Review: New Earth

Last Alteration: Tuesday 25 April 2006

"Yep - still got it."


Perhaps not the most gob-smacking way to kick off the new series but a solid, fun adventure giving the leads plenty to do and showing the new Doctor's slightly different approach.

NO SPOILERS, (unless you've somehow managed to avoid finding out who the villain is) BUT SOME DETAIL

And so the second series begins, sufficiently confident that everyone's now fully au fait with the set-up that we get a nicely cocky pre-credits sequence that could almost be a 'coming next Summer' teaser-trailer for some Tom Cruise blockbuster.

So then, the two big questions are, is the story any cop and how's Tennant in his first `proper' adventure?

Oh, and how come Cassandra's still alive? Well, I'm not going to answer that last one but the solution is so blindingly obvious I still want to kick myself for not guessing it.

`New Earth' is a perfectly fine story- there's nothing at all wrong with it. I recall saying that about `The Long Game' last time round, though I doubt this'll get anything like the hard time that episode's received. It's just that you might be expecting something a little more spectacular to launch the series.

Having said that, this stands a good chance of going down well with general viewers as well as fans since, despite initial appearances, it's more interested in using SF plot devices to do something fun with the characters rather than assuming that these ideas are ends in themselves.

The two main `way-out' concepts here are nothing new but RTD's script soon takes them and conjures up some great scenes, playing neatly on the rapport between the Doctor, Rose & Cassandra. It seems wrong to call these farcical but they certainly bring some levity to a tale which, populated with Cat People, couldn't afford to take itself too seriously.

That's not to say that this is a total chuckle-fest, in fact the finale comes complete with the usual emotive music to prod us into feeling horribly moved, but it's generally handled quite well.

The very last scene is something you'll either find poignant or merely clever. Personally I was wondering how Rose had time to change her hairstyle.

As usual, RTD's script features some wonderful throwaway sounding details, skilfully helping to build up a picture of a new environment or later turning out to be important to the story. In fact a repeat viewing reveals `New Earth' to have quite a well worked out plot, at least compared to some of last year's efforts.

Visually I'm delighted to report that as before, absolutely no effort has been made to give the citizens of tomorrow particularly futuristic clothes, in fact most of the wardrobe was probably bought at a Cardiff branch of Primark. By now I'm pretty sure this is done with a deliberate awareness of those 60s SF shows where fashions were just exaggerated and sprayed silver. Who can forget the metal hair-do's in `The Space Pirates?

CGI is used to fine effect to present a variation on the famous `Ark in Space' set, while scenes of bodies falling down lift shafts are slightly less impressive.

And so on to the big issue- While it pains me to say this, I'm not sure Eccleston would have played some of this story as well as his successor does. For me Eccleston's fiercely anti-`Edwardian eccentric' take on the role, ranks alongside Robert Holmes as one of the best things that ever happened to WHO. In contrast, and especially following his OTT debut last Dec. 25th, I've been somewhat fearful that Tennant might drag the show back to its darkest days of question mark-rife clothing. However I must say he does a pretty good job here, coming across as extremely likeable as opposed to the `I'm zany, I am... Now I'm self righteously angry' version from `The Christmas Invasion.'

All of this is another good feature of the script, which genuinely seems to have been tailored to serve both the new Doctor's personality and Tennant's acting strengths. There's a lovely scene where, even while we're concentrating on a different character, it only takes a few background glances from the Doctor to let us know he's rumbled something's not right. This brilliantly cuts through what, back in the old days, would doubtless have been an entire sub-plot, spun out to fill whole episodes.

The story allows both Tennant and Billie to show-off their acting skills, which is smashing and again cranks up the humour nicely. During one particular scene in which for various reasons the Doctor does a jerky little bop, I could almost see Talking Heads' David Byrne in `Stop Making Sense'. Billie for her part spends much of the episode coming on like a less action-packed Honor Blackman.

You know that clip of Toyah Wilcox from the 30th anniversary, recalling her devastation at Hartnell leaving but then totally forgetting him a few weeks into the Troughton run? Well, I hope Eccleston's brilliant reinvention of the Doctor doesn't fade from my memory, but after this I'm a little more willing to believe that the show may be in safe hands.

Oh, and yes, they keep the middle eight part of the theme during the end credits.

Jim Hall

  • Read Jim's review of School Reunion.