Let us launch into the new Doctor’s Series proper with a return of an old foe, an old friend and some ‘interesting’ fan fic style script shenanigans. Again, this is one of those episodes I’ve always remembered from high school. I didn’t like it then and I like it even less now so if you want a love fest review, this post may not be for you. Don’t say I haven’t warned you dear reader choosing to read on…
Can you sense the fan fic yet?
The Pre-Title Sequence
Maureen: Ok, Ok, I may be a softie, but I never get bored of a new Doctor and companions excitement as they navigate the universe. Take this exchange:
Rose: Where are we going?
Ten: Where we’ve never ever been.
Stop right there, RTD. No further hook needed.
Ben: I liked that Mickey and Jackie got a proper goodbye from Rose in this opening! None of this vanishing for a year business again. Although Mickey is back on the loving Rose bandwagon, despite his revelation last season that Rose was bad for him.
Maureen: Ah Mickey. What a wasted companion. I’m so glad Moffat essentially fix it fic’d Mickey through Rory! I found it terribly sad that Jackie walked away from The TARDIS before Mickey did. And I know that this isn’t what RTD intended, but the shot of Ten and Rose in the TARDIS with big grins and The Doctor caressing his console made me more sad rather than exultant.
Ben: ‘Cassandra Rose’ is the best incarnation of Rose in my opinion, but only because of Billie’s acting. The Rose at the start of the episode was just horribly sappy and making love heart eyes at the Doctor. Her makeup was full on, and her outfit was pretty booby too, definite fanfic material.
Maureen: I don’t think that the overbearing make-up and the sexy clothing is a problem. I think the issue is that RTD was trying to objectify Rose in this story line. He wanted her to be noticed as an object of lust. I mean, why else have the wet shower scene (which if you are still in doubt about the intention of this scene, also featured bonus wind behind Rose’s billowing hair like she was in a shampoo ad)? But while Rose can be an object of lust, she can’t be overtly sexual, because that detracts from her as the personification of the perfect woman Mary Sue. Perfect women are young virgins, remember? They aren’t allowed to feel sexy and wield that sexuality. Hence why so many people complained about Amy Pond. How dare a companion wear short skirts? (But this is a rant for another post… see my Doctor Who and feminism essays if you’re interested). Anyway, from the episode’s opening where The Doctor and Rose lie in apple grass, I got the impression RTD was trying too hard to force Ten/Rose down the viewer’s throats.
Ben: Really, the whole body-swapping storyline with Cassandra was pretty silly.
Maureen: Come on, it show cased some great acting from both Billie Piper and Zoe Wanamaker, but you have a point. Really the body-swapping was just another excuse to paint Rose for the viewer as someone worthy of earning The Doctor’s love. ‘Cassandra Rose’ even unbuttons Rose’s shirt to showcase Billie’s breasts to the viewer as much as to The Doctor. This actually made me start to feel uncomfortable in terms of the level of male gaze happening on screen.
Ben: Rose was surprisingly mean to Cassandra in their first meeting! I guess considering their prior encounter that makes sense.
Maureen: Yeah, but what is with the trend of Rose being bitchy to any other woman The Doctor comes across? This too is starting to make me uncomfortable. I get Rose is an immature teen, but fuck, she is really needy and jealous and yet the show still paints her as a perfect woman. Just… yuck.
Ben: The Doctor was, I guess, in standard Doctor form this episode? Although I’m not liking how preachy this one is. I know Nine had his moments too, but he was always banging on about how humanity can be so much better than it is. Ten is just holier-than-thou.
Maureen: It’s so weird. Sometimes Ten is great; full of wild zanyness and mad cap schemes (as in most of The Christmas Invasion) and other times he’s this annoying, sanctimonious, mansplainy brat. He was the latter this episode and more’s the pity.
Ben: The scenes with the Duke of Manhattan were pretty funny though, with his overwrought walking disclaimer of an assistant interacting with Ten. And then the foreshadowing with the Face of Boe – that he’ll impart a great secret to The Doctor at the moment of his death was intriguing. But that all ended rather disappointingly too. Boe was literally there to be foreshadow-y. Boo.
But as soon as The Doctor stops having fun wandering around and figures out The Sisters of Plentitude’s plan he gets preachy. This is the same Doctor I hated in The Christmas Invasion, who didn’t like what Harriet Jones did to protect the Earth and punished her for it.
