Doctor Who – The Next Doctor Review

  • Series Title: Doctor Who
  • Story Title: The Next Doctor
  • Story #: Season 4.5 Story #1 (Doctor Who Christmas Special)
  • Episodes: Movie Length
  • Discs: 1 (Part of “The Specials Collection” – 5 discs total)
  • Network: BBC
  • Original Air Dates: 12/25/2008
  • Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), David Morrissey (The Next Doctor)
  • Format: Widescreen, Color, DVD, NTSC
  • Originally Published on my Live Journal 3/22/2010, now hosted on Dreamwidth

“Who are you?”  – The Doctor (DT)
“I’m the Doctor, the one, the only, and the best! Rosita, give me the sonic screwdriver.” – Next Doctor (DM)
“What?” – The Doctor (DT)
“And get back to the TARDIS.” – Next Doctor (DM)
“What?” – The Doctor(DT)
“If you can stand back, sir, this is a job for a Time Lord!” – Next Doctor (DM)
The Next Doctor (David Tennant and David Morrissey), BBC

I really enjoyed The Next Doctor when I saw it on BBC America nearly a year ago, and it some ways it was my favorite of the five specials for David Tennant’s abbreviated last season. In part what makes The Next Doctor so enjoyable is that it does what Doctor Who does so well. The script is fun, yet has an element of angst that underlies everything. And once the mystery of ‘Who is The Next Doctor?’ is actually solved, you’re only halfway through the episode – and the Cybermen show up in a Steampunk tour-de-force.

The Next Doctor begins with Tennant’s Doctor’s TARDIS landing in Victorian London at Christmas. This is continuity with every single Christmas special in the Russell T. Davies new version of Doctor Who – all have taken place in London at Christmas. The Doctor is walking around a snowy London, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells, smiling and enjoying himself. He finds a street urchin and finds out its Christmas Eve 1851. Then he hears a strange noise and a woman screaming “Doctor!” He runs over to help. He is then standing right next to her, when she continues to scream, “Doctor!”, much to our Doctor’s confusion. Suddenly, David Morrissey shows up.

Our Doctor (Tennant) is confused, and it’s cut to opening credits. The first half hour of the special then is really a mystery – What’s going on in London this time? And is Morrissey really a future incarnation of the Doctor or not? But despite the fun – the feeling of “this is how someone would play The Doctor if he was told about him without seeing the show” – the tone of solving this mystery, especially the mystery of just who the Next Doctor is, has a melancholy tone from the very beginning. It soon becomes apparent that there was an accident, and the Next Doctor touched a Cyberman data storage device, which downloaded data about the Doctor into his brain, causing his amnesia and causing him to think he was The Doctor – but was that the only thing to cause his distress? Slowly, our Doctor and the Next Doctor, through returning memories, realise that he is in deep, deep shock. So much so he’s dropped, as our Doctor explains, into a Fugue State. This shock was caused by him witnessing the brutal murder of his wife at the hands of the Cybermen and the kidnapping of his son. And that’s what Doctor Who can do so well – it’s not just about fighting monsters or special effects. It’s about the drama. Here’s a man who’s lost his wife. Seen his son kidnapped. And been so shocked by it that his entire personality was submerged and he assumed a new one. Suddenly, The Next Doctor, isn’t the light adventure romp we thought it was going to be.

Meanwhile, the plot for the second half of the special has already been hinted at – and now it becomes the focus of the action. It’s Cybermen, folks. Hints of this have been given up to this point, but now the Cyber-Steampunk plot moves to the front of the plot. We meet a woman who is so vexed by the limitations placed on her sex in Victorian Britain that she finds the heads of local orphanages and workhouses and brings them to the Cyberman for the installation of the little Cyber-control ear-buds. These men then bring all the children in their charge to a warehouse to be used as a disposable workforce. Yes, you read that right a disposable workforce. Again, we’re not exactly dealing with kiddie plots here. However, once the kids show up the Cyber Lieutenant reveals his hand – the woman will be converted to be the Cyber King. However, much to his shock – she retains part of her personality and becomes a Cyber “King” who wants revenge on all the men in London for the wrongs she’s suffered as a woman. It should be noted that this is the second time in New Who a woman has been able to overcome Cyber-conversion and keep at least a part of  her own personality (In “Army of Ghosts” / “Doomsday” the female head of Torchwood resists Cyber-conversion by repeating over and over again “I must do my duty” – she resists long enough to destroy some Cybermen before being destroyed herself). Similarly, the woman in “The Next Doctor” is obsessed with the wrongs she feels she’s suffered at the hands of the men she turns over to the Cybermen. And she has no mercy towards the children she uses as a workforce. Before long a giant King Kong-like Cyber Factory is threatening London. The Next Doctor, his companion Rosita, and the Doctor fight it off. Somehow, the second half of the episode doesn’t work quite as well as the first half, even though it’s much closer to what one normally thinks of as Doctor Who. More time needed to be devoted to the woman’s motivations – What made her so desperate as to throw in her lot with the Cybermen in the first place for example? We’re left to make our own assumptions. But there are still some great moments, such as after the Doctor helps The Next Doctor (now revealed to be Jackson Lake) to rescue his son when our Doctor goes to fight the Cyber “King” by himself.

“But I should be with you.” – Next Doctor (DM)
“Jackson, you’ve got your son. You’ve got a reason to live.” – The Doctor (DT)
“And you haven’t? [They exchange a knowing and pained look] God save you, Doctor.” – Next Doctor (DM). ~ The Next Doctor (David Tennant and David Morrissey), BBC

Again, that pure angst of suggesting that The Doctor, our Doctor, has been through almost too much is palatable. But the Doctor saunters on, as always, and wins, destroying the Cyber King. Or, more precisely causing it to destroy itself.

So there is much more going on it this, the most fun and the lightest of the five specials for David Tennant’s swan song as the Doctor. I highly, highly recommend it.

The Next Doctor is available on DVD both by itself and as part of  “The Specials” collection, which also includes:  Planet of the DeadWaters of Mars, and parts 1 and 2 of The End of Time.

The Next Doctor DVD contains Doctor Who Confidential Special for The Next Doctor.  It’s the full-length version, which is a nice change from the cut-down versions usually available on NTSC discs of Doctor Who.

The Next Doctor DVD also contains Doctor Who at the Proms, which is a concert of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Chorus at the Royal Albert Hall of music from the new series of Doctor Who, written by Murray Gold. Besides hearing a full philharmonic orchestra play wonderful Doctor Who music, there’s big screens with scenes from the series timed to the music and actors in full costume. It’s wonderful to watch.  And the amazing thing is the kids – there are several shots of the kids in the audience and they are completely enthralled by what they are seeing. Some of them look to be as young as four or five years old, and here they are, at a symphony! And completely and totally enjoying it too! Wow!