Doctor Who #819: The Next Doctor

"Complete and utter, wonderful nonsense. How very, very silly. Oh, no. I can't bear it. Oh, it's causing my head to ache. No. No, no, no, no, no, no."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Dec.25 2008.

IN THIS ONE... Cybermen in the Victorian Age and the Doctor meets his future incarnation... not.

REVIEW: Because we don't get a whole first act of pointless holiday shenanigans, this may well be Davies' soundest Christmas episode, at least on a structural level. I thought it might suffer on repeat viewings from my knowing the "next Doctor" wasn't really the Doctor at all, but instead found the first, pre-revelation half of the story was the best part. We know David Morrissey isn't actually playing the Doctor, but Jackson Lake thinks he is, and it's fun to pretend. He makes a rather generic Doctor, but not a bad one, a bit like McGann in that sense. Infused with the Doctor's persona, he's saying all the right catch phrases and buzz words, but there's usually a mundane twist to them, which in this case reminded me of the Peter Cushing Doctor. Sometimes, the similarities are played as gags, like the "sonic" screwdriver of what TARDIS stands for, other times as a clever bit to make Doc10 smile, like Rosita's name and personality being an amalgam of his three last companions (sweet line about them breaking his hearts too). Some of them are kind of obvious, the fobwatch red herring for example, but thankfully, some of it is subtle and Davies doesn't call attention to it, like the idea that Jackson lost his entire family and escaped into the Doctor's identity and a world of adventure. Sound familiar?

And Morrissey gives a strong performance, energetic and sympathetic. Your heart goes out to him, but it's not all tears. His action bits are also a lot of fun, especially in the opening scenes, trailing a Cybershade on a rope. As does, I must say, Dirvla Kirwan as Mercy Hartigan as a man-hating Cyberpawn/bitter pill with a stronger will than the Cyber Leader himself. It's a bit one-note, as many Doctor Who villains are, but she's always watchable and the script subtly implies she's a prostitute. Whether you accept the Cybusmen's appearance in a Dickensian setting or not (see Theories), Mercy piloting steampunk mecha, trampling old London Town, and the Doctor bearing down in a balloon is great image-making. And I like his accusation, saying the Cybermen made him into [a warrior/destroyer], an inversion of the crap he just recently took from Davros. If there weren't any evil in the world, the Doctor and his companions wouldn't need to take up arms. About time he turned the argument against that evil. With that, he also forgives himself for the destruction of Gallifrey, because the Daleks and Time Lords were both, by that point, monsters, though he likely doesn't realize he does.

The ending comes close to destroying all that good work however. There's just too much nonsense to make The Next Doctor really fly. It's not the idea that kids are recruited fairly late to charge up the CyberKing battery, which isn't expected to ever need recharging again, apparently. It's not the poor compositing on the Doctor flying around on ropes to save Jackson's little boy. No, it's the shortcuts taken towards the very end because RTD once again wrote himself into a corner. The Doctor disconnects Hartigan from the Cyber collective, spouting some nonsense about her not having her own mind for a long time, which contradicts what was said earlier about her being a willing accomplice. She freaks out, which is out of character, and though disconnected from the other Cybermen, her scream makes their heads blow up. What. The. Hell. And then the Doctor pulls out a Vortex gun and sends the giant robot into space-time where it disintegrates. But wait, that's not the worst part. The worst part is Jackson Lake, despite having all that info on the Doctor, claiming he never ever got any thanks for saving the universe a thousand times over. Nope, sorry, don't buy it because I've literally just spent two years watching every Doctor Who story ever televised! It's a total RTD retcon just so he can have his self-congratulatory moment, with everyone applauding HIS Doctor. Oh we're going to miss him when he's actually gone! No, no sir, not if you keep pulling manipulative stunts like this.

