Doctor Who: Christmas Special 2008: The Next Doctor

5

PD*25904328 In brief: Russell you cheeky so and so!!

In depth:

I’ve come to the opinion that Russell T Davies is quite possibly the most evil man known to exist. Oh sure. He writes for a show that enthrals the nations kids but quite simply he is just diabolical.

He deliberately chose a nicely ambiguous title ““ The Next Doctor.

Not “˜The Two Doctors’ as traditional titles would predicate. Leaving just that much leeway, just that much indecision to be curious. And then of course David Tennant announces his soon departure from Doctor Who.

He’s a devious, crafty, evil man.

I love it.

Crack in. The Doctor, Perfect Ten to be precise, newly separated from his companions and horrible events that afflicted the wonderful Noble Donna, arrives on a crisp Christmas Eve in Victorian London.

The direction perfectly captures his mood and the camera swings around and joyously bounces through the nicely realised town square. The one thing that particularly strikes me about Perfect Ten is that he’s very good at throwing himself into situations and shedding, sorry, shunting away his pain and loneliness, losing himself in the moment. It most likely ties into Russell’s comments about how the Doctor’s life is constantly in motion.

Indeed RTD was planning on ending “˜Journey’s End’ with Ten finding the Cybermen appearing in the TARDIS and then following them back into the past, all happening about 2 minutes after he leaves Noble Donna behind (yes I mentioned her again. She was brilliant!) Far too quick in my own opinion and I’m very thankful that they dropped that ending.

Right. Focus. The special.

Before too long a young maiden is screaming out for the Doctor. Ten runs to her and commands her to step back, he’s the Doctor. She continues screaming for the Doctor. Ten is bemused when another man runs up. Dashingly dressed. A striking presence who’s very first few lines make you pay attention”¦

I’m the Doctor! The one! The only! And the best!“

I have to admit that the first time I saw this opening scene it was during a special preview clip for the charity television event Children in Need. Although I loved the opening in Victorian London, I did not have high hopes for David Morrissey’s performance.

If this was truly going to be the next Doctor, or, you know, the next but one Doctor, something just didn’t sit right with me. It was a very strong, but over the top introduction and then sitting on it for several months gave me as a fan a queasy feeling.

Thank Gods that when you sit down and watch the whole episode straight, David Morrissey knocks it out of the park with a stellar performance. His Doctor is heart-breakingly realised. By the time the episode is over you understand completely where he is coming from and why that first introduction is so over stated. This is a man who has lost some very precious things”¦

“They took something from me”¦”

I won’t reveal whether or not he is indeed the Eleventh Doctor. I will only state that, by the end of the episode, I was more open to the possibility that he could make a good number eleven.

I think the hardest thing for any actor now, when taking on the role of the Doctor, is to follow in David Tennant’s converse clad footsteps. His representation would have to bring a completely new spin on the character and, in some respects David Morrissey has done just this, and yet kept the character solidly familiar.

Wow it’s hard not to spoil!

Rosita. Oh I want her to be a full time companion! This girl showed a lot of spunk and attitude. Fiercely protective and loyal. Velile Tshabalala deserves some fantastic praise for her performance here. She really brings Rosita to life and I would have quite liked to see her full time!

Our real introduction to her character comes when she saves both Doctors’ lives only moments after the opening credits have rolled; of course they’ve gotten themselves stuck into a sticky situation, facing death, when Rosita appears.

She’s got a voice and one heck of a right hook. Make no mistake; she is not a passive companion. When the villain of the piece openly explains part of the plot, it’s Rosita who marches straight up and gives her what for. That’s a refreshing change of pace given how Perfect Ten, marvellous Ten, only uses violence as a last resort. I’m not saying that’s wrong. Absolutely not! But on balance, it gives a nice twist. It’s not something we would have seen Rose or Martha do at first!

“¦maybe Donna though”¦ (Obligatory reference number 3.)

And so to the villains.

The Cybermen.

