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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

‘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

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