Doctor Who: The Next Doctor

Doctor: 'Rosita? Good name. Hello, Rosita.'

Christmas is traditionally a time where Nu-Who goes mental with the special effects. Christmas episodes are not your average episode: they're bigger, brasher, littered with innuendo and for the most part, incredibly entertaining. True, some people are turned off by the over the top production (which does occasionally have a nasty habit of getting in the way of the story), but only a fool would deny that they're a stonkingly good romp.

This year saw the Doctor on his own again. Last year he was without Martha, after a stiff dose of unrequited love forced her to hand back her TARDIS key for good; the year before that he was without Rose, after she was unceremoniously sucked into the void between worlds; and this year he's without Donna, who's presumably spending Christmas in Chiswick, oblivious of the fact that the world still turns because of her now forgotten efforts.

The setting is England, 1851. We have snow (albeit of the fake, paper variety), annoying little street urchins and more Dickensian dialogue than you can shake a stick at. The premise is: The Doctor meets the Doctor—or at least someone who claims to be the Doctor. He even has a Dickensian sidekick, Rosita, who's even more gobby than her modern day counterpart. (If you can imagine such a thing.) Of course, it soon becomes apparent that something's wrong. Yes, the new Doctor has a sonic screwdriver (a wooden handled thing he smacks against the wall to prove it's sonic), and a TARDIS (a hot air balloon in this case—TARDIS being an acronym for Tethered Aerial Release Developed In Style), but if he is the Doctor then why doesn't he recognise his old self? Obviously the answer lies in stolen memories, but the question remains: who exactly is this new Doctor and what has happened to him?

One of the strengths of this year's episode was its principal actors. No pop stars or comediennes masquerading as actors this time around, just the magnificent David Morrissey, and he was a joy to behold. Morrissey's portrayal of the Time Lord was as ebullient and brash as you could hope for—but it was as Jackson Lake where he really shone. Lake was a fragile, brooding creature, haunted by the shadows of a forgotten past. I particularly enjoyed the turn around in his story. In the end he saved the Doctor, not as a man believing himself to be a Time Lord, but as a mathematician, an everyman, spurred on to do extraordinary deeds.

The Cyberman part of the story I feel worked less successfully. I've never been a fan of the modern day Cybermen. Clearly they're the best designed of all the Cyber incarnations, but I was never convinced by the way they move. Seeing them in a long line, marching in perfect sync, always makes me think of a chain of paper men—which let's face it, isn't the scariest of images. And their modern day refrain of 'delete' started to grate pretty early on in the game. (About ten seconds after it was first uttered, if I'm honest.) For me, the original Cybermen will always be the best. Sure they were just men wearing cloth masks and pretending to be robots, but when they opened their mouths and spoke, their lips unmoving—it was a terrifying sight.

Negativity aside, the Cybermen looked vaguely menacing as they appeared out of the snow at the Revered Fairchild's funeral, but what were the Cybershades supposed to be? Did the budget suddenly run out? Were they part of some Blue Peter design-your-own-monster competition? They looked like hearth rugs with masks on. Perhaps it was meant to be a throwback to the days when all Who baddies wore costumes made by their mums, but compared to the regular Cybermen, the Cybercontroller and the giant Cyberking—all of whom looked superb—the Cybershades looked decidedly sub-substandard.

That's not to say the whole Cybermen story was a bust. Dervla Kirwan weighed in with a pretty solid performance as disillusioned feminist Mercy Hartigan. Generally, actors play Who villains like they're in panto, but Dervla played the role with surprising restraint. No over the top histrionics, no maniacal laughter and bulging eyes—instead we got a sober, reserved performance that gave her character a genuine sense of menace. Even after becoming the Cyberking, her performance didn't degenerate into the usual stereotypical ├╝ber villain we've become accustomed to.

And what of the Cyberking? Great special effects (at least from a distance), but the main story was so compelling that the Cyberking element seemed little more than an unwelcome distraction. Russell T. Davies seems obsessed with making each Christmas special bigger and better than the last, which is a shame, because it's the smaller, more intimate stories that suffer. Which was somewhat the case here. I'm sure the rise of Cyberking thrilled the shows younger viewers, but it left me a bit cold and ultimately wondering what might've been had they dropped the Cybermen story altogether.

Other Thoughts:

—Jackson Lake's fob watch was a throwback to the fob watch used in the episode 'The Family of Blood'. In that story, opening the watch restored the Doctor's memories. In this story, opening it caused it to fall apart.

—Morrissey was given some distinctly dodgy dialogue at times, which he did his best with, but even Olivier would struggle with the line 'I'm the Doctor! Simply the Doctor. The one. The only... and the best!'.

—The Doctor asks Lake about 'blink' and 'Sally and the angels', a reference to the third season episode 'Blink' – written by by Steven Moffat (Russell T. Davies' successor).

—Judging by the infostamp, Paul McGann is officially the eight doctor—making David Tennant the tenth. Not that we didn't know this already, Russell T. Davies has said as much in interviews, but it was nice to have the visual confirmation.

—The Court of the Cyber King? A reference to the King Crimson album 'In the Court of the Crimson King' perhaps? Is Russell T. Davies a closet prog rock fan?

—According to the end credits, the next episode will be 'Planet of the Dead', scheduled to air Easter 2009. Already confirmed as appearing are Michelle Ryan (star of the now defunct Bionic Woman) and comedian Lee Evans.

Quotes:

Doctor: “You there boy. What day is this?”
Urchin: “Christmas Eve, Sir.”
Doctor: “What year?”
Urchin: “You thick or something?”
Doctor: “Oy! Just answer the question.”
Urchin: “The year of our Lord 1851, Sir.”
Doctor: “Right. Nice year. Bit dull.”

