TV EYE: Doctor Who – The Next Doctor

It’s Christmas Special time for Who. Fear the spoilers…

Another year, another Doctor Who Christmas special – and out of all the surreal things to happen since the show’s return, the fact that Who is now the cornerstone of the BBC’s Christmas Day schedule is certainly one of the more head-scratching. The specials have all, to a greater or lesser extent, played to RTD’s somewhat overblown blockbuster mindset and this year was no exception – after a relatively low-key opening half-hour, things got progressively bigger and more bonkers in the run-up to the climax (essentially a headspinning combination of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Katsuhiro Otomo’s flawed anime epic Steamboy), and the end result was a relatively enjoyable romp that’s a big improvement on last year’s perfunctory “Oh, let’s do The Poseidon Adventure in Space!” escapade, even if it never quite made the crossover into brilliant. It was at least brisker than ‘Voyage’ and less eminently slappable than ‘Runaway Bride’, and while the discovery that David Morrisey’s character turns out to not be the Doctor was fairly predictable, it was at least executed with some imagination and emotional impact. Tennant was as good as ever, and while Morrisey had some excellent moments, he did suffer from the ‘I’m trying to hard to show that I’m having FUN!’ factor at times, and I can’t help but feel that it’s a good thing that this means he’s pretty much out of contention for Doctor Eleven. For the most part, it does everything that a Christmas special should – being loud, energetic and throwing in enough spectacle to make you briefly forget that the story really isn’t that memorable, and that it does suffer from a good deal of RTD’s usual foibles.

About the only thing that qualifies as a major problem is the treatment of the Cybermen themselves, a villain that New Who’s made a complete hash at getting right. The only point where they’ve seemed even remotely intimidating was in S2’s ‘Army of Ghosts’ – a peak that lasted all of five minutes, before the Daleks turned up and the decidedly one-sided war that resulted left the silver giants seeming pretty feeble. Now we’ve got a gang of Cybermen who can be fought off with a cutlass, and who spend virtually the whole episode acting as Dervla Kirwan’s footsoldiers even before she’s donned the Cyber-headdress of Doom and dominated the cyber-consciousness by sheer force of will. Factor in the frankly bizarre Cyber-Shades (who resemble Rolf from the Muppet Show wearing a Cyberman mask), and you haven’t exactly got villains that inspire dread or menace, and I’ve never rated the updated versions of the Cybermen either – the design is blocky and clumsy, while the voice is distinctly unispiring. There’s an eerieness to the Cybermen that they’ve completely ignored, leaving them as the stomping Silver Army, and the one thing that’s largely absent from The Next Doctor is a convincing sense of threat. To be honest, the Cybermen have been barely used well since the Sixties, and The Next Doctor follows the format largely followed since 1968’s The Invasion (where the Cybermen are essentially footsoldiers for humanoid bad guy Tobias Vaughn), leaving them once again feeling like faceless placeholder villains. Steven Moffatt has spoken occasionally of wanting to do a spooky Cyberman story, and it’ll be interesting to see if he does in the seasons to come – but while the story involving Miss Hartigan does actually work, the new Cybermen feel like a villain who we’re constantly being told is dangerous rather than being given that much actual proof.

So, a fun piece of steampunk nonsense (with some pretty impressive CGI in the finale) without ever being truly brilliant, and certainly no equal for the still surprisingly strong ‘The Christmas Invasion’. And Doctor will return, apparenty, in ‘Planet of the Dead’ – make of that what you will…

(And having recently rewatched the climax of Season 4 (my opinion remains unchanged – Stolen Earth is barmily brilliant, Journey’s End is fun but way too overblown), and my money is on one of next year’s special episodes revolving around the Doctor’s path accidentally crossing once again with that of Donna, him having to keep his identity an absolute secret, and without setting off her mental destruct-button, he’ll end up pitching her life in a more positive direction so she’ll have a chance of becoming more like pre-mind-wipe Donna on her own steam. The very ending of S4 is brilliantly done (and once more, I hail the greatness that is Bernard Cribbins), but RTD has already proven that while he loves flirting with tragedy, he’s too much of a crowdpleaser to leave that particular storyline completely alone, especially in his last four hours of the show…)

2 thoughts on “TV EYE: Doctor Who – The Next Doctor

  1. Oh, yes, I agree. RTD waited almost two seasons to give Rose her very own Doctor. he hasn’t got two seasons to sort out Donna… so unless he’s made a pact with Moffatt and has ensured it gets done latert, he’s only got four hours, as you say.
    BTW, is one of the four _next year’s_ Christmas Special?

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    • Yeah- RTD is co-writing some of the middle episodes, but that’s how 2009’s Who is shaping up – three hour long episodes happening at various intervals (I’d guess the next one will be Easter, with the others probably sometime in Summer and then probably October), and RTD’s last hurrah will be next year’s Christmas Special which will also be the point where David Tennant regenerates.

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