Friday, January 21, 2011

"New Earth"

This episode is dreadful. That's genuinely the only way I can think to describe it. A pseudoscientific, essentially plotless mess, its only redeeming feature is that Tennant and Billie Piper get to show off their acting chops by performing as Cassandra as well as The Doctor and Rose, which is kind of interesting to see. The rest of it is garbage.
At its deepest level, "New Earth" would seem to be striving to make a statement about experimentation and the moral crisis of progress at any cost versus the cost of human life. Now that's an interesting theme to explore, and that's where things seem to be going when we discover thousands of humans in pods being used to develop new cures. But as with any RTD style message, this essentially gets used for shock value, the Doctor has a bit of a rant in a state of moral indignation, and then it dissolves into mindless action. In this case it involves the Doctor and Rose/Cassandra running along corridors being chased by the infected humans who are essentially zombies. That's it. It doesn't explore the ramifications any further. Instead of the Doctor talking to the patients, any form of discussion, any serious consequences or any sort of in-depth analysis, what happens is that the Doctor mixes every cure in a bucket and douses the infected in a chemical shower, curing them in a way that can apparently be 'passed on' like a disease. It's complete and utter bunk and is astounding in its dodginess as a quick fix solution for a new era of Who which is fixating on cop-out quick fix solutions.
As I said, there's no discussion. All that happens is the Doctor has a shouty, teeth-gritted rant of the kind we will come to know and hate from Doctor Number Ten as his tenure continues and claims that he's the "highest authority". He's already been described in the legends surrounding the Face of Boe as a god, and now apparently he's some kind of Nietzschean Ubermensch too, the man with the power of total arbitration just because he is. That's the thing though, the Doctor isn't some kind of intergalactic arbitrator. He's not a god. He's just a man. A special man, yes, a Time Lord man with great scientific skill and boundless charisma, but even among the Time Lords he was not exactly someone held in awe and dread. He's just a man who has the freedom and knowledge to make decisions and help out when no one else can, a rule-breaker and a liberator, not an authority or a judge.
The Doctor and Rose have this absolutely cringeworthy coupley thing going on too, so when you're watching them you feel like you're intruding upon the private moments of a particularly sappy pair of lovers. To be fair they manage to muster up a good deal more "chemistry" than the Ninth Doctor and Rose ever had but as well and good as that is it still feels out of place in Doctor Who. I much prefer the relationships to be platonic within reason. At least the bit where Cassandra-Rose kisses the Doctor is handled well - he's obviously shocked more than anything. In some ways he's still an alien.
The patients in the hospital are ridiculous, along with much of the rest of the setting. If they have every disease in the universe/galaxy/whatever, presumably including some horrific alien ones, how come that's solely represented by a few boils on their faces and a lurching walk? Why does this futuristic hospital from the year five billion have brick walls and clanky iron staircases in the underground areas? Why did it have to be set on New Earth of all places? How much lower could this show's ambition be! Go to an alien planet, for heaven's sake! Meet some aliens, and not just people with cat faces! Sure, the cat makeup is very effective but why the hell would aliens be cat people? It's astounding how desperately unimaginative RTD is sometimes. Chip the servant man is terribly annoying as well... saying "I worship the mistress!" in that particular strain of Oirish makes me want to punch the screen. Speaking of which, why bring Cassandra back? She was a dull villain from a crap story, and Zoe Wanamaker's performance, highly restricted in this due to the whole possession malarkey, is the only redeeming feature. The cat people are ciphers, the Duke of Manhattan and his bitchy secretary are pointless padding and the Face of Boe purely exists so that RTD can drop more of his idiotic purple prose descriptions of the Doctor from a poor Shakespeare pastiche. As the Doctor describes him, 'textbook enigmatic' - it's this kind of self-awareness that shows how stale and out-of-place these little clues and secrets are, like those stupid bits in David Eddings novels where the characters accidentally start speaking in old-timey prose because Destiny wants everything to seem more impressive. The characterisation is bland, stock and predictable, the storyline is virtually nonexistent (so is Cassandra investigating, or blackmailing, or what?) the science is utter hokey nonsense, the setting is dull and the resolution is a cop-out of the highest order. And the Doctor has clearly been reading too much Also Sprach Zarathustra. Absolute balls on toast.

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