Tuesday, July 07, 2009

My Review of Doctor Who's 4x14: "The Next Doctor"

Written by Russell T. Davies
Directed by Andy Goddard

Jackson Lake (to The Doctor): “I’m The Doctor. Simply The Doctor. The one, the only and the best.”

Five and a half months since the tear jerking “Journey’s End” and a lot has happened since July 2008. First off we had to wait until September to discover the title of this episode and by the end of October; we also knew that David Tennant would be departing the series after the 2009 specials are filmed.

With a title that raises so many questions – is David Morrissey literally living up to its namesake, the episode opens on a fun note. First off all we’re in Victorian London and The Doctor gets to witness a sullen kid accusing him of being thick. Thankfully a lot more exciting stuff beyond that happens of course.

A young woman named Rosita screams for The Doctor and when he tries to help her, she sees him as a pest. It also then becomes more confusing when a confident man steps into the fray claiming to be The Doctor and together both Time Lords come to face a Cybershade.

I suppose if we weren’t going to have Cybermats, a Cybershade would have to do and they look distinctly primitive enough. They’re also pretty strong and great jumpers as both Doctors discover quick enough when being dragged up to a building by one of them trying to escape.

Showing that time period have no bearing on companions’ smartness, Rosita manages to rescue the pair of them but they’re too busy behaving like school boys to take her concerns seriously. I suppose the first case of alarm bells here is that Morrissey’s Doctor doesn’t recognise Tennant’s Doctor, despite the latter’s initial attempts to correct this error.

There are various amusing attempts from our Doctor to get this apparent Doctor to remember but we end up cutting away from that so we can actually see the Cybermen. One of my biggest hopes for this episode was that unlike “Doomsday”, the presence of the Cybermen wouldn’t be upstaged by the intrusion of another enemy or the departure of a companion.

With this episode those fears rise again given the title but I have to say, I am mostly satisfied with their treatment here. Also in terms of human allies, not only have they found someone as ruthless as Lumic but this time around, that person is both charismatic and genuinely creepy in equal measures.

Enter Mercy Hartigan, a woman so evil to the core; she might as well be Satan’s mistress. Having her largely kitted out in a fetching red dress certainly rams home the point that she’s a villain of epic proportions.

When talking to the Cyberleader, she’s casual in her tone and shows them no fear or loyalty. In fact she’s openly irritated by the Cyberleader’s very male attitude and her openly dislike men thinking they’re superior is something that is addressed throughout the entire story.

At a funeral for the unfortunate Aubrey Fairchild, Miss Hartigan causes a scene by her attire. When she defends her choice of clothing, I actually rooted for her but her evil stripes some come into formation when the Cybermen gatecrash the funeral and kill as many of the people who are there. Of course the ones who are spared are equally screwed as Mercy begins her madwoman mission for liberation.

As for The Doctors, the Morrissey one gets rid of Rosita for a bit and winds up taking the Tennant one as a companion when they break into the house of a murder victim. Without a doubt this leads to several great scenes between both David Tennant and David Morrissey, notably because our Doctor is being wary about what to reveal and the other Doctor is trying to remember where he recognises his new pal.

This also gets interrupted with the first confrontation with a Cyberman. While the fight here isn’t as intense as the one in “The Christmas Invasion”, it’s still pretty exhilarating and when our Doctor lets slip his real identity, the use of an info stamp is great in dispatching a certain foe.

More importantly, I appreciate how this episode didn’t decide to wait until the last quarter to reveal who Morrissey’s Doctor really is. Up until a few weeks ago, I was pretty convinced that he was a known charlatan who was pretending to be The Doctor in order to fill a void. Coupled with David Tennant’s imminent departure and Russell T. Davies telling all and sundry that Morrissey’s Doctor wasn’t a conman, there was a part of me that actually hoped this episode would reveal the Eleventh Doctor.

Of course the signs to the contrary were there – the broken fob watch, the hot air balloon posing as a TARDIS, the very literal screwdriver. Rosita is the only thing that really would convince you that Morrissey’s Doctor was the real deal. It’s a shame but as far as I’m concerned the reveal is genuinely satisfying.

When our Doctor is examining the other Doctor’s heart, we’re not let into the fact that he’s traced only one heartbeat and then there’s the disappearance of the mysterious Jackson Lake. With so many victims of the Cybermen, he’s the only one whose body didn’t surface and soon enough it becomes apparent as to why.

