It’s a new season and a new incarnation, so we ease in with the Doctor powering up the TARDIS while Rose says her goodbyes. She gives Mickey an extra-long kiss on the lips but he doesn’t seem comforted in the slightest. He knows full well where he ranks.
The Doctor takes Rose to AD 5 billion and a bit, to what he claims is a planet called New Earth in another galaxy. But what they step out into is clearly a “futuristic city” level in a racing car game.
Rose bounces with excitement and tells the Doctor how much she loves running around spacetime with him. The Doctor smiles (no Eccleston smirk here) and says he loves it too.
But what’s this? A scaly-tattooed crazy-eyed dude has spied the duo in his crystal ball! He gasps at Rose’s perfect, er, blood, and sends
a flying monkey a little tentacled droid to spy on her. The Doctor is shaking out his new chatter routine. He tells Rose about how the Earth blowing up finally got humans to care about it long enough to find and settle on this planet, which is as near a carbon copy of the original Earth as you can find without serving under James T. Kirk. Rose wants to tour New^15 York City, but the Doctor has business at a nearby hospital, having been sent an invitation via his psychic paper.
The chemistry between Tennant and Piper is already, dare I say, in full bloom. The Tenth Doctor just wants to pal around the cosmos with Rose, rather than show off to her.
A female voice near Crazy Cardassian gets all het up over Rose. It’s Cassandra!? She decides that Rose’s visit must be a fated chance for revenge. The Ironic Foreshadowing Of Next Companion continues, with the Doctor telling Rose that he doesn’t like hospitals. He does like hospital shops, and while he comes to terms with this place not having one of those, Rose adjusts to the nurses being catpeople in silly big hats.
There’s an amusing bit as the two take separate elevators and Rose finds out the hard way that “disinfectant” is a three-course meal of full-body shower, powder, and hair dryer. But Crazy Cardassian has rerouted her to his grungy little floor, and beckons her with a creepy inflection and body language. Rose, ever improving at self-preservation, picks up a shank before following.
Meanwhile the Doctor has had a run-in with the Duke of Manhattan, or rather his personal assistant. Apparently viruses have been playing D&D to get new ideas for keeping up with humans, because the Duke is turning to stone. The Doctor’s escort nurse presses him to forget Dukes and hospital shops and find whoever he’s supposed to be visiting. The Doctor has already zeroed in on his correspondent: the Face of Boe. Boe came up in two episodes last season, “The End of the World” and “Bad Wolf”, so points for worldbuilding via a recurring background character.
The Doctor’s new escort nurse, Hame, has a very human voice. I don’t know how else to put it. The catface CGI/makeup is just fine, but that voice clearly does not go with that face. Anyway, the Face is dying of old age, mercifully free of the ravages of arthritic limbs.
Rose finds an old-school film projector. It’s showing faded film of a tuxedo party. Rose recognizes Cassandra’s voice and shallowness in one of the people onscreen, and wheels around to find herself flesh-to-face with the villainess!
Cassandra introduces Crazy Cardassian as Chip, a clone who is devotedly faithful and faithfully devoted to her. I’d wonder if this was a setup for a betrayal but I just don’t see Chip doing it. Cassandra’s brain and eyes somehow survived her death, and she had some backup skin from her back, so, well, here she is again! That’s a big brain way over in the nearby vat. How does she control her mouth and eyes?
Anyway, Cassandra tries a woe-is-me, last of my race line of talk, but Rose isn’t having any. Cassandra then tells Rose that the nurses are hiding something, come close and I’ll whisper in your ear. Rose wants none of that either, but blunders into the wrong spot and Cassandra transfers her own mind into Rose’s body using the mind-transference device she had tucked away in that corner. Just in case a sufficiently pure human ever came along, I guess. Rosy!Cassandra is initially excited, but gets a good look in a mirror and realizes that she’s a “chav”. She also demands that Chip moisturize her, but to the disappointment of the male audience there is no white T-shirt to be had. She does unbutton her top and admire her upper and lower curves, so we’re getting served a full helping of fanservice this week, boys.
