Monday 24 December 2018

Story 200 - The Next Doctor

In which the TARDIS arrives in Victorian London. The year is 1851, and the Doctor discovers that it is Christmas Eve. As he takes in the festive atmosphere, he suddenly hears someone calling for him to come and help. Rushing to the scene, he is surprised to learn that it was not him who was being called for, but another Doctor... He meets a man who claims to be the Doctor, who has a companion named Rosita, and who is hunting down a Cybershade. The Doctor recognises this creature as the product of Cybertechnology, probably based on an animal. The Cybershade pulls both Doctors up to the upper level of a warehouse and across the floor. Rosita arrives in time to prevent the creature pulling them out of the far window to their doom. The Doctor suspects that he may have encountered a future version of himself, but is intrigued by the fact that he does not recognise him. Also, the other Doctor's sonic screwdriver appears to be a normal one. Wanting to know more, he decides to follow him. He hears the other Doctor and Rosita talking about a funeral due to take place that afternoon - that of the Rev. Aubrey Fairchild. The Doctor follows the other Doctor to Fairchild's home and the two break in. The Doctor scans for technology and they find a stash of metal cylinders, which the Doctor recognises as info-stamps, which can store and download data. They are then attacked by a pair of Cybermen. The other Doctor uses one of the info-stamps to destroy the Cybermen, beaming the data into them and overloading them.

The Doctor takes the opportunity to examine his other self using a stethoscope, and learns that he only has one heart. The funeral is gatecrashed by Miss Mercy Hartigan, who is employed at one of the city's workhouses. The mourners are shocked by her presence, but soon come under attack from her allies - the Cybermen. A number of the mourners are spared - all supervisors of other workhouses in the area. They are to become mental slaves of the Cybermen. The Doctor goes with his other self to a stable yard which he is using as a base of operations. Asking to see his TARDIS, the Doctor is shown a blue gas-filled balloon. The other Doctor claims the acronym stands for Tethered Aerial Release Developed In Style. The Doctor finds that some of the info-stamps recovered from the Rev. Fairchild's home contain the history of London from 1066 to the present day. More info-stamps are discovered hidden in the belongings of a man named Jackson Lake, who it is claimed disappeared just before the Cybermen appeared. The Doctor notes that there is too much luggage for just one man. He sits the other Doctor down and explains to him what he thinks might have happened. The other Doctor is actually Jackson Lake. One of the info-stamps contained data about the Doctor, and this was accidentally downloaded into his mind - causing him to believe that he is the Doctor. Lake starts to remember how the Cybermen invaded his home and killed his wife. There is something else about that night which he struggles to remember - but can't.

They go to Lake's home and find a Dimension Vault device, stolen from the Daleks. This must have allowed the Cybermen to escape from the Void and come to Victorian London. The Doctor attempts to confront Miss Hartigan, but she is protected by Cybermen and Cybershades. The Cybermen have a base beneath the Thames, and here they are constructing a Cyberking. Miss Hartigan will be used to control it. However, her mind is so strong that she overcomes their mental conditioning. She destroys the Cyberleader and takes command over the others. The enslaved workhouse supervisors are compelled to bring all the children from their establishments to the Cyberman base, where they will be used as slave labour to complete the machine and to power it up. The Doctor and Jackson break in as the machine begins to activate, and start to get the children out. Jackson then recalls the other thing he lost the night his wife was killed - his son. He is here in the base, and the Doctor helps to rescue him. As the children flee the base, Rosita sees a massive machine, shaped like a Cyberman, rise from the waters of the Thames. This is the Cyberking, which the Doctor recognises as a dreadnought-class battleship, with a conversion factory built into its body.

The Cyberking begins to fire on the city. The Doctor takes to Jackson's TARDIS and goes to confront it. He attempts to reason with Hartigan, but she is bent on conquest. The Doctor uses a number of info-stamps to break the Cyberman conditioning and she sees what she has become. Unable to accept this, she is destroyed, taking the Cybermen and Cybershades with her as she is mentally linked to them. The Doctor then uses the Dimension Vault to send the collapsing Cyberking into the Void. Back on the ground, the Doctor hears Jackson tell of how people will talk of this for centuries to come, and is puzzled as to why it never makes it into the history books. He allows Jackson to see the interior of his TARDIS, before accepting an invitation to have Christmas dinner with Jackson, his son, and Rosita.

The Next Doctor was written by Russell T Davies, and was first broadcast on 25th December, 2008. It was to be the first of a series of Specials throughout 2009 which would culminate in David Tennant's departure the following Christmas. As his departure had already been announced, viewers were left to speculate if David Morrisey was indeed going to be a future incarnation of the Time Lord. (Matt Smith would not be announced to the public as the Eleventh Doctor until early in the New Year).
Morrisey and Tennant had worked together in the past - in the BBC's musical drama Blackpool.
You will note that I make this the 200th Doctor Who story, whereas the next special - Planet of the Dead - will make this claim. This is all down to whether or not you take Utopia to be the first episode of a three-part story, or if you count it as a stand-alone episode in its own right. (I have, of course, gone for the latter). Even Russell T Davies was confused on this, himself previously claiming that it was stand-alone. Previous production teams had become confused about numbering, with Trial of a Time Lord sometimes being claimed as a single story, or split into separate interlinked stories.
The Victorian setting was one which Davies thought worked in the programme, especially for a Christmas Special. The workhouse elements remind you of Oliver Twist, and Dickens has become synonymous with Christmas thanks to A Christmas Carol, and the showing of The Signalman as a Christmas ghost story by the BBC. When Dickens had appeared in the programme itself, it was in a story set at Christmas time (The Unquiet Dead).

