Doctor Who - The New Series

2.01: "NEW EARTH"

TX: 14 April 2006

Written by: Russel T. Davies

Directed by: James Hawes

Running time: 43' 29"

Location: New New York, New Earth

Date: 5,000,000,000,023 AD

Monsters and villains: The Sisters of Plentitude (a race of anthropomorphic cat nuns), Cassandra O'Brien (the last human, back from her apparent death in 1.02, "The End of the World"), The Face of Boe (the last of his species, also returning from "The End of the World"), Chip (Cassandra's pet clone), The Flesh (clones infected with every disease known to the universe), spiders (tiny mechanical nasties controlled by Cassandra)

Tardisode Synopsis: In an advert for the hospital run by the Sisters of Plentitude, one of the sisters espouses the benefits of the hospital, showing a newly recovered patient. The music then shifts abruptly, becoming sinister, and the screen cuts to black. We hear the female patient screaming for help.

Plot Synopsis: The Doctor and Rose arrive at New New York on the planet of New Earth, only to be called to a hospital by a mysterious message. But the hospital hides a horrible secret - and to make matters worse, Cassandra O'Brien is back on the scene, hellblent on revenge!

Smug Warning: The Doctor and Rose's tedious "I wuv woo", "no I wuv woo" exchange after tumbling out of the TARDIS after the credits.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry": The Doctor, to one of The Flesh.

Torchwood spotting: No mentions.

Trivia: (1) The episode had a troubled shoot - a camera broke, refusing to record entire scenes worth of footage, and the animatronics on the Face of Boe broke down at one point as well. The whole episode was filmed over the course of several months, resulting in some occasionally poor CGI.

(2) As with The Christmas Invasion, a downloadable mp3 commentary for the episode was made available on the BBC site. The commentary featured star David Tennant, producer Phil Collinson and writer Russel T. Davies. This practice of providing commentaries continued throughout the second series.

(3) The hospital foyer scenes were shot in the Millennium Centre in Cardiff. When The Doctor points to where the nuns could build a gift shop, he is actually pointing to the real (but offscreen Millennium Centre shop. The Centre's exterior became a regular fixture in the spin-off series Torchwood.

(4) As well as updating the website, the BBC also set up two new ones prior to this episode's transmission - and

(5) The stairway scene beneath the hospital was shot in the same papermill that was used as the Nestene Consciousness's lair in 1.01, "Rose". Likewise the shots of the moving elevator were reused from "Rose".

(6) Faint markings of the BAD WOLF graffiti from 1.13, "The Parting of the Ways", can be seen on the tarmac in the first scene.

(7) The Face of Boe in this episode was specially built from the plans for the original, but with added animatronics.

(8) A rumoured working title for the episode was "The Sunshine Camp".

(9) The disease 'petrifold regression' also turns up in the Tenth Doctor novel "The Stone Rose".

(10) The original ending to the episode had all of the patients dying, unable to cope with the "cure", until it was changed on the advice of Steven Moffat. The Face of Boe also died, passing on its secret message. This latter element was pushed over to season three late in production.

(11) Unrelated planets called New Earth have turned up in various Doctor Who comics and books, and in one TV serial - the Fourth Doctor story "Invasion of the Dinosaurs".

(12) The initial American rental DVD release of the second season boxed set had to be recalled when a mastering error caused an amputation scene from the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to be spliced into the episode. It did not affect bought copies.

Spoiler Synopsis: After leaving Jackie and Mickey behind once again, The Doctor and Rose arrive in the year five billion and twenty-three, on the planet New Earth. The Doctor explains that after the original Earth was destroyed (in 1.02, "The End of the World"), a wave of nostalgia lead to the creation of New Earth and the city they they now find themselves in, "New New York". He adds that after he arrived there, he got a message on his psychic paper asking him to go to ward 26 in a nearby hospital run by 'The Sisters of Plentitude'.

Meanwhile, beneath that very hospital, a man is using a remote-control robotic spier to spy on Rose and The Doctor. Realising that Rose is a pure-bred human, he excitedly tells his mistress, who is none other than the Lady Cassandra O'Brien, previously blown up rather horribly in 1.02, "The End of the World". Cassandra recognises Rose and demands that Chip capture her.

