SciFi Weekend Part II: The Next Doctor

This post contains major spoilers for this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special, which has not yet aired in the United States. Those who have not downloaded it and are planning to watch it when it airs are advised not to read this review until after viewing the episode.

The Next Doctor began with The Doctor arriving in London on Christmas Eve in 1851. He heard a woman calling for The Doctor and found the call for help answered by someone else who identified himself as The Doctor. Both aimed their versions of a sonic screwdriver at a creature which appeared to be part animal with the face of a Cyberman.

The relationship with his companions has often been what has made an episode of Doctor Who, even when faced with an otherwise weak story. The Doctor is currently without companions, and this other Doctor served the purpose of a companion, as well as the purpose of adding interest to what otherwise would have been a weak episode.

Initially The Doctor almost played second fiddle to David Morrissey’s version of The Doctor with the suggestion that he is a future version of himself. If this was true, the second Doctor should have memories of this event from the first time around from his perspective. Initially they appeared to get around this by revealing that the other Doctor has lost many memories. This could have been a consequence of his battle with the Cyberman, which forced a regeneration (which doesn’t always leave The Doctor in the best shape).

While a future incarnation with lost memories initially appeared to be a satisfactory explanation, holes soon developed in this theory. The other Doctor’s sonic screwdriver turned out to be a regular screw driver which, in order to make noise, was banged against the wall. The Doctor tried to use a fob watch worn by the second Doctor to restore his memories as seen in Human Nature, but it turned out to be just a regular watch. When the other Doctor mentioned blinking, The Doctor tried to jog his memory with the events in Blink. The Doctor asked to see the other Doctor’s Tardis, and found that it was a hot air balloon:Tethered Aerial Release Developed in Style.

The Doctor figured out that the other person was not really a Timelord without even bothering to check out how many heart beats he has.  He was actually Jackson Lake, the first person who disappeared when the Cyberman attacked London. Lake used an infostamp, which contains vast amounts of information including data on The Doctor, as a weapon, finding it could destroy the Cybermen. In the process of using the weapon Lake’s mind was overwhelmed by the infostamp, as well as the shock of seeing his wife killed, and Lake believed he was The Doctor. Less clear is why The Cybermen also believed Lake was The Doctor and ignored the actual Doctor.

The Cybermen aspects of the story were far less interesting than the Jackson Lake storyline. The infostamps made it too easy to destroy the Cybermen. There was the usual human who helped the alien enemy, and then was shocked to find the aliens inevitably turn on her. Miss Hartigan was converted to the CyberKing against her will. While it was a different twist from a frequently used storyline, I found it unrealistic that Hartigan’s mind would turn out to be too powerful and that she would wind up in control.

The episode tried to make up for a weak plot by resorting a conclusion which literally features a giant Cyberman threatening London.

The Doctor used the hot air balloon version of the Tardis to get to the level where the CyberKing was located. Just as it was too easy to destroy Cybermen earlier in the episode, The Doctor had little difficulty, using a combination of infostamps and another gadget he happened to pick up along the way, to sever Miss Hartman’s connection to the Cyberman after she refused an offer to be transported elsewhere to live in peace. Supposedly Miss Hartman’s mind was in control, which seemed to contradict what happened next. After the link was severed, Miss Hartman was appalled by what she had become. She then self-destructed, also destroying the Cybermen.

After easily saving London from harm, The Doctor discussed his relationship with his companions with Jackson Lake. The Doctor explained that he had no companion at present as they break his heart. The Doctor told Lake that the other companions either leave him, meet someone else or forget about him. The last refers to Donna, who lost all memory of her time with The Doctor at the conclusion of Journey’s End. There has been speculation that one of the specials airing over the next year will deal with a resolution to Donna’s problem and this might be foreshadowing such a development.

The show was a fair but not great episode. Perhaps the most disappointing part was the knowledge that we will see so little of Doctor Who over the next year, and will not be seeing David Tennant for much longer. This episode seemed to be a waste of so little time remaining.

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