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Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Doctor Who: New Earth Review
As a Doctor Who fan, I've often wondered what it was like to tune in and see "Robot" on its first airing. Did fans then have an inkling of what was to come? Did they know they were witnessing the birth of a what many fans consider to be the golden age of the show and they were seeing the first tentative steps of the man whose name, face and costume would become synonymous with the show not only in the United Kingdom but world-wide?

And now, over 20 years later are we at another crossroads for the show and witnesses the dawning of a new, golden age for Doctor Who.

It's hard to ignore the similiarities.

Jon Pertwee's era on Doctor Who had been, by all accounts, a huge success. In fact, I'd imagine if the Internet had existed back in the 70s there would be numerous debates on whether or not this new guy could live up to the consistency of the third Doctor. Now, here we are in a new century and we've just come off a successful run as the Doctor by Christopher Eccleston. Luckily, we have the Internet today so fans can wonder if this new guy will live up to the consistency of the ninth Doctor.

With Pertwee, I think history shows us exactly what Tom Baker did in the role. And while the book is still to written on David Tennant's tenure as the Doctor, I get this strange feeling we're on the verge of a new, golden age for Doctor Who. And I have a feeling that in a few weeks, we may all be saying, "Yes, Christopher Eccleston was good, but wow David Tennant is just fantastic as the Doctor."

(Please don't take this as a condemnation of Eccleston. I love what he brought to the role. He did a great job and I do wish we'd got more than one season with him in the role.)

So far, we've had two episodes featuring Tennant as Doctor. The preview of what's to come with "The Christmas Invasion" and now we've got the first episode of series two, "New Earth."

With the regeneration crisis past, we can jump back into the adventures through time and space that make Dr Who what it is. For their first adventure together, the new Doctor and Rose travel farther than they ever have before. The Doctor's received a message from the far-future, asking him to come to visit a hospital ward. Beyond that, he knows nothing else but this is the Doctor and he can't resist a good mystery. He and Rose head to New Earth, which is the planet that was created after the sun expanded in last year's "End of the World."

"New Earth" serves as backdrop to allow us to check in with some of the creatures we met last year in "End of the World." Whether that's good or bad depends on if you liked "End of the World" or not, I suppose. I like it, but I can honestly say I was't screaming for more of Cassandra. Which is what we got. Cassandra proves to be the Rani of the new series in that there is nothing she can't somehow survive.

The plot for "New Earth" is pretty jam-packed and complicated. It's one of those blink and you'll miss it type of stories in terms of plot twists and developments. Russell T. Davies seems to write stories that combine everything and the kitchen sink into the script. Visually it can be stunning as we see the alien vistas of New Earth, but when it comes to following the story or summarizing for a review, it can be a bit much. I will say that this script pays homage to a lot of elements from the classic series including the villain wanting the companion for some nefarious purpose, an army of "monster" skulking about and running down corridors.

Visually, the story has some callbacks to previous eras as well. I had to wonder if the medical pod set was somehow meant to invoke images of the tombs of the Cybermen that we've seen over the years.

But the real strength of "New Earth" is the work done on the characters. Russell T. Davies manages to make Cassandra a more realized character, to the point that when we got the final scene, I actually felt sympathy for Cassandra and her fate. Davies managed to make those last scenes bittersweet without being too cloying or over the top. Yes, it was tugging on the heart strings a bit, but it felt like an earned moment and not manipulative--as it easily could have been.

But the real heart and soul of this were David Tennant and Billie Piper. Tennant seems to be relishing the role and brought an almost Tom Baker like air. He was whimsical, wide-eyed enthusiasm and wonder we saw in the best of Tom Baker with the undercurrent of deadly seriousness when the situation called for it.

And Piper, as usual, continues to be a revelation. She's growing in the role of Rose. A year ago, I'm not sure she could have convincingly pulled off creating two separate personas as she does here. But now, she does it with style and is utterly convincing. The scenes with Cassandra trying to convince the Doctor she was really Rose were a delight. As were the first few scenes as Cassandra gets used to inhabiting Rose's body.

About my only real complaint is there are almost too many good ideas packed into a 45-minute storyline (a typical complaint with stories by Davies). But the program is a showcase for Piper as Rose and to a lesser extend Tennat's first steps as the Doctor. Hopefully as the series progresses, we'll get to see Tennant have a tour-de-forced like Piper does here. Because based on the glimpses I've seen, he's set to knock one out of the park.

Also: Looks like the BBC is taking a page from Battlestar Galactica and having podcast commentaries on their site for new episodes. This week, you'll hear from Russell T Davies and David Tennant.

posted by Michael Hickerson at 4/18/2006 07:24:00 AM | |
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