THIS EPISODE TAKES
RISING NIGHT" AND
THE NOVELLA "THE
RUSSELL T. DAVIES
'THE COMPLETE SPECIALS'
BLU-RAY DVD BOX SET
IN JANUARY 2010.
AND CYBERMEN STALK
VICTORIAN LONDON. THE
DOCTOR DISCOVERS A
SPATE OF MYSTERIOUS
DEATHS, AND HE'S
SURPRISED TO MEET
ANOTHER DOCTOR! ARE
TWO DOCTORS ENOUGH
TO STOP THE RISE OF
25TH DECEMBER 2008
(60-MINUTE CHRISTMAS SPECIAL)
Whilst there are not many that would question Russell T Davies’ remarkable
skill as a writer, I don’t think that the man gets as much credit as he deserves for his deft handling of the media, and particularly for his knack of courting publicity and stealing the headlines. If truth be told, Davies’ sensationalist tendencies are probably half the reason
that the show is the resounding global success that it is presently.
of the title of this year’s Christmas special. It is not called Return of the Cybermen or even Ghost of Christmas Future, but The Next Doctor - about as
unambiguous title as you could get.
Now with the one notable exception of the week that
followed the ersatz-regeneration scene at the end
of The Stolen Earth, there hasn’t been such fervent
speculation about the series dominating the media
since Christopher Eccleston’s departure was first
announced shortly after Doctor Who returned to our
screens in 2005. Hell, questions over the identity of
the next Doctor are almost outdoing the death throes
of Woolworths and the demise of the financial world
as we know it. As such, I thought that it might be fun
to wallow in the intrigue while it lasts with this very
special preview of The Next Doctor.
Historically, despite sharing many an escapade
with earlier incarnations, a reigning Doctor has
never encountered one of his future selves (on
television, at least). The reason for this is pretty
obvious – if you have the current Doctor meet one of his future selves, then the series is set on a fixed course which, unless you are über-prepared (and I’m talking Heroes-style, years
in advance prepared) is going to prove a logistical nightmare, not to mention potentially very limiting.
And so the burning question is would they really go down that bold but potentially very rocky road? Are we going to get a sneak peek of Eleven, a good year before his time? Is David Morrissey going to take over from David Tennant?
Those in the know are naturally tight-lipped, and so all that we have to go on at present is
the little that we have seen in the various trailers aired to date, the pre-title sequence first broadcast on Children In Need night, and a series of wonderfully ambiguous comments made by some of those involved with The Next Doctor in the media.
“I’m the Doctor; simply the Doctor. The one, the only, the best!”
Personally, I would be very surprised indeed if Morrissey succeeds Tennant. Whilst the man certainly has the makings of an excellent Doctor, both his costume and his manner seem, well, wrong. He’s more like a parody of a Doctor than a Doctor; so much so, in fact, that on Children In Need night, my first instinct was that they were doing something along the lines of Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman’s audio drama The One Doctor (a popular Big Finish production starring Christopher Biggins as an overdramatic con-man posing as the Doctor). The Doctor’s sidekick going by the name Rosita (Rose…ita?) was the icing on the cake for me, really.
But then again, ‘next’ does not necessarily mean subsequent. It can also mean nearest or adjacent in place or position – i.e. parallel. Parallel worlds are certainly all the rage in the revived series, and so I do not see why (although I am not all that struck on the notion) we
can’t have parallel Doctors.
The waters are muddied further by the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine, which appears to paint Morrissey as a bona fide future incarnation of Doctor. If not the eleventh Doctor, he could be the twelfth, or thirteenth, or – day I say it? – the fourteenth or beyond (I have an inkling that, should the series still be on fire by the time Thirteen decides to hang up his boots, the BBC will find some way for the Doctor to survive beyond his final regeneration. If the Master can do it…)
And then of course there is Davies’ statement about ‘some-
thing’ having happened to Morrissey’s Doctor. If we are to
assume, for the moment, that Morrissey’s Doctor is indeed
a future Doctor, then what if Tennant’s Doctor were to learn
of this ‘something’ in The Next Doctor and thereafter avoid it, meaning Morrissey’s Doctor never came to be at all? This could prove to be a headachey one…
And so, if not Morrissey, who will be cast as the eleventh Doctor? I suppose that is up to Steven Moffat. I hear the smart money is on the astonishingly talented Patterson Joseph (Peep Show, Hustle, Jekyll, etc) but, as a friend of mine pointed out to me, the fact that he
is the favourite just about rules him out of the running completely. Now I would love to see someone totally unforeseen like Philip Glenister (Ashes to Ashes, Demons) be cast as Eleven, but that said, someone purportedly in the frame like James Nesbitt (Cold Feet, Jekyll) would doubtless be every bit as awesome in the part. Indeed, whoever Moffat
elects to cast is sure to be a class act.
