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‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “The Next Doctor”

(tons of spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode! and no comments from party poopers — this is a love fest only / previous: Season 4, Episode 13: “Journey’s End”)

“Boy, boy! What day is it?”

“Why, it’s new Doctor Who day, sir!”

“I say, lad, run down to the Internet for me and pick up the fattest AVI upload of the new episode you can find! There’s an extra half crown in it for you if you can get it for me before Boxing Day!”
Apparently some people look at this episode and see a giant goofy robot and bad FX and cheesy melodrama and come to the conclusion that this is somehow a problem. I am not one of those people. I look at this episode and I see a giant goofy robot and bad FX and cheesy melodrama and I find myself astonished — once again, and for about the 187,645th time since 2005 — that I’ve refallen so madly, stupidly in love with this ridiculous television show.

Apparently, some people look at “The Next Doctor” and think, Russell Davies gave us socks for Christmas. I look at “The Next Doctor” and think, Russell Davies gave us Doctor Who for Christmas. What could be better?

Now, I will grant that things were going on here that were not what I was expecting them to be, and not as wildly wacky as I thought they would be. This business with David Morrissey’s “other” Doctor… I quite liked reader Weimlady’s idea, after we saw the preview back in November, that this Doctor and his companion, Rosita, were role-playing gamers. That’s a fabulous idea that could, with the right execution, say a lot about how the Doctor has become legendary, how he has impacted all the people, all the cultures he’s helped — it could be a kind of version of the thanks that Jackson Lake rightly says, at this end of this episode, that the Doctor never gets.

It wasn’t too long into the episode, though, before it became clear that that was not what was going on — or anything like that, either — but kudos to Davies for making us wonder for quite a while. Morrissey’s “Doctor” is not consciously faking being the Doctor, so he’s not a gamer… could he really be a future Doctor? I thought there was a good chance that he was… and what a magnificent bastard Davies would again prove himself to be if, while we’re all debating who the next Doctor should be, Morrissey’s already been cast and it’s a done deal. That could have been very interesting indeed: We’ve only ever seen the Doctor meeting past incarnations of himself, and here could have been a chance — speaking from the logistical perspective of actually producing a regular TV series — to do it the other way around. The Doctors meet here, then Ten goes off to have a few more adventures, and all the while, he knows this regeneration is dangling in front of him in the near future. We’re all already heartbroken over Tennant’s imminent departure, but this could have made his final episodes all the more poignant for his character as well as for his audience.

I would have been quite happy if this had turned out to be the case. I could have gotten used to this:

quite easily.

While it lasted, it was a little bit like looking into an alternate universe. The Doctor and his companion, Rosita:

But soon enough the real-Doctor-ness of Morrissey has to be ruled out, even if Rosita turned out to be too modern to be a genuine Victorian gal. (Would even a lady of ill repute, as she apparently is — imagine the scandal later, when respectable Professor Jackson Lake marries her! — say things like “Don’t be stupid!” and “You idiots”? I think not.)

The “sonic screwdriver,” for one:

is clearly nothing of the sort. (Here is where I started to develop some other potentially intriguing ideas about what the heck was going on that didn’t pan out but that I won’t share, because I’m feeling compelled to deploy them in a fanfic story.) And the Doctor would never say stuff like “God rest his soul” and “This is hardly work for a woman,” would he?

Or would he? If he’d downloaded his Time Lord essence into a fobwatch and something went wrong, maybe he would come across as half Time Lord and half man-of-the-time-he’s-stuck-in. (The casualness with which schoolteacher “John Smith” grants permission for one student to beat another in “Human Nature” isn’t like the Doctor either!) I even for a moment wondered whether this other “Doctor” might not be the Master. That’d be some psychosis on the Master’s part to work over, dramatically speaking: he downloads himself into a fobwatch but it goes wrong, and then his own bizarre obsession with the Doctor takes over to fill in the blanks. (Now that I think I really might have to write!)

