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15 January 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 745: New Earth

Dear diary,

It felt so strange, sitting down to watch this in 2006. I’d seen quite a few of the older Doctor Who episodes by this point, and I’d watched all of Series One over again when the DVD came out, but there was something really odd about the thought of another thirteen brand new episodes ahead of me for the next thirteen weeks. It was exciting! We had a new Doctor who I’d enjoyed at Christmas, and every new issue of Doctor Who Magazine brought with it some more exciting news - the Cybermen were going to make a comeback! So was Sarah Jane Smith - with K9! Oh, the excitement was building. I sat down to watch this one, so glad that my favourite show was back on TV…

…and, well, oh dear. Oh, I hated it. As in, by the end, I wasn’t even that bothered about the thought of the next twelve weeks - surely they couldn’t all be as bad as this? Actually, I had something of a backlash with Series Two. A week later, when Tooth and Claw was on, I didn’t even realise until someone called from the other room to say I’d missed ten minutes of Doctor Who. Once Girl in the Fireplace ended, I turned to a friend and announced that I simply couldn’t get in to Doctor Who this year. Something about it was wrong. I think, looking back, that it was simply that ‘second album’ effect - I was so used to the fourteen episodes we’d had in 2005, that these somehow felt like pretenders. It didn’t really let up for the rest of the series, and as the years have gone by Series Two has sort of sat in my mind as being Not Very Good. It means that there’s several episodes here I’ve not seen since their original broadcast. New Earth is one of them, and the same can be said for the Cyberman two-parter, the Impossible Planet two-parter, and Fear Her. I’ve been really excited about reaching this point of the marathon, because it’s almost like coming to these episodes as new - and seeing if my thoughts on them have changed, nine years on.

Certainly, time has been kind to this one, because I’ve really enjoyed New Earth! There’s a sentence I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance to say! It didn’t start well, I’ll admit. There’s something about the scenes of the Doctor and Rose emerging from the TARDIS on that hillside that just doesn’t sit right with me - they’re far too smug (a complaint levelled at much of this series, and one which comes back to haunt them later on; it’s using the same trick that was employed between Boom Town and the Series One finale, but taken to extremes). Once they’ve arrived at the hospital, though, and things are underway, there’s a lot to really enjoy about this one.

Including, it has to be said, all of the body swapping! There’s that great line in Time Crash about the Doctor acting grumpy and important ‘like you do when you’re young’, and I think that’s very true of me. I can recall thinking that all of the body swapping and camping up the performances was really silly the last time I watched this one, but I’ve actually found myself laughing at it this time around. I wonder if it might be because I’ve seen all of David Tenant’s episodes, now, so can better appreciate what he’s doing here? At the time, I think I worried that he was going to be messing around like this every week, and that thought put me off a bit. It also means that I didn’t get to appreciate the more serious moments of the story - when he discovers the flesh and confronts the cat nuns… oh God there’s fire in that performance. Tennant can be really scary when he’s playing the Doctor as angry, and it’s great to see that done so well right here at the beginning of his tenure. If anything, it serves to heighten the scenes in which he’s playing Cassandra - really contrasting nicely with them.

Now, I’m not suddenly a convert. I’m not going to start proclaiming that New Earth is the best episode that I’ve ever seen, or trying to convince everyone that it’s fantastic (there’s still a few bits that leave me cold - the solution is all a bit quick and easy, for example, and I’m sure I’ve heard Russell T Davies describe it as being a bit ‘skin of [his] teeth’), but there’s far more in here to enjoy than I’d ever considered before. I’m therefore desperately hoping that more episodes I’ve not enjoyed over the last ten years will undergo a similar process of re-evaluation. I know they’re not all going to end up being classics, but if we can have another few stories go through the transformation process that New Earth has taken, I’ll be a very happy person…


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