Doctor Who – The Next Doctor – A Review of the 2008 Christmas Special
The Doctor Who Christmas specials have been something of a mixed bag so far. The first one, 2005′s The Christmas Invasion, was superb in every way. That was followed by 2006′s excruciatingly bad ‘The Runaway Bride’ and 2007′s rather mediocre ‘Voyage of the Damned’. This year, the BBC have gone for a full-on Christmas extravaganza set in that staple of warm and fuzzy Christmas yarns- Victorian London. Here’s ‘The Next Doctor’. Thankfully there’s mischief afoot in the shape of the Cybermen, and thus we’re not just watching the Doctor eat mince pies for an hour. The Next Doctor takes a whacking chunk of inspiration from the current surge in the Steampunk offshoot of science fiction, with some fantastic results and some not so fantastic.
The story fits the hour-long format well, giving ample room for characterization and pacing, but it does show that the budget was all spent on the massive scale ending. The Cybermen seem a bit tougher and more like the classic era cybermen in behaviour (and certainly in voice), the production is sumptuous and the cast are spot on, but the piece is let down somewhat by the curiously realized Cybershades. What are they? Dogs? People? Animated fur coats? While everything else in the episode is based largely on materials available at the time the episode is set, where would they have found these odd creatures? The bronze faces are a bit comical after a while, really.
David Morrissey’s ‘Next Doctor character’ is very Doctorish to start off with, but it becomes clear before the midway point that he isn’t all that he seems, and the gradual realization of his own past will remind Doctor Who fans of the Doctor himself in the Human nature/Family of Blood episodes from series 3, when he himself had his memories replaced. That story is mentioned a few times, as is the legend of the fob watch (part of the Chameleon Arch process in those earlier episodes), and it is this element that makes you wonder if Mr Davies struggled with the script. It is evident that he didn’t though, as this is one of the best written episodes in a while.
‘The Next Doctor’ comes across as ideal Christmas day entertainment, but its setting will limit its appeal on DVD. That said, it is a rather well crafted story on the whole. Personally I loved every minute of it, and that ending just blew me away. The scale of the last ten minutes is truly immense, and must have had steampunk fans screaming with glee at their TVs. I do hope that the rest of the Doctor Who special episodes to feature David Tennant as the Doctor (which will make up his last year in the part) are as well made as The Next Doctor. 2009 will be very interesting indeed for Doctor Who fans all over the galaxy. I give ‘The Next Doctor’ a resounding thumbs up, and would love to see David Morrissey show up in Doctor Who again.
Andrew writes for the popular Starstore blogs and their TV and film merchandise site, as well as being a renowned music journalist, geek columnist, SF author and long-term Doctor Who fan.