Maureen: I couldn’t agree with you more, Ben! My note on the big reveal scene is ‘ah. Sanctimonious Doctor returns to mansplain to cat lady alien.’ That’s not to say The Sisters of Plentitude were necessarily right to create lab rat humans, but I feel like in reality, the situation was far more nuanced than The Doctor wanted to believe. I felt RTD also copped out badly by scripting that the ‘lab rats’ could understand what had been done to them. Would The Doctor still have been the big hero if they hadn’t understood a thing? Let’s move on…
Ben: Just like with Rose, Cassandra taking over The Doctor’s body was pure fanfic material. Suddenly the Doctor is all slim and foxy and flirting the house down.
Maureen: Ha! I loved the ‘oh baby. I’m beating out a samba,’ line. My note on the line was, ‘how very fifty shades of grey.’
Ben: And then we get to the really, truly awful resolution to the plague-ridden humans. The Doctor soaks himself with intravenous cures for every disease in the galaxy, and somehow through the magic of touch, the lab rat humans manage to spread these cures among themselves without using intravenous methods? At least The Doctor gets to make an emotional speech about saving the day and creating new life and whatnot. Hooray for him.
Maureen: I love the whole intravenous meds thing. I mean how easy would that plot-hole have been to fix? Delete the word intravenous and the episode’s denouement would have been right as rain! Also, I’m going to quote my notes again because they are a bit funny…
Maureen’s notebook: The Doctor disinfects the lab rat humans bathed in a sea of light. The start of Doctor deification? Fuck off! Also, Ten’s speech delivery gets on my tits. He sounds like a mansplaining dick.
Also, re the Face of Boe telling The Doctor that he learnt to look at the universe anew thanks to him, I penned, ‘enough with the deification.’
Ben: The Doctor does do a nice thing by taking Cassandra inhabiting Chip’s dying body back in time to meet the real Cassandra so she can be the last person to tell herself she looks beautiful before dramatically passing away. But to be honest, I though this was just a ploy for Cassandra to take over young Cassandra’s body and live her merry life again. All in all, a very fanfic ending to a fanfic heavy episode.
Maureen: I didn’t mind the ending, but more on that later…
The Alien/s of the Week
Ben: The Sisters of Plentitude started off well; mysterious cat doctors who could treat any illness. And then things took a turn for the worst when The Doctor discovers the Sisters use artificially grown humans as test subjects. I had hoped RTD would go further down the ethics and philosophy road with this story line. Yes, the Sisters have cured the incurable, but at what cost? And these artificial humans, this flesh that they’ve grown, what is it that gives them consciousness? How do they have speech and reasoning if they’ve lived their whole life in isolation? We get a bit of that thanks to Cassandra, when she goes into one of the flesh and realises they just want to be touched, but that’s it.
Maureen: I wonder if this episode would have worked better as a two-parter? That might have given more space to the cat nurses as well as the Cassandra body swap story line? In terms of Cassandra, I’ve always enjoyed Zoe Wanamaker as an actress. She’s great as Ariadne Oliver in Poirot. I especially enjoyed her end scenes, where she got to play a Cassandra with humanity thanks to her Gaimanesque friend, Chip. She is able to tell her younger self she is very beautiful. Also, Zoe can be very funny. I loved her delivery in the below:
Cassandra on Rose: The dirty, blonde assassin!
Ben: Look, I hated this episode. It started off strong, if a little fanfic-esque, and then completely went off the rails. The solution was plain bad. For starters, intravenous medication needs to be applied into the veins! It’s not a topical skin cream! Medicine doesn’t work like that! And the fan fic elements were overbearing, Rose didn’t get to do anything of significance, other than act as a vessel for Cassandra, and this new Doctor just isn’t impressing me. It’s a 0/10 for me.
Maureen: Wow, that’s harsher than I’d go. I agree with you, but I think we need to acknowledge how wonderful Billie’s acting was in this. It can’t have been easy playing herself played by someone else played by herself! Zoe Wanamaker is always good value too. Finally, I quite liked the end scene with Cassandra. It’s not enough to salvage the sexist overtones and The Doctor playing the sanctimonious arsehat card though, so it’s a 1/10 inky stars from me.