Nothing on Earth Changes Quite So Often As The Fashion (New Earth)

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Blue Steel, you say...

It’s April 15th, 2006. Gnarls Barkley is at number one with “Crazy.” The Black Eyed Peas, the Pussycat Dolls (with will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas), Pink, and Mary J Blige and U2 (collaborating on a version of the latter’s “One”) also chart.

The four months since the Sycorax were repelled seem long, not least because they were extended via a leap second. Ariel Sharon suffered a severe stroke that resulted in his formal removal from office the day before this story aired. (He remains in a coma.) The Winter Olympics took place in Turin, and the Hajj took place in Saudi Arabia, the latter resulting in the deaths of three hundred and sixty-two people during the stoning of the devil ritual. A swan with Avian Flu was discovered in Scotland, marking the first UK case of the disease. While in the vicinity of this story Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announces that Iran has successfully enriched uranium, and Proof, a member of the hip hop group D12 (which also features Eminem) is shot and killed in Detroit.

It is worth reflecting on the somewhat odd social conditions in which a season premiere exists. Doctor Who is, of course, terribly successful and popular, but it’s also been out of the popular consciousness for four months. It thus has to announce itself with a bang of some sort. But the bang is not, this time, “here is what Doctor Who is.” It is “Doctor Who is back.” This is a different sort of announcement. Rose had to introduce the idea of Doctor Who, charting out new ground. New Earth, on the other hand, has to remind people what Doctor Who is and that they like it.

On the other hand, New Earth does have an introduction to do. It’s just a very strange one. On the one hand New Earth was transmitted a day short of the one-year anniversary of Tennant being announced as the Tenth Doctor. On the other hand, despite having been culturally in the role for a year at that point (having been the rumored consensus since Eccleston’s departure was announced on March 30th), Tennant has only actually spent about twenty minutes on screen being the Doctor instead of being the guy who’s going to be the Doctor. So in that regard he does need to be introduced, albeit for something like the fifth time. (His press announcement, The Parting of the Ways, Pudsey Cutaway, The Christmas Invasion)

The result is a story that must introduce the Tenth Doctor by being as straightforwardly Doctor Who as it is possible to be. This is ultimately accomplished by, for the second story in a row, making Tennant work with his predecessor’s guest cast. But in The Christmas Invasion this was a guest cast he was legitimately inheriting - Mickey and Jackie would go on to appear in numerous other episodes in the Tennant era. This is more akin to Robot, Tom Baker’s debut story, in which he did one of two runarounds with Jon Pertwee’s UNIT guest cast. Here Tennant is dealing with the Lady Cassandra, last seen in The End of the World, in what is in hindsight the second part of Russell T Davies’s trilogy of stories featuring the Face of Boe.

This serves two purposes. First, as mentioned, it is familiar. The Doctor fights an enemy that we know. Perhaps more significantly, he fights a relatively low rent enemy that we know. Lady Cassandra is not, on her own merits, a particularly impressive threat so much as she’s a skin trampoline. The Doctor can handle Lady Cassandra. This invites us to enjoy ourselves, tacitly flagging the episode as a bit of a romp instead of as something comparatively difficult and scary.

Second, this time Lady Cassandra’s in a body-snatching plot, spending most of the episode in Rose’s body and thus played by Billie Piper instead of Zoë Wanamaker. Where The Christmas Invasion defined the Doctor in negative, allowing us to see his absence in the space around Rose, New Earth defines him in isolation, taking Rose away from him for virtually the entire episode. Their last scene together before her posession is at the five minute mark, and we don’t actually get an exchange between them again until four-and-a-half minutes from the end.

So what we get is essentially thirty-five minutes straight of David Tennant larking about in a comedic plot. In some ways this is an extension of his twenty minute turn at the end of The Christmas Invasion, though the story goes out of its way to put the Doctor through more of his paces and to make him do all of the standard stuff: anger, horror (“I’m so, so sorry”), explaining the plot, running through corridors, et cetera. But truth be told, New Earth is a relatively slender story, its plot so threadbare that it actually entails a serious effort at having the Doctor cure zombies infected with “every disease ever” via a contagious shower.

I’m not usually one to complain about Russell T Davies’s somewhat, shall we say, capricious plot resolutions, but this one is particularly abrupt, and more to the point, falls afoul of the get-out clause by which Davies usually salvages these things. Typically Davies’s plot resolutions get away with it because they are more about the consequences of resolving the plot than about the actual plot logic thereof. So while the whole “Bad Wolf” thing makes only a dodgy amount of sense it works because the resolution isn’t really about the time paradox, it’s about Rose and the Doctor each giving up everything to save each other.

But here the plot isn’t actually about the plague zombies in any sense, and the resolution of curing them is on the whole fairly vapid. The closest thing to an excuse is that the real plot isn’t the plague zombies, but the matter of Cassandra and what to do with her consciousness, but even that’s oddly rushed: she weirdly goes from not wanting to die while in Rose’s body to being OK with it in Chip’s. Were it not for the final scene of bringing her back to see her legitimately human self the resolution would completely flop.

Admittedly it’s hamstrung by a bizarre technical snafu. Several scenes of the location shoot around where the TARDIS lands were lost because of a technical fault with a camera, among them an entire sequence in which Cassandra-in-Chip, the Doctor, and Rose return to the TARDIS. We’ll talk more about this scene in a bit, but for now let’s note that its exclusion undoubtedly hampered the already strained resolution.

But all of this dances around the fact that New Earth was designed to be a slender and digestible trifle. That’s how Russell T Davies begins seasons - with big, fun episodes full of visual set pieces. Given his demonstrable success with the show, it’s difficult to argue with this logic, and it’s telling that Moffat has retained the structure for three of his five season premieres. When re-establishing Doctor Who there are worse things to start with than reminding everybody that it is terribly fun.

