New Earth ★★★

All loved up, the Doctor and Rose bump into "snippy trampoline" Cassandra in New New York in this light-hearted, undemanding romp

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Story 168

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Series 2 – Episode 1

“They exist to be sick. Lab rats. No wonder the Sisters have got a cure for everything. They’ve built the ultimate research laboratory. A human farm” – the Doctor

Storyline
Rose leaves her mother and Mickey to join the Doctor in the Tardis. They visit New Earth in the year five billion and 23 but become separated in a hi-tech hospital run by feline nuns called the Sisters of Plenitude. Rose meets a reconstructed Lady Cassandra, who transfers her mind to Rose’s body, while the Doctor becomes suspicious at the way dying patients are miraculously cured. The answer turns out to be a vast chamber full of human guinea pigs…

First UK transmission
Saturday 15 April 2006

Production
August–November 2005. Main locations in Cardiff: Loudoun Square, Gabalfa; Millennium Centre; The Paper Mill. Also: Tredegar House, Newport; and Worm’s Head, Rhossili, Gower. Studios: Unit Q2, Newport; HTV Studios.

Cast
The Doctor – David Tennant
Rose Tyler – Billie Piper
Jackie Tyler – Camille Coduri
Mickey Smith – Noel Clarke
Cassandra – Zoë Wanamaker
Chip – Sean Gallagher
Matron Casp – Dona Croll
The Duke of Manhattan – Michael Fitzgerald
Frau Clovis – Lucy Robinson
Sister Jatt – Adjoa Andoh
Novice Hame – Anna Hope
Patient – Simon Ludders
The Face of Boe – Struan Rodger

Crew
Writer – Russell T Davies
Director – James Hawes
Designer – Edward Thomas
Incidental music – Murray Gold
Producer – Phil Collinson
Executive producers – Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner

RT review by Mark Braxton
(filed 15 April 2016)
It’s now taken for granted that Doctor Who is an unstoppable machine that attracts stars and spondulicks with equal ease. But Russell T Davies had an unbelievable amount of work to do in the noughties – not just rebooting the series but also steadying the ship after its frontman, Christopher Eccleston, made for the exit after just 13 episodes.

There must have been a twinkle in Davies’s eye, then, when he introduced his Casanova star, David Tennant, as Doctor Ten. His perky, bushy-tailed, friend-to-everyone incarnation made his mark with an alacrity that few of his cosmic colleagues have matched. And the showrunner’s pattern of opening a series with a light-hearted romp (to be continued with Smith and Jones and Partners in Crime) enables the audience to signal their acceptance through a good laugh.

Wisely, Rusty has also broken free of the bonds of Mother Earth – of London and Cardiff and Utah – to push on into deep space and explore the possibilities afforded by this most generous of TV formats. In doing so, David Tennant and Billie Piper recall the earlier exploits of Doctor-plus-one in Colony in Space or Death to the Daleks. It’s those same thrilling first steps of a contemporary Earthling on another world. But while Davies pays passing homage to those foregoing footfalls, here he really gets under the skin of the companion.

As wide-eyed Rose, Billie Piper really sells the idea of going where no shop assistant from a London council estate has gone before. One minute she’s saying goodbye to her protective mum Jackie and sort-of boyfriend Mickey, the next she’s stepping with her fellow traveller onto apple grass (very appropriate for New New York) and watching vehicles whizz overhead in a futuristic landscape. “Can I just say,” she blurts with an excited-child smile, “travelling with you… I love it.”

Love is the word with these two. More than at any other time in the show’s history, they feel less like companions and much more like sweethearts – an idea that Davies will see through to its natural apotheosis. It’s a brave move in many ways; traditionalists frown at this kind of thing.

But our starry-eyed companions are soon separated – somewhat prosaically, by an elevator taking them in different directions. So while the Doctor gets to see the gleaming wards and one-on-one care of some kind of galactic Bupa, Rose descends to the basement and catches up with mobile skin-graft Lady Cassandra. The “Last Human”, whom we saw exploding at the end of The End of the World, has somehow been pieced together for a comeback that few could have predicted.

It’s hard to think of the snippy trampoline as a popular character in that earlier story; she was more of a comment by Davies on the hazards of plastic surgery. But the writer cleverly subverts her limitations: by having Cassandra inhabit the bodies of both Rose and the Doctor, he also gives Piper (“Nice rear bumper!”) and Tennant (“Two hearts! Oh baby, I’m beating out a samba!”) free rein to flaunt their comedic skills.

Additionally, it allows Zoë Wanamaker to step out from behind the bedsheet when Cassandra’s back story is finally coloured in. It’s a poignant coda that fleshes out her vapid, flapper-girl persona and gives the adventure an extra dimension.

Lady C isn’t the only returning character, of course. To tie in with New Earth’s status as the middle part of a future-world trilogy (culminating in Gridlock), the adamantine Face of Boe hoves into view once more. While he only grunted the first time we saw him, here he communicates with the Doctor telepathically. A mystical presence, Boe reminds me a little of the Guild Navigator in the 1984 film Dune: an impressive design/prop but not much of a character. His importance to the show is measured by the Time Lord’s reverence towards him, by the performance of Tennant, and by the promise of another, final, appearance (“Just before his death, the Face of Boe will impart his great secret”).

One of New Earth’s great strengths is the extravagance of its supporting players – a menagerie of aliens almost to rival The End of the World. The Duke of Manhattan is another Davies grotesque (“Winch me up”) – again I’m reminded of Dune (Kenneth McMillan’s repugnant Baron Harkonnen). And the whiskery Sisters of Plenitude are all the better for being introduced minus fanfare as a fait accompli. They’re cat-women – deal with it! (Adjoa Andoh is unrecognisable as Sister Jatt but will soon be back as Martha Jones’s mum Francine.)

Less effective are the zombie-like humans in the basement, infected with every disease in the galaxy – the unfortunate downside to the medical dream of a 100 per cent recovery rate. Michael Crichton’s Coma meets fifth-Doctor caper Terminus and comes up with The Walking Dead! The shambling denouement seemed jarring when I first watched the story; somehow it still feels at odds with Doctor Who. And the Doctor remedying a catastrophic situation in a trice once again highlights the weakness of the 45-minute story.

But as the tenth Doctor’s first, fully conscious adventure, it shows off Tennant’s soon-to-be-familiar jaw-jutting righteous indignation, and Piper’s admirable versatility.

While undemanding, New Earth is colourful and fun, and a sturdy springboard for a season of vertiginous highs.

*

RT Archive

To launch Series 2 in 2006, Radio Times created a special triple gatefold cover of characters and monsters appearing in forthcoming episodes. (Photographed by Matt Holyoak, with image manipulation by Ian McKinnell)

Inside, we also published an extensive guide to the series:
Opener
Russell T Davies
RTD continued / episode guide
Episode guide continued
David Tennant
Billie Piper
Cast & crew
How the cover was created

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David Tennant and Billie Piper – rare RT photos from 2006 

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