Meanwhile Hame shows her fascination with FoB. The two plot bits she reveals are that Boe-face is the last of Boe-kind and that just before dying he will tell someone like him (guess who) a great Boe-secret.
Cassandra says in so many words that Rose is still in her body too, then gleans from her memories that she’s still travelling with the Doctor. Cassandra is not pleased that the Doctor survived his own death. And then the thing in her pocket rings. The Doctor ignores her attempts at Cockney rhyming slang, then finds that the Duke is healed and credits the Doctor’s presence for it. The Doctor is alarmed that the hospital could cure stoneitis, but Matron Cusp assures him that it was merely the “tender application of science” that did the trick. The fact that she needs to acknowledge that “primitive” people would consider it magic, in a place where we’re all hyper-advanced friends here, is rather a heavy bit of foreshadowing. Then a nurse whisks her away to deal with a problem: someone woke up during a “perfectly normal blood-wash” and got upset. It becomes clear the nurses are meddling in cat-God’s domain, and the malfunctioning patient is incinerated.
The Doctor shows Rosy!Cassandra a few more patients who ought to be dead instead of cured. It’s marvelous, but why are the cats being so secretive? He also gets concerned about Rose’s new voice. (I’m surprised that he can hear the change too, and it’s not just a meta thing like Star Trek aliens’ lips forming the English their speech is translated into.) Cassandra tries to convince him everything’s normal before pulling him down for a liplock. The Doctor lets it happen, then, a little flustered but uninterested in pursuing the matter, concludes that he’s “still got it.”
Cassandra, who is genuinely curious about what the cats are up to, helps the Doctor break into the computer system with technical advice beyond a 21st century department store clerk’s capacity. They discover the secret ICU and enter. The ICU is your standard industrial stairs leading to your standard pit with thousands of glowy-green stasis pods lining the walls. The Doctor opens a pod randomly, finding a man who’s turning into the Thing from the Fantastic Four. The Doctor whispers his empathy for the man’s suffering before gently closing the pod back up. He tells Cassandra that the pod people have been infected with every disease in the galaxy, so try not to touch them. His anger quietly builds up as he reflects on the horror of creating people to serve as “plague carriers”, then vents it at Hame when she appears to defend the setup. She can’t see the pod people as actual beings, just as things created for a purpose.
As Hame recounts how the cats were driven to this scheme out of desperation, the Doctor freely shows his horror at what he’s hearing. Which is a good move to get the audience to like him, as the Ninth Doctor’s empathy was a bit lacking at times. Eccleston would tell Hame why she’s wrong with a few sharp appeals to principles. Tennant simply tells her she’s wrong with his face. (Meanwhile, Cassandra is reminding us that she’s not Rose with very un-Rose-like, detached, look-at-me body language.)
The Doctor sweeps aside Hame’s argument that happy people justify these means and declares that he is the highest authority, and one more thing: put Rose’s compassion back in her head or I shall get angry.
Cassandra reveals herself to the Doctor, then knocks him out with her perfume, sends Hame away, and triggers an alarm. The Doctor wakes up in a pod, with Cassandra gloating over finding such a superb way of killing him. She promises to discard Rose’s body once she finds someone more worthy of herself. Three minutes to live and no friends nearby — how will he survive this time?
Well, Cassandra tries to blackmail the Matron and when Cusp reminds her that they can claw a mere human to pieces, Cassandra has Chip open all the nearby pods with a single lever. Not a very safe system. The Doctor and all the “lab rats” get out, and the lab rats all shamble around in zombie mode. One zombie tells the Matron very lucidly that they’re going to put a stop to things, and he shorts out a conduit that opens all the pods. One of the cats (I really don’t know how to tell them apart) can’t escape the fatal touch, and gets nastyfied in seconds. The other enacts a quarantine. Some zombies have already entered the public spaces and started desperately grabbing people.
The Doctor tries to herd a wailing Cassandra and Chip to safety, but Chip gets cut off. The Doctor apologizes to him before chasing after Cassandra. The Doctor tells her to get out of Rose, right now, and Cassandra obligingly breathes herself into his body. Tennant proceeds to do a very happy drunk impression, getting in Rose’s face about her attraction to Ten, but then the zombies figure out how to open the door and Doctor!Cassandra panics.