It’s also worth noting that this is quite well-thought-out fun. The episode uses the same “get to the top” structure that Dalek borrowed from Paradise Towers, only at high speed, completing two full journeys up and down the hospital. On the commentary Davies goes on at slightly ludicrous length about his belief that up-and-down motion is cinematic while left-to-right motion is televisual, but he is right that the sharply contrasting basement and ward twenty-six visuals provide the story with a sense of motion, and the breathless energy generated by the rainbow-bag-laden Doctor’s rapid descent to save everybody almost lets them actually get away with the plot.

On top of that, the acting is great. It’s easy to forget the challenges of a possession plot, and here they’re exacerbated considerably: fully five separate actors play Cassandra over the course of the story, and they have to successfully give the character an emotional arc while, in three cases, maintaining the character as distinct from their regular characters. David Tennant’s Zoë Wanamaker imitation is outrageously funny (if you can keep a straight face for “Oh baby, I’m beating out a samba!” then I salute you), but the real credit here has to go to Billie Piper and Sean Gallagher. Billie Piper is impeccable, managing to pitch Cassandra, Rose, and Cassandra pretending to be Rose as distinct performances, with the hilarious detail of using a more padded bra and a pinker shade of lipstick when possessed.

But it’s Sean Gallagher who has the really impressive job to do. Gallagher spends forty minutes of the episode as a bumbling henchman, then has four minutes in which he has to suddenly play Cassandra and sell the entire dramatic ending nearly single-handedly. This requires him to make Chip memorable enough that we care when he’s possessed, which Gallagher manages by giving him a host of carefully chosen physical gestures, and then to separate hit a big dramatic scene playing, essentially, a completely different character.

Also impressive is Cassandra’s backstory, which is played out subtly, but which has lovely potency. There’s a throwaway line at the beginning about how her home movies are of the last night anybody told her she was beautiful, and another about how Chip is modeled on her “favorite pattern.” It’s not until the end that we see the other end of this little time loop, with Cassandra in Chip’s body being the last person to tell her that she’s beautiful, and we realize that the experience of Chip dying in her arms while everybody at the party ignores her cries for someone to help is, in a real sense, what broke her as a person. This sort of detail reveals a key fact about Davies, which is that it is not so much that he’s sloppy with his plotting as that he simply does not believe that the mechanics of what bit of fake science the Doctor defeats the monsters with is actually an interesting part of the story. Instead he focuses his energy on creating characters with interior depths that allow for emotional payoffs.

It’s also worth noting that as shallow as the plot resolution is, New Earth itself is a surprisingly detailed concept. We only ever actually see a grassy outcropping and a hospital, but it manages to feel like a world. This is in a large part because it is, in practice, just our world done a bit outlandishly. (In the planet’s next appearance Davies tips his hand and admits that he just designed the whole thing as an homage to Judge Dredd’s Mega-City One.) But in the lost scene of taking Chip/Cassandra back to the TARDIS there’s also a detail that goes a long way towards explaining Davies’s view of science fiction. In that scene the Doctor was to explain to Chip/Cassandra that the human race never goes away, but instead is endlessly reiterated so that there are multiple human races, one after another, over history.

We might first note that this is, in fact, the ending to Battlestar Galactica, which is reasonably funny. But more important and interesting is the fact that it establishes history as cyclical, reaching back to the Hinchcliffe-era trope of history repeating itself. (Or, as Battlestar Galactica puts it, all of this has happened before and will happen again.) And so it, philosophically, frees Doctor Who up to function across the years. One of the secondary questions Season Two, and New Earth in particular has to answer is, roughly, “OK, you’ve brought Doctor Who back, but how do you keep it on for a quarter-century like last time?” And while New Earth does not provide a credible vision of Doctor Who in 2030 (that’d be around the time of The Wheel in Space and Enemy of the World), it does, at least, answer the basic question of how the series survives. It postulates a universe in which our present moment reiterates both forwards and backwards across time, allowing us to view it through the cracked mirror of these repetitions. As long as our present moment changes - that is, as long as something approximating human history continues - this process can continue indefinitely. The moment that is reiterated changes, and thus the reiterations do as well. It is, in other words, not that the premise is infinitely extensible at any given moment, but that the premise is extensible enough to survive to where repeating itself is a form of change and evolution.

Put another way, New Earth, more even than the first season, is about establishing what Doctor Who is in mid-April of 2006. But Doctor Who needed to be established at that time, and even if it is not a particularly grand week to be Doctor Who during, it’s hardly a problem: there’s another week coming right up.

Comments

Scott 3 years, 8 months ago

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Scott 3 years, 8 months ago

To be honest, I never really bought the ending. The rest of the episode, ultimately, I had little problem with -- yeah, I mean, it's a romp that makes little sense if you think about it for more than five seconds, but then, that's hardly unique in the history of "Doctor Who", I can let it slide.

But the ending... I mean, I see what they were going for? But Cassandra always struck as a little too one-dimensional as a character (in any sense of the word) for it to really be convincing.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 8 months ago

It's also interesting that the Doctor has Sycorax (new enemy, and a damn good one-off) and Cassandra as his first foes - the Ninth gets Autons and Cassandra. The Eleventh gets Prisoner Zero and naff Smilers. So far, so small. No big-hitters. (Even the Autons, whilst returning foes, aren't a huge deal.)

So I wonder what Twelve will get - a big foe to start with, or another newbie/small-time foe.

It's just interesting to look at patterns - and especially since RTD's series retain the same format. Present day, future, historical for episodes 1-3.

Oh, and New Earth is really great fun! :)

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 8 months ago

Although, soon after they've settled in, the Doctors do get meaty villains -- Nine gets his Dalek, Ten gets Sarah Jane and Cybermen, Eleven gets his Daleks and Weeping Angels.

(Interestingly, Moffat was keen to get the new Doctor to the Daleks ASAP as a way of establishing him as the Doctor - a leaf, it seems, taken from Season 4's way of cementing Troughton into the role. Moffat's comments, I believe, were about how he's not really 'the Doctor' til he's faced the Daleks.)

