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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “New Earth”

(intro to my Who blogging, please read before commenting / previous: Episode 0: “The Christmas Invasion”)

“Where we going?” Rose asks. “Further than we’ve ever gone before,” the Doctor replies, with a grin. Oh boy.

Lying on his coat, on the applegrass, gazing at the ridiculously romantic skyline of New New York, that’s the time, Rose. I want to shout at her, at that moment, every time I watch this episode: “Kiss him, you fool!”

But the moment’s still not right, I guess. She can hold his hand and stare right into his eyes and tell him how much she loves, er, traveling with him, and it’s still not right. An icebreaker — that’s what they need. Like, say, the consciousness of a demented, plastic-surgery-obsessed monster jumping back and forth between their bodies.
There’s no denying now (if there ever really was) the genuine attraction between them. Via Cassandra, they’ve been in each other’s heads — him probably more in her head than vice versa, since Cassandra seems to indicate that the Doctor can block her access to his mind. But when Cassandra is checking out the Doctor, and knows Rose has been too — “Slim and a little bit foxy. You thought so too. I’ve been inside your head. You’ve been looking. You like it.” — Rose can’t deny it. She’s embarrassed, but she can’t deny it. Apparently, it’s “hormone city” in Rose’s head. And who can blame her?

Cassandra-in-the-Doctor’s-body is probably the first time I sat up and said to myself, “Okay, wow: David Tennant is an amazing actor.” He’s so funny, doing Cassandra’s little I’m-a-man-yum dance. But Billie Piper, also… who’da thunk she’d be so fantastic? The look on her face when she’s faced with Doctor-Cassandra is priceless, and complicated. And Tennant and Piper are wonderful together in a different way that Eccelston and Piper were: the Doctor is still all mysterious and alien and strange and unpredictable, but there’s something more accessible about him… which forces you to wonder just how much of his true self he may be sublimating or denying, however unconsciously, in order to connect with, let’s face it, someone who is, from his perspective, a primitive and impossibly young alien. Could someone like her ever really satisfy someone like him emotionally or intellectually? And how sad is it for him that someone like her is perhaps his only option at this point?

One of my favorite things about this episode: figuring out when the Doctor figures out that Rose is no longer in control of her body. I think it’s possible that it’s not before the kiss — though it’s interesting that he does not return her kiss, and that his hands never leave his pockets, though that could be attributable to pure (if delighted) shock as much as anything else. When she points the way to the terminal, he may be suspicious then — would Rose have even noticed things like terminals in her wanderings around the hospital? Certainly, by the time she’s giving him technical advice, and he’s confirmed his doubt by asking her a question about the computer system Rose couldn’t possibly know the answer to, he’s on to the fact that there’s a problem. I love watching Tennant’s performance and all the little flutters of uncertainty and agitation that flitter across his face through the whole sequence where he meets up with Rose again. I love it. He’s brilliant. And when I remember not to let myself be distracted, I watch Piper, too, because she’s pretty brilliant, too, at playing two characters at once.

Who is the Face of Boe? Is he, indeed, Jack Harkness is some distant-future incarnation? Why would Face of Boe call for the Doctor, here in New New York, after (apparently) only one meeting? It’s obvious, I think, that the Face of Boe feels that there’s a connection between him and the Doctor. Why would the Face of Boe call the Doctor “the wanderer, the man without a home, the lonely god”? Mustn’t that come from a much deeper understanding of the Doctor than one brief meeting could have inspired? Or are there mythic tales about the Doctor floating around galactic culture in the year five billion just as there are, clearly, about the Face of Boe? Why does the Doctor say to the Face of Boe, “There are legends that you’re millions of years old” in such a way that suggests that the Doctor believes that these are mere legends when the Doctor knows that the Face of Boe is, in fact, billions of years old? He first saw the Face on Boe on TV on Platform Five in the year 200,000 or so, in the episode “The Long Game,” after all. Or is “the Face of Boe” merely a title that is passed from one being to another? So many questions…

Random thoughts on “New Earth”:

• “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” Tennant’s Doctor says that a lot

• “One touch and you get every disease in the world…” “How on Earth…” You’d think the Doctor would have some turns of phrase that serve the same purpose yet also show him to be a citizen of the universe, not of one measly little backwater planet that supposes it is the center of the universe…

• “No shop? I like a little shop.” And later: “A shop does some people a world of good. Not me. Other people.” Is the Doctor a secret shopaholic? (He gets his desired hospital shop later at Martha’s workplace…)

• The disinfectant in the elevator? This may be as close as we’ll ever get to seeing the Doctor in the shower. Well, we did get to see Jon Pertwee in the shower in “Spearhead from Space”

• “Yup, still got it.” Just in case anyone wonder: yeah, the Doctor’s had it before, and likes having it. Yes, the Doctor, ahem, dances.

• That sad little almost-smile that the Doctor gives the Duke of Manhattan, that’s very Peter Davison-Doctor…

• Cassandra-in-the-Doctor goes right through trampoline-Cassandra’s frame to get to the ladder. Eww.

• The Doctor says to Cassandra-in-Rose, “Give her back to me!” Not “Let her go” or “Leave her alone” or “Get out of her” but “Give her back to me.” Hmmm…

• “All their lives, and they’ve never been touched”: the plight, or part of the plight, of the “new humans.” Touch. Pass it on. Contact saves you. It’s all the Doctor wants now, and it’s really all Cassandra wanted, too. And how sweet did the old Cassandra turn out to be, startling and moved by the kindness of the “strange little thing” dying in her arms? “He” touched her so much that she later modeled Chip on that, her “favorite pattern.” She wasn’t always a villain.

• Has the Doctor ever been taken over by an alien entity before? He was sorta zombiefied by Sutekh, but that was different. Here’s yet another new vulnerability for the Doctor, not just his heart but his mind as well.

• Favorite lines: The Doctor’s “I like impossible,” partly because it slips by almost unnoticed, and is one of the best encapsulations of his character. And Cassandra’s “You’re completely mad — I can see why she likes you,” which perfectly encapsulates why we all like him. Though it’s hard to beat “The brain meat expired” for sheer hilarious ickiness.

(next: Episode 2: “Tooth and Claw”)

MPAA: not rated

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