“The Next Doctor”
Arriving in London for Christmas Eve, 1851, The Doctor runs into a man who seems to be one of his future incarnations. But while helping him to track down a Cyberman he discovers that this “future Doctor” is missing some important memories.
I find myself in something of a lonely position when it comes to my thoughts on “The Next Doctor”. Many fans and fellow reviewers rate it very highly, mentioning of course David Morrissey’s brilliant performance and how wonderful the scenes are that he shares with David Tennant. And while I agree that the chemistry between the two works brilliantly, I can’t seem to get past the story’s failure to focus on its strongest aspect.
The Doctor and the man who may be his future self embark on an adventure to discover the reason behind the presence of the Cybermen in Victorian London. Along the way they discover a Cyberman infostamp – a metallic device used to store vast amounts of information – and the future Doctor recognises it. He uses it to kill an attacking Cyberman, saying that he remembers doing the same thing before. The Doctor soon unravels the mystery of his future self’s memory loss; he is, in fact, a man named Jackson Lake. When the Cybermen first escaped The Void and came to this time period, he and his wife were attacked and his wife died. Whilst defeating the Cyberman who attacked them with an infostamp, an electrical discharge sent information about The Doctor into his mind and his grief over the death of his wife shut down his own personality in favour of The Doctor’s.
Taking this part of the story in isolation and Tennant and Morrissey’s brilliant performances during these scenes, we have a classic episode of Doctor Who on our hands. There is emotion and turmoil as we learn more about Jackson Lake, there is humour and adventure in the scenes where the two leads chase Cybermen and there is the overall mystery and resolution concerning the “Next Doctor”. The problem for me is that this story alone is enough to drive the entire episode, but it’s resolved just after the halfway point. Keeping the truth about Jackson Lake’s identity a mystery right until the closing minutes of the episode would’ve proved a much more gratifying experience. The stuff about the Cybermen only needed to exist in order to create the situation that Jackson finds himself in.
I’ve always liked the Cybermen and I think their presence in this particular time period works great. There’s an almost Steam Punk vibe to proceedings and I’d have quite liked to see that explored more, with Cybermen attempting to stave off death by incorporating technology of the time into themselves. But the Cybermen section of the plot instead revolves around them doing this on a massive scale, the culmination of which is a giant Cyberman who stomps through Victorian London like a metallic Mothra. In terms of pure spectacle it’s a treat; the CGI, whilst not great, is convincing enough to make this an exciting set-piece that is lots of fun while you’re watching it. But barely hours after seeing the episode for the first time I was already finding myself wishing they’d focused more on the Jackson Lake story and foregone the Iron Giant Goes Kill Crazy On London finale.
As for the main villain of the piece, Dervla Kirwan’s performance as Miss Hartigan is laughable. And I mean that in the literal sense as every time she’s on screen I can’t help but laugh at how much her character seems like a parody. Kirwan is a good actress, something I’ve often argued with friends about, but here she just chews the scenery and delivers a pantomime villain performance. Worse still, her character has little importance in the grand scheme of the episode.
Whilst the Cyber King concept is an interesting one, it’s the element of the story that is too heavily explored when the real intrigue centres solely around Jackson Lake. The big finale should have been Jackson and The Doctor defeating the Cybermen and the mystery of Jackson’s true identity being revealed.
David Morrissey delivers a fantastic performance and his chemistry with Tennant is palpable. The entire premise surrounding his character is the stuff of classic Doctor Who; but the early resolution of his plotline is dissatisfying and the reliance on a big action finish feels like a waste of a potentially emotional conclusion. Final score is a generous 7/10.
Written and edited by Richey Hackett