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Mark Patterson 3 years, 8 months ago

It's also worth noting that the current Doctor saves everyone with a few cartons of fruit juice and a sprinkler" ending isn't the one that Davies originally planned. His original script had the Doctor saving all the patients by spreading "the gift of death", ending their suffering the only way he could. Apparently he changed it quite late in the day, after Steven Moffat pointed out his tendency to kill off vast swathes of supporting characters in most of his episodes. I'm not especially convinced that the actual ending is an improvement, although I understand why he might have settled on it.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 8 months ago

Never heard that before (Moffat also suggested he bring Jenny back to life in Series 4, didn't he - maybe this is why Moffat can never keep characters dead)... but what's interesting is that, were this a Series 4 story, I can easily see RTD going with the original ending. But since it's the start of a fresh run, and quite light-hearted and jovial, it'd feel somehow wrong here.

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Jack Graham 3 years, 8 months ago

Trouble is, the next week that's coming right up isn't much better. In fact, in some ways it's worse.

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David Anderson 3 years, 8 months ago

As Scott says, I do feel that the emotional payoff hasn't really been earned by the preceding forty minutes, or even the preceding eighty if you count End of the World. It would be a good emotional payoff if there were anything it were paying off.

I'm not sure that having the companion possessed is the best way to show off the new Doctor's range. Rose is more of a known quantity than Cassandra. (What do I most want to see from the multiple Doctors in the anniversary? Eleven playing off Ten, obviously, but then Rose playing off Eleven. Amy and Rory off Ten would have been even better; Clara hasn't quite got her character established yet.) For that matter, having the Doctor possessed by Cassandra shows off Tennant's acting skills but not his Doctor.

It says something about Davies that he thinks plague zombies and the Karamazov-Omelas problem are suitable for a light-hearted runaround.

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David Anderson 3 years, 8 months ago

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David Anderson 3 years, 8 months ago

Odd position to take, given that Moffat's a Davison fan and Davison didn't face the daleks until his antepenultimate adventure.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 8 months ago

True, but there's a difference between Moff-Fan and Moff-Showrunner. (Plus, he could've realised it in hindsight, that he reckoned the Doctor should go up against Daleks. I believe he said this in light of the fact everything was being revamped, and thus brought Daleks in early to help remind the kids it was all the same show etc.)

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Spacewarp 3 years, 8 months ago

"This sort of detail reveals a key fact about Davies, which is that it is not so much that he’s sloppy with his plotting as that he simply does not believe that the mechanics of what bit of fake science the Doctor defeats the monsters with is actually an interesting part of the story. Instead he focuses his energy on creating characters with interior depths that allow for emotional payoffs."

I think this is at the heart of how Davies managed to bring back Doctor Who and make it successful, by suppressing his inner fan and writing what he knows viewers will like. Yes the technology may be dodgy, and the plot resolutions questionable, but then if you've got time to think about things like this while the episode's airing, then the characters or the story aren't holding your attention enough.

I remember logging onto OG after "New Earth" aired and seeing all the fan sniping about the ridiculousness of the plot, but my son was 9 at the time and was absolutely scared witless by "the hospital zombies". To this day he still remembers the story and how exciting and scary it was for him. That is (and always will be) the legacy of a successful Doctor Who story.

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AndyRobot800 3 years, 8 months ago

Your theory about RTD caring less about plot and more about character/emotional resonance is something I've noticed for a while, but haven't been able to put into words. RTD had this remarkable way of making you care about a character with just three or four lines. I love him for it, and all y'all can head on back to Gallifrey One and complain about the lack of hard science, because phooey.

I've always thought Sean Gallagher gave a remarkable performance as Chip in this episode, too, and no one seemed to agree with me. So thanks for that.

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elvwood 3 years, 8 months ago

I thought Gallagher did a fine job as Chip, too. There was just a bit too much ridiculousness in the whole thing for me to get properly involved with the characters or the situation. Starting with a 2D skin person and a big ol' head in a jar, but the whole medical zombie bit felt... I dunno, unpleasant, maybe? Like RTD had bought into Jayne's opinion that "Sick people are hi-larious."

Maybe it's just me, but it seemed to hit many wrong notes. However, the Cassandra/Chip scenes were among the ones it got right.

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Multiple Ducks 3 years, 8 months ago

Correct me if I'm wrong on this but is Cassandra the only Trans* character we've had on Doctor Who thus far?

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Alex Wilcock 3 years, 8 months ago

I think you’ve nailed it with your idea that this is all about Doctor Who carrying on (and not just in David Tennant doing Cassandra as Kenneth Williams). It’s bright and witty and fun, and after a year of a Doctor who was obsessed with everyone having been killed, here right from the start you see a Doctor who enjoys life (and his life) just a little too much. As if one’s a reaction to the series’ long death, and the other to its unexpectedly immensely successful new life. It’s very difficult to watch now without seeing the seeds of this Doctor going off the rails: “I don’t want to die” – “No-one does” / “I’m the Doctor and if you don’t like it, if you want to take it to a higher authority, there isn’t one! It stops with me!”

I’d remembered that the ending was supposed to have been “Everybody dies,” but thank you to Mark Patterson above for reminding me who got it changed to “Everybody lives”; at the time, it felt like a knock-off of The Empty Child, so I should have realised, but particularly at the start of a season with a new Doctor and new series so full of life, it was the right ending morally, thematically and televisually. Just too easily. At least the death of Cassandra balanced it; in retrospect this story seems like the start of the Moffat road of never any death and never any consequences, but here at least it was still teetering between “Steeped in death” and “I don’t want to go”. It’s ironic that Russell couldn’t resist having Cassandra still alive after her messily explosive ‘death’ the previous year had been the point at which it seemed the series wasn’t ducking out of death, but while this time he definitely killed her off, look to the Face of Boe: in another strange nod to the future, he too was intended to be killed off here, but essentially says ‘I don’t want to go,’ and doesn’t (though the retrospective clue of ‘And who’s the only other person than the Doctor we’ve previously seen use psychic paper…?’ is probably serendipity).

