Doctor Who: Revisiting THE NEXT DOCTOR - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad

Doctor Who: Revisiting THE NEXT DOCTOR

Tony embraces the wonderful nonsense.

When Doctor Who came to the end of David Tennant’s third year, the actor took some time out to do other things (most notably his killer interpretation of Hamlet). And when he announced that he wouldn’t do a full fourth series, and it emerged that Who’s resurrection guru, Russell T Davies would be leaving alongside the Tenth Doctor, it was set to be a pretty nail-biting time for fans of the Chatterbox Doctor and the Welsh Wunderkind both.

But before the end, there was one last year. The year of the Specials.

All together, they describe the arc of the Tenth Doctor dealing badly with his guilt about the fate of his friend, Donna Noble, scaring himself with a glimpse of his dark side, and ultimately doing battle with the combined dangers of a resurrected, desperate Master, and the Time Lords themselves, turned ravenous for war against the rest of the universe.

It was a big year, given that Tennant had just five episodes to travel the arc. But before things got all moody and dark, we kicked off with one of the best Christmas specials in New Who history – The Next Doctor.

If you keep score as you watch, it’s a story with pretty much everything you could possibly want in a Doctor Who Christmas selection box.

A New Doctor! A new Doctor who looks and sounds and is at least as plausible as the Doctor in the role at the time (see also, Fugitive of the Judoon).

A Victorian Christmas! There’s no getting away from the fact that if you set a Christmas story in the Victorian period, it’s instantly 300% more Christmassy than any other Christmas story you can possibly write. Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens between them more or less reinvented Christmas as we know it, and it’s the lodestone of where our imaginative Christmas lives and breathes to this day.

Steampunk! There’s no reason why steampunk adds to the Christmas vibe, but it certainly vibes with the heart and soul of Doctor Who – cranks and dials and cogs and pistons! Oh yes please, we’ll have some of that.

Cybermen! Always at least the Silver Medal perennial Doctor Who monster, there’s something inherently right about Cybermen at Christmas, because while the Daleks are screeching gits of the highest order, the Cybermen are us at the peak of our most Scroogey potential. Unemotional, uncompassionate, lacking all the notions of joy, family, togetherness, fun and silliness that make up any good Christmas, they’re the ultimate Doctor Who grinch.

Cybermen in the snow! Let’s just say The Tenth Planet had a good thing going on, and the Cybermen in the snow is a thing that works extremely well, because it highlights the ways in which they are our superiors – living a life encased in cold metal, they don’t feel the chill of a snowy environment, which means when we stop running, they keep coming, and their gargantuan size and power coming out of the snow is a thing of pure adrenaline on the screen.

New Cyber-Things! Go on, admit it – when you first saw the Cyber-Shades in action, you lost your tiny little mind, yelling ‘What the hell are THOSE?!’ at the screen. In a revived show which had yet to bring back the Cybermats, you know you were all about the Cyber-Shades.

Urchins! Come on, you know as well as we do it’s not Proper Christmas without some jeopardized urchins (See also, Tiny Tim).

An amoral villainess in a kickass red dress! Both because no-one ever really went wrong putting an amoral villainess in a kickass red dress, and because of the symbolism – Santa’s a jolly fellow all dressed in red. By inverting the cuddly factor and making red the colour of blood on the snow, you get your edgy on in a big way.

A bloody silly bit of invention! Cyberking. Nuff said.

The thing is, it would be perfectly possible to scramble all these elements together and end up with a schmaltzy, over-sugary mess. But The Next Doctor is SO much better than it could have been, it’s pretty breathtaking on a rewatch.

The pre-credits sequence is stark raving bonkers. The Tenth Doctor, arriving in London in 1851, has a good old cliché-revel – urchins, chestnuts, snow in his hair, crisp winter air, you name it, he’s revelling. Then someone calls his name! Except, as it turns out, it’s not him they want, it’s the Doctor. Their Doctor. Boom! The what-the-hell Cyber-Shades burst through a gate, and another Doctor arrives, in the entirely plausible form of David Morrisey. And together, the two Doctors embark on a mission to take on the Cybermen, the Cyber-Shades and the true mystery of why the next Doctor has no memory of the Tenth (See also again, Fugitive of the Judoon).

