New Who Openers In Perspective: New Earth
Lewis Hurst continues the series looking at past New Who openers with Series 2’s.
The feature-length first episode of Series 8 is coming. Aptly titled Deep Breath, it matches the general feeling of the fandom with everyone on the edge of their seats with excitement. But don’t hold your breath too deep, otherwise it’ll be a medical emergency. Thankfully I know a very good hospital to deal with that: a little place on New Earth.
New Earth I feel is the most overlooked of series openers. The general reaction by the fandom when it’s brought up is a slightly underwhelming “meh”. What was it that turned fans against it so? Was it the return of Cassandra, a villain that probably wasn’t very high up on fans “most wanted returning villains” list? The body swap comedy? The cat nuns? The plague zombies? Whatever it was, it seems to have New Earth at the bottom of many “best” lists. Indeed, in Doctor Who TV’s “Series 1-7 Face-Off” it came out as Episode 1 of the “Nightmare Run” making it the least liked series opener. Sure it had strong competition from episodes such as The Eleventh Hour and The Impossible Astronaut, it’s still a shame that a rather strong episode came out at the bottom.
I personally love New Earth. In retrospect, it may not have been the perfect choice of adventure for the Tenth Doctor’s second outing. Perhaps Tooth and Claw would have been a better choice of opening episode considering it kicks off the arc. Regardless, New Earth is a brilliant episode.
Perhaps what’s most interesting about New Earth is how it juggles two separate plotlines. Both of them receive equal treatment and focus. While any other episode would have chosen one to be the main plot and pushed the other storyline out of focus, so it’s to New Earth’s credit that both are treated fairly. Not once did I feel cheated out of the plague zombie storyline when we focused on Cassandra.
Speaking of Cassandra, I must commend the episode for redeeming what was previously a despicable character. It’s hard to think that in Series 1 Cassandra was willing to leave everyone aboard Platform One to die and then at the end of New Earth, rather reluctantly, risks her life to save others. It really hammers home the Tenth Doctor’s moral of giving his enemies their “one chance”. Cassandra took hers and emerged a better person, even if she did not get to live long afterwards.
The plague zombie storyline is pretty interesting. The idea of a hospital so desperate to cure it’s patients that they’ll grow their own flesh to create new cures is fascinating. The Sisters of Plentitude are stuck in a morally grey area. You can neither objectively call them good or evil. Yes, growing the new humans to test cures was wrong, but they were doing it (in their eyes) for the greater good. I bet if you got into a lengthy conversation with one of the Sisters, the phrase “The Needs Of The Many Outweigh The Needs Of The Few” would have cropped up at some point. It’s a shame we never got to see the trials the Sisters went on. It’d be interesting to see if they all went down or if several of them got off. We know Novice Hame had to carry on caring for the Face of Boe as punishment. I’d like to know what happened to the rest of the sisters. Their fates, however mundane, would shed some light on the rather dull “They were all arrested” we’re stuck with.
The Plague Zombies themselves are great “monsters”. I loathe calling them monsters because they aren’t. But anyway, they are pretty scary. I remember being scared of them on first viewing. People infected with every disease known to man (and then some) that can kill with a touch but only wish to touch as they’ve never been touched. It’s pretty tragic as well as horrifying. And I have to commend the production team for doing a bang up job with the makeup on the zombies. Really sold it.
The body swap comedy I know irks a lot of fans, but I personally find it rather funny. It’s all harmless fun really. And it allows David Tennant and Billie Piper to dip into straight out comedy which I’m thankful for as it gives us some of the most quotable lines in the entire series. From Cassandra/Rose’s panicked cry of “I’m a chav!” to Cassandra/Doctor’s “You’ve been looking… you like it.” There’s tons of lines in this episode to make you laugh. In fact I’m going to call it the funniest episode of Series 2 overall. Well… apart from Love and Monsters and Fear Her, but they’re hilarious for a whole different reason.
It surprises me that New Earth does not seem to be ranked as highly as it should by fans. But perhaps this follows on with the general mixed reaction to Series 2 in general, with everyone agreeing The Girl in the Fireplace and The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit to be masterpieces and then being divided on everything else. New Earth was what it was, a nice fun episode to set off a brand new series of Doctor Who. Perhaps the general mixed reaction to it is due to it not being an “event” episode like other series openers. Other openers introduce either a new Doctor, a new companion or kick off the series arc in a massive way. New Earth does none of these things.
It is a typical “filler” episode so maybe it didn’t stick out as much in fan’s memories as much as the others. But I stand by my opinions. New Earth may not be a remarkable episode, nor indeed one that is particularly memorable, but it is a great one. It’s fast paced, funny and full of intrigue. The best way to start a new series. So in the run up to Series 8, why not make a return to New New New New New New New New New New New New New New New York before the New New New New Doctor blasts onto screens in August? I’m sure you won’t regret it.
Throughout this series of In Perspective articles we are going to provide a rating for the episode to allow for some comparisons and to see what elements are actually important to making a good opener. The following ratings were produced by taking the individual ratings of five contributors (David Selby, Jack Hudson, Lewis Hurst, Simon Mitchell and Tomas Edwards). These ratings were then averaged to provide a number which should be relatively free of individual bias. The results are as follows:
- Episode Rating: 7.4/10
- Effectiveness as an Opener: 6.2/10
- Monster Rating: 7.1/10
- Character Rating: 7.7/10
This gives the episode a total score of 28.4/40.So far this leaves the Episode One ‘Leader-board’ looking like this:
- Rose: 34/40
- New Earth: 28.4/40