Saturday, January 3, 2009

the next doctor

31-12-08 “The Next Doctor”

The Doctor: But that’s a screwdriver.
The Next Doctor: It makes noises. That’s sonic.

I had a really bad feeling about this. Seeing the three-minute preview on Children in Need night, I felt my flesh crawling like it was going to be another “Runaway Bride.” It was pleasant enough, I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t superb. As David Tennant once said, “It’s set at Christmas—what more do you want?”

I guess I ruined the first few minutes for myself by wracking my brains to figure out where in Wales it was being filmed. Not Swansea, I don’t think. Anyway, we establish right away that the Doctor is companionless and wandering around Victorian London at Christmas (and is very cheerful about it) in a series of dizzying panoramic shots. You’d swear Dickens was going to swagger by if he hadn’t already in 2005. Instead an annoying urchin asks “are you ffick or somefink?” Once the Doctor has established the year is 1851, I’m dismayed that he calls it “dull.” First of all, it wasn’t dull, and second of all, he should remember he and Martha met Alphonse and Dorinda in 1851. So there.

The opening from there, though, is quite accomplished. The Doctor hears his name called and immediately rushes onto the scene to help a buxom lady whose costume came from the same suitcase as Rose’s Victorian hooker gown. She isn’t calling him, though, she’s calling “the Doctor” who is David Morrissey in a somewhat First/Eighth Doctor frock coat. Seeing this scene before on CiN, I was squirming at David Morrissey’s broad characterization of “his” Doctor, but of course it all makes sense later on. “You’re the Doctor?!” “The one, the only, and the best!” By the way, the situation to which they are all responding is a Cyberman-headed creature (Cybershades I think they’re called). I can’t decide whether they are genuinely creepy (à la the “monsters” in The Village) or just silly, like the trolls in Willow. Anyway, they’re “primitive conversions” made by the Cybermen. The Doctor is astounded at the revelations he has just heard, but hasn’t much time to reflect. “Talking’s all very well,” snaps Rosita in her bosomy outfit. To capture the Cybershade, the Next Doctor brings out a lasso (still, somehow feeling very One/Eight). There’s some good slapsticky stuff as the two Doctors make their attempts to right the situation—“nothing changes,” the Doctor muses. “Don’t you recognize me?”

Hanging onto the lasso for dear life, the two Doctors follow the Cybershade through empty warehouses on a fun ride reminiscent of, yes, the TARDIS chase in “Runaway Bride.” “It’s gonna jump!” screams the Doctor. “We’re gonna fall!” shouts the Next Doctor. Gleefully they do just that. The Cybershade escapes, but the two laugh and embrace. I’ve written that somebody’s a schmuck, I assume the Next Doctor, but I can’t remember why. Fans of the Eighth Doctor may have felt their hearts lifting momentarily as the Doctor investigates why the Next Doctor doesn’t recognize him. The Doctor feels both elated and weirded out to be meeting his future self (though wouldn’t he be worried about damage to the timeline or does that not apply anymore?). The Next Doctor has “certain memories” missing, prompting me, at least, to think of the Eighth Doctor spending all those books not knowing who he was. On the other hand, the Next Doctor knows who he is—just not how he got there. The Doctor is surprised that none of the recent adventures have made a dent in the Next Doctor’s memory—“don’t blink, remember that?”). Situation sorted, and the Doctor having not revealed his identity to his “successor,” the Next Doctor is off on more adventures. “Can’t I come with you?” asks the Doctor, a little forlornly. Later, Rosita asks the same thing. “The Doctor’s companion does what the Doctor says,” says the Next Doctor, not entirely truthfully—surely the harassed Fifth Doctor would have a different take!

I never felt the Victorian was handled quite right in “Tooth and Claw,” and while “The Next Doctor” gets a bit closer, I still have this niggling feeling RTD is at his best not writing historically. Our villain, Miss Hartigan, who shows up a bit later seems like Theodore Maxtible from “The Evil of the Daleks.” You can almost shout at these people never to make deals with Daleks or Cybermen (and indeed, the Doctor later does) but it’s never going to get through to them. Miss Hartigan, who is proud to inform us later that her first name is the believably Victorian Mercy, is a woman scorned and obsessed with how men have put her down. She even goes so far as to attribute masculine qualities to the Cybermen: “how like a man!” She is aiming for revenge at the “court of the CyberKing,” which sounded a bit naff to me. She reminds me of Miss Wade in Little Dorrit, who certainly has ample reason for bitterness, though her character fizzled out a bit.

Meanwhile, the Doctor has followed the Next Doctor in his investigations at the house of Reverend Fairchild. The Doctor is a bit distraught to discover his sonic has been replaced by a normal screwdriver and covertly uses the sonic to help the Next Doctor in his investigations (“what’s that noise?” “it’s me . . . I’m whistling”). I was hoping for once the Doctor might actually get rid of the sonic, but alas . . . In order to give us a foothold on this story and explain it to the, for once, clueless Doctor, the Next Doctor tells us that the weirdness began with the death of a man called Jackson Lake. “I seem to be telling you everything.” Flashbacks seem to imply regeneration from David T. into David M., but what we learn is that, wrested away from the Cybermen were Infostamps, nice, compressed videos of information. While making these discoveries, the Doctor and the Next Doctor are attacked by Cybermen and Cybershades. The Doctor confronts them with a sword and notes “you need me alive!” However, the Next Doctor attacks them with the Infostamp, and they are able to escape.

