New Earth is one of those really frustrating episodes to review because while it is pretty good, it's not really exceptional, and doesn't really have much that's bad. There's just not much to say.
The biggest bright spot is David Tennant. He's charming, energetic, full of presence, and heroic throughout. He's also exceedingly funny, making gold out of every comic line. His Doctor is perfectly characterized here: dashing, funny, intelligent, compassionate, quick to action, riveting when he goes dead-serious, and just generally awesome. He also spots that Rose has been possessed almost instantly, but doesn't say anything until he thinks it's relevant; spot-on writing, and perfect acting from Tennant. And his sheer joy at the climax adds immeasurably to its impact.
Billie Piper is great, too, matching him for humor and energy all the way.
Cassandra's return is fine, though it doesn't make much sense. Her apparent death in End of the World seemed like a good conclusion for her character, and her survival is bizarre. Further, it doesn't make much sense that she ended up in the hidden corridors of a hospital as part of a blackmail plot. But on the other hand, it is a good character perfectly played by Zoe Wannamaker. Her sappy last scene falls flat, mostly because it comes out of nowhere. Seriously, her acceptance of death happens literally in an instant. Why?
It is fun, though, when she possesses various cast members. Tennant's version is pretty funny, Piper's is hilariously on-target, but Sean Gallagher's is so good it's downright creepy. Speaking of which, Gallagher is terrific as her servant, Chip.
The makeup for the cat-people is astounding. I wish there was a little more to them, though; they're just cat people who make medicine. It would have been so much more interesting if it was set on their home planet, and we got some sense of their culture instead of the titular New Earth.
Speaking of which, New Earth, for all the shiny effects, is an astoundingly boring setting. For the year 5,000,000,000, this really doesn't look or feel any more advanced than the stuff in Star Trek or The Fifth Element, believably set a few hundred years in the future. End of the World had the mind-boggling stuff about holding back star explosions for tourism, which kinda helped off-set the less imaginative parts of the setting. Here, though, the world is just a dull, derivative future, pointlessly flung impossibly far in the future without any payoff. How cool would it have been (and how much more involving) to have set it on the cat people's planet? Or just anything with a moment of creativity, rather than wasting all the effects on less-cool versions of things we've seen in dozens of films for decades?
The story itself is silly but intriguing, and has a thoughtful moral dilemma at its core: is it okay to experiment on a few people genetically created to feel none of the pain if in doing so you can save millions of lives? Unfortunately, this isn't really given any thought. The Doctor just goes, no, it's wrong, and nobody gives any chance to a counter argument, and then it's all action the rest of the way. Not that I disagree with him, per se, but it's an interesting ethical question, and worth at least considering the argument once it's started.
It's not that the conflict doesn't work; it does. It's just been boiled down to a pretty ordinary good vs. evil when there's a little more going on than that. I think, between the setting and the concept, there's a great episode hiding somewhere inside this decent one, but it just didn't get out.
For all that, though, it's a fast-paced 45 minutes, full of action and humor, and certainly entertains.
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- I love the Doctor's solution to the problem. It doesn't make any sense, sure, but the idea is so perfect that I could care less.
Only the Doctor would save everyone from zombies by healing the zombies.
- The description of the Doctor as a "lonely god" is I guess sort of accurate, depending on your interpretation of those words, and it is a lovely phrase, but actually having a character say it to his face is overdoing it.
- The Doctor's reaction when the possessed Rose kisses him couldn't be more perfect.