Here are the results for The Next Doctor blog poll:
- 62%: Superb - Next to Perfect
- 38%: Not Good - Next to Useless
Doctor Who: The Next Doctor
Let's talk a bit about promises.
What the title of this episode promised, in fairly clear terms, was the Eleventh canonical Doctor. But that was never going to happen, was it? No, I didn't think so and I don't suppose you did either. The confirmation that Tennant was leaving in 2010 only left me even more sure that there was going to be a fake-out. But like I said in my reviews of The Stolen Earth and Journey's End, I'm all right with the broken promise as long as it's broken in an interesting way. I was referring specifically to the "regeneration," which was not a regeneration as promised but was nonetheless an event with important consequences that were examined at length over the course of the hour, and in what I thought was quite an interesting and entertaining way. The same is true of The Doctor's Daughter. The implication of the title is that we were going to meet Susan's mum, or at least one of the Doctor's already-existing children, a notion that was thrown out in the cold open in favor of Jenny. Nonetheless, Jenny had a set of implications and consequences all her own. It was a fake-out in favor of something nearly as interesting.
So what did I expect from The Next Doctor? Not the Eleventh Doctor, certainly. But three years ago, The Christmas Invasion arrived like a present wrapped in shiny paper, and when we tore off the wrapping we had a lovely new Doctor that ended the thing with a sword flourish and a quote from the Lion King. This was without a doubt the best Christmas Special so far, and I was hoping that the experience would be mirrored here. Again, we would return to the notion of unwrapping a Doctor, but it wouldn't really be the Doctor, it would turn out to be something else, and as we tore off the paper over the course of the hour we would get to the core of the mystery and it would finally present the solution to the Cybermen's invasion and shock and surprise and thrill us.
There are cosplayers who have more claim to the title of Doctor than Jackson Lake does.
And instead we get this. Halfway into the special, the misunderstanding has already been all cleared up! And if it weren't so boring, it would be funny: in Time Crash, the Fifth Doctor thinks the Tenth Doctor is a fanboy, when he's actually a future incarnation. In The Next Doctor, the Tenth Doctor thinks Jackson Lake is the Eleventh Doctor, but he's just a fanboy, some poor deranged man who has lost everything and has had one too many Doctor Who novels crammed into his cranium in true Chuck fashion. There are cosplayers who have more claim to the title of Doctor than he does. But never mind all of that, because it's quite easily straightened out. The Doctor tosses an infostamp to the nearest Cybermen. "Whoops, sorry, mate, turns out you are the Doctor after all. Our mistake. DELETE. DELETE." After that, there's little left for Jackson Lake to do but uncover the not-all-that-interesting truth about his son, and then literally shove the poor boy into Rosita's arms as he swings from a lamp post and gives an impromptu speech about "that Doctor on high!" and how "he's never once been thanked!" and oh my God I wish I were making this up.
But I can't just spend the whole review talking about the train wreck that is the Jackson Lake story, because this is a two-train collision. One, a story about the Tenth Doctor meeting a man who may or may not be the Eleventh Doctor. The other, a story about Cybermen in Victorian London with a women's liberation subtext and a steampunk design influence. Either one of these stories has so much potential, but the former becomes boring, the latter becomes silly, and neither one can be salvaged from the wreckage. Perhaps, in the spirit of Christmas and presents, my train metaphor should be altered to refer to a child's toy train set. But no, that doesn't accurately convey the brokenness of this episode.
Because even though I buy the Steampunk Cybermen concept, as well as the gender issue, and I can even bring myself to appreciate the pure, epic whimsy of the Doctor battling a giant robot from a hot air balloon, The pieces are assembled together in such an appallingly poor fashion that the only way to salvage any enjoyment out of the episode is to be willing to laugh at how broken everything is. What the hell are those Cybershade things supposed to be? Gorillas? Wookiees? Big fluffy dogs? Miss Hartigan's motives in helping the Cybermen are even shadier. It has something to do with hatred of all things male, that much is clear. Her speech at the graveside of Reverend Whatever is pretty much nonsensical, jumping from half-formed thought to half-formed thought like a Grant Morrison Batman story, but far more superficial and not half as much fun.
Does that info-phallus get iPlayer via the time vortex? I can't even get it here in America.