My only worry is over all this tabloid nonsense about certain women supposedly being up
for the role. I know that it’s science fiction and strictly speaking anything can happen, but
just because it can, surely it doesn’t automatically follow that it should? On that rationale,
he could turn into an elephant! Let’s not forget that the Doctor is male, just like Romana
and the Rani were female. I mean, how would Star Trek fans feel if Kirk or Spock were to suddenly be given a sex change in the forthcoming movie? I suspect that there would be ructions to say the least, not to mention a sharp decline in ticket sales at the cinema. On
the other hand, it might make dressing up at conventions a bit more interesting for fellers.
But as much fun as all this speculation is, I don’t think that any of us will come even close to guessing the truth of the matter until Christmas Day – certainly not me! - and that’s exactly the way it should be. Until then…
19th December 2008
Whilst about ten million of the viewers that tuned in on Christmas Day will no doubt have been somewhat taken aback by David Morrissey’s character not turning out to be the titular next Doctor, I can hardly claim the same. A little cheated perhaps, and a little disappointed even more so, but not surprised in the least.
And it’s a shame because I wanted to be wrong. As strewn with obstacles as introducing a new Doctor during his predecessor’s reign would have been, it would certainly have been a bold and an utterly enthralling move. Just look at what Lance Parkin did with his novel Cold Fusion, for instance, in which the newly-regenerated fifth Doctor encounters (and is duped by!) one of his future incarnations. It may have been written with the benefit of fifteen years
or so hindsight, as opposed to during the actual production of the television series, but even so one cannot deny what an interesting perspective it (and stories like it) offer.
“You’re the next Doctor. Or the next but one. A future Doctor anyway.”
All the same, even to us hardened sceptics, the ‘mystery’ of The Next Doctor was enough not only to fuel months of frantic internet speculation but also to carry the first half hour or so of the episode itself without need for so much as a bang or a flash. Russell T Davies’ script for this episode relies entirely on Davids Tennant and Morrissey being able to ensnare the viewers with little more than the sheer gravity of their performances, and boy do they justify that faith.
“Something was taken, and something was lost.”
In my preview of this episode, I spoke of how, in the pre-title sequence, Morrissey comes across as “a parody of a Doctor”. However, having now seen the episode in full, I am firmly
of the view (as is just about everybody that saw The Next Doctor, I’ve found) that Morrissey would actually make a magnificent Doctor, should the opportunity present itself. With the exception of the brilliant opening set piece featuring the Cybershade and the rope, the first quarter of the episode is carried almost completely by Morrissey’s gravitas. He embodies the qualities of so many Doctors, ranging from Tennant - whose catchphrases he steals -
to the likes of the grandiloquent Colin Baker and the swaggering Christopher Eccleston. At times, he is so very ‘Doctorish’ that he convinces even the most cynical of viewers that he is indeed a future Doctor.
“Do you ever wonder what you’re escaping from?
…’cos I think I’ve worked it out now. How you became the Doctor.”
Nevertheless, where Morrissey really shines is in the gradual resurgence of Jackson Lake, the traumatised individual who believes himself to be the Doctor. It will have been evident
to many viewers as soon as the Doctor took Jackson’s heartbeat that this man was not the Doctor – Tennant’s face said it all. And from that point in the special in particular, Morrissey was able to peel back the layers of fear and despair that had caused his character to take refuge in a fugue state and re-invent himself as the courageous and daring Doctor. But of course, it was not entirely attributable to trauma…
“The Cybermen’s database. Everything you could want to know about the Doctor.”
I love the conceit that, when the Cybermen killed Jackson’s wife and stole away his young son, Jackson just so happened to be holding one of their info-stamps which in turn just so happened to contain everything that you could ever want to know about their mortal enemy. As a storytelling device, it explains quite plausibly why Jackson adopted the last of the Time Lord’s persona and ethics, and from a fan’s point of view, it offers a fleeting but nonetheless poignant glimpse of the ten Doctors, in glorious monochrome, together on television for the first time. What a Christmas present!
I also love how Davies uses the fob watch in his story. The way that the drama is built up around it on the back of Human Nature et al, only for it all to fall utterly flat, is wonderfully amusing in itself, but then to have the whole mystery of The Next Doctor unravelled in the most lo-tech of fashions on top of this – “oh look, the watch had your name on it all along!”
