Monday, 14 February 2011
Doctor Who: The Next Doctor
“Are you thick or something?”
Bit off-topic for the Marathon, but it’s a bit deflating to arrive at the first Doctor Who DVD of the no-commentary era. Anyway, it’s good to be back reviewing actual Doctor Who again!
This is an odd one: indicative of RTD beginning to flag a bit in that the plot is little more than a collection of set-pieces, yet the characterisation is as psychologically astute as ever. Just one line of Miss Hartigan’s (“Yet another man come to assert himself against me in the night.”) hints so much about how she came to be as she is without dwelling it. This sort of thing is masterful writing. Both “Doctors” are characterised quite brilliantly, too. But still, I’m somewhat underwhelmed.
This is a proper Christmas episode, with snow, Dickensian scenes with urchins and lots of women in bonnets, and a rather amusing early riff on a scene from A Christmas Carol. But essentially this is a story based on one intriguing conceit; David Morrissey’s character apparently being the Doctor’s future self. Of course, the truth gradually unravels, bit by bit. The script is fantastic in its treatment of Jackson Lake, and so is David Morrissey, who puts in one of the finest guest performances we’ve seen.
Also admirable is the way that, although this is a suitably fluffy Christmas episode, the dark side of Victoriana lies beneath the surface. This is a world of workhouses, grinding poverty leavened only slightly by private charity, and not an ideal place to be a woman. Not only is there the aforementioned line by Miss Hartigan (Dervla Kirwan pitches the character just right- mainly cartoon villain, but with genuine hints of greater depths), hinting at her being raped many times in the past, but her line to the Doctor about him “not paying” Rosita for “that” seems to imply to me that she’s a prostitute, which would put Jackson Lake’s references to her as his “companion” in another light. In which case it is at least good to see that the story ends with Jackson Lake “rescuing” this “fallen woman” in suitably Victorian fashion, rather than having her die, as would happen in any Victorian novel to any female character seen to depart from convention. Importantly, none of this is too overt for the kind of story we have here.
Anyway! The Cybermen are back, they look great against the snow, the Cybermen are great, and the central funeral scene is a great set-piece. Of course, they benefit from having Miss Hartigan as this story’s Tobias Vaughn, and her taunting of Mr Cones, Mr Scoones, Mr Fetch and Mr Milligan” is quite delicious. On original transmission I was somewhat critical of this story’s use of Cybermen, thinking their plan (and the Cyberking!) to be silly and vague, and a return to the days when the Cybermen were used in such a way that they could have been any old monster. I must be lightening up, though- this time back none of that bothered me at all. It’s a well-established tradition for Cyberman stories, after all, and one that’s given a lot of fun. And this is another one of those RTD plots where the A-plot is really just there to play second fiddle to the character development. Also, steampunk Cyber-technology is well cool.
Also well cool are Jackson Lake’s accoutrements: the “sonic” screwdriver, a delicious piece of misdirection with the fob watch and, of course, Tethered Aerial Release Developed In Style. And we get a rare series of clips of all ten Doctors. Is it just me who wonders why, every time we get to see clip shows like this, they conveniently stop at the current Doctor? Oh, and it seems McGann is definitely canon.
There are some nice twists at the end- Hartigan is to be the Cyberking (“That was designated a lie!”), but discovers, to her glee, that her personality is strong enough to control all the power she now has (“Joy is not acceptable!). And we get a massive Cyberpunk Cyberman, the Doctor ascending in a balloon to give the villain her traditional last chance, and the Doctor, for once, being appreciated for his efforts.
Not to depart from the chronology of the Marathon, there’s an intriguing couple of lines, which I’m guessing most people have already mentioned, highlighting the oddity of how this has been forgotten by history. It’s impossible to tell whether or not this is deliberately foreshadowing the next full season (I suspect not; it’s too throwaway for that, more along the lines of the Brigadier’s line about the Skarasen in the Thames in Terror of the Zygons), but it certainly doesn’t bother me; this sort of niggle only really needs to be acknowledged by the script for the honour of nit-picking viewers such as myself to be satisfied.
Some interesting stuff with the Doctor at the end, too, which we know is foreshadowing something; Jackson knows that he needs companions for his own sake, but the Doctor admits that “in the end, they break my heart”. Still, at least this time he gets to enjoy Christmas Dinner. A very solid 3/5.