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Apr 15, 2006

Cat-o-nine tales (or possibly more, I'm still counting)

I'm going to be a contrary old so-and-so and say I actually quite enjoyed New Earth. Yes it had problems but it blew 'Rose' out of the water and just about every other RTD story so far too. It made me laugh and at one point I might actually have been scared (it's the sight of pus-filled boils that does it, every time).
Curiously, I wasn't all that excited about this series. On reflection, series one was a huge disappointment that I've not even got round to rewatching, so while my expectations were high with 'Rose' and cruelly dashed, they were so low this time round that it didn't need much to exceed them.

Things I liked: Billie was excellent in this - as they pointed out in 'Confidential' afterwards, her ability to flick from character to character showed true talent.
Some of the jokes were great, and mainly because of the acting. The lift decontamination scene (or were they called 'elevators'? Might have to check that one out) was good visual comedy without a farting Slitheen in sight, and the bouncy castle joke (while being a little incongruous - don't tell me they've still got those in the far future) will probably come back to me tonight. Ahem.
Most of the special effects were very good too.

Things I didn't like:

Some of the special effects weren't: the first nun's poxification looked positively 1970s - check it out again if you can't recall what I mean - and the background for some of the NNY shots looked painted on which, believe me, is not a good thing.

I'm still hung up on the year 5 billion crap. And it's been added to this time round by the idea that one galaxy isn't enough for us so we're going to have to go to an entirely different one all together. Does RTD know how far away from each other galaxies actually are?

And if it's the year 5 billion and whatever, why are lifts still controlled by metal cables (considering the floatiness of everything else, including patients) and why is the hospital seemingly built on the ruins of an old warehouse? (NNY was built in just over 20 years, yes?)

The music is dreadful. As has already been pointed out, the cues are in the wrong places and the emotion of Rose's departure was ruined by that damned drum machine again. Did they just use the soundtrack from 'Rose'? Someone somewhere please sort out the sound mix for this programme because it really is the worst I've encountered on British TV and it lets everything else down.

The plot had problems. Earlier today I caught an old episode of Stargate, and shortly after watching New Earth I caught up with this week's Battlestar Galactica. Both 45 minutes, both managed to cram in more character development than this did and seemed almost leisurely in comparison. The idea of Rose being 'squashed' by Cassandra was interesting but failed to be capitalised to lend any sort of dramatic impulse. Instead the Doctor just asked her to float as atoms, as though she might just say 'oh, okay, you talked me into it'. In fact the whole end of Cassandra was too easy - this vain woman's conversion was bigger than the one at Damascus, and a lot quicker.

Like The End of the World, this story had too many incidental characters who you couldn't get attached to to care - that fat bloke, for example and his damned annoying assistant: cardboard cutouts. Were we supposed to connect with the novice nun/nurse? Were we supposed to see both sides of the argument about testing on animals/humans? (And what happened to Mr Creosote and his assistant anyway?)

Oh and if the Doctor managed to cure all known diseases with just six or seven IV drips, why was there a need to have all those clones in the first place?

Silly jokes: the NNYPD looked like comedy characters and spoilt things.

Things I just don't get: The Face of Boe is the worst prop I think the series has ever had. It's a great big lump of rubber and it makes Terrahawks look modern and up to date... Oh why am I the only one to see this?

Odd stuff that wasn't really explained: the basic plot - what was all the stuff with the zombies? Why did Boe call the Doctor there? How did Cassandra know about the cats being up to something? How did she get reconstructed and hidden away by one of the Chuckle Brothers?

And why did all that meat seem to have managed to go to the hairdressers while locked up in those compartments? Their hair was positively styled and one of the male zombies actually had a well-groomed goatee...

Wanna know what I thought at the end? The whole cure-the-zombies thing and the Doctor's speech made me think 'this is a writer who wants to copy the final moments of 'The Doctor Dances' but can't manage it' - watch it again and see what you think. It's a direct copy, isn't it? But because there hasn't been the build-up to it, the emotional investment on the part of the audience, it falls flat on its face.

I like Tennant's Doctor but he can't manage the transition from calm to angry. However, this is really a problem with the writing. There's no sense of dawning realisation for the Doctor, he calmly opens a crate, closes it again and has diagnosed the problem. Then he turns round and shouts at the first thing he sees. Add in a couple more lines, a bit of discovery, a moment of revelation (you can imagine Tom Baker doing this so well) and there you have it. But not here - here we go from 'oh look, some diseased people' to 'YOU BASTARDS!' If you demonstrated that sort of behaviour in most hospitals they'd section you.

A similar problem occurs earlier on - RTD seems so keen to make the Doctor witty that you can't hear half of what he says, it all comes out so quickly, and he comes across as an arrogant prat. It's the close relation of the Eastenders and Neighbours trick of getting a character to try to reveal a shocking secret to another character who decides they're far too busy to stop and chat and have they heard what Jim did in the Queen Vic earlier? Annoying isn't the word.

As with RTD's other scripts, this one needed a good bit of editing but I get the feeling people don't dare do it. Too much just thrown in for a laugh, too many subplots, not enough emotion except when it's laid on with a shovel...

Having said all that, I repeat that I actually enjoyed it, for all its faults. Some of them are major, others so familiar that it's becoming easy to spot RTD's failings as a writer that if it weren't for our gratitude for his role in reviving the series would have people calling for his head. I'd say this story is good evidence of the need for more two-parters (I can imagine this having been a great 4-part 25-minute episode story) and a masterclass in plotting for the 45-minute adventure series from a few SG or BSG writers.

Next week looks good (except for the oh-so-been-there flying monks).

Comments

Excellent review - hit the nail on the head for me.

I can see your point about most of the faults but frankly, I didn't give a damn - loved it all. Shocked by some of the bellyaching in the other reviews.

Spot on with the comparison with "The Doctor Dances" ,thought that straight away.It does sadden me that such an obviously talented and rigorous writer has become so careless in his writing for a show he professes to love.It goes without saying that we are all grateful to him for his role in bringing back the show but I'm beginning to suspect that this Emperor has no clothes.How can one reconcile the stated 12 rewrites for every episode with this ill thought out piece of fluff,when one thinks of what Mark Gatiss was put through last year to deliver his script it really smacks of a case of "Do as I say ,not as I do."It's not the lightness of tone,there has always been a place for that in "Who",it's the shodiness of the execution that disappoints.Here's hoping that,like last year,the best is to come.In saying all of this I sincerely hope I have to eat all these words after "Tooth and Claw."

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