A rather Phantom-in-Perros-like graveyard is the site of the burial for Reverend Fairchild. Just as I remember from North and South that it was not customary for women of quality to go to funerals in the 19th century, Miss Hartigan takes the words out of my mouth. She’s wearing a very harlot-y red gown (splendid; I’ve seen it in person now) with devious intent as she taunts and tortures her fellow child-exploiters. She reveals that she heads a workhouse, is seething with anger about double standards, and has gathered all the men together with a funeral so she can pick off some and cyber-ize the others (the ringing off of their names has a lovely Dickensian sound).

The Doctor follows the Next Doctor to his temporary H.Q. where it’s revealed Rosita seems to have been a prostitute in trouble before the Next Doctor saved her life. The Next Doctor has all of the murdered man, Jackson Lake’s, stuff, including lots of suitcases and Infostamps. The Doctor begs to go see the Next Doctor’s TARDIS. Cue rather cool fake-out. It’s a hot-air balloon—“Tethered Aerial Release Developed In Style.” (I’d like to see Susan come up with that one!) As the Doctor asks the Next Doctor to tell him more about Jackson Lake, he takes a look at all those Infostamps. Then I go YAY YAY YAY YAY. This is because the tabloids weren’t lying, just a bit misinformed—all ten Doctors do appear, if only in brief clips (à la “Resurrection of the Daleks”). “He must surely have bad dreams . . .” The Doctor has realized that the Next Doctor is really Jackson Lake, whose wife was killed by the Cybermen and who accidentally downloaded the identity of the Doctor from an Infostamp. This put him in a “fugue state,” which made it easier to adopt the Doctor’s identity than deal with the traumatic circumstances. A cynical person might say this is just ripping off “Human Nature” in reverse, but I think it plays off the desire of most of us to either be the Doctor and/or a companion. It also reminds me of a Batman comic, “Urban Legend” by Bill Willingham, except that one was hilarious where this is poignant.

Recovering from this shock, Jackson lets Rosita follow the Doctor to where Miss Hartigan is taking the children. (As I suggested to Jamie, were I do to do a musical parody of this episode, I’d totally use Oliver.) The Doctor and Rosita confront Miss Hartigan. “I doubt he paid you to talk,” Hartigan says to Rosita; below the belt, I think! The Doctor convinces the Cybermen that he’s the Doctor. Rosita punches Hartigan as she escapes, prompting the Doctor to exclaim, “Can I say I completely disapprove?” The Cybermen want to convert Hartigan, which pisses her off. She was promised she wouldn’t be converted—“that was designated a lie.” However, her will is so strong it overpowers the conversion and takes out the Cyberleader. She feels joy at the Cybernetic state; “joy is not acceptable.” She is going to bring “fury and passion” to the logic and strength of the Cybermen and will bring the CyberKing up from the depths (hints of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen).

The last kids are brought, as hard labor, to work on the CyberKing and get it running. They aren’t needed long, as it finally powers up, with Hartigan inside. Jackson has followed, taking out Cybermen with spare Infostamps. Jackson realizes he has a son, one of the poor urchins, and has to rescue him (the child appears to be wearing mascara for some reason). Meanwhile Hartigan is on the Cyberthrone of Doom. The Doctor has realized the Cybermen came through the Void they were trapped in during “Doomsday,” probably through the same mechanism that allowed Rose to get through. He goes after the CyberKing rather than Lake, citing “you’ve got a reason to live.” Hartigan refuses to negotiate with the Doctor, who has taken Lake’s TARDIS to meet her at eye-level. (It’s the like the giant claw in “Planet of the Ood.” Cheesy or cool? I can’t decide.) Hartigan is a bit drunk on the power and declares “no man will ever assert himself against me in the night.” Uh oh. She has been more than scorned. The Doctor plays the same trump card he did when discovering the Cyberman weakness in “Age of Steel”—he holds up a mirror. “Look what you’ve done.” I don’t understand why this always works. Surely some people aren’t going to be too bothered about becoming Cybermen? I don’t know.

So the Doctor saves the day, the CyberKing, Cybermen, and Hartigan get sucked into the Void, and it’s Christmas pudding for all. Jackson Lake invites the Doctor to share Christmas dinner, something Donna tried and failed. (Surely the Doctor can’t hate turkey that much?!) The Doctor shows him the interior of the TARDIS; perhaps one of the best reactions of anyone ever. But Lake has his fill rather quickly, making him something other than companion material (though that would have been interesting)—“that’s quite enough!” The Doctor has spent the last three Christmas specials feeling sorry for himself, which is a little much, I think. He whines about his companions, “they forget me . . . they break my heart.” First of all, he has two hearts—why wouldn’t he say “hearts?” Secondly, Earth to Doctor—you leave them as often as they leave you. And you just wrapped up your clone like a present and pawned him off on Rose, whether that’s what they wanted or not. And Martha left because you broke her heart first. Ahem.

So our year of specials begins with something called “Planet of the Dead.” Enjoy the Tennanty-ness while it lasts.

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