With rumours of David Tennant’s departure from Doctor Who back in 2008/’09, Russell T Davies seemed to enjoy teasing the audience with things like fake regenerations and misleading episode titles… at least, that’s how I remember it. The Next Doctor ostensibly depicts a future incarnation of the travelling Time Lord, who is trying to solve a series of murders and kidnappings in Victorian London. It plays up to this ruse for the first half of the episode before finally admitting that, actually, he’s not the Doctor at all, he’s just a man named Jackson Lake (played by David Morrissey), who’s been infused with the Doctor’s memories in an accident that took his family.
On the basis of this performance, he would have made a pretty good Doctor had they decided to go that way – somewhat like Peter Davison’s fifth, grounded and human but brilliant and inventive. The scenes where the “two Doctors” team up and work together are fun, and the reveal of the new Doctor’s “TARDIS” raised a smile as well. The rest of the episode is, well… the usual routine.
Cybermen in a Dickensian setting at Christmas should be far better than this, but they’re just not very interesting villains anymore. They’re deadly and threatening when they need to be (zapping people with a touch) but useless when they’re fighting the Doctor (with a sword – why not zap him through it?), and their leader, Miss Hartigan, has only vague motives to support her pantomime villain routine. The “Cybershades” are supposed to look retro or something, but they’re just too fluffy and adorable and make little sense. The Cyberking looks amazing and has a great steampunk vibe to it, but it’s similarly implausible. How did something that big hide under the Thames? It’s just another “big threat” for the sake of, with a poor resolution – more magic weapons and silly save-the-day devices.
Still, it’s not too bad. Before it gets boring, the mystery of the Jackson Lake character gives the episode an intriguing focus (he should have had more to do in the final act – put him in the balloon instead, for instance!). It was nice to see the old footage of all ten Doctors projected from the infostamp (that’s the first time that’s happened, isn’t it?). It’s Christmassy, but the Christmassiness isn’t overdone – there’s no embarrassing scene like the Queen waving in last year’s special. But, it is still just a big budget special and these rarely rise above “okay”. Unfortunately, without a regular season and a regular companion, 2009 was all about one-off specials, and the Doctor getting increasingly whiny to the point where I was glad to see him go.