The problem with the Cybermen plot is that we see lots happen but are rarely given any idea as to how or why. Forget about how the Cybermen returned from the void, which is briefly waved away, but how did they survive it in the first place? How did they construct a giant robot so quickly, and why do they enlist child labor to run it after they've done such an efficient job of building the damned thing? I'm not even sure I understand why the Cybermen all explode after the Doctor re-uses the "LOOK WHAT YOU'VE BECOME LOL!!!!" resolution from The Age of Steel. And how the hell does that info-phallus, stolen from the Daleks that appeared in Doomsday, have footage from Voyage of the Damned or the Christopher Eccleston era, anyway? Is iPlayer available via the time vortex? I can't even get it here in America. In any case, I have to wonder why nobody questioned the logic or the storytelling and asked Russell to clean up the script. Perhaps they're afraid of him. What has he become?
All of this just leads to a barely-coherent mess that's probably the least fun we've ever seen in a Doctor Who Christmas special, which is a pity because, as I said, both of the storylines we see here had so much potential. We've only got a few more hours with Russell and David, and I was hoping that they were going to make every minute count, but sadly this is too much of a mess to count as anything other than evidence that the fresh blood we'll be getting in 2010 really is needed. It's hard to believe how inconsistent Russell has been over the years, giving us messes like this as well as absolute gems such as Midnight. And for the first time, Tennant is given no opportunity to shine at Christmas, taking a back seat to Morrissey whose hammy performance gets old fast.
The actors aren't really what I'm complaining about, though. Even as Morrissey's ham rots, the genuine moments of humanity we see in him are well-performed, and Dervla Kirwan is brings a suitably creepy sort of sexy austerity to Miss Hartigan. Nor is the direction of the episode to fault. In fact, I'd even occasionally use the word "stunning," particularly in the scene at the graveside when the Cybermen attack in the snow. That could become one of the iconic scenes of Doctor Who history. It's just a pity that it comes in an episode with such a terribly broken script that ultimately fails to live up to what it promised. If Planet of the Dead's title is any hint, it might be a more straightforward Doctor Who story that doesn't try to do so much and consequently won't fail so miserably. Or maybe it will. Perhaps it's best not to get my hopes up.
If you’ve not heard the commentary for Battlefield, this month’s dvd release yet, you’re in for a treat. For much of its duration writer of the story Ben Aaronovitch sounds like he’s about to jump from the roof of 2Entertain Towers because of the horror which is unfolding before him and then story editor Andrew Cartmel is talking him down from the ledge largely through the negotiation tactic of agreeing with him a lot. All that actors Sophie Aldred and Angela Bruce can do is sit and watch and perhaps munch some popcorn as the more exciting drama happens in the recording booth.
What’s even scarier is that this year’s Christmas trip into the psyche of Russell T Davies or as the BBC like to call it the Doctor Who podcast is in places almost exactly the same. It’s quite refreshing if slightly odd to hear the creatives clearly unhappy with portions of an episode which hasn’t yet been broadcast and though Davies never quite contracts Aaronovitchs-by-proxy, you can tell that Gardner wishes that he wasn’t being quite so critical, even though she largely agrees with him during that scene were the one and a half Doctors in the drawing room of the ‘dead’ man trying to work out who he could be.
Andrew Cartmel is talking him down from the ledge
What disappoints me about these opinions is that it was my second favourite scene. They aren’t happy because it breaks all of the rules that have been set up in relation to how Doctor Who should be shot these days – no shakey-cams, no neutral lighting, and no succession of close-ups – too prime time midweek rather than teatime Saturday. Which is all the reasons I loved it – an intimate scene played and lensed in a claustrophobic manner in the middle of the usually brash and loud Christmas special. Congratulations to Andy Torchwood Goddard for trying something new.
Which is rather the problem with the rest of the podcast; throughout I found myself grimacing as I realised that everything I liked about the episode seemed to be an accident or not an original Davies idea. For example my actual favourite scene: Ten Doctors. Ten fucking Doctors. Ten. All of them. Projected on a wall. Even Sylvester McCoy. On Christmas Day. Squee. You’d think that Davies would be the one pleading with Gardener to have that put in, but it turns out it was the other way around. It turns out the reason that the past four years haven’t been drowning in a sea of continuity/fanwank is because Russell has been holding himself back.
Even Sylvester McCoy. On Christmas Day. Squee.
If the Journal of Impossible Things from Human Nature didn’t convince the McGann heretics that he wasn’t canon, then seeing his eyes squinting into the middle distance here, in a shot which must have cost thousands of pounds to license from Fox TV (possibly), has to be the clincher. I love the idea that there is a youngster who’s only really been watching the new series, suddenly being greeted with these new incarnations and finding a whole new universe of adventures to enjoy; it’s The Brain of Morbeus effect without some other members of the production team muddying the timestream.
