The Next Doctor

Story No. 216 A screwdriver that's sonic.
Production Code Specials Episode One
Dates December 25 2008

With David Tennant, David Morrissey
Written by Russell T Davies Directed by Andy Goddard
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.

Synopsis: Another man calling himself the Doctor is fighting Cybermen in Victorian London.


Who's next by Yeaton Clifton 11/10/11

I confess, I bought the Next Doctor DVD just to hear the promenade concert: the extra. That said, I decided that The Next Doctor deserves a review in The Ratings Guide. One of the most obvious characteristics of this story was its reliance on plot twists, and so I am making this no River Song style review: no spoilers, so people reading this review can have the joy of seeing the twists for the first time. Visually, it is remarkable with the Cyber-king atop a giant robot, in the end, facing the Doctor (in a balloon). The sense this is London in 1851 is also very strong visually. Another great visual is the realization of monsters called Cybershades. There is a real sense that it is Christmas special - with the Doctor lonely at Christmas - and this puts it far ahead of The Christmas Invasion or Voyage of the Dammed, which did not feel like Christmas specials. The menace of the Cybermen's desire to convert everyone into them comes across better than in many past Cyber-stories of Doctor Who.

The premise is that the Doctor meets a man who is called the Doctor who is fighting Cybermen but has lost his memory, and this leads to many nostalgic references, but the nostalgia works very well because it avoids sentimentality. The general tone is comic, despite a horrific undercurrent to the story, and this helps the pace of the story as well as making the story watchable. The story also brings out a great deal of thought about what it was like to be poor in 1851: very consistent with this being a Christmas special.

The first time I saw this, I was really surprised by many of the plot twists, and it is never quite as good on repeat viewing. On the other hand, since I have the DVD it seems good enough to watch several times and enjoy several times.

All told: 7/10. Not a classic but a darned good story. The overall rating for the DVD (The Next Doctor plus Doctor Who at the Proms): 9/10.

A Review by Marcus O'Conner 6/12/11

Before the underwhelming Planet of the Dead and the wonderful Waters of Mars, we were treated to a Christmas special that is often overlooked and deserves to be praised for its touching story and lovely performances by the cast. We do not know how long has elapsed since the tumultuous events of The Stolen Earth/Journey's End, but the tone of the episode is certainly different and the scene is set for an enjoyable Christmas tale as soon as the Doctor, now alone again, steps out of the TARDIS into a snowy Christmas Eve in London in 1851. He hears a woman call for the Doctor and runs to help only to meet another man arriving at the scene declaring himself "The Doctor: the one, the only - and the best".

It is the charming performance by David Morrissey that helps to make this episode as good as it is. He touchingly portrays a man left without his memories by an infostamp backfiring and thinking he is the Doctor, while the real Time Lord tries to work out whether he is meeting a future version of himself before piecing together the tragic circumstances of Jackson Lake. Andy Goddard's splendid direction keeps the episode moving nicely - the flashbacks to the death of Lake's wife at the hands of the Cybermen and the taking of his son show us the events that caused him to lose his mind - while David Tennant's acting gives us a wonderful insight to the Doctor's compassion. His "Ah, two words I never refuse" in response to Lake's "I beg you, John; help me" is a particularly heartwarming moment. Dark times lie in store for him very soon, but his later praise of Lake's bravery after he has come to see himself as "nothing but a lie" emphasises that here we are seeing the good, kind side of the tenth Doctor.

There is a second splendid guest performance that helps to make this epsiode: Dervla Kirwan as Hartigan. I love her lines in the graveside scene and her playing of Hartigan's tragic end after being deceived by the Cybermen. When her refusal of the Doctor's offer to find a world for her and the Cybermen to live their mechanical lives forces him to break the Cyberconnection and make her see what she has become, Kirwan gives a wonderful portrayal of a desperate character, reminding us again of how bleak and desperate is the fate of those whose lives are changed by contact with these ruthless beings.