One of the first images Davies came up with was of the Cybermen in a graveyard, in the snow. The Cybermen are basically walking corpses, so this seemed a suitable setting for them. 5 years later, Steven Moffat would have the climactic scenes of his first proper Cyberman story set in a cemetery.
Davies also had in mind the image of the female villain arriving at the funeral in a bright scarlet dress - the only colour in an otherwise monochromatic sequence.
Miss Hartigan is played by Dervla Kirwan, who had come to prominence in the BBC drama series Ballykissangel. Jackson Lake's son, Frederic, is played by Tom Langford. He had previously appeared in the Torchwood episode Out of the Rain. In the same way that the Doctor once had a companion named Rose, so Lake's companion is called Rosita. She is played by Velile Tshabalala. The script implies that she was once a prostitute. Rosita is Spanish for "little rose".
As well as a similarly named companion, the other Doctor has his own TARDIS - really just a hot-air balloon - and a sonic screwdriver. The latter is just an ordinary screwdriver, and is only sonic in that it makes a noise if you hit it against something. Before he works out just who this new Doctor might be, the Doctor suspects that he may have used a Chameleon Arch, as seen in Series 3, to conceal his true identity, but Lake's fob watch is just that - an ordinary watch.

There are a few new additions to the Cyberman mythos. There is a new Cyberleader design - based on the Controller from The Age of Steel, with its transparent brain casing. It sports a black face plate, possibly inspired by Kroton, the Cyberman with emotions who appeared in the DWM comic strips of the 1970's and '80's.
The Cybershades have beaten copper face plates, and are said to have been created using animals rather than humans. Then we have the steam-punk Cyberking - a massive Cyberman shaped battlecraft. The Cybermen - Cybus ones who survived the events of Doomsday - are having to use what local technology they can find in Victorian London.

Overall, a perfectly fine Doctor Who episode for Christmas night viewing. The Cybermen are used well, and Miss Hartigan makes for a great new villainess. David Morrisey would, indeed, make a good Doctor.
Things you might like to know:

  • Davies was going to use the name Aubrey Fairchild in an earlier story - as the British Prime Minister who succeeded Harold Saxon - but changed his mind. He liked the name, however, so used it in this story.
  • Davies had previously talked about ignoring the 1996 TV Movie (even including this in his scripts for Series 2 of Queer as Folk, where the McGann Doctor was said not to count). However, the 8th Doctor was then seen as one of the drawings in John Smith's "Journal of Impossible Things" in Human Nature. In The Next Doctor, the Doctor activates an info-stamp and we see images of all the previous Doctors, and there is Paul McGann amongst them.
  • Should you be interested, the clips of the other previous Doctors come from The Time Meddler, The Ice Warriors, Terror of the Autons, City of Death, Arc of Infinity, The Mysterious Planet, Time and the Rani, and Parting of the Ways.
  • The interior of the Cyberking was filmed on the set of the Torchwood Hub.
  • This was the first Christmas Special not to have a direct link with the conclusion of the previous season. If you've read Davies' book The Writer's Tale, you'll know he anguished over whether or not to have the Cybermen turn up in the TARDIS at the conclusion of Journey's End, and the sequence was actually filmed. He was talked out of including it by DWM's Benjamin Cook, co-author of the book, in that it comprises a series of e-mails between the two. The scene appears as an extra on the Series 4 box set.
  • The DVD release contains alternative takes to those seen in the broadcast version. (Fans have compared the delivery of certain lines of dialogue).
  • This was the last story to be made in standard definition. The next Special would be filmed in HD, and so become the first ever Blu-Ray release.
  • Some references to previous Cyberman stories include Miss Hartigan saying "Excellent!", as previous Cyberleaders were want to do, Mickey Smith thought that the Void Ship might contain a "Cyberking", and the Cybermen recognising the Doctor via a video feed is reminiscent of the scene from the second episode of Earthshock, where they review video footage from one of their sentinel androids.
  • Davies was ultimately dissatisfied with the ending, believing that Miss Hartigan should have been redeemed and she was the one to send the Cyberking into the Void, rather than the Doctor. He was also unhappy with Jackson's over-reaction to being inside the TARDIS, suggesting that he write a story in which the Doctor took him on a brief adventure to an alien planet before bringing him back to Christmas Day in London, 1851.
  • A young audience member at the preview of the episode asked the question as to why the Cyberking wasn't mentioned in the history books. It was pointed out that no spaceship had crashed into Big Ben in 2006, so things were different in the Doctor Who universe. Later, Steven Moffat used the Cyberking as an example of things being removed from time by the cracks in time and space in Series 5.

1 comment:

  1. Dervla Kirwan is also well known as the first actress to play the role of Phoebe Bamford in the 1990's BBC sitcom "Goodnight Sweetheart". She played the role in series 1 - 3 and one christmas special before Elizabeth Carling took over the role for series 4 - 6 and the 2016 one off episode.