But sometimes a fobwatch is just a fobwatch… although when Morrissey’s Doctor explains that “it’s more for decoration,” I thought, Or it’s a prop, and I was back to thinking role-playing gamer again, just for a moment…

I also wondered about this: If the Doctor can recognize other Time Lords — as in how, in “The Sound of Drums,” he says he’d have known the Master was on Earth if not for the drum-drumming signal that’s been brainwashing humanity — does he recognize Jackson Lake as a Time Lord, at least initally, because the info dump did something to Lake’s brain, or does he assume that if this other “Doctor” really is the Doctor that the same thing that futzed with his memories had futzed with however he would have recognized him as a Time Lord?

See, this is what demented fans like me do. We don’t bitch that the writing is inconsistent — we try to make what we’re presented with work in the grand scheme of things. I admit it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Russell Davies simply forgot that Time Lords can always recognize either other — I imagine it’s a kind of psychic thing — or deliberately forgot it in the name of telling a good story. But it’s so much more fun to try to connect the dots.

Likewise, what’s the point in complaining that it’s idiotic of the Doctor to have tried to convince the Cyberking chick that he could zap her to another planet where there was no one to convert and she could live in peace? You and I know that no self-respecting Cyberking chick is going to find that offer enticing, but we also do know that the Doctor is pretty delusional half the time — he’s constantly offering the bad guys things they’d never want. Or maybe it’s not that he’s delusional but that he’s even more of a hypocrite than he is on the surface. Maybe he wants the bad guys to refuse his unappealing offers so that he then has no excuse not to blow them all to hell. I mean, he’s also constantly railing against guns and weapons until he’s the one who needs to use one… or wants to use one. Yeah, he’s sorry, he’s so sorry… but he zaps the Cyberking chick anyway, which makes her scream and then explode.

Delusional and hypocritical or both, it makes the Doctor so much more interesting a character than if he’s always right and proper and noble. Even if it’s laziness on the part of the writers that he comes across that way. (I don’t think it is, though.)

Still, when I think of this episode, I don’t think so much about it as a story of Transformer Cyberkings — though what the fuck was with those shaggy dog Cyberthings? I think about it as a story of two very sad, very griefstricken men. Honey, come here and let me hug you:

And you too, you big Time Lord lug, you:

Jackson Lake will recover from his trauma. The Doctor will keep running away from his. He can’t stand to be alone — the minute he hears his name being called (by Rosita, and not his name, as it turns out), he’s off running, looking for anything to make him forget his own pain. Does the Doctor really not think he has a reason to live (as he implies when he tells Jackson he now at least has his son again)? If Davies is gonna follow through on that, that could make for some very grim episodes to come. It seems to be a given that Tennant will not have another regular companion, and the lack of that factor — the companions tend to pull him back from brinks — combined with tendencies even more suicidal than usual will be very interesting to watch… if Davies doesn’t crap out on us.

It’s kinda nice that the Doctor gets to see himself through someone else’s eyes, when Rosita is talking about how concerned she is for her “Doctor”:

And then he’d have to be completely blind and totally deluded not to see the mancrush Jackson develops, too. Then again, maybe he is completely deluded when it comes to his companions, because he’s completely wrong when he says, “They leave. Because they should. Or they find someone else.” He’s the one who leaves — he’s the one who’s never there. They break his heart? He breaks their hearts.

Random thoughts on “The Next Doctor”:

• Everybody lives! Well, not Miss Hartigan, and probably not some of those kids in the workhouse, and not some people on the ground who surely got zapped into the void with the Cyberking, and not poor Reverend Whateverhisname, and not Jackson’s wife. But everybody lives! I figured for sure poor David Morrissey would end up dead. I mean, last Christmas Russell Davies killed Kylie Minogue. It would be nothing to kill David Morrissey after that.