THEORIES: So who ARE these Cybermen? Obviously, they're Cybusmen from Pete's World, judging from their look and the fact (or at least the Doctor's "legend") they came out of the Void. But they've also got infostamps with information on each of the ten Doctors, nine of which these particular Cybermen never met. Well, that's easy to explain at least. Doubtless, the Cybusmen downloaded everything Torchwood had on the Doctor when they infiltrated Canary Wharf. The piece that doesn't fit, however, is the CyberKing, which the Doctor somehow identifies as "Dreadnought-class". How does he know this if we've been privy to his every interaction with the alt-Cybermen? By the time we see them next, a lot of anomalies will have cropped up, both in anatomy and technology, and this episode implies the Cybusmen can be in 1851 because the walls of reality were weakened by whatever caused all that destruction on the Void, presumably echoes of Davros' reality bomb (which never actually detonated, so it's a bit of a paradox). The CyberKing was never mentioned in history books, and we'll learn much later that the incident was likely eaten up by one of Moffat's cracks. Since those cracks are everywhere in spacetime, it's possible these Cybermen have had their histories mangled, or cross-pollinated with our universe's Cybermen, leading to their adapting Dreadnought technology. They might even have gotten all their data on the Doctor from the Mondasians. Or am I trying to make sense of something that never did?

VERSIONS: The End of Time DVD includes longer versions of their getting-to-know-you chit chats, and the Doctor revealing (to the audience) that Jackson Lake isn't a Time Lord much earlier.

SECOND OPINIONS: My original review was simply called Next!

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High -
A very nice Christmas special with an excellent guest star, but the ending is both cheesy and stupid.

12 comments:

Eric TF Bat said...

I recall I loved two thirds of that episode, which is unusually high for an RTD episode. By gods, I was sick of that man by the time he was gone!

snell said...

RTD's entire endgame, from Stolen Earth on, was manipulative self-congratulation.

And compare Jackson Lake's speech to Martha's recruiting speech in Last Of The Time Lords--"he's saved you so many times, and you've never heard of him." This is RTD's vision of the Doctor--the uncelebrated hero, the lonely savior, blah blah.

Siskoid said...

Too right. And it's why I'll keep on saying that no matter you may have liked about the Year of Specials, Doc10 should have died at the end of The Stolen Earth instead of it being a red herring and a cheat.

-Peder said...

Is there a theory that I missed as to why the old, classic Cybermen disappeared and had to be replaced by Cybermen from a new dimension?

Siskoid said...

That's a production thing. In continuity, they weren't replaced. The Moffat era used Cybermen that were most definitely Mondasian in origin.

CiB said...

I really didn't like this one. What makes Cybermen work for me is that they're subtle and unemotional (that is, if the daleks are a sledgehammer, the cybermen are a scalpel.). Giant mecha's stomping around London completly goes against this.

Also, any story featuring RTD's manipulative self congratulation rubbish makes me cringe. To be blunt, the only one I remotely like after this point is the Waters of Mars, but even so, better if Tennant had left at Journeys End (although an actual regeneration at the cliffhanger would have been cool and unexpected)

-Peder said...

Siskoid, thanks.

Siskoid said...

Nooooooooooo don't thank me! How will I wallow in self-pity and force people to make speeches about how I never get thanks now!??

Jeff R. said...

At some point, the two varieties of Cybermen probably met each other, and sensibly decided to merge their codebases and mutually assimilate and take on the universe. (They are far more sensible than Daleks, where if anything like that ever happened there would be no possibilty of anything other than mutual attempted annihilation.)

American Hawkman said...

A thing that DID happen in the comics tie-in media when the Daleks finally got to appear and meet their nonunion stand-ins....

Anonymous said...

If the one serious groaner to this episode is the line about the Doctor never being thanked, I can find ways to mentally edit it so it's not an episode-killer. I figure the Doctor hints at the truth of it when he says "I suppose in the end, they break my heart" -- the Doctor may not stick around to be celebrated because he knows he doesn't dare become too entangled in too many people's lives.

I guess I like the "break my heart" line enough that I'm willing to forgive quite a lot.

Siskoid said...

And I suppose I do too.

 

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