The Case for… The Next Doctor
Guest contributor James Blanchard makes the case for the 2008 Christmas special.
The Next Doctor was a story generally not very well-received by the Doctor Who fan base. Many felt the Cybermen were misused, the plot was forced into place and its attempts to capture the Nineteenth Century, Sherlock Holmes style mystery fell flat on its face. However, this article hopes to highlight all that was good about the Christmas story, even if it did have a giant Cyberman in it…
On the subject of the Cybermen, The Next Doctor was the first New-Who episode to show The Metal Menace outside an urban, modern day setting. One of my biggest criticisms of Series 2 is that, despite appearing in 30% of the series, the Cybermen never broke out of the feeling that they served a bad I, Robot rip-off, or an “Apple Gone Bad” storyline. The Next Doctor, however, was the first New-Who episode to make me feel like the Cybermen were actual aliens.
This episode, The Pandorica Opens, A Good Man Goes To War and Closing Time have all proved that this “Brand” of Cybermen can serve almost any setting. Seeing the Cybermen storm a snow covered graveyard, executing Victorian Gentlemen was, for me, a very refreshing twist on the established operations of the Classic Villain. The revamped Cyber-theme with a Victorian twang really managed to capture the feeling of both the setting and the enemy.
Some good alterations were made to the physical side of the Cybermen too. The Cyber Lord was an interesting addition, more visually appealing than a Cyber Leader and less silly than the converted John Lumic. Cyber Shades too showed that the Cybermen could get involved in stealth and guerrilla warfare, and at the same time showcasing the Cybermen’s autonomy, no longer needing the input of sub-rate Davroses (what is the plural of Davros?) to push them forward. Their altered voice was my favourite change, though. The muffled sound made me feel like the talking Cyberman was nearly alive, supressed, instead of listening to nothing more than a robot.
Whilst some argue that the revelation that Doctor #2 was in fact Jackson Lake, (a character mentioned only twice beforehand) was a colossal anti-climax, I would still say that David Morrissey’s portrayal of our (almost) Time Lord friend was a great reflection on the actual Doctor. The ideas of bad dreams and lost family were things the real Doctor would very rarely disclose. What’s more, Jackson Lake’s fleeing mind draws parallel with The Doctor’s life; “The man who keeps running, never looking back, because he dare not…” Through Jackson’s position, we can look into The Doctor’s head from a unique angle.
David Tennant was at the top of his game, as always, beginning the final leg of his run on Doctor Who. He shows genuine concern over Morrissey’s character (possibly down to them working together on many programmes before), perhaps looking for someone to care for since Donna’s departure, or the fulfilment of his demise, as prophesised in Planet of The Ood.
We too saw a steely determination in The Doctor’s attitude towards dealing with the Cybermen. The way he watches The CyberKing stumble without a hint of emotion shows that he now feels that defending people’s lives is a duty, not just something he finds himself embroiled in. And at the end, for the first time, he was thanked, truly recognised by the people he saved.
Setting and Characters
The Victorian/Christmas setting made a welcome change from the council estates and corridors of years gone by. The theatrical feeling of the Victorian Streets, coupled with the Oliver Twist-esque, child kidnapping subplot gave a great Christmas Day feeling; something the whole family sat on the sofa could get into.
Miss Hartigan was too an interesting concept. Thinking herself the Cybermen’s puppet master, she was in fact being manipulated by them. However, she managed to highlight the Cybermen’s fundamental weakness; their lack of emotion. This kink in their armour allows a strong, unwavering psyche to take control of the logical machine that is CyberSociety. Hartigan also shows how bitterness can fester in the mind. Her unnoticed hard work and the abuse she suffered at the hands of men really made her feel that a world ruled by the Cybermen would be a btter place. This was interesting insight into how psychologically damaging abuse of such a nature can be.
Rosita was a good character, at least in concept, if not in execution. Whilst the character wasn’t very well written, nor very well acted, it was still to see a character who, though still admiring The Doctor, will stand up to him.
Of course, we eventually come to the giant CyberKing in the room; an issue I can no longer skirt around. However, underneath Megatron’s grim façade, I do believe there is a talented Hugo Weaving, desperate to break free and kick Keanu Reeves in the face.
The CGI was great, seeing the turning cogs, billowing smoke and moving machinery properly showcased what The Mill was capable of. It also highlighted the resourcefulness the Cybermen; building a giant robot, fully equipped with laser cannons and conversion systems is no mean feat in 1851.
To conclude, then, The Next Doctor is not an episode without its flaws. But behind the laughable dialogue, convenient plot elements and giant Cybermen, there lies an enjoyable, well-paced Christmas story, that is thoroughly enjoyable to watch.