A few floors above, Rose and The Doctor enter the hospital. In his haste to meet his mysterious contact, the Doctor jumps into a lift without Rose. She shouts that she will catch up with him, and dives into another lift. However, Chip hacks into the system to bring her down into the basement. While The Doctor and Rose travel in opposite directions, they each find themselves doused in water and cleaning fluids, as part of the elevator's decontamination procedure.

The Doctor steps out into Ward 26, where a nun - who happens, like all of The Sisters of Plentitude, to be a highly evolved feline - greets him. He notes that everyone in the ward is suffering from rare and untreatable illnesses, but the nurse says that they will all turn out perfectly fine. He forgets his line of questioning, however, when he spots the person who called him; The Face of Boe, another alien from "The End of the World".

A nun attending to the Face of Boe explains that he is dying of old age, the one thing they cannot cure. However, he is sleeping and unable to speak to the Doctor at that time. The nun says that there are many legends about the Face of Boe, including one that the Face will pass on a secret message to a homeless traveller just before he dies. The Doctor realises that this means him. Before she can say much more, the nun is taken away by a colleague, who asks her to look at something unusual.

Down in the basement, Rose is greeted by Chip, who takes her to Cassandra. Cassandra is watching an old film showing her as she was many years ago - a real human being, with an actual body. She laments that it was the last time anyone said she was beautiful, but Rose is too busy wondering how on New Earth Cassandra survived exploding. Cassandra explains that her brain is kept in a tub in the base of her stand, so she survived, even if the skin that constituted her "body" was ripped apart. After the fiasco on Platform One she went into hiding, having had her eyes gathered up and a canvas of skin taken from the back of her old body. Chip, her specially cloned manservant, has kept her safe and amused, but now she wants out. Rose laughs and leaves, but finds herself trapped in a holding field. Chip pulls a lever, transferring Cassandra's consciousness into Rose's brain.

The nuns that were with the Doctor leave him behind to go to the "intensive care" unit. The unit consists of thousands upon thousands of green pods of green pods - similar to the ones in The Matrix - each with a person inside it. The first nun notes that one of the people has learned to speak somehow, by picking up on conversations it overhears. The occupant begs for help, but the first nun simply vapourises it.

Cassandra gets used to Rose's body, noting that the curves are rather pleasing. She accesses Rose's memories and realises that the man who entered the building with Rose is The Doctor, albeit changed. Although Cassandra's unconvincing Cockney accent and attempt to kiss The Doctor make him suspicious, he keeps the thought to himself. Instead, he leads her to a computer bank and uses his sonic screwdriver to access the intensive care ward. There, he inspects a pod and its occupant and realises that it - a cloned human called a Flesh - is being used as a living petri dish to grow diseases on.

Suddenly, the cat nuns appear and The Doctor demands that they turn Rose back to normal. Realising the game is up, Cassandra knocks him unconscious with a spray and traps him in the empty pod from before. She tries to blackmail the nurses, but when they refuse and turn violent she opens up some of the pods - including The Doctor's - as a distration. An escaped Flesh then releases the rest, who begin to spread through the hospital, infecting and killing anyone they touch.

The Doctor and Cassandra escape up a lift shaft ladder, but find themselves trapped at the top with the Flesh just rungs below. The Doctor refuses to open the door unless Cassandra leaves Rose's body. She jumps into one of The Flesh temporarily before returning to Rose's body and noting how horrible and empty the live of The Flesh are.

The pair are now back in Ward 26, where the last uninfected humans remain. As the Flesh bash at the doors, the Doctor tells Cassandra to grab as many medicine bags as she can while he turns a pulley into a makeshift zip-line handle. The Doctor straps the bags of liquid medicine to his chest and opens another (empty) lift shaft. He attaches the pulley to the elevator's steel cable and tells Cassandra to hang onto him. she refuses, but he explains that he needs two people to do the job. Attracted by the danger, she holds onto his back as he loosens the pulley and drops down the lift shaft. They arrive on top of the elevator and The Doctor empties the bags of medicine into a large tank of water on its roof. He tells Cassandra to hold onto a lever and keep it depressed while he drops into the elevator itself.

There, he invites the hapless Flesh to join him in the lift. As Cassandra activates the decontamination showers, the medicine in the showers spills over The Doctor and his patients, quickly curing the creatures. As The Flesh touch one another, the cure is passed on between them. Soon their boils and scars fade and they begin to look human again.

