Hooray, the New series of DOCTOR WHO is here at last. This means that my Daddies will stop fretting about it and buying lots of copies of the RadioTimes and can watch it instead.
Here is Daddy Richard’s first review:
Future generations will, probably, view David Tennant’s first season as beginning with “The Christmas Invasion” and more happily watch this as a comfortable second episode, bridging to the greater thrills that we are promised next week. Alright, they’ll call it a filler. But this year “New Earth” bears a heavier burden that future viewers may not expect of it as it is the 2006 season opener. Charlie Brooker in the Guardian speaks of the dangers of anticipation. My thought is that people will be harsher critics for just this reason, and in the future it will be ripe for that favourite verb of the Doctor Who fan: re-evaluation.
Because if it has a fault it’s that it’s not total genius. So, overlooking that, there are lots of good things here: first thing to notice – the Doctor solves the problem himself. That may not sound much, but I suspect that it means someone has listened to the critics of the first season and the ninth Doctor’s back-seat-driver approach.
Second, isn’t Billie Piper cracking as the Lady Cassandra. “It’s like living inside a bouncy castle.” Dialogue and character are Russell’s great strengths but doesn’t Billie just shine. In fact, she’s rather better than David Tennant. It was great to have wicked Lady Cassandra back, and I’m rather sad to see her passing. Mind you, we had that last year too, so you never know…
And the army of plague zombies, one touch and you’re dead, were creepy and yet sympathetic as well, deadly just because they’ve never been hugged, marvellously Doctor Who in concept. And it brings us back to the Doctor’s solution: cure rather than kill.
We do have a bit of the (sadly) usual Russell T Davies glossing over the hard details. If the Sisters of Plenitude have cured every know disease, why do they still have their plague-zombie-powered machine; if they haven’t cured every disease, then how is the Doctor able to do so using a cocktail of their serums?
[A simple fig leaf occurred to me: if the Doctor had given the solution a stir with his finger and so added a hint of Time Lord DNA – wink to Rose/Cassandra – and so his own regenerative powers help to power his instant magic cure.]
The presence of the Face of Boe was, unfortunately, a bit anti-climactic. Not just that we copped out of delivering the “great secret” that he’s promised to impart, but his telepathic voice was something of a sci-fi cliché: I’d have preferred maybe some subtitles over an alien arpeggio (the nun earlier spoke of his “singing”).
And for a story called “New Earth” it wasn’t very about New Earth: you could have made the planet itself a dark honey-trap, or perhaps done a piece on nostalgia. Still New New York looked gorgeous, proof that the BBC can do George Lucas on one millionth of the budget and that at least someone watched Futurama.
As with all superior Doctor Who, there is a more complex moral message to think about inside the comic run-around. The Sisters of Plenitude here are BAD because their miracle medicine is based on experimenting on living people. On the surface, this is the, if not original, at least very Doctor Who message: if the happiness of many depends only on the suffering of a few IT IS STILL WRONG. A Liberal, and not very Socialist message, at that.
However, thinking deeper about this, the idea seems to be that it is BAD to conduct experiments on living beings (or at least certainly intelligent ones). The irony, then is that this seems to be exactly what the Sisters were trying to avoid: their machine is set up to use clone tissue to generate human simulacra on which they can experiment without harming any “real” people. The fact that the simulacra are in fact intelligent appears to be cock-up rather than conspiracy. The evil of which the Sisters are guilty is that they didn’t check properly that their creations were not sentient, in spite of increasing evidence. That’s still pretty bad, but it’s bad in a different and more complicated way that necessarily comes across in the episode.
[Incidentally, my first guess was almost the exact opposite of the way it turned out – I thought that the Sisters were growing clones of their patients and then using the mind graft machine to put the dying victims mind into the new healthy clone body: the twist being that the machine copies minds rather than transfers them, so that the originals were still suffering and dying in the huge green vaults while a copy was bouncing around in their place. This would have tied nicely to Cassandra’s story too, as she would have come to realise that she too was only a copy and that she’d accidentally let her “real” self die without even noticing.]
Anyway, this reminds me of the Virgin New Adventures: when this is “average” is it is only because the series has set the target of “good” so very, very high already.
Next week: a werewolf and, more terrifyingly, Queen Victoria!