But though it’s eerie framed in the context of knowing the Tenth Doctor’s end, I grew to love it in the rather shorter but still later context of the whole season 2006. Whether for its being so slight or simply just having such an enormous weight of expectations for the new series, I didn’t think much of New Earth on first broadcast – but enjoyed it tremendously watching it in the boxed set. If you watch it not as the big premiere that’s determined not to be big, but as the second episode in the season after The Christmas Invasion, suddenly it works so much better. And it’s recognisably back into Russell’s usual series structure of today / future / past, which worked so well as a template that most of the seasons since 2005 have stuck to it.

For me, Billie steals it completely as Cassandra – and we’ve never had so much sexual innuendo on screen Who before. While it’s a bit regeneration-story-again to have the Doctor not himself, delaying us really getting to know the new Doctor, we do know Rose and seeing her (as Mitchell and Webb would say) chest get bigger and her putting on the evil voice is a scream. I felt she really grounded it, when so much of the story’s tone seemed spliced from several different stories that didn’t quite fit, aiming for traditional Doctor Who comedy horror (and with a vast array of trad Who references from The Savages to The Brain of Morbius to Time and the Rani to The End of the World) but less blending than channel-surfing. I loved the icky green pods (playing with The Tomb of the Cybermen / The Ark In Space, again), but even visually the splicing jarred: crummy stairs leading to such shiny, well-maintained cells.

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Bennett 3 years, 8 months ago

AndyRobot800 - Your theory about RTD caring less about plot and more about character/emotional resonance is something I've noticed for a while, but haven't been able to put into words.

I'm not sure it's entirely accurate to say that Davies cares less about plot...as I believe that to him the "character/emotional resonance" is the plot, and everything else (ie. the mechanics of the story and the technobabble used to convey it) is just window dressing.

And to some extent I agree with that viewpoint, noting that for me the Davies era is at its very worst when it forgets this. Case in point - The Next Doctor, which focuses on the Doctor firing a dimensional-vortexical-some-such ray at a big robot without giving Jackson Lake a chance to save his son.

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Bennett 3 years, 8 months ago

Does Eldrad count?

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Froborr 3 years, 8 months ago

Yeah... rewatching, I found it jarring how astonishingly similar the hospital stairs were to the stairs under the London Eye a season earlier... but then, it wouldn't be Doctor Who without wobbly sets, would it?

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 8 months ago

I don't know if anyone else suspects it, or if I'm just deluding myself. But I would not be seriously surprised to learn that Steven Moffatt is a regular reader of this blog. Now, the start of the blog, and your entries on the Troughton era, post-date the start of the Smith era, but I just see an odd convergence of ideas between how he approaches making Doctor Who and the way Phil approaches interpreting Doctor Who. I don't really have the energy today to make a solid case with a series of references and interpretations of my own. But I think there's a reasonable case to be made.

Or eventually, someone could just ask him.

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 8 months ago

Being a fan of Davison's portrayal doesn't mean that you necessarily think everything about the Davison era is utterly perfect and that your own era of the show should be a step-by-step repetition of that period. See, for another example, Phil Sandifer, who thought Davison's take on the character was utterly brilliant, but that his era was a slow build of mis-steps and ruined potential.

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George Potter 3 years, 8 months ago

Despite my problems with New Earth (though I do quite like and enjoy it) it boasts one of my all-time favorite cold opens: you can almost feel Tennant's unbridled joy at getting his hands on the TARDIS controls!

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George Potter 3 years, 8 months ago

Agree with Piper's absolute brilliance as Cassandra, but I also think she shows her chops in other moments in New Earth -- particularly the elevator decontamination scene, where she performs a little miracle of physical acting, going from surprise, outrage and discomfort to enjoyment and almost hedonistic pleasure. Just one of those moments of joy that the series has always provided, for me.

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thepoparena.com 3 years, 8 months ago

There's Susan the horse.

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Pen Name Pending 3 years, 8 months ago

Well. Phil did say back in The Mind Robber that there were similarities between Moffat's Who and his interpretations.

To be fair to the Smilers, they're not really the big monsters of the episode (I love the story, and tend to forget about them). It's more about human error and the Doctor's mistake. As for the Daleks, you're right because they're really not the Big Bad of the season like series 1, 2, or 4--in fact, some of them were erased by the cracks in time. No, "Victory of the Daleks" is the unfortunate Contractual Appearance of the Daleks. I'm confident that's how the Nation deal works, because Moffat said that there would be no Daleks in series 6 and then had to add a cameo in the finale, which he said on Confidential didn't happen until the last minute.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 8 months ago

The Corsair? (Off-screen but still.)

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BerserkRL 3 years, 8 months ago

But Cassandra always struck as a little too one-dimensional as a character (in any sense of the word) for it to really be convincing.

But I think that's one of the strengths of the Davies era: take a previously one-dimensional and unlikable figure and make her more complicated and partly sympathetic. As with the Dalek in "Dalek" and the Slitheen in "Boom Town." Even to some extent the Master, later on. And of course (mutatis mutandis) Mickey.

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Daru 3 years, 8 months ago

Hi all - yeah, liked this episode when it first aired. But I agree with others above, it really does work well as a fun-type episode when viewed straight after the Christmas Invasion.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 8 months ago

the Doctors do get meaty villains -- Nine gets his Dalek, Ten gets Sarah Jane and Cybermen

Ah yes, the diabolical villain Sarah Jane.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 8 months ago

Yes, in "The Writer's Tale" Davies explains quite openly that this is the way he writes. If he encounters difficulty in moving his characters along to where he wants them to be he will invent any plot point to resolve this. Although he does have a "absurdity bar" that he will not go below, that bar is set far lower than any other Who writer (with the possible exception of Pip & Jane Baker).

