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Apr 15, 2006

The Clonus Horror

I think this post from Outpost Gallifrey (from someone called the Celestial Toymaker) sums up my reaction to New Earth:

"Quite good, but thought it was a mistake having Cassandra inhabit Rose's body for most of the first episode of the new series."

The anticipation I felt leading up to this first episode was stronger than when I was child waiting for a new series.  I think I'm probably a bigger fan of the franchise now than I've ever been which is an interesting thing to admit.  I've been swapping text messages with an old university pal counting down the hours until the broadcast and ate my nut roast about an hour too early so that I didn't miss anything.  Frankly, if I had a cuddly slitheen it probably would have been sitting at the edge of the bed as I watched.  I'm such a child, but for Doctor Who, at least this version, you have to watch it to some extent with younger eyes otherwise episodes like New Earth feel a touch insubstantial.

Oh dear.

For some unaccountable reason I was slightly disappointed with tonight's episode.  As anticlimactic as those few minutes on Christmas morning after you've opened your presents and you realise it's over for another year.  It's all there, everything shiny and new and playable but now you're not sure what to do with yourself.  Which is stupid in this case because there are another twelve episodes to go until Doomsday.  I like to think that it's nothing to do with the show itself, it's just my reaction to it -- that nothing could fulfill my expectations and when I watch it again it'll be a much more enjoyable experience.

It didn't seem like a first episode -- more like a midseason breather after one of the big exciting important stories, a Boomtown or (god forbid) The Long Game.  There wasn't anything intrinsically wrong with it -- funny in some places, exciting in others and a big fun pantomime overall.  But really what was Russell's thinking with having a body swap subplot involving the companion in the opening episode of the new season when the audience has had barely enough time to see the Tardis team working together?  As the production staff has said on repeated occasions, Rose is the emotional anchor for everything, but to have the character out of action here for much of the story meant that the audience were left with Cassandra, whose ethically dodgy behavior created a vacuum.

This issue was exentuated by the editing which seemed slightly derranged -- the cross cutting between plotlines making for odd pacing.  Just in the moments with Tennant needed to be establishing himself, the plot was paying more attention to Cassandra inhabiting Rose's body -- and although Billie Piper's performance was amazing, it meant that the two lead protagonists were off-screen for minutes at a time.  This might have been solved if Rose's spirit had been stored in the body of one of the diseased clones which would have given The Doctor an even greater need to solve the problem and also would have kept her alive within the story.

Murray Gold's score continues to be an issue too.  There is still a problem with the sound mix, but often his music just clashes with the action and fails to cue to the quick tonal shifts within scenes.  In first few moments of the teaser it seemed to work against the emotion of Rose leaving and in some of the zombie scenes when horror should have been the order, a comedy soundtrack would keep clambering in and drowning out the dialogue.  It's odd because in some episodes last season -- The Empty Child being a classic example -- the music worked perfectly well, but here it detracted in all the wrong places.

But you know what really niggled with me though?  The story.  The opening scene on the planet.  Not the dialogue or the acting which were great.  But the concept.  New New York is introduced.  They talk about it a lot.  It sounds really exciting.  But then we find out were going to spend the rest of the episode in a hospital.  Without a shop.  Then the story continues and we discover it's the hoary old sci-fi plotline of breeding humans for testing.  What again?

Did anyone else get the creepy feeling that the climax was basically The Doctor Dances with less emotional impetous.  Then it was an important step because the Doctor was allowed to work through some of his survivor guilt, here it was just a neat trick, but we didn't have a primal connection with the zombies which meant it was a just a little bit empty.  Also Cassandra was dragged into caring in the much the same way as Captain Jack. 

Oh lord, I hadn't meant to be so crushingly negative.  There were aspects of the episode I adored.  The Face of Boe.  David Tennant just is The Doctor and has the potential to offer the best television portrayal of the character since Tom Baker.  Nice handle action in the opening sequence.  The scenary and costumes.  The jibes at publicity and politicians hiding themselves away from the public.  The zombies.  The dialogue crackled all over the place.  And judging by that look I don't think it's the last we've seen of that kitty nurse.

I think I just wanted to be able to cheer at the end.  And I didn't.  And it's annoying me, and even after writing this, I still can't put my finger on why.

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