The Next Doctor

Doctor WhoThe TARDIS lands in London, 1851, at Christmastime, but before the Doctor can even be serenaded by carolers, someone is calling his name. He discovers a woman in an alleyway, but even though he’s arrived to save the day, she doesn’t stop calling for help until another man shows up – another man claiming that he is the Doctor. Some sort of Cyber-converted creature bursts out of a building, leading both Doctors on a wild goose chase until they lose track of it, but then the Doctor – and the Doctor who was already on the case in 1851 – encounter real Cybermen, apparently escaped from the Void. Curiously, this other Doctor remembers nothing of his tenth incarnation, who then discovers why: this Doctor isn’t the man he says he is. But why does he think he’s another incarnation of the Doctor, and what monstrous plans are afoot that involve the Cybermen enslaving the children of London?

Order the DVDDownload this episodewritten by Russell T. Davies
directed by Andy Goddard
music by Murray Gold

Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), Davis Morrissey (Jackson Lake), Dervia Kirwan (Miss Hartigan), Velile Tshabalala (Rosita), Rauri Mears (Cybershade), Paul Kasey (Cyberleader), Edmund Kenie (Mr. Scoones), Michael Bertenshaw (Mr. Cole), Jason Morell (Vicar), Neil McDermott (Jed), Ashley Horne (Lad), Tom Langford (Frederic), Jordan Southwell (Urchin), Matthew Allick (Docker), Nicholas Briggs (Cyber voices)

The Next DoctorNotes: While Peter Davison reappeared as the fifth Doctor in Time Crash, and Human Nature‘s Journal of Impossible Things showed sketches of all of David Tennant’s predecessors in the role of the Doctor, The Next Doctor marks the first time that actual footage from the original series or the 1996 TV movie have been incorporated into the new series, with a brief clip of each Doctor. The potential inconsistency of the alternate universe/”Cybus” Cybermen having information about the Doctor’s prior regenerations is avoided with the Doctor’s conjecture that these Cybermen stole the information from the Daleks in the Void, which also explains why few if any of the clips are from Cybermen stories (though they’re not necessarily from Dalek stories either).

LogBook entry & review by Earl Green

Review: As with most of the Doctor Who Christmas episodes, The Next Doctor isn’t terribly deep – it’s required to tell its story, get off the stage and clear the decks for the next story (though in this case, due to the show’s near-hiatus in 2009, that too will be a standalone). The story once again takes place at or on Christmas itself, though in this case we finally get out of modern times and do a period piece – a welcome change.

Some of the changes to The Next Doctor’s antagonists, however, aren’t that welcome. The Cybermen spend the entire episode paying homage to, building, and finally powering up the “Cyber King” – a large giant-mecha-by-way-of-steampunk vehicle which proceeds to trample through London, Godzilla style. The Doctor points out that it’s purely a vehicle – perhaps the Cyber equivalent of Star Wars‘ AT-ATs – but that doesn’t explain why the Cybermen spend much of the build-up to its appearance worshipping it, as if it is its own being. The Cyberleader chides Miss Hartigan for being a slave to her emotions, but then joins its fellow Cybermen in a display of, for lack of a better word, faith…which is surely as far from the cold logic of the Cybermen as anything can be. It seems as if a concept might have taken a sidestep during the writing of the script, but nobody thought to check the already-written portions of the script to see if everything lined up correctly.

One can’t fault guest stars David Morrissey, Velile Tshabalala and Dervia Kirwan, though; their performances keep the whole story afloat, and Morrissey in particular makes a fantastic Doctor-who-isn’t-the-Doctor. If he had turned out to be the Time Lord’s next incarnation, I would not have been disappointed. Once he’s freed of some of the limitations of actually being an incarnation of the Doctor, his emotional depth is believeable, and up until the minor complication of a certain missing family member appeared late in the story, I found myself thinking that Morrissey’s character should be a new companion. He certainly has the right stuff.

The period costumes and location set dressing are, as usual, impeccable, with better fake snow than usual (The Next Doctor was actually shot in spring/summer 2008, on the heels of the fourth season finale). I found this story much more satisfying as a period piece than I would have as yet another modern-day story.

The appearance of actual footage of all ten Doctors to date was a jaw-dropping moment; I was genuinely surprised to see this, though it made perfect sense in this context to show them. The new Doctor Who under Russell T. Davies has gradually embraced the show’s long history more and more, and this seemed like the ultimate valentine to the original series. If the series delves any more deeply than this scene – or, for that matter, Time Crash – I’ll be stunned…and worried. Part of the downfall of the classic series was, arguably, the production team’s constant hearkening back to past stories, whether the audience was able to keep up or not. Great for hardcore fans, but bad for the general audience. As much as I’d love to see Sylvester McCoy or Paul McGann make a comeback, I also don’t want the overt embracing of Doctor Who’s past to become a recurring death knell for the series (let’s face it, if any show could die multiple times, Doctor Who would be it). Let’s let the past be the past.

Aside from my qualms about the odd treatment of the Cybermen, The Next Doctor is a fun, lightweight adventure that thunders along and frequently doesn’t let up enough to think about the shortcomings that are there; and on Christmas day, one can’t expect much more than that.