Episode Review: Doctor Who: The Next Doctor

After last series’ (or season’s for us Yanks) finale featuring a reunion of companions new and old and Donna Noble’s heart-wrenching departure from the TARDIS, the Doctor (David Tennant) is once again travelling alone.  The TARDIS lands in what appears to be the epitome of every Dickens staging ever done (real snow! Hundreds of workhouse urchins! Horse drawn carriages!).  It’s Christmas time in London, 1851 and the Doctor meets a mouthy urchin before finding himself in his comfort zone, aka trouble.  A woman is calling out for the Doctor but doesn’t recognize him when he arrives.  Another man (David Morrissey) comes rushing over and claims to be “The Doctor.  Simply The Doctor.  The one, the only, and the best.”  Hmmm, could this really be a future incarnation of the Doctor?  We all know he can regenerate and the whole time travelling life could lead to something like this.  Why doesn’t this future Doctor recognize the Tenth?

The Doctor we know and love is along for the ride (literally) as he becomes one of other Doctor’s companions (along with Rosita, the woman from before).  He seems to relish being a companion, as he tries to figure out this future self.  After a great fob watch fake out, rummaging through the “deceased” professor Jackson Lake’s belongings, and reveal of the other Doctor’s TARDIS (Tethered Aerial Release, Developed In Style), the Doctor figures out that the other Doctor isn’t a Time Lord at all but the missing Professor Lake infused with knowledge of the Doctor.  Fans of the classic series will like the little homage they give to the previous Doctors.  From here on out the Doctor and now companion continue to fight to save the day, in their proper roles.

Of course, no Doctor Who episode is complete without the baddies.  Here we have Mercy Hartigan, (Dervla Kirwan), a woman angry at the world of men conspiring with Cybermen and their Victorian creations, the Cybershades.  It all gives a cool atmospheric steampunk quality to the episode.  In a nice twist, Miss Hartigan’s eventual cyberization actually turned her into something better than the Cybermen – a CyberKing filled with emotion.  This episode, however, was not really about the villain but about the relationship between The Doctor and Jackson Lake.  David Tennant and David Morrissey have fantastic chemistry together (go rent Blackpool if you don’t believe me), and all the scenes where it’s just them either trading quips or in quiet reflection made this episode for me. 

The climax is a bit too reminiscent of Torchwood’s first series finale as a great big CyberKing goes Godzilla on Victorian London but overall, it was far more enjoyable than last year’s over the top disaster movie homage.  David Morrissey played two roles brilliantly and Dervla Kirwan made Miss Hartigan a silky smooth, cool villain.  This special had a much more reflective, somber (well, except for that whole climax), and adult tone than the previous specials, and was a great kickoff to the end of the Russell T. Davies / David Tennant era of Doctor Who (The Easter special, The Planet of the Dead, airs next month).  Uncle Rusty can be over the top (did I mention the giant robot stomping through the streets of London-town?  I did?  OK, just checking), but his overwhelming success in bringing back a series fans long thought was left in the past can’t be denied.  Steven Moffat and Matt Smith will have some very big shoes to fill when they begin filming series five next month, but in the meantime, sit back and enjoy what Davies and Tennant bring us in the next few specials.

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