Thursday, 10 October 2013

The Next Doctor

So it turned out that Series Four wasn't quite the end for David Tennant's Doctor - but the moment was being prepared for. Or was it that we were being prepared for the moment?

Is it coincidence that the forthcoming Christmas Special - with its provocative title announced on the sly in the pages of RTD's book The Writer's Tale, published September 2008 - also raised questions about the demise of the Tenth Doctor and prompted speculation about who might take over? Was there a plan to get the audience used to the idea that this highly popular incarnation would not last forever?

No, I don't think so. I think if anyone needed to adjust to the end of the RTD era and the passing of the Tenth Doctor, it was Davies and Tennant themselves. Both long term fans of the show, they had found themselves in positions they had dreamt of since childhood, and worked like slaves to make Doctor Who the best thing on television. Surely neither of them wanted this to end, but both knew it must. The planning for the final specials, and for the handover to a new production team, were already underway during the writing and production of Series Four. It should come as no surprise that eschatological ideas should filter into Journey's End and The Next Doctor.

In October 2008, in between the biological metacrisis and the Cyberking, Tennant received Best Actor at the National Television Awards and used his speech to announce he would be leaving Doctor Who.  At the time we was unable to say exactly how long he would remain in the role - the schedule for the Specials had yet to be finalised - but the long goodbye had begun.

I'd never say that Tennant outstayed his welcome, but this exit strategy had an unfortunate and unforeseen consequence. Press and public speculation generated by the almost-regeneration in Journey's End had been fever pitch and this announcement, along with the title of the The Next Doctor, allowed this to bubble along for the rest of the year. Every newspaper, and almost everybody, had theorised about who should take over, and the search for the Eleventh Doctor was actively under way. On the 3rd of January, just days after The Next Doctor aired, Matt Smith was unveiled in a surprise one-off episode of Confidential and the new era began to take shape in the minds of the public. But a whole year would have to pass before the Tenth Doctor would eventually succumb to the inevitable - and it would be another three months after that until the Eleventh would get to eyeball the Atraxi.

When The End of Time came, the moment had perhaps been a little over-prepared.

And The Next Doctor? Well, watched shortly after Journey's End it does feel a little odd that both Donna and Jackson Lake should end up with the Doctor inside their human heads, but Jackson's story is really rather touching. David Morrissey serves up his ersatz-Doctor with real gusto (William: "Ugh, he's so fake.") and there's pleasant camaraderie between him and Tennant, both before and after Lake's human nature is revealed. The scene with the fob watch is a beautiful moment and a clever bit of writing: Time Lord grandiosity suggests that Lake's Doctor alter-ego might reside inside, but instead there's a comic deflation as the ordinary innards fall out. The truth is that these tumbling cogs show us Lake's real identity: his life has fallen apart and is in bits.

The Next Doctor is enjoyable Christmas fare, full of warmth and heart - but it is undeniably another disappointing Cybermen story. Talk of Cybershades and images of Cybermen in a twilight, snow-covered Victorian graveyard, made me excited that we might see a return to the spookier, silent silver giants of the Troughton years. Sadly, although the scene in the churchyard is great, the snow does not soften the leaden thump of the Cybus boots and the Cybershades turn out to be some sort of shambling bear in a mask. Worst of all the Cybermen themselves are reduced to mere flunkies, lining up behind the villainous Miss Hartigan. Dervla Kirwan is very good and Hartigan is a fun villain, suitably vicious and vibrant but with a chilling back story that seeps through the Christmas cheer. But such a character can't help but take centre stage and as a result the Cybermen lose their voice, just as Davros pulls focus from the Daleks. The CyberKing is nothing more than some outlandish fun, but really the Cybermen could have been removed from this story entirely and it could have stayed much the same, perhaps with Hartigan as an evil Ada Lovelace-type building steam-punk robots. Either way, the real story belongs to Jackson Lake.

Chris liked him a lot and appreciated how he coped with becoming the Doctor. "When he realised he wasn't the Doctor, he lost his courage because he knew the Doctor could do all those cool things and he was worried that he couldn't. But then he found his own courage and became happy. I liked his balloon TARDIS too and it was nice of the Doctor to appreciate Jackson's efforts - he could have been very rude. Ten out of ten."

William was once again incredulous that the Cybermen didn't use their arm-mounted guns, but he too enjoyed the interaction between Jackson and the Doctor. "The Doctor seemed happy to meet himself, just like in Timecrash. I expect he'll get on well with the Eleventh Doctor too. I can't imagine the ninth Doctor being happy in that situation. Jackson's story was sad though."

It is interesting to think about how the Tenth and Eleventh will cope with each other. The Doctor's comments here to Lake suggest that The Day of the Doctor should take place after this episode as far as the Tenth Doctor is concerned, which raises questions about exactly how Rose will be involved. But then who knows what wibbly-wobbly explanation we'll get this time?


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