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TV Review: Doctor Who – The Next Doctor, BBC One, Christmas Day, 6pm

By ShinyMedia on December 26th, 2008 7 comments

nextdoctor.jpgWithin just four years, the Doctor Who Christmas Special has become embedded in the public consciousness as the thing to sit down and watch together after the turkey and Christmas pudding. It’s as important to the Christmas schedules now as Eric and Ernie were in years past, and that means that it comes with a lot of perhaps unrealistic expectations. So would this year’s festive outing live up to the hype?

Related: TV Scoop’s Doctor Who section.

Well, it started out with a mystery, and that’s always a wonderful place to start. Our tenth Doctor meets a man who answers to the name ‘Doctor’, has a companion, talks about the TARDIS and sonic screwdrivers with confidence and is utterly unphased by the prospect of a bizarre cyberman/animal hybrid.

To the Doctor, there is no doubt that this is a future embodiment of himself – but that theory quickly unravels. This Doctor doesn’t recognise him, and his screwdriver is only sonic in as far as it makes a sound when you use it to hit something. Oh, and the TARDIS is a hot air balloon, albeit a nice Victorian one like the one in which Dorothy Gale attempts to get home.

The second storyline concerns this year’s villain Miss Hartigan, and how she is in cahoots with the Cyberman who fell through space and time during Davros’ attempts to destroy reality itself. Their goal is the same as always – to delete humankind, and convert them to the emotionless ways of their metal kind. Miss Hartigan believes that she will be spared from this process… we suspect otherwise.

The two plots are slowly drawn together as our Doctor establishes what has happened to the Next Doctor. He is, in fact, Jackson Lake, one of the Cybermen’s first victims: his wife was killed, and his son abducted. When an info stamp streamed images and facts about the life of the Doctor into his mind, he escaped into a fantasy world to avoid facing the grief of reality – and became the Doctor.

The two states of the Next Doctor/Jackson gave David Morrissey free rein to show off his range – one moment he’s bouncy, optimistic, brave and just a little arrogant (a true Doctor, therefore); the next, the tragedy that has befallen his family starts to take hold, and he is a broken man. Another great performance came from Dervla Kirwan as the cool but deeply angry Miss Hartigan. Suitably creepy and calm as a human, and immensely masterful as the Cyberking, Kirwan was a classic villain.

Despite the excellent cast, though, this was a Christmas special which, I’m genuinely sorry to say, failed to spark my imagination. If this had been a mid-season episode, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid – it was good, but it was not ‘special’. The details of how the Cyberking came about, worked and was destroyed were all sketchy at best, but we’ve come to expect that with Russell T Davies, and we overlook it when we are gripped emotionally. But it was that very thing that, for me, was sadly missing.

It seems harsh to compare The Next Doctor to The Christmas Invasion (which is not just the best Christmas special, but one of the best New Who episodes overall) but all of things that made that so wonderful – suspense, jeopardy, invention, humour and heart – were in rather short supply here. And I had such high hopes! Last year’s blockbuster special The Voyage of the Damned was entertaining, but a bit OTT for me – this, with its Victorian setting and truly impressive supporting cast appeared to be much more promising. It pains me to say, then, that this was something of a swing and a miss.

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  • Peter Thomas

    Anna Lowman should check out her facts, these Cybermen didn’t fall through time after the Davros events. It was actually 2 seasons ago when they fell through the void. If you remember 4 Daleks went through a temporal shift and landed in New York in the 1930’s while thse Cybermen just fell through time & landed in 1851.

    I really enjoyed it, strange for me because I hate RTD’s writing, but this time I really enjoyed it

  • Peter Munro

    No, she waa right: the script of “The Next Doctor” specifies that they fell through time as a result of Davros tinkering at the end of Series 4.

    These Cybermen were already in the void (as you say, from the end of Series 2 when they were all sucked in along with the Daleks), and the actions of Davros allowed them to escape into our universe.

  • Mark Stirton

    Since RTD has written the bulk of new Who and that he has re-written practically every episode, can we assume that Peter Thomas is just not much of a Dr Who fan?

    Or could he just be one of those endless moaning gits that love having a pop at RTD, but watch every episode?

    The Christmas special was much like all other RTD episodes – wonderful!

    Now, naff off.

  • http://[email protected] Mike Humphreys

    As usual RTD was using major artistic licence in order to tell one of his stories and whilst trying to include continuity (references to fob watches… void… daleks… etc) based his story on a simple but flawed premise.

