Sunday, 28 April 2013

Doctor Who: Writemare in Silver - The Next Doctor Review

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


Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz for The Gallifrey Times

To celebrate Doctor Who's 50th anniversary and the upcoming broadcast of Neil Gaiman's Nightmare in Silver, I'll be reviewing all of the post-2005 episodes featuring the Cybermen, staring with Rise of the Cybermen and ending with Closing Time - and along the way, finding out which episode's the best of the bunch.

The Cybermen had had one long break. Two and a half years after they last appeared in Series 2 finale Doomsday, the metal monsters re-appeared in the first of David Tennant's final Specials. Part five of Writemare in Silver, it's The Next Doctor!

The Next Doctor, surprisingly enough, seems to do what it says on the tin. The story picks up a while after the Series 4 finale, Journey's End, with the a care-free Tenth Doctor who seems to have got over the mildly traumatizing experience of wiping Donna's memories landing in Victorian London. And he's only just landed when a shout of 'Doctor'! calls him into action... but it's not him that the woman he finds is looking for. Nope, it's another Doctor.

The Next Doctor is probably at its best in the opening stages - starting off with a cartoon-y but amusing little chase scene with the Cybershades (which look more than ropey). David Morrissey's charismatic performance often carries the episode (along with his chemistry with always-on-form David Tennant) - but he's never better than he is in the opening fifteen minutes, when it seems that he really is the next Doctor (he's even got the same catchphrase!).

It's a clever idea to introduce a potential future incarnation of the Doctor in an episode (it's worth noting that the episode was broadcast after David Tennant announced his departure, but before the announcement of the casting of Matt Smith), and it's an intriguing mystery that fuels the first half of the episode - rendering the actual Doctor as the companion is a nice little twist that puts a fresh spin on the Doctor-companion mechanic, and it's enjoyable to see the Doctor on the back foot for once.

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.

Louis' Rating: 6/10

Next Time: We enter the Steven Moffat era, as the Pandorica opens in er... The Pandorica Opens. Prepare for arm-less Cybermen.