• “The events of today will be history, spoken of for centuries to come,” Jackson Lake says. Umm… “Yeah. Funny, that,” the Doctor replies, for of course we do not speak of Victorian London being trampled by the Iron Giant. But, see, again: not laziness on Davies’ part. What we have here are the beginnings of Christmas traditions: the retcon-soaked fruitcake, washed down with a frothy mug of ye olde retcon ale.

• Tethered Aerial Release Developed In Style? It is balloon!

• Are there no cyberworkhouses?

Oh, there are:

• So, the Cybermen, in their databank book thingie about the Doctor, have images of Doctors Eight (Paul McGann) and Nine (Christopher Eccelston). Does that mean those versions of the Doctor actually ran into the Cybermen at some point, even though we didn’t see it? Or can we infer from the fact that the Cybermen also have images of Ten from events in which we know they were not involved that they’re just, like, you know, really really big fans of the Doctor and like to collect pretty pictures of him? Cuz I’ve heard some people like to do that.

• Nobody steps on a church in my town!

• Alert, stodgy old white guys! Be careful how you treat women, or you might get the zapper:

• But who says a feminist can’t be a lady, and take a cyborg’s arm on the way to the world domination?

(Psst, cyberdude, we can totally see your brain.)

• Oh, David Morrissey is just the right age to have grown up a big ol’ Doctor Who geek, too. I’d like to think there’s a little fanboyism — and not just great acting — coming out in this moment:

• This bit, with the umbrellas and the cutlass and the wonderfully silly heroics:

David Tennant loves this, loves being the Doctor — it’s so obvious here. How can he give this up?

• Tennant and Morrissey have wonderful actorly chemistry (and in such a different way than their other outing together in Blackpool, where they’re at each other’s throats). They’re really fun to watch together:

I wonder how much Doctor/Jackson Lake slash fanfic has already appeared on the Internet…

• Planet of the who? What of the dead?

Argh!

(next: Episode 2: “Planet of the Dead”)

MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
  • http://www.dvillage.org Ken Patterson

    Well, it’s mentioned that the Cybusmen (as some people prefer to call them) got all this tech and information from the Daleks in the void, after they were all cast there at the end of Doomsday.

    Though some of the clips of 10 were from events after Doomsday, but the Daleks stole some of the tech from the Time Lords anyways – so who knows what info it can pull out of the ether…

  • PaulW

    Planet of the Dead! Zombies again! Paging Simon Pegg… oh wait he’s done one already has he…? Paging Ving Rhames…!

    Personally me am are still waiting for a Red Dwarf/Who Crossover for next Xmas… ;-)

  • eric-jon rossel waugh

    Yes, I like the depiction of the Cybermen as techno-kleptos here; that’s one of the only times it’s been made explicit, that I can remember.

    Davies said in the commentary that, to some extent, the rest of the specials will serve to explore the Doctor’s lonely side, as he flits around without a constant companion.

    He also, somewhere or other, said he was troubled about the multi-Doctor time-lord-sensing deal that you bring up — until he saw what Moffat did with Time Crash, and Davison’s failure to recognize Tennant. Then: ah! Precedent!

  • blake

    “Red Dwarf/Who Crossover” you sir, are a genius !

    I know this isn’t the place to put his but my own inner fan-boy is yelling and screaming and bouncing off the walls with joy.

    And it’s not Who related…

    It’s cooler.

    I recently heard the news that Judge Dredd is coming back to the big screen. I’m so happy I could cry.

    Imagine how happy MA.J. would be if the TARDIS materialised in her living room. Now times that by a thousand!!!!

    Thanks to Christmas I now have over a decades worth old Dredd comics to get through…This is heaven.

    Should get back to Who, I enjoyed the Cyberking and thought Miss Hartigan dying was a kick in the nuts. Who should have a female villain. One that isn’t, y’know, stretchy skin.

