A steampunk cyber giant, a TARDIS balloon and a terrible ending
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Doc rocks up in Scrooge’s London, only to hear himself be summoned by a would-be companion and subsequently to see The Next Doctor answer the call. The Next Doctor, however, is somewhat unorthodox in his methods, low-tech in his gadgetry and old-fashioned in his gender-politics, and Doc decides to act as his companion.
A string of murders and the recent disappearance of children from local work houses have aroused both doctors’ suspicions. Something cyber-manic is afoot, and, together, these two Time Lords must work to save London and piece together their mysterious, fractured past / future.
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Ok, let’s get my objections out of the way first. This episode was about a human acting Doctor-like because of Time Lord stuff being poured into their head. Like last week? It frustrates me that this episode is so great and Jackson mostly escapes harm where Donna does not. The writing does such a great job making Jackson’s experience as the Doctor positive and powerful and formative. With the missteps last week this feels like a slap in the face to Donna’s character.
Ignoring all that, this a great episode. It’s got a nice balance of heartfelt emotion, Doctor charisma, suspense and action. I like all the duplicate Doctor items we get to experience: the regular screwdriver that is sonic because it can be struck to make a noise, the Tethered Aerial Release Developed In Style, the identity fobwatch. Tennant’s Doctor is incredibly gentle towards his assumed future self and this creates a real bond between himself and the human Jackson. Note that Tennant subtly shifts his behavior after listening to Jackson’s one heart. At this point it has become a stretch that this person could be him and the Doctor goes into detective mode. The use of a familiar foe really works well. There’s so much less explanation needed and we can focus on the characters. I found the resolution weak. Doc breaks this woman’s brain with- guilt? Oh IDK. Maybe it’s fine.
Rating: a tropical cruise, but your cabin is painted pink and black stripes
Congratulations on getting through the RTD era proper! Only the Specials left before we’re into the Smith/Moffat era so, heads down and let’s get through them as quickly as possible. RTD’s “victory lap” year, while not being the most consistent in terms of quality was notable in the excitement and speculation that surrounded it. At this point (Winter 2008) we know Moffat is taking over (result!) but not who will be playing the Doctor or the companion so David Morrissey’s claim to be “The Next Doctor” definitely seemed plausible.
As for the episode itself; Ten materialises in a Dickensian Christmas, seemingly recovered from the emotional upheaval of the Series 4 finale and almost immediately runs into an equivalently sized narcissist claiming to be the Doctor. This cannot be tolerated to persist however and so Ten spends the remaining 58 minutes undermining the imposter’s identity and indiscriminately facilitating the slaughter of Cybermen to make himself feel better. Overall this one is fine if a bit smug and sentimental; just don’t think too hard about the steampunk Cyberking at the end. We also get the first of the now semi-annual use of archive footage showing all prior incarnations of the Doctor (so McGann is definitely canon now? Great!).
Me Trivia: I grew up in South Wales and was regularly aware of Doctor Who filming taking place nearby so when the graveyard scene was being filmed just down the road, I and a few people from my school went to watch. At this point, it hadn’t been announced that the Cybermen were the monsters for the episode so when we saw them we were approached by a burly Assistant Director and given “space rocks” (actually silver spray-painted chunks of polystyrene used as debris in explosions) in exchange for our silence. Not sure where my space rocks ended up actually….
The Next Doctor Mini
First: WTF are the Cybershades supposed to be? They are utterly useless in every encounter with the Doctor. Why would Mrs Hartigan have one drive her carriage when she could use someone under cyber control? And how could it even drive a carriage anyway with the brain of a cat? Second: data-storage infostamps. Why would the Cybermen create such a deadly piece of equipment for…Cybermen?
Rants aside, this is an enjoyable steampunk romp. Everyone is having a whale of a time. The Cybermen feel threatening throughout (more so than in subsequent adventures) and the graveyard scene is amongst the best Cyberman-related massacres EVER (other contenders include Cybermen blasting nasty Neo-Nazis to bits in the fabulous McCoy adventure ‘The Silver Nemesis’ , and vomiting Cybermen being disembowelled and decapitated in mutli-Doctor classic ‘The Five Doctors’). Extra point for gigantic stomping mecha-Godzilla Cyberking too.
The prominent reveal of the previous incarnations of the Doctor via the infostamp is significant. I read somewhere that back in the 2000s philistine BBC execs wanted a ‘wall’ between Classic and New Who (even considering cancelling the licences for Doctor Who Magazine and Big Finish Audio). Could this scene be Russel T finally taking a sledgehammer to that wall?
3.4 / 5 Cybershades (?) for me.