Equally, the stuff which Russell is clearly very pleased with, such as the Cybermen in the snow, I was a bit vanilla about. As I say in my proper review of the episode (which is published here, and much better than this one so you should probably have read it instead), these Cybus Industries models lack personality and the Doctor can’t have a conversation with them. If you have returning monster which needs a human face, something has gone wrong. I can’t help feeling that the enemy would have had more potency if it had been some new danger or even a different revived monster. The Ice Warriors haven’t been busy lately and I would have loved to have seen a giant one of those striding about.
The Ice Warriors haven’t been busy lately
I also wasn't that happy when he was talking about why he'd resolved the mystery of the other Doctor quite so early. I can understand why he did it -- there's only so much you can do to sustain something like that when there's a clever timelord in the story who'll work things out super quickly. Couldn't there have been an in story reason for the Doctor not to reveal his suspicions in quite such a bald manner. It wouldn't have been entirely out of character but perhaps I'm just browned off that none of my predictions turned out to be exactly true (I thought he might be human, but that he'd sucked up some of the regenerative energy somehow from the tail end of The Stolen Earth).
Still this was a decent hour of entertainment for Christmas night and though, like most of these things its unlikely to turn up in any ten best lists, it was just the right stop gap between the steak (we’re not a turkey household) and mince pies and The Other Boleyn Girl which is what I watched later on and had far more issues with (such as why you’d call a film that and then simply retell the story from Anne’s point of view again anyway). I’ll miss Julie and Russell when they leave the booth for the final time, but at least we’ve another four specials to potentially hear them talking over first.
Next: Happy New Year!
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...
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...
Doctor Who: The Next Doctor
The thing about Doctor Who Christmas specials is that they are now traditionally required to fulfill a number of audience expectations. They have to be brash, no nonsense populist affairs with an ersatz seasonal message or spirit of intention. It's no good examining the plot that closely or digging around for complex existential homilies because it won't stand up to the pressure.
At the heart of this 'Cybermen at Christmas' bluster is a deeply personal story...
However, Russell T Davies usually sows the seeds of the forthcoming series into the Specials and the one thing that immediately strikes you about The Next Doctor is, deliberately or not, the way it marks time on the tenure of the Tenth Doctor. With no full series to anticipate, this special makes pains to show the Doctor has clearly made a decision to travel without a companion and has set out to explore on his own. Meeting Jackson Lake is Davies attempt to underline this whilst also getting both characters, whose fractured identities require some mending, to engage in a form of neuro-linguistic psychotherapy. The Doctor suddenly questions his current incarnation's future and eventual demise. And Lake is a blank canvas onto which the essence of the Doctor has been stamped but which then helps him to excavate the true qualities of the real person drowned by his psychological fugue. By this estimation, Davies certainly bucks the trend for at least half an hour of the running time. At the heart of this 'Cybermen at Christmas' bluster is a deeply personal story which delves into identity, anxiety and the effects of dissociative fugue. With Lake it's brought about with a traumatic attack on his family by the Cybermen but with the Doctor it's presumably self-imposed after the treatment he dished out to Donna Noble.
The trouble is that such a heartfelt story, and by extension the twin performances from Morrissey and Tennant, deserves an episode to itself and not mashed in with the cold leftovers of street urchins, Victoriana, snow, explosions and Cybermen. Mind you, Christmas can be as much an emotionally distressing time for families as it is a time of joy and good will to all men (the emphasis here being on men, Cyber or otherwise) so perhaps such an examination of the Doctor's persona and nature isn't too far from the true spirit of the festive season. The whistles and bells that decorate the central premise of the empty man who needs his life and memories back and the lonely god who just can't take this shit any more include the bluff with the fob-watch that then turns out to be an important clue and the info-stamp flashback of all ten incarnations which you could say is pretty much about putting the writing on the wall for the Tenth. When a flashback of all the previous actors in the role turns up, you know your card's marked.
When you look at the rest of the story it's clear that Hartigan's collaboration with the Cybermen, using children to re-engineer a Cyber-Godzilla, is utterly, preposterously daft. The entire sequence in the workhouse with masses of kids turning big wheels, pulling chains and levers just needed to be set to music, given some suitable lyrics and you'd have had a West End musical. Sure, it may dovetail with Dickens own attempts to pick apart the effects of industrialisation on society in Hard Times and A Christmas Carol but this was more Lionel Bart than Ebenezer Scrooge. I did enjoy Dervla's turn as Miss Hartigan, the mother/whore symbol trying to get a leg up (or over) in a man's world. The ripe tones used in countless M&S ads came in handy as she made a delicious villainess who arrived complete with a feminist liberation agenda. The gathering at the funeral is an interesting framing device for the character. She is positioned in the charitable role, looking after the poor in the workhouses, that many aspiring women of the day sought to do but uses the potency of her sexuality as a way to achieve power in an unjust and unequal society. Hence, the obvious symbolism of the red dress but also her assumption that the Cybermen are simply tools of industrialising power at her disposal to rid society of the kind of greedy, exploitative men she despises. It's an exciting, well edited, sequence as Cybermen emerge from the snow and mist and throttle people. Well, I say people, but men...mostly.
