I was working on a review of the 2009 Easter Special and I realized that I never got around to reviewing the 2008 Christmas Special. So I ask that you excuse the lateness of this review.
On the off chance that you have not seen the episode yet, read no further because plot details will be revealed.
Yes, this is a SPOILER WARNING.
The build-up to this special was especially intense as the title ‘The Next Doctor,’ hinted at some big changes ahead for the show. With a relatively major star cast as the ‘Other Doctor,’ and Tennant’s recent announcement of departure, it was on everyone’s mind that this may indeed be a regeneration story. As it turns out, that was not the case, making the title completely nonsensical if you think about it. I mean, Morrisey’s character wasn’t a Doctor at all, so why the title?
In any case, the predictably routine opening sees the Doctor basking in the magic of a BBC period set, just gushing over the whimsical splendor of things that we humans take for granted. This bliss is cut short as he hears a cry for help. He dashes off (complete with overly dramatic fanfare courtesy of Murray Gold’s orchestra) to meet the fright-wig wearing Rosaita who strangely has the exact same accent as Rose and Martha and Donna. So even though the story takes place in a different time, the females have the same accent. Just an odd observation. The episode then introduces the one positive thing it has to offer, the guest star David Morrisey.
As readers may have noticed and been kind to agree to disagree with me in places, I have a very specific idea of what makes a ‘proper’ Doctor. In this respect, Morrisey hits all the right buttons for me. Noble, classy, intelligent, brave and mature this character is also dressed in a period costume, a nod to both William Hartnell’s era and the more recent Paul McGann. I understand that all of this pretense was no doubt directed at fans like myself. Fair enough. Even Tennant seems taken with him and immediately figures that this guy is some future version of himself and tries his best to politely find out how he ‘died’ leading to an 11th incarnation, but this just confuses Morrisey’s character.
Nevertheless, the pair of adventurers decide to team up to defeat the menace posed by the Cybermen. I should note that this particular attack of the Cybermen has to be its single goofiest attempt at conquest. Monsters that look like muppets with Cybermen heads attached are meant to be menacing and even roar (just like Cybermen roar) yet I couldn’t help but bust a gut every time they showed up.
This character who so brazenly enters the world of Doctor is later revealed to be Jackson Lake, a normal human who was exposed to a data storage device. The device was loaded with all of the information on the Doctor and it ‘went off’ in Morrisey’s face, causing him to ‘download’ all of the information and somehow think that he was the Doctor. The flashback to this moment featuring vintage footage of each Doctor from the old program is both heartwarming and annoying. It’s nice to see the old faces but I have to repeat myself by saying that this version of Doctor Who has so little in common with the classic series that trying to link the two never feels right to me.
Nevertheless, the devious villainess Miss Hartegan played with gusto by Dervla Kirwan (of Randal and Hopkirk, Deceased), adds a certain element of classic Who to the program. Hartegan is working with the Cybermen in a rather classic misunderstanding that has been played out in most every Cybermen story. Hartegan thinks that she can use the Cybermen to further her own goals while the Cybermen are in fact using her for theirs. Unfortunately RTD establishes this “I’m terribly evil” character type and stops right there, leaving Kirwan little to do other than strut theatrically about in her red frock and spout hastily-written feminist dogma around. The fact that she is placed in the center of ‘the Cyber King’ is both silly and nonsensical. The episode has spent the entire episode establishing how strong-willed Miss Hartegan is, so why do the Cybermen think they can control her? Is this some kind of misogynystic statement of the series? Probably not.
There is a last minute inclusion of child labor that is unintentionally hilarious as the cast of as grade school production of Oliver! is paraded through town to a factory where the Cybermen are doing something… terribly unexplained. The children are ‘enslaved’ for all of 5 minutes tops before Jackson Lake and the Doctor liberate them, yet the audience is somehow expected to well up with emotion about this. It’s the one major failing of the Special and for me… that’s pretty good.
A light-hearted special with some dodgy special effects and a series of excessively long dramatic moments centered on the Doctor’s hair and a young ashen-faced child actor’s long eyelashes, this could be the best holiday special the new series has to offer.
Don’t worry, I’m about to finish ‘Planet of the Dead’ and get back to my normal cranky self.