"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."
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.