‘The lady’s moving on. It’s goodbye trampoline, and hello blondie.’ A story that seems to exist in two minds literally and metaphorically. While Cassandra hops between Rose, the Doctor and Chip, the Doctor can’t quite make his mind up whether he enjoys the impossibility of the Face of Boe living forever or thinks that Cassandra has ‘lived long enough’. The notion of bringing back the Year Five Billion to provide some familiar reference points as the audience get used to Tennant is sound, but it plays into the idea that Series Two is much more cautious than its predecessor. It leads to my least favourite bit of the episode, as Rose suddenly declares, ‘Oh, I love this. Can I just say, travelling with you, I love it’ almost like she’s begging the audience to agree with her. It’s as if RTD has realised what he’s doing halfway through carrying a priceless vase across a polished marble floor and is suddenly stepping much more carefully.
Still, I like it well enough. It’s very funny, particularly the joke of Cassandra’s dialogue continuing from Rose’s to become a double entendre (‘So you’re talking out of your–’ ‘Ask not’). Piper as Cassandra is great: The Parting of the Ways proved she could carry off the idea of something else inhabiting Rose’s body, and she plays the difference really well – not just vocally, but with some physical tics like fiddling with her hair and clothes as Cassandra gets reacquainted with having them. Tennant’s take, being brief, has to be bigger and sillier. RTD makes the decision to separate the Doctor from Rose for most of the running time, giving us more chance to get to see Tennant taking alien cat nuns in his stride, while getting distracted by details like the lack of a shop.
It’s also the introduction of the perennial 10th Doctor theme, the ‘lonely god’ staring into the middle distance as plangent music swells. This sets him up to be a much more romantic figure than Eccleston’s battered survivor of the Time War. But he’s not just lonely, he’s also got an arrogant streak, declaring, ‘If you want to take it to a higher authority, then there isn’t one. It stops with me.’ He’s leaning into his part as the Last of the Time Lords much more willingly than the ninth Doctor. I think this flaw, apparent in The Christmas Invasion when he dismissed Harriet Jones on a whim, is being set up as his fatal weakness – the vanity that will eventually lead to him to the Time Lord Victorious and a lonely, regretful death.
Some bits are very clever and touching. The 10th Doctor’s first kiss isn’t with Rose, it’s with Cassandra-in-Rose, one of those neat sci-fi ideas like River’s last kiss being the Doctor’s first. Cassandra is living in the past, clinging to a life that’s been and gone, as she watches old home movies and reminisces about the time before being beautiful became so expensive and difficult. She’s literally much more fleshed out here than The End of the World, at the expense of having to be redeemed at the end (how much more fun if her last-minute change of heart was all a ruse, she hijacked her younger self and escaped the Doctor’s justice for a third and final showdown?). However, I wouldn’t like to have missed the poignancy of Cassandra herself being the person to comfort her as she dies.
So, on the whole this is a good episode, though a distance short of most of Series One. It’s a shame the cat nuns’ plans never quite seem to neatly mesh with the Cassandra plot (it might have been better if Cassandra wanted to use the plague victims to create a pureblood human body for herself, or if her fleeing from justice accidentally unleashed a fatal disease). But the Cat Nuns look great, Tennant and Piper are brilliant, the jokes land. It’s a fun way to spend 45 minutes, RTD doesn’t drop the vase: that’s probably all that was needed at this point.
Cat Nuns promise they can cure anything. Done like a commercial to prompt donations, until it’s interrupted by screams. We don’t really learn anything new, but it’s good to see the ‘front’ for the Cat Nuns’ scheme.
Next Time: Tooth and Claw