Writer: Russell T Davies (9th episode)
Director: James Hawes (4th episode)
Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Zoe Wanamaker (Cassandra), Sean Gallagher (Chip), Dona Croll (Matron Casp), Michael Fitzgerald (Duke of Manhattan), Lucy Robinson (Fran Clovis), Andjoa Andoh (Sister Jatt), Anna Hope (Novice Hame), Struan Rodger (Face of Boe)
The Tenth Doctor and Rose travel to the distant future, where an order of cat nuns are able to cure all illnesses. The Doctor must investigate their shady operations in the hospital and save Rose from his old enemy, Lady Cassandra.
Behind the Scenes
This story is notable in the revived series to see the Doctor and his companion visit an alien planet – for the entirety of the first series, adventures had been set on Earth or on satellites orbiting the Earth. The episode came about because Billie Piper had asked Russell T Davies to be in an episode where she could be funnier.
In story terms, this is a debut for New Earth, which would reappear in Gridlock in the following series. This story is set 23 years after The End of the World, and 30 years before Gridlock. When writing this story, Russell T Davies originally had the Face of Boe delivering his “You are not alone” message, and the Face of Boe would also have died. However, when the production team were told that series 3 had been commissioned, Davies postponed this plot strand until the following year. Originally the infected would have all been killed off at the end, but was influenced by an introduction written by Steven Moffat in The Shooting Scripts, good-naturedly mocking him for “(creating) interesting characters and (melting) them”.
Additionally, there seems to be a gap between this story and the preceding story, The Christmas Invasion, which could either suggest that the Doctor has been staying on the Powell Estate for a while between stories, or that the Doctor and Rose have been on other adventures in the meantime. This is due to the fact that the seasons have obviously changed and the TARDIS has moved since the conclusion of the Christmas special.
Location-wise, the intensive care unit of the hospital was previously used in Rose as the Nestene base. Casting wise, Andjoa Andoh would go on to play Francine Jones, Martha’s mother in series 3.
David Tennant’s first fully conscious episode of Doctor Who is a mixed bag and is a bit bizarre as a series opener here. I am going to talk about the positives as I see them before moving onto the weaker sides of the episode.
The main positive of this story is the prosthetics and make-up, especially on the cat nuns, which looks fantastic. There are fantastic effects used here, such as on the Duke of Manhattan with Petrifold Regression, but all of the practical effects used on the patients and the infected are fantastic. I also feel that, by and large, David Tennant’s performance in this episode is strong, especially in the scene where he finds out the truth of the hospital. He absolutely bristles with righteous anger and rage and it is the undoubted highlight of the episode for me. I do have a minor qualm about an element of his performance, but I’ll come onto that later. Additionally, I feel that the story is quite well balanced, as we seem to spend an appropriate amount of time on the two elements of the plot: Cassandra and the hospital.
This is quite a flawed story, however, and really stands out as quite a bonkers plot for a first episode of the series, due to the body swapping element. Usually, a series debut will re-establish the returning characters in order to aid new viewers into the programme. On the other hand, this story seems to assume a certain amount of knowledge of the characters. There is also a plot hole in the fact that the jumping of bodies by Cassandra seems to initially require a device, but then can just happen spontaneously. This body swapping also contributes to another of my problems with this episode – Tennant’s acting when he’s being possessed by Cassandra. He really hams it up and it absolutely undermines his first performance as the Doctor. He looks really uncomfortable performing this aspect of the character and this really magnifies the issues in this story.
The test subject zombies are also a bizarre choice of villain for a Doctor Who story. As mentioned above, the prosthetics are fantastic and the idea of getting infected by just one touch is really effective, but they don’t really fit in here. The technique of transferring an infection through one touch is used far more effectively in a later episode, The Waters of Mars, ironically, the Tenth Doctor’s penultimate story. Speaking of the main issue with the infected patients, I feel that one of the story’s biggest issues is the resolution. THe magic cocktail of remedies that the Doctor and Rose/Cassandra make is a bit of a rushed job, and you can certainly tell that this wasn’t the original direction that Davies wanted the story to go in. Although I don’t necessarily believe that Doctor Who needs to include a whole load of death, it is ultimately necessary for the stakes to remain high and for there to be any real sense of dramatic tension and believe in that week’s threat.
Verdict: A flawed second episode for David Tennant, which includes a good premise, but is let down by its execution. Tennant’s performance is largely good, except when the body swap happens, and his charisma makes this a watchable if not entirely memorable episode. 4/10
Best Moment: The Doctor’s rage when he discovers the truth of the hospital.
“You were supposed to be dying.”
“There are better things to do today. Dying can wait.”
The Tenth Doctor and the Face of Boe
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!