  • Barb

    I wasn’t a fan of the cyberking at all (kept thinking back to the Torchwood finale, Robot and Godzilla). It sort of spoiled the eppie for me. Otherwise, I enjoyed the two Davids interactions, Hartigan (once again we have a decent villain getting killed off – think Master – it would be nice to see a recurring villain other than the Cybermen or Daleks for a chance). Rosita didn’t add too much to the story, the cybershades were okay but they were nothing more than guard dogs. All in all, I would have preferred more character interactions than special effects (not big and epic as RTD is so fond of doing) – everything just felt too rushed.

  • David

    If I am not mistaken I believe that it was mentioned that the info on the various incarnations of the Doctor was taken from the Daleks so that would make sense for a more extensive database.

  • http://toniokruger.blogspot.com Tonio Kruger

    Heh! I just knew you were going to say something about this episode.

    But I have to ask:

    How many people with Spanish names are running around England anyway?

    First there’s Maria in The Sarah Jane Adventures (Yes, I know she doesn’t look Hispanic but then neither does my blonde, green-eyed half-Mexican little sister.)

    Now there’s Rosita…an obvious shout-out to you-know-who–if not Mary Tudor’s mom….Even though she doesn’t exactly have the most likely Christian name one would expect to find in a story set in Victorian London.

    (At least they didn’t change the villainess’s first name to Mercedes…)

    That said, I must confess I liked this story more than I expected. It’s no “Midnight,” of course, but I must confess to being hooked within the first two minutes–and that Nantucket Sleigh Ride bit with the cybermutt was amusing.

    Phoebe from Goodnight, Sweetheart–apparently one of the few British shows you haven’t seen yet–looked good in red.

    Morrissey–no relation to that other Morrissey, I hope–was good enough that I actually was disappointed as well to find out he wasn’t going to be the next doctor.

    However, I really really really prefer to see no more stories about Daleks and Cybermen for a while. (Heck, even the return of the Rani would be a nice alternative, and I was never that fond of the Rani.) But then I also prefer to see no more Heroes episodes that feature Skylar and yet somehow I think that it’s unlikely that I’ll get my wish in that area either.

  • http://toniokruger.blogspot.com Tonio Kruger

    Likewise, what’s the point in complaining that it’s idiotic of the Doctor to have tried to convince the Cyberking chick that he could zap her to another planet where there was no one to convert and she could live in peace? You and I know that no self-respecting Cyberking chick is going to find that offer enticing, but we also do know that the Doctor is pretty delusional half the time — he’s constantly offering the bad guys things they’d never want. Or maybe it’s not that he’s delusional but that he’s even more of a hypocrite than he is on the surface. Maybe he wants the bad guys to refuse his unappealing offers so that he then has no excuse not to blow them all to hell.

    It was once argued by one famous science fiction writer that the most admirable trait of the Doctor was his desire to get involved and not simply do nothing every time he came across such a crisis.

    Would the Doctor be somehow more honorable if he did nothing in regard to the Cybermen? If he simply argued that it wasn’t his business if the aliens enslaved Victorian London and then took off in his Tardis?

    Yes, it’s easy to get cynical about the number of times the Doctor’s actions did little to prevent catastrophe but I have to give him credit for at least trying to do something and not just letting entropy have its way with the universe.

    After all, sins of omission can be as hard to live with as sins of commission. But perhaps I’m just projecting because all too often, the things I regret most are the things I did NOT do.

  • MaryAnn

    However, I really really really prefer to see no more stories about Daleks and Cybermen for a while.

    Yes, me too. Time for some new villains.

    (Heck, even the return of the Rani would be a nice alternative, and I was never that fond of the Rani.)

    Heh! Miss Hartigan made me think of the Rani, and how it might be nice to bring her back again, or just another female Time Lord villain. Surely they *all* weren’t at home when Gallifrey got Alderaaned.