So, while the Cyberking stomping over London is perhaps the image from this episode that is most remembered by many, there is so much more to enjoy in this Christmas special. One cannot help but be moved by the exchange at the end between Lake and the Doctor about the fate of the Doctor's companions. When he finally relents and agrees to join Lake, his son and Rosita for Christmas lunch in honour of those that they have lost, it is an entirely appropriate end to this little chapter in our hero's adventures. While it is not quite in the highest tier of episodes, it is certainly a moving, enjoyable hour of Doctor Who that deserves to be watched every Christmas.

A Missed Opportunity by Matthew Kresal 21/7/13

It is inevitable that there will be certain Doctor Who stories that will only really work upon a single viewing. There's the hype that surrounds the story or the plot twists that, once they occur, mean that the story will never be the same again. Due to those things, the 2008 Christmas special The Next Doctor was perhaps destined to be one of those stories.

Thinking back nearly five years to 2008 is hard to do now: David Tennant had recently announced he was leaving alongside Russell T Davies, which left both fans and the press in particular speculating about who the new Doctor would be. In that atmosphere, The Next Doctor was a perfect fit especially once both the title and the Children In Need preview of the special's teaser sequence had been released. Hype though can be a double-edged sword as can time itself for, with the perspective of time, the weaknesses of this special are all too apparent.

Perhaps the biggest of those would be the conceit that lies behind its title. With the perspective of time, The Next Doctor feels like a story where the title came first and the script followed suit and both the weak plot as well as the aforementioned weak ending bear that out. The central conceit, that the tenth Doctor is meeting some amnesic future incarnation, quickly falls apart as Davies gives not so subtle clues about what's going on. So quickly does it fall apart that Davies gets rid of the whole notion less than halfway through, something else that perhaps speaks to his own acknowledgments of the weakness of it.

From there, the other weaknesses are made more apparent. Driven by that central conceit, the story rushes along at a great pace with everything else falling by the way side. Beyond the character of Jackson Lake, roles such as Rosita and Miss Hartigan end up becoming caricatures rather than characters, one a caricature companion and the other a caricature villainess. Even the Cybermen, whose return was much trumpeted when the "Next Time..." clip was shown at the end of Journey's End, are reduced to being caricatures of themselves.

There's the fact it's got a weak ending. The Davies era was driven (by his own admission) by spectacle, of trying to top whatever had come before. While the idea of a giant steam punk Cyberman (sorry, Cyberking) marching through Victorian London may have done that trick on the page, at least in theory, the unconvincing CGI creation we got to represent it says otherwise.

Undermining that weak idea is a weak ending. The ending consists of the Doctor in a hot air balloon first causing Miss Hartigan, who's controlling the Cyberking, to effectively go insane before using the Dalek Dimensional Vault to disperse the Cyberking in the time vortex before it comes crashing into Victorian London. It's rushed, it's covered by cliched Who technobabble and it simply doesn't work. Indeed, there's something rather telling about the fact Davies himself has since acknowledged the problem of the ending and indeed suggesting an alternative version that might actually actually have given Miss Hartigan a chance to be more than the caricature we ended up with.

That isn't to write off this special entirely however. There's David Morrissey's excellent performance first as "the next Doctor" and then as Jackson Lake. It's his performance more than anything else that carries the conceit as far as it foes. Morrissey captures in a couple of scenes a potential future Doctor full of both the enthusiasm and the hints of pain that the Doctors of the New Series have all had. It also helps that Morrissey and David Tennant share an excellent chemistry together with the two of them really carrying the story right up to its lovely final scene.

Looked back on with a perspective of time, The Next Doctor feels like a missed opportunity. Not only would Morrissey have made a splendid Doctor (if his performance here is anything to go by) but, given when this first aired, this could have been the perfect place to have introduced a new Doctor. Instead, it feels like a one-trick pony trotting around a publicity stunt. It's a shame really, for it could have been so much more.

"Wasted potential" by Thomas Cookson 31/8/14

And so begins the 2009 gap year. Not since Time-Flight has the show done more to break its own back as a popular success. It took a while for New Who's audience to even get used to the habit of watching the show serially. And now they had to go without a season to watch. Moreover, the approach of doing feature specials is the mark of a show that's wrapping itself to a conclusion. Like Tenko did. Like Skins did. Like they probably should have done back in the eighties to resolve Doctor Who properly (your mileage may vary about when in the eighties to do this).