Men, eh? Bloody liars...
The contrast between Miss Hartigan and Rosita is of note too. From the implications of Hartigan's 'I doubt he paid you to talk' we thus gather that Rosita is a lady of the night. Hartigan seems to be confusing the sexual act and liberation and whilst she can talk the talk she certainly doesn't walk the walk. Rosita is compassionate and human whereas Hartigan is ice-cold ambition, preferring the company of Cybermen than that of real men. One of them definitely will be Nancy in the West End musical production, clearly after the wallop Rosita gives Hartigan. Velile Tshabalala was very impressive in the quieter moments, with sensitive playing particularly in the scene where the Doctor reveals that the other Doctor is Jackson Lake. Quite neat then that the Cybermen are simply setting up Hartigan to be the Cyber King. Men, eh? Bloody liars. But why did the Cybermen need to enslave loads of kids to power their ship, couldn't they do that themselves? A highly contrived notion to get masses of children to shovel coal into the belly of the Cyber-King, this was obviously some heavy symbolism about the continuing exploitation of children in the 21st century. It's enough to put you off your pudding.
A rather excessive bit of symbolism there, Russell, me old chuck.
Forty five minutes in and this goes a bit pear shaped. A blend of Dickensian steam-punk Gothic with a very tender story about two psychologically broken men gets sadly derailed by the need to have a big special effects climax with explosions and things. More ho-ho-hum than ho-ho-ho. Hartigan suddenly gets the screaming ab-dabs as the threat of Cyber-liberation looms. The Cybermen are just as narrow minded as their Victorian counterparts and it seems independent women have no place in Cyberdom. However, I rather liked the way that Hartigan then rewrote the software and put the willies up the Cyberleader in another twist on the power of sex over the sexless. Dervla is terrific in this scene, with her black contact lenses and brass worked Cyber head. And I suppose the old adage 'behind every great (Cyber) man is a great (Cyber) woman' is the only way to describe the Iron Man rising from the Thames and stamping the populace to bits. A rather excessive bit of symbolism there, Russell, me old chuck. And history gets further bent out of shape in the process but then no one on Earth ever gives a toss about alien invasions these days, and now, in those days too. The Doctor's offer is a bit pointless isn't it? Why would Hartigan want to be dumped on another world with no one to convert? Her whole raison d'etre is to do just that. It's very handy that the Doctor can recondition Hartigan at the drop of a hat and it's rather silly that she suddenly, as a result, becomes a screaming girlie. With such powerful screams that it all goes tits up for the Cybermen and she and they blow up? Er, what exactly happened there?
It's all entertaining enough with some de rigeur eye-popping visual effects and the sentimental ending suggests a Doctor not quite given up on mixing with the plebs at Christmas time but, I don't know about you, I was expecting some last minute twist ending to lead us off into the specials for 2009. So, it all felt like a bit of damp squib of an ending with no punchline to whet our appetites for next year. Andy Goddard's direction was spirited, with some lovely visual compositions and great lighting and, as ever, the production values were very high. Murray Gold was somewhat in 'this music will tell you how to feel' mode and I didn't much care for it. I did think that David Morrissey somewhat eclipsed David Tennant in places and that's a shame in a way as it's unlikely that we'll see him as the actual Doctor in a future series. However, he did get rather sidelined towards the end as David Tennant went through the heroic motions. There's a real sense here that the tenth Doctor is about to exit stage left. He doesn't look particularly happy once he's met with Jackson, possibly because he sees himself reflected back, and there's a weary inevitability about how he moves through the story. Change is in the air, and on the strength of this festive romp, it's perhaps not a moment too soon.
Since not even Stuart has written a review of The Next Doctor in the fifteen or so hours since the epsiode aired, here's a post created just so that any of you who happen to have something to say about the episode can feel free to get a head-start on the
bickering discussion and do so here. Enjoy!
I've opened this thread just in case you feel the need to pre-judge a 60 minute show on its opening 60 seconds. Have fun.
Personally, I thought it was great. However, I do admit that the afghan hound wearing a Cyberman voice changer helmet failed to impress...
Only 40 days to wait...
Behind the Sofa is a collaborative blog dedicated to the long-running British SciFi show 'Doctor Who' and its spin-offs. Intended for mature readers only.