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Review: Doctor Who (2000s)

Christmas Special 2008: The Next Doctor

A new Doctor and his assistant

The Cybermen are on the loose in Victorian England, but when the Doctor arrives, he finds there's already a Doctor on the case... We present our spoiler-free first opinion on this year's Doctor Who Christmas special…

2 Doctors, 1 companionSlightly underwhelming but fun, would perhaps be the best verdict of The Next Doctor. Viewed overall, it moves from a publicity-grabbing mystery to an emotional explanation and finally a child-pleasing (and toymaker-pleasing) conclusion without ever quite seeming as if they belong in the same production. But as a feast of spectacle for Christmas Day, it delivers the thrills that are needed, even though I'd personally rate it below the specials from the last three Yules, if only because the finale does feel a bit like the sort of thing a child would write once they got bored with having all 10 Doctors unite to battle a combined Dalek-Cybermen attack.

New CyberleaderIn a sense, the involvement of the Cybermen is typical of how elements work individually, but less as a whole. There’s no need for them to be Cybermen, as they make use of Human labour without converting it – with one key exception that shouldn’t be revealed here – but they’re a familiar name which will draw in the crowds in the lead-up to the revelation of this year’s new monster, the cyber-punkish Cyberking. The Cybershades – who’ll surely have everyone of a certain age thinking ‘They’ve converted Dougal! Where’s the Blue Cat?’ – don’t really have any plot role that couldn’t have been filled by an ordinary Cyberman (or any other alien heavy), but they do make for a surprisingly creepy image when they could have seemed irretrievably comic, which is more than their Cybermat predecessors could generally manage. Dervla Kirwan’s villainous Miss Hartigan is perfectly adequate, icy and posh, but no more, with perhaps the most perfunctory motivation for a Who villain since 1966's poor old Professor Zaroff, all those years ago, as she effectively reprises Sarah Lancashire’s Miss Foster from earlier this year.

David Morrissey’s performance is a fine take on the slightly more flamboyant Doctor of yesteryear, and once we get into the mystery of who the other Doctor is – we’ll say no more – he handles the more emotional elements every bit as well as you’d expect given his track record; well enough, in fact, for the moments of emotive slow motion to come across as the over-egging of the (Christmas) pudding that they can often be if overused. But once we’re past that, it’s straight into big CGI set pieces (one of which will instantly, and unfortunately, remind the three people who actually watched ITV’s sketch show Headcases of that show’s running joke about the fate of Angelina Jolie’s adopted children) culminating in the appearance of the Cyberking. Your kids will want to have one to play with next Christmas, but if you’ve got invested in the drama of the other Doctor’s origins, then you’ll wonder if you’ve just switched over into another episode, or maybe a Godzilla movie, and then start cheering at the sheer chutzpah. If it’s jarring, it doesn’t really matter, as this is Christmas Day entertainment, with a throwaway confirmation of who the 10 canonical Doctors are to settle fan arguments, and, to judge by the abrupt cut with which the version screened for the press ends, there's a surprise to come in the final seconds…

6/10

by Anthony Brown

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TV Zone #232

Photos © BBCtv
Review © Visual Imagination 2008. Not for reproduction

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TV Zone #232
December 2008
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