Robots in Disgust
Doctor Who: The Next Doctor
This isn't just Doctor Who, this is lowest common denominator Doctor Who...
The most infuriating thing about The Next Doctor is that it takes a brilliant idea and then it casually tosses it away in favour of the safest and dullest alternative imaginable. Here was Russell's chance to take the multi-doctor formula and really have some fun with it; it's as if Time Crash had been designed to prime a new audience for just this kind of eventuality, and the future incarnation twist would have been a fascinating and original avenue for the show to explore. Or how about a parallel universe Doctor chasing down some marooned Cybermen and clashing with our Doctor and his way of doing things? In fact, any other explanation for November's teaser that you could care to mention would have been more more interesting than what we eventually ended up with: socks. For the third Christmas running Russell has given us socks.
Sometimes he breaks my heart.
The mystery of Morrissey's character is undermined from the very beginning; as soon as he opens his mouth to be precise. His costume left plenty of wriggle room but his Dickensian vernacular immediately gives him away; it would have been too much of a coincidence (even for Russell) if this incarnation of the Doctor just happened to be hanging around Victorian London when we stumble across him. That would be like David Tennant swanning about contemporary London most of the time. Er...
But if that was too subtle for you don't worry, there's always the "sonic" screwdriver to ram home the fact that he isn't really a time lord. And if that sailed over your egg-nogged noggin perhaps you finally twigged when Rosita turned out to be a contemporaneous companion. Then again, it's hardly worth the effort of playing along with this halfhearted mystery because they spill the beans inside the first 20 minutes and then explain it away five minutes after that. And guess what? Yes, that's right: he isn't the Doctor after all! A cop-out explanation on Doctor Who, who'd have thunk it? He is, in fact, a blubbering, whining ponce who cries a lot. But enough of that, here's Murray Gold with some comedy oomp-pah-pah music.
The Cybershades made the Taran Wood Beast look like the Cloverfield monster...
OK. Fair enough. It was inevitable that he wasn't going to be the 11th, 12th or even the 34th incarnation of our hero (I suppose), but of all the reasons Russell could come up for Jackson's warped state of mind he reaches for the most ridiculous contrivance possible: the poor man was mind-wiped by the Dalek's Doctor Who DVD collection that the Cybermen stole just before a reality bomb tore down the walls of the voidiverse and they fell through time to our planet in 1851 where they proceed to build a giant robot under the Thames with the help of some street urchins and a bitter and twisted prostitute. WTF???
It's so badly executed I tried to convince myself that it was just clever misdirection; Russell did promise a "huge plot twist" and he never lies. Maybe this would all turn out to be an ingenious double-bluff and a final, gut-punching revelation would at least whet my appetite for the 2009 specials. But it wasn't to be; these socks didn't hide some jewel-encrusted cuff links within their folds, they were just full of holes.
Spare a thought for the poor old Cybermen who come out of this incoherent mess looking like complete dolts. Just what the hell were they doing anyway? Did they steal the Dalek's copy of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom when they ran off with their info-stamp collection? Or did John Barrowman have a special deal going with a job-lot of Oliver rejects? And just what was the deal with the Cybershades? They were so preposterous they managed to make the Taran Wood Beast look like the monster from Cloverfield. I know there's a credit crunch but I could have knocked up something better in my garage. Especially now that voice-changer helmets are on sale in Woolworths.
David Morrissey was disappointing. I'm a big fan of the actor (One Summer, Holding On, State of Play and The Deal are some of the best dramas ever produced for television, largely thanks to him) and I tipped him for the role of the Doctor back in 2003. But he's completely wasted here. His "Doctor" is pure pastiche and his "real" persona is a sniveling jerk who doesn't even get to save the day in his own episode. He manages to crack the caps on some info-stamps but that's about it. He doesn't even get to fly in his own sodding balloon or rescue his own kid! How poor was that? Then again how useful could he have been against a giant robot sloshing around in the Thames. Yes, a giant f***ing robot.
Remember the winter of '75 when Tom Baker battled a giant robot? It looked terrible, didn't it? But at least it made sense In the context of the story, in so much as the robot didn't mysteriously turn up in the last 10 minutes. This time the giant robot in question looked magnificent (I'm told that the Managing Director of Character Options creamed himself at precisely the same moment that Ted Hughes started to revolve in his grave) but it made no sense whatsoever. Normally you can let this kind of stuff slide but its appearance is so incongruous and so f***ing stupid the Doctor tries to explain it away as a giant space ship! As if that somehow makes it better!
Exactly how bloody voidy is this so-called void?
Let me get this straight... the Cybermen from the parallel universe - you know, the one where they don't come from Telos or Mondas but are in fact a bunch of converted chavs and vagrants from Guildford - have developed a fleet of battleships called Cyberkings that walk about on two legs and look like a cross between The Iron Giant and The Power Rangers with just a hint of MechaGodzilla thrown in for good measure. And when did that happen, exactly? Did the Cybermen develop them in the void? And if they did, how bloody voidy is this so-called void, anyway? Do they have shops? Factories? Solid surfaces? I don't know about you lot but I thought the void was a terrible place where the Daleks and the Cybermen floated about endlessly in a vast, empty nothingness. Turns out they've been developing giant robots, putting together extensively researched Wikipedia info-stamps for every possible contingency and generally having a whale of a time. So how did the Doctor know about these Transfor-- er, Cyberkings given that they were trapped in a universe that's, ahem, impossible to access? Unless the "real" Cybermen developed the stupid things, in which case how did the parallel ones know about them?
Or maybe - just maybe - the Daleks planted some duff info about a fleet of Cyberkings in a dodgy info-stamp to see if the daft bastards would fall for it. Either that or they inadvertently mixed up their blueprints with the video to the Beastie Boy's Intergalactic which they stored on an mp3 player that looks like a 16 inch vibrator. It could happen. Especially when the read-through is due to take place tomorrow and it's 2am already... Tut, tut, Russell.
Maybe I'm being too harsh. There are some enjoyable moments to savour: the Cybermen stomping through the snow felt iconic, the brainwashed workhouse goons were suitably terrifying, the flashback was rather pleasant (and so JNT it's scary) but it was the deliciously innuendo-strewn performance from Dervla Kirwan as Miss Hartigan that simultaneously stole and saved the show for me. She managed to exude menace, style, wit and a Palinesque sexiness (that's Sarah, not Michael, just in case you're wondering) that felt just right - and so very wrong. She's has to be one of the most memorable and fruity villains we've ever seen on this show (which is really saying something) and I even bought her last-minute stab at redemption. I mean, bloody women. I'm not entirely sure what it was she was trying to accomplish but good on her for trying.
I know that I should be grateful for these socks. It's the thought that counts and all that. And they are a very well-made pair of socks that occassionally feel very comfortable indeed, but they are still just a pair of socks at the end of the day. And that huge, glittering box with the gold leaf ribbon on top promised so much...