– is an absolute masterstroke, particularly for an episode set in the 19th century!
It also has to be said that the Cybermen work incredibly well in this era. The men of steel’s presence during the Industrial Revolution is beautifully fitting, and encapsulated perfectly by the immortal image of the CyberKing striding across old London Town on Christmas night. The design of the CyberKing is a real triumph in this respect - it is not merely a giant Cyber-man; it is something that has clearly been crafted using the technology of the age, beautifully clockwork. Of course it all falls apart plot-wise if you start looking at the hows and whys, but who needs hows and whys when you have an iconic image like that? Finally something to rival the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man…
The Cybershades also add an extra dimension to the episode. They are reminiscent of the Cybermats of old, only crafted as they are from the brains of dogs and cats they are much larger, and much more unsettling. I actually think that they are more fearsome than even the Cybermen – they are much more agile, for one thing; and they also give the impression of being rather feral. I don’t know how the Cybermen went about converting them all though;
after the episode had aired, I tried to coax my cat into a Cyberman voice changer, but she was having none of it.
“Yet another man to assert himself against me in the night.”
Mercy Hartigan I liked too, although her motivation was not fleshed out well enough for my liking (had it been, I doubt The Next Doctor would have gone out at 6pm! 1am, perhaps…)
I was especially impressed with how she out-did the Cybermen - there are only so many times that a human agent can be betrayed and subsequently converted before it gets a bit trite, and so to have her assert her will and her passion over them is a lovely twist, and one which Dervla Kirwan clearly relished getting her teeth into. It was also a nice touch making Hartigan the matron of the workhouse – what better way to get her over as a baddie with
the children in the audience then to have her put a gaggle of scruffy urchins to work in her workhouse on Christmas Day?
Further, I love how director Andy Goddard has shot Hartigan in certain scenes – the grave-yard sequence, for example, stands out as a particularly wonderful piece of cinematography; the vivid red of Hartigan’s dress contrasted against the driven white of the snow, the mute black of the mourners, and the matt grey of the Cybermen. Very Schindler’s List.
Rosita, conversely, I was less than impressed with. There is nothing at all wrong with Velile Tshabalala’s performance – in fact she acquits herself well – but at no point does Rosita
appear to be more than a cipher. Fair dues, she gets to wield an axe; slap Miss Hartigan; and, of course, do a fair bit of babysitting, but at the end of the day she is just there because Morrissey’s character has to have a companion to make him seem more Doctorish in the early going. Now young, greedy Jed, on the other hand...
The biggest let down for me though was the lack of a Christmas song! I mean, come on! Song For Ten, Love Don’t Roam, The Stowaway… The Doctor Who Christmas number
was well on its way to becoming a tradition until this year scuppered it.
“You’ve got a… balloon?”
Still, it’s hard to moan when you have a finale that sees the Doctor face a giant CyberKing armed with nothing more than a few jazzed-
up USB sticks and a primitive hot air balloon (sorry, “tethered aerial release, developed in style”). Only in Doctor Who…
And so whilst The Next Doctor is not without flaws, its festive Victorian setting and slow, character-driven pace really set it apart from Christmases past. It’s not the best episode
of Doctor Who in the world by any means, and I sincerely doubt that it will stand up to many repeat viewings now that the mystery is gone, but even so it is certainly a story that people will be talking about for many years to come, myself included.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
First things first: I’m going to whinge. The Next Doctor is a swiz. Exactly like
The Doctor’s Daughter before it, it has a provocative title intended to get fans talking, but that doesn’t actually describe what we’re getting. Not only that, but this time, we were given
a huge amount of build-up, right up to Doctor Who Magazine giving the David Morrissey ‘Doctor’ his own cover. It all leaves you feeling a touch short changed.
To be honest though, it’s a small gripe. Unlike The Doctor’s Daughter, this year’s Christmas special was more than just an intriguing title; it was a damned enjoyable episode, and would have been under any name. Much of this is down to the ‘next Doctor’ himself, aka Jackson Lake, played by the rather wonderful David Morrissey. To begin with, in the teaser sequence first seen almost two months ago on Children in Need, he’s way over the top; a parody of the tenth Doctor. Once the episode has properly started, though, he gets a chance to play it properly. Yes, he’s still an exaggerated version of David Tennant’s Doctor, but he pulls it off with his earnest, intent performance. He certainly looks like a Doctor – of course, any gentle-man in 1851 is going to – but he carries the look well, and it is good to have a Doctor, even a fake one, in period dress again. Morrissey plays his character’s anguish beautifully, show-ing clearly how his delusional self-confidence crumbles away to reveal fear and frustration, before these too are overthrown in favour of genuine resourcefulness and bravery. In fact, he’s a good deal more impressive as Jackson Lake than as the Doctor, given a chance
to create a new character, one who retains some of the Doctor’s characteristics, while still being his own, very different, man of the times.