Later that day, the NNYPD have arrived to arrest the nuns and take The Flesh into care. The Doctor goes to speak to the Face of Boe and asks him about the message that he is supposed to pass on before he dies. The Face says that he was dying, but The Doctor's actions have reminded him that life is to be lived to the full. He promises The Doctor that he will tell him the secret at some point, however, and teleports away as Cassandra - still in Rose's body - walks up behind him.

The Doctor tells Cassandra to get out of Rose's body, but she says that she is afraid to die. The Doctor tells her that everything must die at some point, but it's no good - she refuses to vacate the premesis. Luckily for them both, Chip turns up at that exact moment. The Doctor tells Cassandra to stay out of him, but Chip is happy to accept her into his body. As soon as she is there, however, she realises that her cloned manservant is dying, partly because of the stress of the day's events. She tearfully realises that perhaps it is time for her to pass on.

As a final favour for helping him out, The Doctor takes Cassandra back to the party that she was watching on the projector earlier on. There she walks up to her younger self and tells her that she is beautiful. The younger Cassandra is geniunely touched, but then Chip's body finally gives out, and the older Cassandra crumples to the ground. As Cassandra dies in her own arms, The Doctor and Rose step onto the TARDIS and leave.

Review: Well, after the rollicking fun of "The Christmas Invasion", "New Earth" comes as a bit of a let down. There are the effects problems, of course - the morphing when some of the people are infected look like they came out of a 1990s X-Files episode and some of the blue screen work is a bit ropey - but the episode's troubled production history sort of excuses that.

But that's only one problem of several. For example, the episode's decision to include the pre-existing characters of Cassandra and Boe makes it feel like a mideason episode rather than a brand spanking new adventure, and while I understand Davies's logic - it helps the kids recognise that this is the same show and besides, they've already had a 'proper' adventure at Christmas - it does throw off the pacing of the season.

There epiose also features the beginnings of the deeply irritating relationship between Rose and The Tenth Doctor, which only makes a brief appearance in this episode (Billie Piper playing Cassandra for the most part) but is more than enough to set my teeth on edge. Rose was a good foil for The Ninth Doctor's grimness, and their mentor/student relationship worked well. But The Tenth Doctor is really Rose's equal, not her better, and that leads to one of those godawful ultra-cute 'finishing each other's sentences' relationships that's a lot more fun to be in than it is to watch.

Worse, the story tries to do too much in too little time, and the decision to have the Cassandra/Rose plot to the fore means that the - genuinely interesting and worth exploring - ideas of clone rights, animal testing and medical ethics are pushed right into the background. Ultimately the hospital side of the episode exists purely to give the Doctor something to run away from, which feels like a missed opportunity. Not that this is entirely surprising - this is the all-new, all-action Doctor Who, after all - but perhaps a two-parter would have helped it breathe a bit and consider the issues raised. It would also let the show build up the nuns and Cassandra's machinations a little more.

Also, the decision to make the baddies another bunch of zombies that turn those they touch/capture into monsters like themselves seems like a lazy rehash after The Unquiet Dead and The Empty Child - and it doesn't help that the Cybermen from later in the season work pretty much the same.

A final negative point: I want to express my frustration with Russel T Davies's deeply irritating habit of just writing whatever comes into his head without thought to internal logic. It popped up a few times last season and it appears again here, most notably in the episode's climax, when The Doctor waters down a bunch of intravenous medicines and rubs them on everyone, making them magically better. Even if you accept the explanation (not given in the episode but invented by fans afterwards) that The Flesh are infected with curable diseases and are used to develop resistant strains, you've still got the problem that having some intravenous medicine splashed on you - even space medicine from the distant future - shouldn't do Jack. Davies could have got around this before by showing the nurses spraying the medicine on the patients, but that would have taken a degree of attention to detail that the man either can't be bothered with or doesn't have the time to put in when writing fifty scripts a year. If it's the former he needs to buck himself up. If it's the latter, he needs to hire more writers.

Still! Tennant, Piper and the rest of the cast continue to put in credible performances and are obviously having a hoot. A special shout out to the excellent Zoë Wanamaker, who - as with "The End of the World" - manages to imbue Cassandra with both villainous relish and human frailty using nothing just her voice. And for all its problems, there are enough enjoyable moments to make the episode worth watching, particularly the banter between Piper's Cassandra and Tennant's Doctor. Shame it's such a disappointment overall.

I really like the next one. Promise.


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Sources: - Outpost Gallifrey - A Brief History of (Time) Travel