Doctor: “Hold on.......who are you?”
The Next Doctor: “I'm the Doctor! Simply the Doctor. The one. The only... and the best! Rosita, give me the sonic screwdriver.”
Doctor: "The what?”
The Next Doctor: “Now quickly, get back to the TARDIS.”
Doctor: “Back to the what?”
The Next Doctor: “If you could stand back, sir, this is a job for a Time Lord.”
Doctor: “Job for a what-lord?”

Mercy Hartigan: “The Cyberking will rise. How like a man.”
---
Also posted at The Time Meddler.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Love it. The episode and the review I mean.

Kikishua said...

BTW - it's David Morrissey. Not Neil. Neil Morrissey is VERY different - the voice of Bob the Builder among other things.

Paul Kelly said...

Thanks Kikishua. No idea why I mixed the two of them up as I'm a fan of both. Thanks for the correction though. Can I fix it? YES I CAN! And just have ;-)

Yonseo said...

Thx 4 the review Paul. I'm totally pumped about Mishelle Ryan being in the Easter episode. Did you see her in Merlin? She was pretty cool in that too. I was totally pissed when they cancelled Bionic Woman.

Paul Kelly said...

Hello Yonseo,

Yes I did see Michelle Ryan in Merlin. I'm not entirely sure about that show. I hate to say it but Anthony Head's awful in it...and I really liked him in Buffy...and he was good in "School Reunion" too. The part of Uther just doesn't suit him....in my opinion of course.

And I was somewhat less than jazzed when they dumped Bionic Woman. The writers strike ruined that one for us.

Davros said...

Great to see someone reviewing Doctor Who. What about reviewing the rest of the series? Anyone? Paul? Billie?

Billie Doux said...

No promises, but I've been thinking hard about the new Doctor Who as well as Torchwood. Possibly as summer projects. Maybe I can rope Paul into this, too, since he certainly did a great job on this first review.

Paul Kelly said...

Hey Davros.

Good to see you're not dead. I knew you'd escape...I just knew it!!!! ;-)

With regards the Who reviews, I'm planning on doing a few more, time permitting.

Billie Doux said...

Finally saw it.

Oooh, exploding heads. Godzilla Cybermonster stomping through London. Attack balloon. What's not to love? I'm trying not to take the evil feminist supervillain personally. And I agree -- Cybermen leave me cold.

But yeah, I think you hit it on the head, Paul. What happened with Jackson Lake was touching, and I loved his relationship with the Doctor. And I'm dreading David Tennant moving on. I'm worried that I'll never love another Doctor like I love him.

Great review, Paul. And it's a much better read now that I know what you're talking about. :)

Paul Kelly said...

Hi Billie,

Yeah, these regenerations are a bind. It took me half a season to get used to Eccleston...only to have him leave at the end. Same with Tennant. For a few episodes I was thinking "well, he's no Chris". Then suddenly I loved him more than Eccleston. No doubt when Matt Smith takes over I'll feel similarly disillusioned for a few episodes...then I'll be back in the groove again.

It's always hard to leave behind your first doctor. I still mourn the passing of Tom Baker...sigh.

But don't fret. We still have four episodes of David left. Enjoy him while he's here. Bet there'll be some tears shed when he "dies" though eh?

I got a bit choked up when Chris left. I can still remember his farewell speech...in fact....I feel a bit....*sniff*...it's just the wind in my eyes. Honest.

shawnlunn2002 said...

Wow, looking forward to those reviews. This is certainly my favourite show on TV right now.

I thought the scene where the Doctor explained to Jackson about his companions was the most poignant one in the episode.

Billie, I was wondering what faves do you have - companions, villains, episodes or seasons?

I have a review for The Next Doctor myself ....

http://www.tv.com/users/shawnlunn2002/history.php?pg_user_reviews=2

So looking forward to Planet Of The Dead with Nimeuh, I mean Michelle Ryan in it.

MaryK said...

Looking forwards to more Doctor Who reviews. Thanks for doing this one Paul.

Kashuggi said...

More Who reviews please!!!!

Anonymous said...

I am wondering how I possibly missed this show? I cannot fnd it anywhere, can someone please help?

Billie Doux said...

Hi, Anonymous:

Sorry I didn't get back to you sooner -- but the first four series of the new Doctor Who are now available on DVD. And the Sci-Fi Channel in the US is also running them. Good luck!

shawnlunn2002 said...

Glad you're reviewing this. I'm recommending yours/Paul's reviews for the series on my blog if that's okay with you, Billie.

Planet Of The Dead is finished filming. Lindsay Duncan (Servilia from Rome) is in 4.16.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone notice the top-hatted man in the opening scene, who nodded deferentially and called Ten, "Doctor"? What was that?

The easy answer is that the tenth Doctor had all sorts of adventures we didn't see onscreen (ticking off Queen Elizabeth being another example) and that led him to be recognized. But where's the cleverness in that?

Michael Colvin said...

Finally was able to see this. What a treat. I think that while not perfect there was some really great wink/nudges to the audience in the first 30 minutes. It then transitioned to the pace that we all tend to really enjoy. I found myself figuring out that the next 'doctor' wasn't faster than i think I was supposed to, but it was still well done.

Patryk said...

I would place this christmas special as 2nd to Christmas Invasion. Followed by Runaway Bride and Vayage of the Damned at last place.

none said...

"I suppose, in the end...they break my heart." Oh so sad, I teared up. :(

Great Christmas episode though. :)