The fact that this is a Victorian period episode is also a source of its success. The 19th century fits both the Christmas season and Doctor Who so well, it’s amazing it hasn’t been done more often. The only time before was in the 2005 episode The Unquiet Dead, still a personal favourite of mine, and surely one that should
have been kept over for a Christmas special (although,
as things stand, it does mean that every season’s DVD
box set has a Christmas episode). It’s odd to think that there have been as many Victorian episodes in the new
series now as in the original; it feels as though the Victorian era is so perfectly suited to the series, and it’s surprising that it wasn’t used more often in the classic run. Murray Gold’s score helps sell the setting, being excellent as always. The Cybermen make an excellent contrast to this setting, as the Daleks did way back in The Evil of the Daleks in 1967. This
is certainly an episode playing to the series’ unique strengths.
The Cybermen are, as they often were, a bit of an all-purpose baddie, but they look great stomping around London streets and cemeteries. The Cyber-Shades are also a winner; although they look a bit cheap in still shots, they are fantastic in motion, basically great big shaggy Cybermats.
However, not everything works here. I’m not quite convinced by Rosita. Though well played by the wonderfully-named Velile Tshabalala, she’s a bit of a generic ‘spunky female,’ and
the actress is given little to work with. Still, she packs a fine punch.
“Emotions have tormented you all your life. Now you will be set free. This is your liberation.”
I’m also less than convinced by Dervla Kirwan as Miss Hartigan. Although she has villainous behaviour down to a tee, she does get pretty irritating as the story goes on, and her motiv-ation, set against that of the Cybermen, is a rather trite example of militant feminism versus arrogant chauvinism (one that is completely thrown away when she turns into a screaming girl at the end!)
And some of the story points make little - if any! - sense. Why is the Doctor so easily convin-ced that Jackson is his future self? Is the snazzy coat enough to make a Doctor? The screw-driver joke is a bit obvious, but I love the hot air balloon TARDIS. Also, the Cybermen’s plan is as absurd as we’ve come to expect from the men of steel. Why are they using children as a work force, when they have an army of super-strong, untiring cyborgs to do the work? Are they just doing it to be extra, extra bad? And why is Jackson’s son, unlike the rest of the kids, left on a shelf twenty feet up in the air?
“You wanted to become someone else, because Jackson Lake had lost so much.”
Still, some of this is cracking stuff. The idea of the info-stamp laying the Doctor’s identity on-to Jackson’s blanketed mind is excellent, plausibly rationalising that plotline while providing a beautifully acted scene between the two men. It’s also a lovely treat to see all ten Doctor’s projected for our viewing pleasure, although I think the Doctor must be mistaken when he says that the Cybermen stole the information from the Daleks - they’ve clearly taken it from BBC DVDs!
The final, frantic resolution is excellently played out. With the Doctor partnered up with a cockney lady and an adventurous gent (honestly, Rose-ita and Jack-son?), there’s a trem-endous sense of fun. Jackson is awesome against the Cybermen, charging about, armed like some kind of Victorian Ghostbuster. Jed is also a pretty cool character, from what little we see of him.
Finally, of course, we come to the CyberKing. At first, it seemed rather rubbish, with Miss Hartigan turned into a cut-price Borg Queen. However, once we see the real CyberKing, stomping over Old London Town, I was grinning like a loon. It’s patently absurd – what log-ical reason would the Cybermen have for building an invasion ship in the shape of a giant Cyberman? But who cares – give me a giant monster and I’m happy. It’s silly, fun, joyfully
apt comic book stuff. Plus, although we see the Cybermen destroyed, the CyberKing, with
its in-built Cyber-factory, is sent into the Vortex, ending up who-knows-where for a return appearance by the silver giants.
To finish off, we have a poignant and beautifully played moment between our two Doctors. There are rumours that the Doctor will lose his TARDIS next year, and I wondered if Jackson was going to nick it for a moment. Instead, we have a team of Victorian adventurers set up
in 1851, surely begging for a return appearance. Although the idea of the Doctor meeting his next incarnation is just a false premise, it hammers home the point that Tennant’s version is running out of time. We have just four episodes left of him now. Coming next, Planet of the Dead – surely the most Doctor Who–esque title ever…
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2008
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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