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BerserkRL 3 years, 8 months ago

Moffat also suggested he bring Jenny back to life in Series 4

Specifically, as Davies tells it, the suggestion was that Moffat wanted Jenny alive because he planned to re-use her. Though of course he hasn't. And Moffat claims to have no memory of asking Davies to save her.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 8 months ago

Since the Doctor will someday be played by a woman, then from a non-linear, non-subjective perspective he is already a trans character.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 8 months ago

the Moffat road of never any death and never any consequences

An exaggeration. (Lorna Bucket comes to mind.)

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encyclops 3 years, 8 months ago

I'm going to feel stupid when I hear the answer to this, but:

Moffat has retained the structure for three of his five season premieres

So, "Eleventh Hour," "Impossible Astronaut," "Asylum," "Bells," and...? "Let's Kill Hitler," I guess?

I enjoyed "New Earth" as I've enjoyed all the far-future stories except perhaps "Planet of the Ood" (but we'll see how it is on rewatch), and love so much of what you say about it here. I didn't get as far as being annoyed by the resolution, since I was still annoyed by the "every disease ever" problem...no, it doesn't matter as such, but the difference between "every" and, oh, maybe "sixty" is that the latter sounds plausible enough that I can bump over it and keep going, and "every" stops me dead. I absolutely agree that the priority is character and idea and not scientific detail, and the reappearance of Cassandra and that ending with Chip are worth it, but nnngh, just a little more care, maybe?

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Ununnilium 3 years, 8 months ago

Indeed, and I thought that last moment worked really well in making her feel less... well, less flat!

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Ununnilium 3 years, 8 months ago

Cameo of the Daleks in The Big Bang really did work, tho - it played up River's awesomeness without sacrificing the Daleks' awesomeness (due to the fact that it's a single, run-down Dalek), and the level of stakes meant that Dalek-ness didn't pump them up unduly.

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Froborr 3 years, 8 months ago

Yeah, I'm also a little confused as to how Moffat has managed five season premieres in three seasons. I can see Bells counting as one, but Let's Kill Hitler is a bit of a stretch.

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David Anderson 3 years, 8 months ago

The longer that the past of Madame Vashtra's wife is unexplored, the higher the probability that at least in non-televisual media she will turn out to be the Doctor's daughter.

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Froborr 3 years, 8 months ago

I thought this was rubbish the first time I saw it, and have skipped it on all subsequent reviewings. In hindsight, definitely a mistake; as Phil says, this was a fun romp.

It's often said that Doctor Who rises or falls on the strength of its villains, but I've never been completely convinced of that; it's often the kind of shitty villains that are the best. The Master is absolute crap, and yet frequently a delight. The Sontarans are a complete joke, but any episode that acknowledges this is great fun. And Cassandra, to be honest, is my favorite of RTD's new villains, the banality and pettiness of evil distilled to one bitchy trampoline. It's because she shouldn't be any trouble at all for the Doctor, yet somehow manages to be a minor threat to him and a major one to Rose, that this episode is so fun.

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Froborr 3 years, 8 months ago

Does regeneration count? I mean, if it's possible to have a different number of heads, then certainly gender can be changed, too? That is, the Third Corsair can be a cisman and the Fourth Corsair a ciswoman (or a transman, or anything else) with no contradiction.

Thus, the existence of a woman Doctor does not necessarily imply that any of the current Doctors are trans*.

That said, if Doctor Who continues indefinitely, sooner or later there will be a trans* Doctor, preferably sooner.

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Ross 3 years, 8 months ago

If it's going to happen (And I'm far from convinced it would be a good thing), I think it's a thing that really would be better saved until after Moffatt's retired as showrunner. Whatever good things I think of him, I wouldn't want him within a mile of showrunning for a trans doctor, a female doctor, or a gay doctor.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 8 months ago

I was counting Let's Kill Hitler - there was decidedly a few month delay and Let's Kill Hitler was decidedly a "launch" episode that was screened for critics and all that. It was treated as a premiere within the cultural paratext.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 8 months ago

The "Cassandra is trans" idea actually, as I've seen it in the past, is based more on a throwaway line in End of the World where she says "when I was a little boy," which seems to be meant as a joke about just how much plastic surgery she's had.

It's a troubling point, but a throwaway that Davies (wisely) declined to follow up on. It's probably traceable, if one wants, to an extended historical hostility between gay male culture and trans culture - a crass joke born out of equally crass stereotypes about trans people. But it's such a tiny detail that it just didn't seem worth building much out of on the blog when other people have written as well as I possibly could on the subject.

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David Anderson 3 years, 8 months ago

Not just any plot point or contrivance is equal. Because you can't just put a character where you want them to be: character is the series of plot points by which the character has reached the place you've put them.
The problem isn't whether the technobabble is ridiculous: it's partly the feel of the technobabble and partly how the characters react to the technobabble. 'Not magic, science; the science of the daemons!' is just as ridiculous as magic; but it expresses something about the Third Doctor's personality and values that he says it. It says something about the Doctor and companions whether their method of solving problems is being more clever than their enemies, or trying really hard to do one thing and then by coincidence turn into a dea ex machina. It says something about the Doctor that he doesn't think to open the time vortex himself.
It says something about everyone involved including the Doctor that nobody comments on the Naismith's sadistic attitude to health and safety in The End of Time.

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Pen Name Pending 3 years, 8 months ago

I was actually referring to "The Wedding of River Song" cameo, but I totally forgot about "The Big Bang" (and that's my favorite episode). It works so well in that one because it just pushes the plot along; giving them reason to run around a museum figuring stuff out.

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Pen Name Pending 3 years, 8 months ago

"Let's Kill Hitler" was intended to be fun, in contrast to "The Impossible Astronaut", which is rather serious and important (and got me into the show).