I’m going to admit there is something quite striking about their appearance here, either walking through the mist and snow or standing as silent watchmen against Victorian warehouses. And there is something delicious about their using steam and giant mechanical cogs and pulleys to create their nicely realised CyberKing. I’m sure there will many kids sleeping tonight with wistful dreams of daring do against these mechanical menaces.

Perhaps what doesn’t quite so well is the new Cyber creature we are introduced to here ““ the Cybershades. Not quite fully converted animalistic beasts I believe. They move faster and climb walls all in very un-Cybermen like behaviour. Admittedly I liked them towards the end as they sit on their legs and act very much loyal dogs to the CyberKing, but until then, something about them seems off. The costumes are an interesting idea and possibly the only way of showing them but somehow they just don’t go together. Or maybe that’s the point. In a Victorian world, how could the Cybermen properly convert people entirely into Cybermen? They wouldn’t!

I think though that all of these guys have had their run now. The particular concept behind this version of the Cybermen, from a parallel Earth, has run its course. Not least because RTD writes them out quite neatly, but because there’s only so far you can run with the idea. They want to convert all humans to be like them. Without emotions. Without true imagination.

That in and of itself is a frightening concept. And it has been largely explored through the other nuWho Cybermen stories. The gladly needed twist here is that a very human face is given to these Cybermen, someone whose motives and anger and rage overrides any programming the Cybermen heap upon her.

Miss Mercy Hartigan.

You can always tell actors and actresses simply love being a part of Doctor Who. It gives them a chance to really throw themselves into these characters that are so utterly human but involved in events way beyond their comprehension. Miss Hartigan is a very human enemy simply because it’s all too easy to understand her motives. She’s been overlooked, overworked, and exists in a society where women just aren’t respected. What’s interesting is that she’s quite similar to Rosita in those respects. They are both at a disadvantage in their current times and yet capable of being absolutely more than what they are.

Miss Hartigan is clever and calculating. Rosita is smart and impulsive. The difference is that where Rosita is still willing to be hurt and trust, Miss Hartigan is cold and indifferent. Witness her dispatch of the bystanders at the funeral scene. She just seems amused by it all.

Of course, the Cybermen’s inevitable betrayal of her was bound to come. But it’s what they attempt to do to her that brings this story hurtling along into its final 15 minutes.

It’s Christmas. RTD simply lets his imagination go into overdrive and we find ourselves rushing through old London town and into the Next Doctors brilliant TARDIS for the final battle.

If I’m honest, the plot allows possibly a little too much convenience for my adult liking. And then of course my ten-year-old self tells the adult me to shut the heck up and just go with it!

Perfect Ten manages to save the day and leave little evidence behind that any major events happened. What else did anyone expect?!

It’s a rip-roaring yarn through time and space.

What I will say is that we are given some tantalisingly truthful comments about the Doctor’s character in amongst the fun. Towards the episodes end, the two Doctors discuss how Perfect Ten is now travelling alone. That’s not how it’s supposed to be.

Ten is reflective about it. He understands that all things end. In the meanwhile, he has to carry on. And it’s suddenly caught up with me that that is exactly why for these specials he will be travelling alone and picking up the odd companion as we go.

The Doctor has been hurt. He’s had to let go of Rose again. He’s had to mind wipe Noble Donna for her own good.

How many times can he go through with this after watching so many of his friends and family die in the Time War? How many times can one man open up his heart continuously and let people in and then have to leave them behind?

These specials tie into the current mindset of Perfect Ten just astonishingly well. He doesn’t want to be on his own but for the moment he needs to be and given everything that has happened only fairly recently, no wonder.

He needs time to heal.

And if it just so happens that his healing process involves Cybermen, snow, Next Doctors, fobwatches (you diabolical genius) and kidnapped children”¦ who am I to complain?

Oh! And in a great moment of crowd pleasing, fist punching the air moments, we are treated to some quick shots of each previous incarnation of the Doctor. Fantastic!

All in all, a Christmas adventure with an emotional core. It doesn’t reach the lofty heights of need-to-see nuWho but it is a very solid entry and quite possibly the best Christmas special yet.

Nicely done, RTD.

“¦you big tease”¦

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