Doctor Who Series 4.5 began on Christmas Day with the deceptively titled Christmas special “The Next Doctor.” The Christmas Special heralds the return of The Cybermen and the reunion of David Tennant with his Blackpool Co-star David Morrissey.
SYNOPSIS: Some months after the incidents in “Journey’s End”, The Doctor arrives in the TARDIS on Christmas Eve 1851, only to discover that he’s already there! The Doctor crosses paths with what appears to be a future incarnation of himself, as well as with some old enemies who have set up shop deep in the London underbelly.
ANALYSIS: At this point, The Doctor might as well convert to Judaism because he is not having any luck with Christmas. He’s faced the Sycorax, Racnoss, falling ships, and now the Cyber King rampaging through Victorian London. Russell T. Davies has scribed every Christmas special to date, and he outdid himself this time around. Though the concept of a multi-Doctor story using a future incarnation of The Doctor would be a refreshing twist on tradition, it would indeed kill the spontaneity of what would happen in the future. The alternative would have also been entertaining. The idea of a con-artist pretending to be The Doctor would lead to some extremely humorous moments, but it would have been a wasted opportunity. What RTD did instead was give us something more effective, something which was beautifully realized through David Morrissey’s electric performance as The Doctor / Jackson Lake, the one man who truly understood the hardship of being The Doctor. The plot revelation of him being a good man who accidentally gets imprinted with The Doctor’s personality leads to some unexpected dramatic weight in the story progression. Jackson Lake’s story reaches a conclusion that leaves you with a sublime sense of hope. Morrissey’s performance makes you almost lament that he isn’t actually The Next Doctor. It was total bliss seeing two actors enthusiastically playing the same character. Of course it also helps that both Tennant and Morrissey have a history working with each other in the musical drama Blackpool. So it was a sincere joy watching the two of them bump heads again and tripping the light fantastic in a totally different way than their first collaboration.
After four series of Dalekmania it made for a nice change to give the Cybermen the spotlight again. And I’ll be damned if they didn’t give them the biggest friggin’ spotlight ever. The gargantuan Cyber-King tromping through Victorian London is a bold image on a par with many of the awe inspiring moments in the previous four series. It was an even more brilliant sight to have The Doctor confronting the Cyber-King with little more than a hot-air balloon and a vortex spike. No one but The Doctor could face such impossible dangers and emerge victorious. That’s the essential fact that will allow the show and the character to endure. I’m also amazed how RTD and company can continue to set up impossible scenarios and how one never resembles the previous entries. I thought the events witnessed in “Journey’s End” were impossible, but how do you deal with a giant steampunk Cyberman stomping through Victorian London when all you’re armed with is an info stamp and words? In most movies where the heroes are armed with heavy hardware there is a built in sense of security, so it’s more exciting when you have a hero with no weapons or a straight plan, just his cunning. It’s always surprising when you see what kind of tricks The Doctor’s got to show.
A beautiful element of this story is that it once again illustrates how The Doctor is able to inspire regular people to do good. When The Next Doctor realizes his true identity as Jackson Lake, he believes that he should step aside and let The Real Doctor take over. In time he realizes that he has it within himself to accomplish heroic feats of his own, thus making the apparent illusion closer to reality. This is what makes The Doctor such a enthralling character to watch. For all intents and purposes, The Doctor is a superhero who walks the line between the fantastic and the real. On one side he’s an intergalactic fighter who stares down the essence of evil itself with total defiance, but on the other he does it because he just wants to have a great time. The Doctor’s desires are our desires. We all want to travel like he does and to see fantastic things. Ironically the results of The Doctor’s labors are more poignant when you see the people’s simpler sides as the characters become inspired by him. The Next Doctor / Jackson Lake accomplishes just that. He can still be The Doctor even though by this point he knows that he isn’t.
“The Next Doctor” is another impressive helping of the Doctor Who goodness that makes you realize that even when the cast and crew outdo themselves with their previous work they can still out do themselves with their next helping, and since this will be David Tennant’s last four episodes as The Doctor, you’re intrigued to see how much bigger they get.