I think for many viewers it taught them to associate the specials with the show's end. To the point where discussions or even expectations of the upcoming Moffat era were depressingly negligible. Suggesting interest had burnt itself out and the party was over. And then the audience had to get used to watching the show serially again, and then it got messed about, and the ratings ended in the pickle they're in now.

Frustratingly, the specials, whilst being the death knell of the show's popularity, often demonstrated possible escape routes that were unfortunately not taken. This starts with the big missed one. A chance for the Doctor, and us, to meet his future replacement and therefore to get us looking forward to his full-time presence in the show. No, he's just a red herring. A classic example of selling a story on sensationalist headlines with a disclaimer halfway through admitting that 'yeah we lied about that'. Still RTD persists with his tabloid sensibilities. Still he refuses to trust his audience.

Despite my ambivalence now, upon first viewing, I used to think The Next Doctor was brilliant, and the best of the Christmas specials overall (though that's hardly saying much). Then I realized it was only because its first half was good enough to maintain my good will through the sloppy, rotten, action-flick junk food of its second half. And then I realized I couldn't really stand its first half anymore because Rosita was more horribly obnoxious than even her peroxide namesake.

It's almost phenomenal how quickly this story goes from brilliance to grot. It's ironic that this comes immediately after Journey's End. A story that really should have been RTD's swansong, every bit as much as The Five Doctors should have been JNT's and Earthshock should have been Saward's and Trial should have been Pip and Jane's. Because, from a different angle, in a different universe, this could have been an effective pilot for the revival, or maybe for a new direction.

Imagine the story was all from Jackson Lake's perspective where he's some Victorian nutter who believes he's some hero called the Doctor, only to meet the real McCoy and trace back his steps as to how he went mad, and learning about who the Doctor is, that way. Maybe make the opening teaser feature the Cybermen attacking him just to establish their threat. Told from the outside looking in, Jackson Lake's story could be made to make sense. But the moment we learn he's not the real Doctor, so many holes start to appear in the premise. If he's not the real Doctor and was just suffering an identity crisis, how was Rosita convinced of his fantastic tale? For that matter, if he's only a fallible mortal, how has he survived the encounters with the Cybershades? On the power of belief alone? This is too big a story to be conveyed by exposition and hearsay alone. And in that its backstory is almost an inverse of Time-Flight's resolution.

Neil Morrisey actually does a great job in the role and brings a lot of spirit to proceedings, even forming something of a nice camaraderie with Tennant. Both actors make the moment where Jackson Lake remembers the loss of his wife and son into something genuine and memorable without being overwrought. As in Tooth and Claw, RTD at least understands that Victorians dealt with internal emotions in a different way to our generation and that they didn't blub all over the place; as such, he finds more interesting ways to show characters expressing flashes of grief that leave an emotional impression without being emotionally exhausting or off-putting. The tears come through in spite of the man's dignity, but without undermining that dignity.

Unfortunately, however, the second half of the story is really lax in trying to still accommodate him into the action. He gets to do a few token heroic deeds, but his story function and personal development is pretty much over halfway through the story. As for the Cybermen, I have to say that the idea of placing Cybermen in Victorian England fits so well that it's a wonder it's never been done before. Some of their dialogue is spot-on, such as "That was designated a lie." In their first reveal and action sequence, they are actually very threatening. The scene of the Cybermassacre in the snow is a thing of beauty. And when the Doctor and Jackson encounter them on the stairs, the futile sword fight that ensues is pretty tense and exhilarating. But, unfortunately, the moment it's revealed that the info stamps can be used as a lazer gun to kill them, the action becomes far more predictable and less interesting. As do the Cybermen themselves.

I could almost see this story as RTD's whole action sequence writing curve in microcosm. Looking back at Series 1, it's actually refreshing to see some of the more basic action sequences where the effects limitations meant the action was more simple and physical, and ground level. That way it didn't become too much to keep track of, or degenerate too far into the cartoonish. That swordfight with the Cybermen is like that. But by the end of the story with all the pyrotechnics and CGI Transformer on the rampage, it all degenerates into the same forgettable unfocused blur it always does. The Cyberking is a stupid creation because it seems to be conjured out of nothing. Or certainly nothing a small group of child slaves could realistically manufacture. It's not iconic. It's just a ridiculous-looking abomination. And it proves the old adage that if anything can happen, then nothing is interesting. It exists for the sake of an action scene and then gets literally erased when RTD's done with it. It's action movie fodder, but it's bad junk food action movie fodder. And the most ridiculous thing about it is that realistically it should be able to blow the Doctor out of the sky on sight. Instead it just stands there and waits for the Doctor to act. It couldn't be more pathetic as either an antagonist or a climax.