That right there is a belter of an opening.

But as we say, there’s darkness threaded through the fun here. The next Doctor, while first and foremost being a gentle chuckle at the stereotypical flim-flam of the Doctor as seen from outside the fandom, is also a poignant story of a man who has suffered, lost people he loved, who clung on to the idea of the Doctor – as many of us do in real life – to keep from going under when everything else turned to horror, and loss, and dark reality. The Doctor has been there for many a fan in times of unspeakable darkness, a hand to hold, a safe and moral adult, an example on which to model our own moral code. Jackson Lake is that fan, for whom the Doctor becomes so powerful a force because he’s all there is to hang on to. Jackson ‘becomes’ the Doctor (cosplay and all) because he’s a way out of the darkness in his mind and his blocked-off memories.

It’s also true of course that when he meets the Doctor in real life, the Time Lord is able to step up to the responsibilities of Jackson’s fandom. He is as wonderful as Jackson needs him to be, and while nothing will ever bring Caroline Lake back, the Doctor goes out of his way to save young Frederick and give Jackson a better future on the other side of his fugue.

Contrastingly, Mercy Hartigan, played with an almost perma-smile and a purr by Dervla Kirwan, is one of the most striking villains in modern Who history, and perhaps more than any other, pushes the envelope of acceptability within a family show. References to the sexual perversion of the good men of the parish – “Oh, you noticed. I saw you looking…” – oddly obsessive double entendres like “The Cyberking will rise. How like a man…” and most particularly, when the Doctor threatens to stop her, her characterization of him as “another man, come to assert himself against me in the night” is some dark stuff, doing much more than hinting at a history of abuse in her backstory.

In a sense, these two characters are analogues of our reactions to the nightmarish moments in our lives. Without something or someone like the Doctor to lead us out of the dark, our minds can become closed, like Mercy Hartigan’s, sinks of fury and passion and hatred and spite. With someone like the Doctor to act as our example, we can find a way past the darkness and do good things, even in we do them in straightforward emulation of our heroes. No surprise then that Jackson, at the end of the episode, leads the crowd in tumultuous thanks to the hero who not only saved him, but gave him a new way to be.

The adventure of The Next Doctor is everything you could hope for – the funeral scene is quite possibly peak New Who Cyberman action, especially with Mercy in the middle acting as an avatar of flesh and blood. Chasing the Cyber-Shade up a wall? A brilliant slapstick chase that makes you laugh even as you’re what-the-helling. Taking on the Cybermen with a cutlass? Very, very silly, but why the heck not? Would have been even more fun if these Victorian Cybermen had extendable Cyber-scimitars in their arms, but hey, you can’t have everything.

The Doctor buckling his swash, swinging on ropes to rescue children from slavery at Christmas? What could possibly be wrong with that?

And even the rise of the controversial, possibly-slightly-silly Iron Giant-style Cyberking, watched years later, actually stands up very well. Sure, the whole Cyberking thing is a bit of a muddle, the solution to it is absurdly convenient (and yes, Even Russell T Davies thought so) and the Cyberking ship itself is proper bonkers – but let’s be honest, you want a bit of proper bonkers in your Christmas Doctor Who, from the Titanic crashing into Buckingham Palace, to sharks that swim in clouds, to mostly-metal warlords with a selection of heads, to a junkyard Dalek. If it’s not at least a little bit barking mad, you’d feel short-changed on your Christmas or New Year Who.

The Next Doctor short-changes nobody at any point. It’s infinitely rewatchable Cyber-fun in a Victorian Christmas, with new Cyber-things (and the first New Who nod to black handles, let’s not forget), a fantastic damaged villain, two Doctors for the price of one-and-a-half, and an all-round antidote to the downer note on which Series 4 ended. It would get darker as the year of the Specials went on, but this Christmas special is pure platinum Russell T Davies celebration jingle-bell Who at its absolute finest.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad