Thursday, 13 December 2012

Review: Doctor Who 4.14: The Next Doctor

Ten gets spoken down to. I like it.
Doctor Who - Season 30, Episode Fourteen (Second Christmas Special) - The Next Doctor
Written 29/10/12

Ah, RTD, with your suddenly provocative writing. Around Season 30, RTD started writing Doctor Who very much for the tabloid press, and that resulted in lots of "shocks" and "epic moments" which didn't evolve from the actual stories but seemed to just be plopped there for no good reason. It pretty much started with the ridiculous "The Doctor's Daughter", carried through to a fake regeneration in The Stolen Earth (part of a Two-Parter I consider the NuWho equivalent of Pete) and then here, to the first of the Specials, in which David Tennant's promise to leave was exploited for viewership even when no such thing occurred. Despite that, the disturbing trend of me actually enjoying these Christmas Specials is continuing, and strong.
     The Doctor materialises in Victorian London, and encounters a man claiming to be The Doctor (David Morrisey), albeit with incredible memory loss. He's fighting the Cybermen, whom he thinks caused him to regenerate. While Ten initially thinks that he's meeting a future self, he soon realises over time that this Doctor, with an ordinary screwdriver and a Hot-Air-Balloon for a Tardis, may not be the real thing. Meanwhile, the Cybermen are led by man-hating work-house owner Mercy Hartigan (Dervla Kerwin) who is working for them in order to get back at all of the chauvanists who ruined her life. The Doctor works out that the other man is in fact Jackson Lake, a man who was attacked by the Cybermen and, in defending himself with alien infostamps, accidentally got brainwashed into thinking he was The Doctor. When he helps him to come to this realisation, they work together to attempt to stop the Cybermen's plan - to create a giant mecha - culminating in The Doctor going up in a balloon and disconnecting Mercy from the system, causing her to self-destruct.
     The episode's main charm comes in the characterisation of both Jackson Lake and Mercy Hartigan, both of whom improve what is at its heart quite an odd script. Even though the reveal that of course this "next" Doctor isn't the titular Time-lord comes far too early in the story, its made up for by David Morrisey's ability to make you like him no matter what role he's in. Jackson Lake is someone fundamentally human and the relationship he has with The Doctor is at times quite touching. Mercy Hartigan's character is refreshing in that she recognises the gender inequalities of the age and uses them to her advantage. The bit where she's more powerful than the entire Cyber hive-mind is a bit bollocks, though, and her screaming causing them to explode was a bit silly.
     A bit silly is unfortunately true of a few things in this episode. The random new type of Cyberman that only appears in this episode and then never again. The intergalactic pen-drives that also double as slide-show projectors and high-calibre energy weapons. After the unholy recesses of Journey's End this is relatively sane, but it does show where RTD was eventually going in the making sense department. So much of this episode was done for sheer monetary value, it's insane - the various new Cybermen, for more types of toys and voice-changer helmets, the hint of "The Next Doctor" to drum up tabloid interest and get new viewers. I'm not saying that a producer should be completely ignorant of the show's viewing figures, but that should be the secondary concern behind actually making good Who.
     But yeah, I enjoyed The Next Doctor, despite all of the inklings within it that RTD was getting a bit tired. I won't have a rant about that until I cover The End of Time and, eventually, Journey's End. All I have to say here is that David Morrisey and Dervla Kerwin carry the script in a really engaging way and, ignoring its fundamental pointlessness, the gimmick central to the premise does deliver a lot of interesting moments for both the audience and for David Tennant's interpretation of The Doctor. A thumbs up from me.


NEXT THURSDAY: Did someone say The End of Time?

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