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 8 months ago

He's referring to the Cameo of the Daleks in "The Wedding of River Song", actually...

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 8 months ago

It really does, doesn't it?

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 8 months ago

Also: All of the Clerics from the Angels two-parter, Dr. Ramsden (presumably) from "The Eleventh Hour", Abigail from "A Christmas Carol", Joy (the bathroom lady) from "The Impossible Astronaut", a number of people in the pyramid in "The Wedding of River Song", Oswin the Dalek, Amy and Rory, Victorian Clara, and most of the people trapped in the WiFi.

And those are just the episodes Moffat's written!

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Ununnilium 3 years, 8 months ago

Ahhhh, fair enough. I haven't actually caught up to that point yet. >->;

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Ununnilium 3 years, 8 months ago

Froborr: I think this mainly shows the difficulties of applying terms like trans* to someone who regularly changes bodies completely.

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Anton B 3 years, 8 months ago

Because there's a quota on kick-ass female characters and they have to conflate two so as not to go over the limit? Or why?

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Ross 3 years, 8 months ago

Because while it's a perfectly lovely name, you can only name so many of your characters 'Jenny' before it gets awkward.

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David Anderson 3 years, 8 months ago

The Face of Boe is pregnant in The Long Game.

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Alexander J Bateman 3 years, 8 months ago

This is the first of new series that did not work for me. Parts of it where brilliant, but I just cannot get over the naffness of plague cure.

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David Anderson 3 years, 8 months ago

'Jenny' with no surname at that.
The future of Doctor's daughter Jenny is a loose end, and someone's going to want to tie it up. And the law of narrative economy suggests that you tie it up to something that already exists.

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Froborr 3 years, 8 months ago

And IIRC Jack mentions having been pregnant before. I think the mention is somewhere in his run as a Ninth Doctor companion..?

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Ross 3 years, 8 months ago

It's the first episode of Torchwood. He comments about tasting birth control hormones in the rain

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Ross 3 years, 8 months ago

Oh, um, and isn't all this neither here nor there to Jack or the Face of Boe being trans. It's not like Jack having been pregnant automatically marks him as transgendered.

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Spoilers Below 3 years, 8 months ago

The only problem I have with this episode is entirely my fault: it reminds me of one of my favorite episodes of The Simpsons, season 11's The Mansion Family

Burns: Well, doc, I think I did pretty well on my tests. You may shake my hand if you like.
Doctor: Well, under the circumstances, I'd rather not.
Burns: Eh?
Doctor: Mr. Burns, I'm afraid you are the sickest man in the United States. You have everything.
Burns: You mean I have pneumonia?
Doctor: Yes.
Burns: Juvenile diabetes?
Doctor: Yes.
Burns: Hysterical pregnancy?
Doctor: Uh, a little bit, yes. You also have several diseases that have just been discovered -- in you.
Burns: I see. You sure you haven't just made thousands of mistakes?
Doctor: Uh, no, no, I'm afraid not.
Burns: This sounds like bad news.
Doctor: Well, you'd think so, but all of your diseases are in perfect balance. Uh, if you have a moment, I can explain.
Burns: Well ... [looks at his watch]
[the Doctor puts a tiny model house door on his desk]
Doctor: Here's the door to your body, see? [bring up some small fuzz balls with goofy faces and limbs from under the desk] And these are oversized novelty germs. [points to a different one up as he names each disease] That's influenza, that's bronchitis, [holds up one] and this cute little cuddle-bug is pancreatic cancer. Here's what happens when they all try to get through the door at once. [tries to cram a bunch through the model door. The "germs" get stuck] [Stooge-like] Woo-woo-woo-woo-woo-woo-woo! Move it, chowderhead! [normal voice] We call it, "Three Stooges Syndrome."
Burns: So what you're saying is, I'm indestructible!
Doctor: Oh, no, no, in fact, even slight breeze could --
Burns: Indestructible.

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elvwood 3 years, 8 months ago

'Jenny' was my mum's name, so I'm always happy to see Jennys. She was awesome, though not in quite the same way as the two Jennys we're mainly talking about. And she did have a surname or two.

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HarlequiNQB 3 years, 8 months ago

I quite enjoyed this episode when I saw it, but I've not watched it since because I have a real and near pathological aversion to Rose's shirt. I know that's a strange thing to hold against an episode, but I cringe every time I see it, so I'll just avoid it until it's time to watch them all with my son...

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encyclops 3 years, 8 months ago

It's not every day that you get a transcript of a show that's just as funny on paper as it is when it's performed.

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 8 months ago

Considering they're married... well, it's probably Jenny Vastra. ;-)

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BerserkRL 3 years, 8 months ago

Well, I'm not sure Oswin Dalek and Victorian Clara count, if they're really just splinters of still-perfectly-alive Clara. And since we don't see Amy and Rory's death, are they really any more dead than everyone-the-Doctor-has-left-in-the-past?

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thingsiambotheredby 3 years, 8 months ago

The reference book "Monsters and Villains" released circa series 1 features about half a page of backstory on Cassandra by RTD himself. It elaborates a bit on her transition from male to female. She was born as Brian Edward Cobbs. More interestingly it features a bio of the Face of Boe that adds credence to his Jack-ness and directly alludes to the secret that he will tell the Doctor.

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 8 months ago

So... remember the "missing episodes" thing?

No, I'm not letting you down, relax! It's apparently not a hoax:

"Of the one hundred and six missing episodes, they comprise ninety of them. The only ones not included are nine episodes of The Dalek Master Plan, plus Mission To The Unknown, two episodes of The Invasion, two episodes of The Ice Warriors, and two episodes of The Wheel In Space.

So that’s not quite The Full Hartnell, but it’s pretty close. And that’s an awful lot more Troughton than I was expecting.

And that the BBC have been negotiating their safe return. That Steven Moffat, Russell T Davies, Mark Gatiss, Caroline Skinner, all the main players, the Cardiff production office, Doctor Who Magazine are aware of what’s happening.

