Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"The Next Doctor"

Need I say more than that the best aspect of this episode is that it fully canonized without a doubt Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor? Regardless about half of this episode is good and the other half is just meaningless runaround action with a giant robot designed to please children and stupid people. I was in the UK during the lead-up to this episode and I remembered the vast swathes of hype surrounding the plot and whether David Morrissey would actually turn out to be playing the next Doctor. Frankly I think this would have been a pretty clever plot device and a successful reversal of the normal multi-Doctor angle but unfortunately it's just another in a long string of cop-outs by RTD designed to rake in audience figures and it turns out that this new man is actually just a human who thinks he's the Doctor through a combination of backfiring technology and psychological trauma. It's unfortunate that they couldn't have done something more crafty and actually introduced the new Doctor prior to regeneration but that probably would have been too 'out there' for normal audiences to handle.
This episode is also notable in that it's the first of what are dubbed the "specials", a handful of longer episodes produced to pad out a year while David Tennant was too busy to film a full series and RTD wanted a vacation at full pay, designed to conclusively end the story of the Tenth Doctor, something I believe could easily have been done at the conclusion of "Journey's End". Nonetheless this permitted RTD to mischaracterise the Tenth Doctor as somehow more important than other Doctors and aggrandise his own era in a drawn-out death rattle before handing over the reins to Steven Moffat, and the self-indulgence begins to show, although it's not so bad in this episode.
The return of the Parallel Universe Cybermen is extremely unwelcome and it's rather uninspiring to have us return to the nineteenth century again, especially since the Doctor arrives in the middle of an extremely sanitized and stereotypical Victorian Christmas. The Cybermen's plot involves building a giant robot to stomp around and generally act menacing and that's about it. They've also developed the Cybershades, a bunch of incredibly naff-looking Cyber-dog-things which really serve no purpose whatsoever. It's all very arbitrary and you can tell that RTD only brought the Cybermen back because he was fresh out of ideas. The real villain is slightly older hotty du jour Dervla Kirwan playing Miss Mercy Hartigan who is basically just a ham who gets plugged into the giant Cyberman and says a lot of guff about gaining knowledge and so on. The Cybermen develop this elaborate plot involving mind-control and so on just to get four orphanage owners to bring their child workers to the Thames sluice who end up working for about five minutes before the giant robot is ready. Why did they bother? Why not just get the spare Cybermen to do it? There are plenty of them just standing around doing nothing looking, as they tend to do in this incarnation, as if they're constipated. They're certainly stronger and more efficient than child labour, so why didn't they do it themselves? I think RTD wanted to make some kind of point but then forgot and it just gets used as a big cry moment for Jackson Lake aka David Morrissey to be reunited with his son.
Speaking of Jackson Lake he's a bit of a ham as well, using "sir" in just about every sentence like he's Howard Moon or something and speaking in some fairly purple tones about how "great swathes of my life have been stolen away" and so on but he's very watchable and his stuffy old-timeyness almost makes him feel like a Doctor of old compared to the rather excessively human and trendy Tenth Doctor. There's some stupid stuff about how he says the sonic screwdriver is sonic by tapping it on some wood and how the TARDIS is a hot air balloon but it's kind of endearing more than anything. One thing I will say is that by this time I am becoming desperately tired of watching the Tenth Doctor. While his performance is very restrained in this one and there aren't really any significant cringe-inducing moments it certainly feels like he's run his course and there's not much left to wring from his character. He complains about his companions leaving him, and you can appreciate that it would be difficult to never have any permanent friends, but if it's such a problem why doesn't he travel with one of the longer-lived species of alien or something? It just seems like a bit much that suddenly he's feeling all lonely when he seems to have managed changing companions before. He speaks with all this finality like he's achieved all this character development that never happened to the Doctor in the classic series but it comes across as self-involved and melodramatic. Why does he complain about companions breaking his heart? He's the one who's always telling them they're short-lived humans and can't stay with him forever and so on. He even goes so far as to imply that he has nothing to live for, which just makes it sound like he has depression and is being irrational. At least he goes to Christmas dinner so he doesn't have to spend all his time being moody. He's just stopped Megatron coming out of the Thames and killing everyone anyway.
The defeat of Megatron aka the Cyber-King is unsatisfying because he flies up in the balloon, has some stern words with Dervla Kirwan about aspects of her character we never really get to see on screen, then shoots some magic beams at her and spontaneously causes her and her Cyber-buddies to blow up for absolutely no reason. How does breaking the Cyber-link make everything explode? I do like it that the Cybermen are carrying their gear around in bandoliers, though, which makes sense, and the Cyber-Leader looks kind of cool even if he has 'action figure' written all over him. The Parallel Universe Cybermen are nonetheless still lame and the fact that they nicked all their cool stuff from the Daleks and get taken over by Miss Hartigan who is apparently a stronger mind than anyone they've previously encountered without much explanation why seems to reduce their menace by a significant extent.
It's a serviceable episode, and probably the best of the Christmas Specials to this point but it really feels like they could have omitted the Cybermen since they're pretty needless and just focused on an exploration of the nature of the Doctor but as usual opportunities are missed for the sake of hype and cheap thrills. At least there are only four episodes of RTD to go.

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