Finally, there's the matter of Mrs Hartigan. And this is where the story goes into very dark territory. I've said before that my issue with Moffat's character of Madam Vastra , the Silurian Crime Fighter is that, to me, a feminist avenging angel in Victorian times who killed Jack the Ripper is a rather troubling rewriting of history. The following is going to be pretty heavy from hereon. I believe the real Jack the Ripper, despite being a sick individual, was oddly representative of the evils of the Victorian age, and how society back then cut off the humanity of women, especially prostitutes. It was an age where horrific abuse of women was virtually permissible. Where blaming the victim was ubiquitous in rape cases, where women were treated with brutal dismissal and shaming in court, and rapists were often acquitted on the grounds that their brutalized victim must have willfully failed to use 'all her means of defense'. Jack the Ripper symbolized all that, and even in a warped way he symbolized how a man's reputation was considered more valuable than women's wellbeing, even if in his case he sought the reputation of a killer like most fame-seeking modern serial killers, except that he never actually got caught. And his evasion of justice had nothing to do with him ending up in a lesbian reptile's belly where he could never be found. Much as we may wish it did.

I've never quite understood the male proclivity for sexual abuse of women, or why it was a rampant problem in Victorian times. But I think inevitably beneath the veneer of Victorian morals and rules of courtship, it all had a byproduct of breeding a mercenary culture of discretional abuse in secret, with its own ritualized behaviors. A culture of sexual repression is in its own way a culture obsessed with sex and the weaponizing of manhood. What I'm saying is that I find it difficult and distressing to imagine the experiences of someone like Mrs Hartigan in this age, and it is more than implied that she has been sexually abused in her past, but in a nightmarish period that was brutally unsympathetic and where suffering in silence seemed the only option.

The impact of this on her makes her a perfect agent of the Cybermen, and she revels in their company. They are masculine and strong enough to protect her from further victimization, real or assumed, but sexually neutered and therefore not a threat to her. Her experiences, however, have made her maladjusted and sociopathic, but internally her mind is a firestorm of relentless red rage that even overloads the Cybermen's control, and that yearns an appetite for sadistic destruction. The scene of her vapourising the Cyberleader is as genuinely horrifying as her chirpy coldness and dainty smile about it.

But to say this element sits uneasily with the romp this story is trying to be is an understatement. The line "the Doctor, yet another man come to assert himself against me in the night" irks in many ways. All manner of questions are raised by this issue and ultimately dismissed in what is rather a pat resolution, and yet in many was far from pat or reassuring, as her horrific experiences lead her to destroy herself, whilst simultaneously resolving the conflict and shutting down awkward questions about her.

There are plenty of survivors of abuse who don't in turn become abusers, but for those who do, is rehabilitation possible? In some particularly warped cases of the morally and mentally gone, I'd say absolutely not. But it would have been nice to see this issue explored, and to even explore the idea of the Doctor trying to rehabilitate her, and demonstrating the hope of bringing enlightened ideas to an ignorant and heartless age where victims suffer alone. Or taking her to a better, brighter future where rape was somehow all but shunned from the human condition. As I write this however, I realize how pat it would probably have come off, and so I must admit Russell perhaps made the rightest decision he could here and had her remain beyond reach almost to the end. Maybe he was for once reacting to the anticipated response of critics decrying another cop-out and emotionally trite ending, but perhaps he knew that's just not who Miss Hartigan is.