But this is bigger than Doctor Who. This is eight thousand recovered films including the likes of missing Dad’s Army, Out Of The Unknown, Morecambe And Wise, The Sky At Night and more. Including ninety missing Doctor Who films and potentially better quality prints of already recovered shows. Such as three separate sets of Doctor Who: Marco Polo – one poor quality, two in excellent nick."



http://www.bleedingcool.com/2013/06/17/more-on-those-missing-doctor-who-episodes-or-less/

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Pen Name Pending 3 years, 8 months ago

If that's really true...it's amazingly awesome. We have the animated Invasion and upcoming Ice Warriors anyway; Daleks Master Plan is a bit disappointing but I suppose they'll get around to animating them too. Maybe Phil can get away with writing a revised "Missing Episodes Found" book?

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Scott 3 years, 8 months ago

"But I think that's one of the strengths of the Davies era: take a previously one-dimensional and unlikable figure and make her more complicated and partly sympathetic."

I agree; I just don't think it works in this case. But to each their own.

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Scott 3 years, 8 months ago

I think though with Cassandra, as well her being a bit too one-dimensional, the sudden turn to pathos towards the end comes a bit too quickly out of nowhere. The Dalek and Margaret and the Master get plenty of time to 'rise', if you will, whereas with Cassandra it seems like forty-odd minutes of being-a-one-dimensional-tool as usual, and then in the last ten minutes it's suddenly "No! You actually have to feel sorry for her! She has depth!"

Again, to each their own, though. I get the feeling that, not for the first time, I've backed the losing horse here. :-)

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othemts 3 years, 8 months ago

Her name is Jenny Flint.

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Bennett 3 years, 8 months ago

the Moffat road of never any death and never any consequences

This is a recurring criticism that I've been itching to tackle, but I don't think listing all the deaths in Moffat stories is the way to do it.

Because I agree that Moffat has, to an extent, sidelined death in the series. It's just a result of the way he views the series. The best quote on this subject, for my money, is from The Time of Angels:

Amy:I thought they were all dead.
Doctor:So's Virginia Woolf, and I'm on her bowling team.


The Doctor has no anchorage in time. To him, everyone is 'still out there waiting for him' - and for no Doctor more so than The Eleventh, who flitters through time with childlike naivety.

Does this drain all tension of the series? Well...maybe some types of tension. (Though not for me. The way I see it, the greatest threat to a companion is not death - it's the termination of their actor's contract.)

But the everybody's-still-out-there approach also finds new sources of dramatic tension. By confronting The Doctor with its fallacy (The Wedding of River Song) or getting him to admit that there is one place where he is anchored in time (The Name of the Doctor). As he says in that episode, there is still "a time to sleep". There are consequences.

And at the very least, classic Doctor Who feigns the death of a companion almost every 25 minutes. We knew they were going to get out of it then, why can't we know it now?

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Corpus Christi Music Scene 3 years, 8 months ago

http://www.kasterborous.com/2013/06/missing-episodes-rumours-reactions/ Members of the Restoration Team have already claimed that this is a hoax.

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 8 months ago

Yeah... if you look at that link again, it seems a bit murkier than that. Ian Levine, in particular, has been saying the same "there will always be 106/108/11X episodes missing" every time there's a find he's not involved with.

So, I'm keeping hope.

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Corpus Christi Music Scene 3 years, 8 months ago

Im optimistic too.....but the idea that somebody has been sitting on 90 or so missing episodes for 40 plus years really isnt credible .

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elvwood 3 years, 8 months ago

Um, that link pretty much says it is a hoax. Maybe it was revised after Matthew posted it.

(insert sad-but-not-surprised face here)

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Spacewarp 3 years, 8 months ago

Why so linear Jean-Luc? :D

A common mistake when we watch Doctor Who is to treat resolutions (and technology) as behaving as they would in our time. Yes you could question technobabble in the Pertwee era, but New Earth takes place 5 billion years in our future, when any technology (or chemistry, or medicine) is going to be so far ahead of us that it will be indistinguishable from magic. Would we seriously expect medicine to not have evolved 5,000,000,000 years later? It is perfectly possible that this far in the future medicine may work through dousing. If you want to work out a mechanism, postulate nano-genes.

So the Doctor mixes a cocktail of drugs and instead of administering it intravenously (as we would expect in our limited 21st Century way), he pours it over everyone and it works. Even today we cure certain ailments by applying ointment externally, it's not much of a jump to assume that in the far future the idea of sticking a needle in someone is considered somewhat mediaeval.

Of course the common complaint after a post like this is to say why didn't RTD state this in the story, but this is exactly the thing that Davies very consciously doesn't do. He often states that he doesn't like lengthy exposition, and prefers to let the story carry the viewer on past any potential sticking points, because the audience is far wiser than programme-makers sometimes give them credit for. Most viewers should easily accept the "cure by dousing" plot because they instinctively recognise it's the far future (did I say 5 billion years?), and why shouldn't things work like that in the far future?

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Ross 3 years, 8 months ago

You know, if this were true, we'd be talking about something on the order of 10 tons of film, a stack of film reels 500 feet tall.

In retrospect, that seems like rather a lot to be hanging out in africa for 50 years with no one noticing.

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prandeamus 3 years, 8 months ago

The thing I remember about watching Tennant's first "proper" adventure, is knowing that Cybermen were coming in a few weeks' time. Put aside for a moment that the actual Cyber-story is servicable, rather than classic. The point is that we knew it was coming. I remember wondering if the zombie-people were connected to the Cybermen in some way (feel free to insert the phrase "body horror" any time you wish).

I recall a short of one of the zombie flexing his hand as he emerged, and there's a similar shot in RotC/AoS where the Doctor creeps past the rows of dormant cymbermen - the first movement is an arm flex.

