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.
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
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)
Writer: Russell T Davies
Director: James Hawes
Behind the Scenes
- This story is the first of the revived series to not be set on Earth or in its atmosphere. It is a debut for New Earth, which features again in Gridlock. This story is set 23 years after The End of the World and 30 years before Gridlock.
- Billie Piper asked Russell T Davies for an episode in which she could be funny.
- It was originally intended for the Face of Boe to deliver his final message in this story, however, when the production team learned that a third series had been commissioned, Davies decided to hold this plot point over to the following series.
- Originally, the infected patients would have been killed off at the end of the story, however, this was changed after a good natured comment by Steven Moffat in The Shooting Scripts which mocked him for “(creating) interesting characters and (melting) them.”
- There does seem to be a passage of time following from the end of The Christmas Invasion as the seasons have obviously changed when the Doctor and Rose depart at the beginning of the story and the TARDIS has moved.
- Andjoh Andoh would go on to play Francine Jones in Series 3, as well as playing multiple characters for Big Finish in plays Year of the Pigs, Empire of the Racnoss and The Cats of New Cairo.
- Dona Croll has appeared in the Big Finish audio plays Madquake, The Sincerest Form of Flattery, Escape from Nebazz and Peach Blossom Heights.
- Lucy Robinson has appeared in the Big Finish plays Like and Havoc.
- Anna Hope would reprise her role of Novice Hame in Gridlock and in the Big Finish stories Escape from New York and The Cats of New Cairo, as well as the Doctor Who: Lockdown webcast The Secret of Novice Hame. Hope also plays D.I. Patricia Menzies in the Sixth Doctor stories The Condemned, The Raincloud Man, The Crimes of Thomas Brewster and The Avenues of Possibility. This makes her one of a handful of actors to originate one recurring role on television and a totally different one on audio.
- Simon Ludders would go on to appear in the Twelfth Doctor story Thin Ice. He has also appeared in the Big Finish plays The Uncertain Shore, Call for the Dead and Sins of the Father.
- Struan Rodger would reprise the role of voicing the Face of Boe in Gridlock. He later played Clayton in The Woman Who Lived and voiced the Kasaavin in Spyfall.
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
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