But I can't help feel that the populist direction of the show as RTD had designed from the beginning rather forced the decision onto this story, and that in another universe, Mriss Hartigan as a companion could have been promising. It could have been important, maybe the most important Doctor-companion relationship the show had ever seen. It could have been the coming of age for the show, where we see the Doctor really become the one who makes people better. In the end, however, these elements don't feel like they fit together in any organic or sturdy way. Given how irrelevant Jackson is to the climax, and how the Cyberpolitics business just feels silly and protracted, the mix comes off as unflavoured and lumpy.

It stands for Tethered Aerial Release Developed In Style! by Evan Weston 17/8/16

After the hideous abortion that was The Stolen Earth/Journey's End, I really wanted to like The Next Doctor. I remembered enjoying it upon my first viewing, mostly because it wasn't Journey's End and that has to be a good thing, right? But sadly, while it counts as a post-Series 4 Special, The Next Doctor is just as dumbed-down and stupid as many of that series' poorer efforts, though it's kept nearly above water by its performances and production values.

The Next Doctor takes the next step in the Russell T. Davies Christmas Special evolution: it becomes a stupider version of itself. Davies' contempt for his viewers shines through at nearly every moment, and his script is mainly characters telling us what could easily be shown through actions. Tennant gets the brunt of this, of course, and he handles it the best he can, but he's forced to deliver so much expository dialogue about Jackson Lake this and Cybermen that to the point where his speech becomes tiresome. The villainess also explains her motives so clearly that it's plain we're meant to just accept them and move on. Just because some in the audience might have imbibed too much eggnog doesn't mean you have to trim your script of all intelligence, Russell.

A side effect of this dumbing down is a lack of coherence throughout the episode. Jackson Lake believes himself to be the Doctor and has lost his memories, but after the Doctor pieces together the truth, Lake seems to remember whatever the script requires of him at any precise moment. The Cybermen's appearance in 1851 makes absolutely no sense, and the attempt to use the plot of The Stolen Earth/Journey's End and the "they stole it from the Daleks" line to explain everything is borderline insulting. The Cyber plan is also patently ridiculous: they clearly have the manpower, so why not just run the engine themselves or take over the town and have the adults do it?

This is all symptomatic of the continued decline of the Cybermen, which began in the disarmingly bad Army of Ghosts/Doomsday. Back then, they got their butts kicked by the Daleks. Here, they are finished off by a woman's mind and a couple of infostamps. It's brutal just how weak and pointless they are, and, even when they're kidnapping children and murdering wives, there's always a limit as to how far the script will let them go. We've come from heartlessly trapping and slowly killing Jackie in Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel to putting cyber-masks on dogs and capturing children to run an engine. It's utterly pathetic. I'd go so far as to argue that the ruination of the Doctor's two most well-known villains is Davies' most harmful contribution to the show.

The Next Doctor does have a couple of strengths that help to offset its major weaknesses, though, and it starts with David Morrissey's lovely portrayal of the title character. While Jackson Lake's story is obvious from the minute the name pops up on screen, Morrissey fights against the script and lifts the role from claptrap to almost heartbreaking. While he's clearly a one-off, it's a shame we never see him again, as he's one of the best non-recurring characters in the Davies era. He's assisted by the coyly-named Rosita, played gamely by Velile Tshabalala, a character that works far better than she has any right to.

Dervla Kirwan's Cyberking, on the other hand, doesn't quite pan out despite the actress's best efforts. Hartigan is never developed beyond "I hate men," which is really no better than "I hate women" when you boil it down to pure intent. The script doesn't really know what to do with her by the end, so it shoves her in the Cyberking suit and has her wreak havoc for no reason other than she'd like to.

Still, the Cyberking is one of many awesome production moments in The Next Doctor, which is helped out by the big Christmas budget. While not up to the massive standards of Voyage of the Damned or even The Christmas Invasion, The Next Doctor still mostly comes through with the requisite holiday thrills, and the BBC cupboards are put to good use in recreating 1851 London. I found myself bored at several points, though, and there's too much talking for the episode's own good. A result of all the pointless exposition, to be sure, and it's very annoying.

That's the general feeling I got from The Next Doctor this time around: a vague annoyance. This story is worse than it should be by a long shot, and Davies was clearly just spinning his wheels until the big finish the following year. The upcoming 2009 was a light year for Doctor Who, and the specials deserved a better start than what can easily be called the worst Christmas special in Doctor Who history.