    The Jackson Lake Doctor was created via the downloading/streaming of a Cyber data stamp that included info on the Doctor. That info closely matched similar info that the Cybermen first demonstrated in the Peter Davison Cyber story – Earthshock…. shame then that the Cybermen featured are not those from Mondas/Telos but the ‘alternative’ universe Earth created Cyber industries variant created for new ‘Who’. Following their timeline already mapped out by Davies – they would ONLY know of Tennant’s Doctor. The throw away line that they ‘stole it’ from the Daleks in the void is simply crass and lazy storytelling. As indeed was the dimensional ‘reset’ button also “stolen from the Daleks”. Last time we saw them face off, the Cybermen fared VERY badly Vs the Daleks and were about as likely to steal something from them as they were to allow logic to dictate that Miss Hartigan was the ideal choice for a Cyber-King….

    Oh and while I’m being critical … the Cyber ‘shades’? Pointless. Cyber-dogs… Cyber apes… no men in cheap rag / suits with a cheap Cyber-esque mask serving very little purpose…
    The Next Doctor was for me very underwhelming and a BIG disappointment. As Christmas entertainment it was OK, but these specials are all we have until the next proper series in 2010, so with all the hype/build up I expected something more…
    Various sources/critics applaud RTD as this great creative genius, but rarely have I seen that at work in his Who scripts. Yes he should be applauded for ressurrecting the show, but with the amount of scripts he has written for the show, is it too much to ask for him to deliver on just one of them? Come on RTD, there were glimmers that you can turn in a decent cohesive story in the last series… four more attempts to get it right…

    Remember, Mr Moffat has THREE Hugo awards…. how many has RTD got?

  • Richard Bruce

    I agree whole heartedly with Mike Humphreys. As a fan from Day One, (1963, I was 7 years old), I was looking forward to this special, but was disappointed, but could not put my finger on it. Mike has put into words what I felt, especially regarding the “cyber-chimps” or whatever they were.

    I hope Moffat gets to business quickly.

  • Donna Tyler

    Personally, I really enjoyed it.

    After seeing the preview for Children In Need I was worried, because in that little clip David Morrissey completely overplays the part. But after watching the whole episode I came to really like and sympathise with his character.

    As always, David Tennant was spectacular – constantly keeping it lighthearted as well as some blisteringly emotional material. Honest to god, one of the best actors I’ve ever seen.

    I just want to say to everyone out there who says they hate Russell T. Davies, could YOU have successfully resurrected a legendary TV show, and written practically every episode for four series? Not only is the continuity and storyline itself of this show fantastic, but the quality of the dialogue amazes me. It’s always witty, believable and emotional – in my eyes, the man is a genius. Say what you like about him, but the fact still remains that without RTD, there would be no Doctor Who.

    One tiny thing that bothered me, though, was how little the Doctor’s previous companions were mentioned – surely it would take our Doctor a little while to get over Donna and Rose, he would seem slightly more affected. Mind you, when they were mentioned at the very end, David Tennant’s delivery was excellent:

    “The truth is, they break my heart.”
    “Some of them just…forget me.”

    Beautiful stuff, almost made me burst into tears all over again (And I’ve only just finished crying over Journey’s End! “They will never forget her, while she can never remember”… *sob*)

    Overall a fantastic episode, with the perfect mix of action, comedy and emotion. Roll on “Planet of the Dead”!

  • Madelyn Writer

    Since the Christmas shows are epic in scale, it is almost hard to judge them on first view. It is all I can do to just *experience* the show as it’s happening.

    The way I judge their merits come instead from my thoughts the following day. Specific scenes and lines from ‘The Christmas Invasion’ follow me to this day; bits of ‘The Runaway Bride’ surface from time to time. ‘Voyage’ considerably less so. ‘Next’ considerably less than that.

    What I recall from the last two epic Christmas bits was the charging music BLARING BLARING BLARING like a klaxxon, telling me on no uncertain terms what to feel and when to feel it. Funny bit? Check. Sad bit? Check. Overacting bit? Check. All introduced with used-car-salesman aggression by the musical score.

    After the pile-up of plots and actors in Season 4 – to say nothing of really poor plot execution – I was looking forward to ‘The Next Doctor’, hoping quietly to myself that it would re-center the series. Now I have to hope quietly that the next special will do that.

    (intro BLARING music in your head to convince you that I’ve made is 100% entertaining)

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