New Earth: Beyond the End of the World

Review of Series 2, Episode 1 – with spoilers

There are many reasons why New Earth, the opening episode of Doctor Who Series 2, is a natural successor to last year’s The End of the World. The return of Lady Cassandra O’Brien Dot Delta Seventeen and the Face of Boe are the most obvious, naturally. Other links are less obvious:

  • This is our second story with David Tennant’s Doctor, just as EOTW was with Christopher Eccleston’s.
  • In both, we’re shown brief glimpses of the Powell Estate (via a transtemporal phone call in Season One, and with fond goodbyes in Season Two).
  • In both, one of the lead characters is trapped for a period (Rose in a viewing room, the Doctor in a ‘patient’ booth).
  • Some laugh-out loud comedy moments based on popular culture, from the Tainted Love iPod to the contender for Best Line in Doctor Who Ever – ‘Oh my God! I’m a CHAV!’
  • Both showcase the prosthetics works of Neill Gorton and Millennium FX, and demonstrate why it’s criminal that the team has not yet got BAFTA recognition.

But there are some other areas where both episodes have similar faults that hold them back from being great episodes. In both, there are acres of excellent CGI, tempered by one or two hiccups. In The End of the World, Cassandra’s facial features were jerky and unbelievable (thankfully, much improved this time round), and one or two shots of metallic spiders emerging from their orbs failed to match the studio lighting exactly,and looked superimposed as a result. This time round, the effects of a human, and then a Sister of Plenitude, being infected look particularly weak.

More seriously, both episodes’ science fiction plots have weak resolutions. The End of the World has the fan sequence, which takes Galaxy Quest’s gauntlet sequence and plays it straight (why would the system reset switch be so inaccessible, if it was needed in an emergency?), and a Poirot-style ‘whoddunit?’ that comes from nowhere, and goes the same way. New Earth has the plague zombies being instantly cured by touch alone.

In both, it’s as if the production team are saying to us, “forget the sci-fi, it’s not important; look at the character work, that’s the real story”. And they’re right, in a way. In both cases, the subplots that benefit from the extra screen time (the fate of the Doctor’s people, the redemption of Cassandra) involve superb writing and acting from both leads and guests. But the rushed endings leave the whole episodes with the impression that they’re missing something.

In New Earth’s favour is Billie Piper. Her turn as Cassandra-in-Rose’s-body is breathtaking, highlighting what a fantastic comedian, what a fantastic actress, she is. She and David Tennant are going to be a formidable Saturday night double-act for another twelve weeks.

Can’t wait.

Author: Scott Matthewman

Formerly Online Editor and Digital Project Manager for The Stage, creator of the award-winning The Gay Vote politics blog, now a full-time software developer specialising in Ruby, Objective-C and Swift, as well as a part-time critic for Musical Theatre Review, The Reviews Hub and others.