The two head up a ladder in an elevator shaft, joined soon by I guess the Matron, who rants at them for destroying everything. And then the Matron seems to grab Rose’s heel with a veiny hand, but apparently it was a zombie grabbing the Matron, and she screams and twirls and hurtles miles and miles to her death, terminal velocity all the way. Rose takes Cassandra back into herself so that the Doctor can sonic their way to safety. But the Doctor won’t do anything until Cassandra leaves Rose, so Cassandra bounces back into the Doctor and thence into a zombie. Don’t worry, she hops back into Rose as the door closes behind the Doctor and Rose. But she’s a little reflective now, saying that the zombies are desperate just to be touched so they can feel less alone. The Doctor reaches down and helps her to her feet in response.
They find themselves back in the room with Boe. The Duke’s assistant charges to attack them with a roar. She’s focused on escape without regard for the quarantine. The Doctor accepts this; what’s one more opponent at this point? He gets all the curative IV fluids roped to his body, then uses a pulley thing to lower himself down the elevator shaft . . . after Cassandra is persuaded to join him. At the bottom, he pours all the curatives into the disinfectant spray container, then coaxes all the zombies in the lobby to join him and get cured. Cassandra thinks he’s killing them, but instead it’s hands held and hugs all around as they apparently pass the cures to each other by touch. Which doesn’t make any biological sense to me, but at least it ties in with their loneliness.
The cats are arrested and taken away, including a sad Hame. I expected her to help the Doctor in the last pinch, but appreciate the plot twist that was a lack of that particular plot twist. Sometimes nice people just do not-nice things, and can’t be made to understand an outsider’s point of view that they should really stop doing those things. If you need her to “redeem” herself to justify her presentation as a nice person, maybe you don’t understand human history. Or cats.
Anyway, the Doctor remembers that the Face of Boe is probably on his way out, now that the miracle cures have been cured. So he goes to see him again, but the Face Boe-forms him that the Doctor’s influence has given him a fresh interest in life. FoB refuses to tell the Doctor anything more except that they will meet again, and teleports out, as the Doctor observes, enigmatically.
Cassandra is the last plot thread to be tucked back into place for the day. She’s driven to (crocodile?) tears at the idea of finally letting go of life, but Chip comes up, having survived in a pod, and volunteers himself as a host. Alas, his clone body has been through too much, and Cassandra finds herself in a dying body. But now, suddenly, she’s reconciled to her fate, despite the Doctor suddenly wanting to give her a new body. Her last request is to be taken back to the tuxedo party, where she tells her younger self that her younger self looks beautiful. Then Chip!Cassandra collapses, and the younger Cassandra — a made-up snob who had been prattling pretentiously about something only a minute before — is the only one who cares, clasping Chip’s body to her as others ignore her pleas for help. Cassandra does not die alone, finding final humanity in her younger self of all people . . . and one wonders how long it had been since her younger self had received any genuine warmth of feeling, and whether it would ever happen again, given the circles she moved in.
This is a good episode without being anything amazing. Cassandra isn’t the greatest villain, but her personality is taken full advantage of here to give some color to an episode that takes place in a sterile hospital. Everyone does a fine job of playing her. This is also the first “regular” Tennant episode, and as I said, it’s made clear that the Doctor has a new personality now, one less preoccupied with his superiority over others.
The loneliness motif feels . . . not fully executed. No problem there, but I do wonder if Boe was originally intended to give his Big Reveal in this episode, and that was only pushed back to a later story at the last minute.
Rating: 3 zombies and catgirls
Favorite dialogue: Hame: He’s thousands of years old, some people say millions, although that’s impossible.
The Doctor: Oh, I don’t know. I like impossible.
Pooky’s rating: purrrrrrr purrrr purrrrrrr purrrr purrrrrrr purrrr
Cutesy almost-cusses: 2
Form over function: Hospitals of the distant future use pointy glass ice cream cones as water cups. Just in case there’s any sensitive equipment that needs spilling on.