    Would the Doctor be somehow more honorable if he did nothing in regard to the Cybermen? If he simply argued that it wasn’t his business if the aliens enslaved Victorian London and then took off in his Tardis?

    That’s not what I was suggesting at all. I was suggesting that perhaps he might be a little more self-aware about the methods he has to take to get done the things he needs to get done (like getting rid of a 300-foot-tall Cyberking from the middle of Victorian London). If that takes a weapon, fine. Just don’t be such a prick about it the next time someone on your side wanders onto the scene with a gun on his hip.

    But like I said, the fact that he *is* a prick about it makes him more interesting, as a character.

  • Les Carr

    giant goofy robot and bad FX and cheesy melodrama

    It’s funny how I feel hurt when even those words slip out in a DW lovefest. I think I’m just unwilling to voice my criticisms, in case it ruins the magic.

  • Joanne

    I just watched it tonight and loved it – yes, it was cheesy, but in a very DW way. It felt more old-style DW than last year. It was cleverly told, particularly the truth about Jackson Lake; I liked that we didn’t get an instant diagnosis from the stethoscope. I thought Tennant and Morrissey were both excellent, and boy am I going to miss Tennant.

  • Gee

    In one of the Confidentials, possibly the Doctor’s Daughter or the Sontaren ones, the issue of the Doctor and guns was raised. RTD says that of course the Doctor is a hypocrite, and DT says the Doctor has whole suitcases full of double standards! I like that the Doctor’s not perfect, that he can be arrogant and get things wrong.

    I really would like to have David Morrissey as the next Doctor. He usually gets to play quite serious characters, but ‘Blackpool’ showed his range and he was great in The Next Dotor too. I wasn’t too fond of the robot at the end. I would have preferred more character moments between the Doctor and Jackson, but the show needs to keep the 5 year olds entertained, particularly at Christmas, so I’ll forgive them that. :-)

    I would like to see more Time Lords, also. I wonder if the ‘lonely god’ angle has been so fully explored now that they’ll move on? Perhaps Ten doesn’t fall over a brick, or have a radioactive piano dropped on him, but ends in a blaze of glory defeating the time lock and bringing them all back? Seeing the Doctor again as the rebel, anarchist outsider instead of the authority figure he’s become would be interesting. I used to enjoy the stories where the Doctor was unwillingly co-opted by the Time Lords to do their hypocritical dirty deeds. (Unfortunately, I’d really like to see Ten’s response to this – all simmering resentment, but whoever he/she turns out to be, Eleven would be acceptable as next best if we can have this storyline.)

    The episode commentary with RTD and Julie Gardner
    is now available for download from here for the next few days:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/podcasts/doctorwho/

  • NorthernStar

    I’ll admit I was somewhat disappointed by this. The Next Doctor was written and filmed on the back of series 4 and I think it shows. The cast and crew were exhausted by then and so it lacked the wee, we’re back doing Who bounce of previous years.

    But that said, it was still the best bloody present anyone could get!

    There were moments here for the Doctor, particularly the ones that showed just how tired Ten is, in his hearts, of his current life, that hinted of dark times to come. I, for one, can’t wait.

    Is it Easter yet????

  • PaulW

    It’s come up before, about the Doctor’s hypocrisy when dealing with his villains, that at least in the new series he keeps offering them choices… even when he full well knows they’ll never accept. For example, he spent almost the whole two-part Sontaran episodes noting the Sontarans never quit never surrender, and then at the end tries to bluff them into quitting their attack on the Earth using that converted atmospheric discharger thingee… basically ignoring his own advice.

    Part of it is his overall nature: genocide has never been in the Doctor’s make-up (think of the Silurians, and to Time Lords genocide was a massive crime), and he only helps defeat invading forces when they threaten acts of genocide of their own. Think of the pain he’s carrying about now, the fact that he’s the one who pushed the button that ended the Time War… and wiped out his own race (that the Daleks survived to return again and again has to really hurt). It’s something he seems to want to avoid now… even when he can’t avoid it.

