how quickly the Sisters Of Plentitude are curing diseases they ought not to be able to. When The Doctor and Cassandra go exploring, they discover the monstrous secret to the Sisterhood’s success: they have created harvest stock of humans who they flood with every uncured disease in order to test experimental treatments. When The Doctor realizes that Rose has been replaced and Cassandra finds the Sisters unwilling to give into her demands for riches, the flesh experiments are released and they march through the hospital like plague-filled zombies. The Doctor and Rose must save the hospital, humankind, and the actual Rose Tyler!

Billie Piper is wonderful as the Cassandra-possessed Rose Tyler. Piper takes on the inflections of Zoe Wanamaker (who voiced Cassandra) perfectly and she has such a fun delivery as she checks herself out. Her body language is loose and flamboyant in a way that Piper has never played in Doctor Who. Regardless of how ridiculous the premise of the body swap is, Piper’s performance makes it seem realistic-enough as she completely embodies a different character through much of the episode.

Not to be outdone, David Tennant seems to have quite a bit of fun as The Doctor when Cassandra possesses his body. Like Piper, Tennant loosens his body language and his effeminate deliveries of his lines are hilarious more often than not.

Unfortunately, for an essential episode of Doctor Who (which it is, if for no other reason than it introduces New Earth, continues the story of the Face Of Boe and foreshadows the next fateful meeting with the enigmatic entity), “New Earth” is creepy and a thin premise stretched long. Neither The Doctor, nor Rose Tyler truly develop as characters. The Doctor continues his streak as a guardian angel of humanity and he exhibits a willingness to do whatever he can to protect life in all forms and avenge wrongs as he finds them. Nonconsensual experimentation of the most hideous form certainly qualifies as a wrong, so of course he steps up to defend the “flesh” when he learns of its predicament.

Noticeably bad in “New Earth” are the special effects. While the make-up effect for the humanoid cats of the Sisterhood is pretty wonderful, the computer generated effects (most notably for the spreading of the disease and the resulting pustules) are ridiculous and obvious. They look like exactly what they are: computer generated effects. But more than the special effects being bad, the story is bland, predictable, and overdone. Doctor Who has nothing substantive to add to the concept of the possession storyline and to fill the rest of the episode’s running time, the ridiculous is exchanged for the creepy in “New Earth.”

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of the Tenth Doctor here!

For other possession stories on television, be sure to check out my reviews of:
“Turnabout Intruder” - Star Trek
“Yes Men” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
“Witch” - Buffy The Vampire Slayer


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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