David Morrissey is revealed to be Jackson Lake and the use of info stamps do help with that process. We get to see Jackson losing his wife in the midst of an altercation with the Cybermen and Jackson himself being imprinted with the memories of The Doctor, therefore ensure that he thinks he’s The Doctor.

While I can imagine that there are going to be a fair amount of fans thinking that once again, Russell T. Davies lied to them, technically he didn’t. Yes, I know that Jackson isn’t the real deal but a conman would be someone who would be aware of posing as a certain person. Jackson doesn’t have that luxury and given what’s uncovered about his past, you’d have to have a heart of stone not to sympathise with him.

Also even if he isn’t The Doctor, David Morrissey’s performance is still excellent and Jackson does instruct Rosita to help the real Doctor when the local kids are being snatched. It’s a creepy little scene as well as rather blatant homage to the Pied Piper as The Doctor and Rosita are forced to watch the kids being snatched with the Cybershades preventing them from helping out.

It’s also amazing that we have to wait quite long into the episode before we have a proper face off with The Doctor and Mis Hartigan. Immediately it’s hatred on sight but Mercy has already established her hatred for The Doctor and even delights in trying to have him and Rosita deleted. As plans go, it fails and she has to endure a punch from Rosita.

Of course that’s not the only thing that Hartigan has to endure. Anyone who teams up with the Cybermen usually wind up being converted and nearly all the time, it’s not something they want. Even Lumic tried to wriggle his way out of it and Mercy pulls a similar stunt but fails in the process.

I made the stupid assumption earlier on of assuming the Cyberleader was the Cyberking but of course, I was wrong. Instead Mercy winds up becoming the Cyberking when she’s strapped to a chair but the delighted part is that even for someone as unbelievably ruthless as Mercy, she still has the upper hand.

Her need for emotions such as fury and passion have her destroy the Cyberleader without a moment’s hesitation and she soon revels in taking command of her new legacy. After all, she did spout off about a new Industrial Revolution and given how ambitious she is, you do have that overall sense of dread.

Aside from Mercy’s antics, there’s one more little bit of information we uncover about Jackson – he has a son called Frederick. While the information serves as no surprise, it does add to a poignancy when The Doctor rescues the boy for his new friend and there’s an excellent moment where Jackson asks what does The Doctor live for nowadays.

Given that next year is allegedly seeing him flying solo with some outsider help, it’s a good question to ask but for the time being, I’d bet the need to be the dashing hero is a good place to go. After all, Jackson certainly knew how to hype The Doctor up throughout this episode and there’s something insanely delightful in our Doctor using Jackson’s TARDIS to save the day.

So for Miss Hartigan, it’s a new revolution and given the fact that the Cyberking is a gigantic robotic ship powered by her, you would be afraid. When people refuse her, she responds by trying to crush them and when she meets up with The Doctor for the second time, she’s far from in the mood to listen to him.

If there’s one failing with this story it’s that The Doctor’s threat of taking things into his own hands doesn’t feel all that potent. I know Mercy’s emotions come back to bite her in the ass and both her and the Cybermen wind up dead but for some strange reason, the scene lacks the kind of darkness that The Doctor’s murder of the Racnoss in “The Runaway Bride” had in spades.

Of course it’s probably not helped by the fact that Jackson literally forces everyone to give The Doctor a standing ovation too. The Doctor is deserving of such one given that he managed to use a Dimension Vault to stop the Cyberking ship from wiping out everyone from below.

The last five minutes of this episode do have a bittersweet feel to them. Jackson, Rosita and Frederick are brought together as a family and for once, The Doctor actually admits that losing several companions – mostly recently Donna breaks his hearts. Plus you just gotta love Jackson for actually getting The Doctor to agree on a Christmas dinner. Only one other person was able to do that.

Also in “The Next Doctor”

This was an all male episode with both David Tennant and David Morrissey having their names in the opening credits.

Jackson Lake: “I might be in a bit of trouble.”
The Doctor: “Nothing’s changed. I’ve got you.”

The first two minutes of this episode aired on November 14th as part of Children In Need.

Jackson Lake: “You’re a very odd man.”
The Doctor: “I still am.”

Cyberleader: “Define the parameters of ‘best’.”
Miss Hartigan: “As you would say, I will operate with maximum efficiency.”

