Not The Next Doctor

Doctor Who Next Doctor b

Doctor Who: The Next Doctor – What are you smiling about?

Normally I watch Doctor Who episodes at least twice. The first time is upon original transmission and I sit with wide-eyed pleasure and soak up every drop of new Whoishness that is played out before me. Despite the fact that I know that I will soon be watching it again with an aim of dissecting it, quoting it, arguing about it, analysing it and generally being far too critical, that first viewing is almost always the best before these corrupting influences of fandom begin to taint and smear the experience. Sometimes, and it’s wonderful when it happens, an episode will stand up to the inevitable barrage of negativity that its most loyal “fans” will lob its way. That Doctor Who so often rises above the critique is testament to its quality and the real reason why fandom persists and flourishes. On other occasions it is the passing of time itself that allows us ming-mongs to re-assess the stories and reach a genuine consensus (if such a thing even exists) as to any particular story’s true merit. On the flipside of this coin, there are those installments, thankfully few and far between, that leave me a little cold on first viewing. Where the magic has been somehow dissipated or some essential ingredient is left either incorrectly mixed or missing entirely. On these occasions a second viewing can feel like a burden.

And so to the fourth outing for the Christmas Special, which is fast becoming established as a festive tradition like the sales starting in early December or Easter Eggs on sale on Boxing Day. The Next Doctor certainly had some striking visuals… the picture postcard Victorian Christmas; the Cybermen’s appearance in the snowy graveyard all black and white and silver bar the amazing red dress of the villainess; the great, steam driven machine with urchins forced into slave labour to make it work; and, if that wasn’t enough, a great big, mechanical, Godzilla-esque monstrosity rising from the Thames and wreaking havoc across Old London Town. Supposedly tying all that together was main mystery of the eponymous Next Doctor. Was he a genuine future incarnation of the Time Lord, an ingenious impostor (based upon Christopher Biggins’ One Doctor character from the Big Finish audio range), or something else entirely?

Penned by supremo, Russell T Davies, we can recognise the “shopping list” outlined above that would have formed the big scenes of the special. A lot of work goes in to creating this hour of television and thanks to numerous documentaries and interviews and the essential Doctor Who stocking filler that is RTD and Benjamin Cook’s magnus opus, The Writer’s Tale, we all now have a pretty clear idea of how the man goes about creating his work. However he does it, he knows his onions. He has widespread respect from his peers, his industry and the actors, directors and producers to whom he gives his scripts and in such a fickle and pernickity arena as television production, that respect is hard earned. Doctor Who has been lucky to have such a man at the helm and once again he delivered a winning formula with 11 million bums on seats and an 88% audience appreciation.

Why then was I left feeling a little deflated?

Perhaps it was because this was filmed 15th in a sequence of 15 back-to-back episodes beginning with Kylie’s Voyage of the Damned and running through the whole of series four before tagging this on the end to allow David Tennant his Shakespearean diversion. That’s a lot of work in anyone’s book and signs of fatigue may be creeping in. Perhaps it was because the use of the “next Doctor” remained a mystery for almost no time at all. Don’t get me wrong, it was great to see David Morrisey in this one-off companion role with a story for his character that was worth telling but I had hoped to remain intrigued for somewhat longer. Perhaps it was the slapstick of the opening chase seen as the Cybershade leapt up and through a deserted building dragging our Doctors behind him (her/it), which is the kind of scene that just leaves me cringing. Perhaps it was even because I was not one of the 11million who watched straight away but instead tuned in, bleary eyed, on a bright Boxing Day morning, which were far from ideal viewing conditions. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

However, there were positives aplenty too. I, for one, liked the Cybershades. Bounding around like cyberneticised hounds doing the grunt work for their menacing but, let’s face it, slow masters. It’s always bothered me that all it takes to outwit a cyberman is some nimble footwork and a quick turn of pace. A cyberman could never catch Theo Walcott but a couple of ‘shades would have him in the lobotomy lab in double quick time. The Other Viewer, in line with the majority of other views I have heard, found them to be just a little bit silly. Dervla Kirwin shone as the embittered yet elegant Mercy Hartigan giving the cybes exactly what they needed as John Lumic had done before.

And so it is with mixed feelings that I approach my second viewing. It could go the way of Boomtown, which I watched originally with a deep sense of frustration but then grew to admire over time. Or it could be in the same category as The Runaway Bride that is memorable in places for its sense of fun and its big set pieces but let down elsewhere by some forgettable plotting and failure to hit the right buttons for this particular viewer.

  1. January 5th, 2009
  2. April 8th, 2009

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