Stuffing and nonsense
The worst thing about Christmas when you're not feeling well is that it just becomes an exercise in going through the motions.
This year, I've spent most of the festive period sneezing and snuffling and coughing my guts up, enjoying Christmas dinner and Boxing Day trips to see the extended family across the country, but not really being into it as much as everyone else.
And that's how The Next Doctor felt to me. It was fun, it wasn't demanding, but it felt like going through the motions, particularly after the grotesque excesses of The Swollen Earth.
As a piece of drama, it seemed strangely flat and lacking in either urgency or threat, largely through some truly plodding, leaden direction by Torchwood refugee Andy Goddard. There was no ship plummeting to Earth, no lurking menace hanging in the skies above Earth - as with the last three years of festive Who. Take out the references to Christmas and this would have worked in the same way that the previous three specials wouldn't. It wasn't special. Not by a long chalk.
hoping we'd hear Cyber Dervla asking where her fucking keys where
And there was the Cyberking. I know people have drawn comparisons with Transformers, and given Russell's tendency for cross-cultural looting and pillaging that would come as no surprise. But watching the big metal lug stomping across London, I couldn't help but think of XOTANG, the giant grumpy mechanoid of quirky BBC Three comedy The Wrong Door, and hoping we'd hear Cyber Dervla asking where her fucking keys where...
Appropriately, much like The Wrong Door, there were a lot of instances in this episode where the visual effects failed to match up to the promise. Not just with the Cyberking's attempt to restage Cloverfield, but even the more basic stuff such as Tennant swinging off the exploding factory ledge with Lake Jr, which featured perhaps the worst green screen in the show's recent history.
As with The Stolen Earth and Journey's End, there was a sense of the writer and production team tying up loose ends. We've had the void, the Daleks and now the Cybermen from One Canada Square all being dealt with over the last year or so now, as the RTD era officially starts to wind down.
The other problem I had with The Next Doctor is a more fundamental one, and something that will be no longer an issue by mid 2010.
The first half of The Next Doctor had the potential to be an interesting exercise in character. Namely, what is it that makes our favourite Time Lord the Doctor. Is it personality, backstory, behaviour or what? And if you transpose those actions, beliefs and behaviour onto someone who isn't the Doctor, what does that make the person?
Morrissey turned in a grotesquely panto-esque performance that suggested the infostamp backwash had got stuck on Colin Baker
The idea of The Doctor encountering someone who may or may not be him, or who has assumed the mantle, is a fascinating one. Big Finish, of course, tried something in that vein with The One Doctor, while a proposed spin-off series from Death Comes To Time, according to it's producer, would have had Stephen Fry's Minister of Chance crusading through space and time taking the Doctor's place and, ultimately, his name, as though it were the title and actions that maketh the man.
And if only that's what we'd received here. Instead, through both writing and performance, we ended up with a piece of caricature. Morrissey, normally such a subtle and honest actor, turned in a grotesquely panto-esque performance that suggested the infostamp backwash had got stuck on the Colin Baker era files.
There's long been a complaint that decent actors (Crowden, I'm looking at you) turned it up to 11 when cast in old Who, and that still seems in evidence today going by Morrissey's turn in the role. Curiously, he and Tennant seemed to lark any on-screen spark, all the more ironic given how much the pair lit up the screen in Blackpool.
And to be fair, he wasn't helped by a script that had the character turn from bombastic comic book hero to snivelling crybaby, then emasculated him in favour of giving the Doctor another valedictory hero moment as he rescued Jackson's son from the Temple of Doom... sorry, the Cyberking's intestines.
Yes, before the moaning starts, I know the show's called Doctor Who, but in an episode which could have been about the nature of the Doctor's character, to give the heroic rescue moment to a character that doesn't need it seems a bit OTT. But then, this is a Davies script, and RTT and OTT seem to go together perfectly.
And was it just me, or did Tennant look absolutely knackered here? I know it's a tough gig, but there were times during The Next Doctor where young Mr MacDonald looked positively drained. Between a lacklustre, tick-box script, plodding direction and Tennant clearly shattered after carrying the show for three years, this felt a Christmas episode too far.
There were lots of little gifts in the episode, but they were trinkets and stocking fillers
Now, I know I risk sounding like the Grinch by expressing such dissatisfaction with The Next Doctor. So for the sake of balance, and because they deserve mention, what was likeable about the episode?
Well, Dervla Kirwan was, for a start. Creepy, cheeky, playful - this is exactly what a Doctor Who villain needs to be. Even one that spends 99% of her screen time not encountering the Doctor. Likewise Velile Tshabalala, playing Generic Spoof Dr Who Assistant No. 41, made a hugely underwritten character likeable. That opening gag, as seen on Children in Need and YouTube for the last month or so, works perfectly. As does the reveal of the other TARDIS.
There were lots of little gifts in the episode, but they were trinkets and stocking fillers, distracting from the coal at the bottom.
It's just a shame the episode was Doctor Who by numbers. For a Christmas Day feast, this felt very much like warmed up Boxing Day leftovers.
But then, what do I know? I'm Scottish. We're more about Hogmanay than Christmas anyway, in which case bliadhna mhath ur to you all at home...