Doctor Who – The Next Doctor

I have to admit to having been a little worried about this year’s run of specials. I can see the logic of doing them, of course. For one thing, the star of the show is having a break to do something else for the year. It means that BBC Wales can recapture some of the freshness of the first series and blow off a few preconceptions – this can only be helpful to an entirely new team of writers and producers. And having a series of specials rather than a wholesale gap year means that the show stays in the public consciousness.

However, there is a downside. Personally, I’ve never liked Russell T. Davies’ writing style. He does some good dialogue, but he writes by set-pieces and the internal logic of his scripts often visibly breaks at the seams. I hate having my intelligence as a viewer insulted and Davies does it a lot. Furthermore, his Christmas specials have had a tendency to be silly romps, where Doctor Who works best when the drama and humour are balanced.

From that point of view, The Next Doctor was a pleasant surprise. The title was a genius piece of intrigue, teasing us with what may or may not be glimpse of the future, and that concept was dealt with very well. The cybermen were handled brilliantly, even though the whole “cyberking” bit was a touch strange, and the episode worked well both as sci-fi drama and Christmas fun.

David Morrissey’s portrayal of the alternative Doctor sold the sub-plot well, and the revelations about his past were well-handled and supported a good story, illustrating the evil of the cybermen without resorting to excesses of violence. Overall, the story worked very well and was a well-presented episode of Doctor Who.

If it were in the middle of a season, though, The Next Doctor would not be a stand-out highlight. The final conflict was visually impressive, but had the spell broken by another of Davies’ internal logic failures: why did the giant cyberman thing disintegrate? No discernable reason outside of the convenience of tying up a giant robot in 1850s London as a loose end. Furthermore, Jackson Lake was the only really well-rounded character. Miss Hartigan’s character motivation wasn’t as clever or insightful an exploration of Victorian gender relations as the smugness of the script suggested Davies thought it was; she was just another megalomaniac villain. Overall, there wasn’t anything fantastically engaging or life-affirming about The Next Doctor. I wouldn’t call it a damp squib, but I wouldn’t call it a classic either.

If this episode is indicative of the specials to come, I think we can expect them to keep the ball rolling. Four extended specials will keep people watching, but the first was something of an average episode and I can’t see a reason to expect more from the rest. It feels like the show is treading water waiting for the next season, but I’m happy to tread water along with it.

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~ by Scary Rob on 22 January, 2009.

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