Doctor Who
Series 2 - Volume 1

Starring: David Tennant
RRP: £15.99
Certificate: PG
Available 01 May 2006

The TARDIS crash lands in London, with a new Doctor at the controls. It is Christmas Eve, but the yuletide season becomes a time of terror for Rose, Jackie and Mickey when they are attacked by sinister Santas and a killer Christmas tree, then for the whole of mankind when the alien Sycorax arrive. The world needs the Doctor, but the bedridden Time Lord has not yet recovered from his regeneration...

This DVD contains David Tennant's first two episodes as the Tenth Doctor, The Christmas Invasion and New Earth. Or his second and third episodes, if you count the Children in Need mini-episode, which I do and which is tragically absent from this disc. I hope the BBC include it in the Series 2 box set this autumn, because I consider it a vital precursor to The Christmas Invasion. For one thing, it explains why the TARDIS lands on Earth rather than the planet Barcelona.

But I digress.

I think I'm in the minority here, but I have to say that, during his all-too-brief debut in the one-hour yuletide episode, Tennant doesn't make such an immediately distinctive impression as his predecessor Christopher Eccleston did during his first instalment.

To be fair, though, Tennant only gets about 20 minutes of airtime to establish himself once he has recovered from his regeneration, and perhaps we shouldn't expect the Tenth Doctor to be so different from the Ninth anyway. The last two occasions on which a new television Doctor was presented to us, the series had been off the air for several years and the new Doctor was brought to us by a brand new production team. The respective introductions of Paul McGann and Christopher Eccleston were therefore both bound up with the shock of the new that accompanied a re-launch of the show itself. This time around, the production team the remains practically the same as before.

Though Tennant puts his own stamp on the role, the Doctor still speaks with the distinctive voice of chief writer Russell T Davies. This is a Doctor who flirts with his companion, and who says "yeah" and "nah" rather than "yes" and "no". It becomes clear that these are trademarks of Davies rather than of Eccleston.

Like his predecessor, the new Doctor's jocular demeanour conceals a dark and dangerous flipside. Witness his treatment of the Sycorax leader ("No second chances") and his warning to the defeated enemy that Earth is defended. However, this darker side was also a characteristic of the Seventh and Eighth Doctors (I'm factoring in the Eighth's audio and prose adventures here too), so we shouldn't be surprised that it remains present in the Tenth. It seems to be a requirement of heroes in general these days.

What does set Tennant's Doctor apart from Eccleston's is that he seems far more at ease in domestic situations, such as sitting down to a family Christmas dinner, something the Ninth Doctor would never have agreed to. He is also more of a man of action than his predecessor, engaging in a thrilling sword fight with the Sycorax leader (Sean Gilder).

As for the rest of the episode, the yuletide setting is as flimsy as tinsel decorating the plot. It is largely irrelevant except at the beginning and very end of the show. The sinister Santas and killer Christmas tree come and go with little explanation as to their nature or motivation, and are quickly forgotten once the Sycorax arrive.

It's great to see the return of Penelope Wilton as Harriet Jones, Prime Minister (as she likes to introduce herself). Her character undergoes a surprising change, though sadly this also means that any future appearances will probably not see her as her amiable old self. Her fate also undermines some of the Ninth Doctor's predictions about her future in World War Three (though Johnny Fanboy has an answer to that).

Several reviewers have compared the Doctor's outrage at the Prime Minister's actions with the Third Doctor's anger at the Brigadier at the end of Doctor Who and the Silurians. However, the homage to Season 7 doesn't end there. The Christmas Invasion also borrows from Spearhead From Space, by having UNIT and the Doctor's human chums carry the can while the recuperating Time Lord is bedridden for most of the first 40 minutes of the story. Later on, the Doctor, like the Brigadier before him, states that Earth's space probes have been drawing unwanted attention to the planet. As in The Ambassadors of Death, a British probe sent to Mars is intercepted by aliens (but not actually Martians). I detect no allusions to Inferno, but then we have a parallel Earth story to look forward to later in the series.

And did anyone else pick up on the similarities to Faction Paradox? The Sycorax's bony heads remind me of the Faction's skull masks, and their use of voodoo methods is also comparable.

Despite all my qualifying statements above, I did enjoy The Christmas Invasion, and it only gets better on repeated viewing, no matter what the time of year.

The Doctor and Rose visit mankind's new home in the year five billion and twenty-three. A luxury hospital is being run by an order of cat-like nurses who claim they can cure all illnesses, but the institution hides a terrifying secret. An old friend, the Face of Boe, has a message for the Doctor, while an enemy he had thought long-since dead, the Lady Cassandra, is out for revenge...

On the surface, New Earth seems to be Series 2's equivalent of The End of the World. With its far-future setting and the respective returns of Cassandra (ZoŽ Wanamaker) and the Face of Boe (voiced by Struan Rodger), this is clearly a sequel to The End...

In other respects, however, this instalment is analogous to the previous series' debut episode, Rose. Once again, the story feels rather lightweight and lacking in depth. This is demonstrated most noticeably in the Doctor's solution to the ensuing biohazard, which seems a little too neat and convenient, not to mention fast.

Having said that, we know by now that Russell T Davies has a J Michael Straczynski-like knack for foreshadowing events to come, so what appear to be throwaway incidents may gain added significance in a few episodes' time. No prizes for guessing that the Face of Boe will reappear (because he says as much to the Doctor), but does anyone else think that the new human population of New Earth will prove to be an irresistible lure for the deadly Cybermen later in the year...?

ZoŽ Wanamaker isn't in the episode for as long as I had expected. Then again, she wasn't present for more than a few minutes in The End..., for reasons of effects time and cost. On the plus side, though, we do get to see her former self, before she was reduced to being a mere flap of skin, and other characters are possessed by her distinctive personality, which leads to some very amusing impersonations by Tennant, Billie Piper (Rose) and Sean Gallagher (who plays Cassandra's manservant, Chip). Like Blon in Boom Town, Cassandra's second story presents her in a more sympathetic light than the first, and she achieves a degree of redemption.

There is a higher than usual element of comedy in this instalment, which boasts some great lines, including Cassandra/Rose's "Oh my God, I'm a chav!" and sight gags such as the disinfectant scene.

All in all, New Earth is a decent start to the new series - or perhaps that should be the new new series.

Richard McGinlay

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