    So his offer to the Cybermen at the end of this episode? Most likely genuine, even though he knew the Cybermen would reject it utterly.

  • Adam S

    OK, the only thing I could think of when I heard that the villainess’ name was Hartigan was “Hmmm… is that an anagram for Rani T. Hag?”

  • Adam S

    I wanted to mention one other significant thing, too– this is the first time in my life as a DW fan (since 1983) that I’ve been able to watch a Who episode within less than 24 hours of its initial broadcast in the UK. I couldn’t help but think back to the first time I saw Time and the Rani and then had to wait to watch Colin Baker’s episodes back in 1988. When PBS stations aired the program, it was all over the schedule…some people in the US were watching Pertwee at 6pm on weekdays in the 25-minute format, while others were watching Davison at 11pm on Saturday nights in the feature-length stories that had been edited together.

    Not that I’m complaining, but wouldn’t it be nice to see someone– PBS, or perhaps a new BBC Classic channel– air the 1963-1989 series? I understand there are actually a handful (possibly 2 or 3) of US stations that are still airing the ’63-’89 episodes.

  • Dawn

    Well – call me a fan-girl but I loved it! I admit to shrieking with delight at the cybershade sleigh ride!!! RTD admitted on the commentary to thinking of an alternate ending…just a few days before recording the commentary but I think it was a bit too twee for me and I’m happy with what he finished with! I cheered when Miss Hartigan disappeared like red exploding balloon – even though it was circumstance that made her evil (needing to dominate the men as opposed to them dominating her – and subjecting her to much much worse – as matron.) Poor woman! I’m just wondering what the ride will be to next Christmas…all the way to “The Gate”. Makes me shiver just to think about it!

  • Matt

    New Doctor to be announced by the BBC tomorrow!
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/7807742.stm

  • Dawn

    Dunno who it is going to be but I have a gut feeling it’s Tom Chambers… Probably wrong though! (I would quite like Rupert Penry Jones….think he could do the dark stuff well!) Hope whoever it is hasn’t been in the “betting”…. Only an hour till it hits the TV! Saw a clip of DT earlier saying he is “jealous of the chap” – bless!

  • Adam S

    Matt Smith. Hmmm.

    My first reaction was “Uh-oh.” However, he’s young, and I’m not getting the sense that he’s too savvy about the history of the show. There may be a colossal shift in the arc of several pre-existing storylines coming up. Perhaps a young actor with fewer preconceptions is what Moffatt needs for ideas pulsing through his (and other writers’) brains. And as for the hair, well…it’s hair. Take a look at Colin Baker’s first post-announcement publicity shots. Then again, those were the 80′s. (And let’s not forget the kerfuffle over Peter Davison’s hair length on his first season as the Doctor.)

    ANYBODY stepping in to the shoes after someone with the popularity and longevity of David Tennant has quite a challenge. Break a leg, Matt Smith. Or should I say, the soon-to-be Valeyard?

  • Patsy

    Can someone tell me how I can watch this episode?! PLEASE?!?!

  • http://www.fanfiction.net/s/4640452/1/ Weimlady

    Can someone tell me how I can watch this episode?! PLEASE?!?!

    Um. Buy it? Stick it in your region-free DVD player (if you’re not in Region 2)? Hit play?

    Or get lucky & check youtube in that brief period between the time someone posts it and the BBC jerks it off? (That’s how I watched it the first time. Just got the DVD yesterday and plan to watch it on the big screen tomorrow.)

  • Mimi

    This was not my favorite episode. This was, however, my favorite MAJ Who-blog ever. Way to make me laugh out loud five separate times. Nobody steps on a church in my town – HA! – the line at my “screening” was, “It’s the Stay-Puft Cyber King!”

    We don’t bitch that the writing is inconsistent — we try to make what we’re presented with work in the grand scheme of things.

    Hear, hear!