There may have been other occasions where this occurred but I've neither the time nor inclination to verify it now. What's interesting is that I'd become so accustomed to the season-as-story-arc model, I expected a much greater thematic linking of the episodes than was in fact the case.

(I'm also vaguely unhappy about the Cybusmen coming from an alternate universe, because to my mind Alternate Universes are too much like Big Reset buttons. But that's just me, and there's a time and place to discuss it coming up)

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Ross 3 years, 8 months ago

I know whenever someone bitches about how impossible some piece of medical-related technology is in some Doctor Who episode or other, my first response is "Captain Jack had nanogenes."

Because once you accept that, it's time to shut up about "But medical science of the year 5,000,000,000 doesn't work like that!" We already know and accept that 56th century medical technology includes tiny machines capable of raising the dead and turning them into hollow gasmask zombies (And strangely, hardly anyone had serious issues with that). Once you accept that, pretty much everything is on. Headless Monks? Nanogenes. Thousand year old emperors? Nanogenes. Resurrected sontarans? Nanogenes. Contagious Showers? Nanogenes.

Quite often, I think what the complainers really want is just for the Doctor to say "Not magic, Jo; the advanced science of the Daemons!"

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Wm Keith 3 years, 8 months ago

So the word is finally out about the trove of recordings that Beagle 2 found in the derelict spacecraft on Mars.

All those hints in "The Christmas Invasion", and no-one spotted them until now.

But I'll tell you. Our theory at Beagle-Towers is that the Mission to the Unknown episodes are missing purely to confuse us - so that we don't find out whether the derelict spacecraft was from Sentreal or in fact from Zephon.

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SK 3 years, 8 months ago

The problem ain't with the science, it's with the perfunctoriness of it.

The people complaining about it not making sense scientifically are a good example of the fact that people who don't know how stories work are good at spotting that there is something wrong, but absolutely terrible at understanding what it is. All they know is that it left them vaguely dissatisfied, but not knowing why, they hunt around for a reason and come up with exactly the wrong one.

The Doctor in 'New Earth' doesn't do anything clever or difficult in order to end the plot, and he doesn't have to make any hard choices, and the resolution has no consequences, emotional or otherwise, for any of the characters: it's just, time's up, end the threats so the episode can finish.

The resolution in 'The Doctor Dances' works because the key point of it isn't the technobabble, it's the Doctor putting the clues of the episode together and working out what's been going on. There's no comparable cleverness here: the Doctor doesn't have to remember something from before to realise the solution (note pun) or do anything clever, he just mixes some coloured liquids together in a supersoaker. The problem isn't that it doesn't make scientific sense, it's that it's too easy.

Contrast that with a good Davies resolution, the one from Smith and Jones, where the Doctor lets the vampire drink from him because seeded earlier in the episode has been the information that she is using her victims to reconfigure her DNA to hide as human; so the Doctor's non-human DNA makes her show up as alien.

Of course, as noted, there is such a well-set-up resolution here: it's just it's the resolution to the Cassandra plot, not the zombies plot.

When Davies's episodes work, and they occasionally do, it's because he manages to tie everything to the emotional beats, so that as they move along, so does the story. When they don't, it's because things don't gel so that for example, as here, there's the actual story that's being told, which is about Cassandra, and so it gets a proper set-up and pay-off; but by itself isn't enough to sustain an episode, so a totally extraneous threat (the zombies) that have nothing to do with the emotional content of the episode is constructed out of the whole cloth, and then at the end must be summarily dealt with.

And those episodes are invariably disappointing because the audience senses that something unsatisfying, something perfunctory, was going on, even if they can't work out what it was and fall back on silly explanations like 'it was unscientific'.

The really bad Davies episodes -- and there's one coming up next, I believe -- are the ones where there isn't even a decent emotional through-line, but just a mish-mash of elements that never really cohere, and a sequence of emotional beats that don't really follow on from each other, where the spectacle and pace is upped in the hope that by rushng from image to image and form emotional beat to emotional beat the audience can be prevented, at least for the running time of the episode, from realising that all this sound and fury signifies, ultimately, nothing.

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Ununnilium 3 years, 8 months ago

The people complaining about it not making sense scientifically are a good example of the fact that people who don't know how stories work are good at spotting that there is something wrong, but absolutely terrible at understanding what it is. All they know is that it left them vaguely dissatisfied, but not knowing why, they hunt around for a reason and come up with exactly the wrong one.

This is very true.

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Daru 3 years, 8 months ago

Hi SK - Just a short reply to you, but I wanted to make the point of agreeing with you regarding Davies and his construction of episodes around emotional beats. Especially agree around your points for New Earth and the actual story of Cassandra being told and payed-off - I was really touched by this. Yes also to the extraneous feeling of the zombie-illness threat and lack of emotion connected to it.

So yes the episode for the reasons you mention did not work as well as it could and touched me less emotionally (which i like when it happens well) - I still enjoy it though and treat it more as a pantomime type runaround!

Thanks for your points.

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Alexander J Bateman 3 years, 8 months ago

Its not the science that is the issue for me. The issue is if it is that easy to cure the plague zombies, why does no-one else just do it. The Doctor would win by being clever, and just taking all the chemicals and applying them at once isn't. Which to me, is deeply unsatisfying.

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Nicholas Tosoni 3 years, 8 months ago

"Why does no-one else just do it?"

Well, for starters, the Doctor is a madman with a box. He's the only one who's nutty enough to think (and know) that his Cure Cocktail will work. This is perfectly in line with Dr. Sandifer's assessment of the TARDIS: it drops the Doctor and friends into different genres; the delight comes from watching them upend those genres.

Second, the Cat Nurses have a...vested interest in keeping their subjects sick. (You *could* throw in a couple of Big Pharma parallels in there...)

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William Silvia 3 years, 7 months ago

I was also wondering how 3 seasons managed 5 launches. After all, if you're simply counting a gap, Davies had about 9.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

An episode that is both the first in a run of weekly episodes and the first episode after a gap.

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