Props to Dervla Kirwan’s performance as Miss Hartigan. She was definitely one of the best femme fatales we’ve had on the series.

The Doctor: “That’s a screwdriver. How is it sonic?”
Jackson Lake: “It makes noise. Isn’t that sonic?”

Jackson Lake: “You ask a lot of questions.”
The Doctor: “I’m your companion.”

It’s great that this episode referenced the events of the void. I’m not surprised that the Dimension Vault had Dalek designs on it.

Mr Cole: “You’re disgracing this ceremony dressed like a harlot.”
Miss Hartigan: “Oh, you should know, Mr Cole.”

Priest: “What manner of men are they?”
Miss Hartigan: “Cybermen.”

Halfway through this episode it’s established that Rosita was a former prostitute. Jackson literally employed her as a companion (of the non-sexual variety) before making her his nursemaid.

Jackson Lake (to The Doctor/Rosita): “With the terrible things a Time Lord has seen, he must have bad dreams.”

The Doctor (to Jackson Lake, re hot air balloon): “You’ve never actually been up?”
Rosita: “He dreams of leaving but never does.”

There’s a deleted scene on the Season Four DVD for “Journey’s End” where the Cybermen broke into the TARDIS. Jackson’s TARDIS stood for Tethered Aerial Release, Developed In Style.

Jackson Lake: “But that’s you.”
The Doctor: “Time Lord, TARDIS, enemy of the Cybermen, the one and the only.”

Jackson Lake: “I demand you tell me, sir. Tell me what they took.”
The Doctor: “Sorry, really I’m sorry because that’s an awful lot of luggage for one man.”

This episode aired at 6pm, which is early even for this show, though we did have several episodes of Merlin air in that time slot as well. As per usual, it was also up against Emmerdale.

Miss Hartigan (to The Doctor, re the Cybermen): “Oh but they wouldn’t hurt me. They’re my knights in shining armour. Quite literally.”

Cyberman: “You are The Doctor.”
The Doctor: “Oh yeah.”
Cybermen: “You will be deleted.”

The Cyberleader in this episode had black handlebars, a black visor and a plastic cover that exposed his brain. Miss Hartigan got gold/iron type handlebars when she became the Cyberking.

Miss Hartigan: “Thank you, Doctor. Very glad to be part of your last conversation. Now delete them.”

Miss Hartigan: “But you promised me! You said I’d never be converted.”
Cyberleader: “That was designated a lie.”

This was the first Christmas episode in which we got real snow, which is a refreshing change.

Miss Hartigan: “For the love of God, have you no pity?”
Cyberleader: “Correct.”

The Doctor: “You got your son; you got a reason to live”.
Jackson Lake: “But you haven’t? God save you, Doctor.”

Nice insert of all ten Doctors in this episode. I was sceptical of this happening so I’m glad to have been proven wrong.

Stranger: “Who the hell is that?”
Jackson Lake: “His name sir is The Doctor.”

Miss Hartigan: “What do you make of me, sir, an idiot?”
The Doctor: “No, question is what do you make of me?”
Miss Hartigan (to Cybermen, re The Doctor): “Destroy him.”
The Doctor: “You made me into this.”

There were two editions of Doctor Who Confidential on BBC3 for this episode. Another based on all Ten Doctors airs January 3rd at 5.35pm on BBC1 while Doctor Who At The Proms airs January 1st at 1.50pm on BBC1.

Jackson Lake: “You won’t stay?”
The Doctor: “Like you said, you know me.”
Jackson Lake: “I don’t think anyone does.”

The Doctor (to Jackson Lake, re his companions): “They leave because they should or because they find someone else. And some of them, some of them … forget me. I suppose in the end, they break my heart.”

This episode is released on DVD from January 19th and will feature the Confidential for the episode, the Proms Concert and “Music Of The Spheres”.

The Doctor (to Jackson Lake): “Jackson, if anyone had to be The Doctor, I’m glad it was you.”

The first of the 2009 specials has the title of “Planet Of The Dead”. Assuming that David Tennant has fully recovered, filming should start on January 19th.

“The Next Doctor” certainly continued this show’s staying power with the Christmas specials and while it won’t topple my favourite special, it does come in at a reasonable second place. Both David Tennant and David Morrissey were on fine form, the Cybermen and Miss Hartigan were excellent villains and like many viewers, I’m eagerly anticipating the imminent departure of the Tenth Doctor in next year’s series of specials.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

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