Doctor Who: 2008 Christmas Special
The Next Doctor
Written By: Russell T Davies
Directed By: Andy Goddard
Produced By: Russell T Davies & Julie Gardner
Broadcast Date: 25 December 2008
Sadly, the plot soon goes a little pear-shaped. Via the excessive use of ‘mysterious’ flashbacks and unsubtle foreshadowing, it becomes blindingly obvious that the next Doctor is Jackson Lake well before it’s actually revealed. Perhaps Russell T Davies simplified the plot for the casual audiences who only tune in to Doctor Who, but it’s still a shame that the mystery fizzled out far before it was actually revealed – and when it is revealed, it’s by a rather long (even if the fan-pleasing looks at all ten Doctors almost redeem it) info-dump by the Doctor. Exposition is fine, but in small quantities: not whopping five-minute-plus info-dumps.
But this is a Cybermen review, so let’s talk about our favourite metal monsters. They’re mostly in the shadows for the Jackson-dominated first half of the episode (which is where they work best in this reviewer’s opinion) – but not for the first time, they have a human ally – Miss Hartigan. Thankfully, Miss Hartigan’s no John Lumic, and Devla Kirwan provides an excellent performance – especially considering the character itself (the Posh Lady Villain, as we’ll call this particular breed of villain) is one we’ve seen several times before in RTD-era Doctor Who.
As for the Cybermen themselves (and this question will soon pop up again in my review of a certain Series 6 episode), for most of the run-time they’re just super-powered henchman. It’s nice to have a crowd-pleasing alien at Christmas, but the Cybermen could have been utilized in a far, far better way than they are here (aside from the Cyber-King, but we’ll get to that later). It’s a pity, because their re-introduction in Series 2 was rather promising – but the Cyber-henchmen we see here are a far cry from their intimidating, menacing identical cousins from Rise of the Cybermen.
However, despite my misgivings about the episode, there are quite a few redeeming features. The first half of the episode is great, the performances are immaculate and while the plot itself is sub-par, it zips along at quite a pace – I’d imagine that this review would’ve been very different if I had been watching it after my first viewing. The threat of the Cyber-King is quite an intriguing plot thread too – and with the King kept under wraps until the last ten minutes, it’s an idea that’s used to its full potential.
And speaking of the Cyber-King… The metal steampunk Transformer stomping over the streets of London is certainly one of the most memorable images of modern day Who… it’s just a pity that it’s so under-used. It appears for all of five minutes, and is dispatched in the space of thirty seconds. It’s a really great idea, and it’s designed excellently- but sadly, the plot just didn’t have space for it, and it sadly got the short end of the stick as a result. Still, it’s memorable enough to be mentioned in Moffat’s Who (Flesh and Stone), so that’s something.
Overall, The Next Doctor is a middling affair. The first, intriguing half is chock-full of potential and great performances – it’s just a pity to see the concluding half fall so flat, and the Cybermen reduced to glorified henchman. Still, it’s quite a lot of fun while it lasts, and it’s not quite forgettable.