- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
he “Doctor Who” Christmas specials have become a staple of the “Who” template at this point. They come around once a year, asking little more from viewers than to suspend some disbelief (even by the outlandish “Who” standards). Their primary mission is to entertain U.K. audiences on Christmas Day, when the family is sitting around in various states of holiday bliss. Sometimes they are good (“The Runaway Bride”) and sometimes they are bad (“Voyage of the Damned”). “The Next Doctor” may actually be the best of the lot. Set in Victorian London, it details an adventure in which the Doctor meets a man who may be one of his future selves. Of course at this point we know that the man is not actually the next Doctor, since we know Matt Smith has snagged the part. In that respect, the story is slightly anticlimactic, but once you get past that it’s actually quite a charming little tale, with a bit more pathos and character than we’re used to getting from these specials.
The Doctor (David Tennant) arrives in London on Christmas Eve, 1851 and he almost immediately encounters a man (David Morrissey) who claims to be the Doctor as well – only he doesn’t recognize the Doctor proper, and his sonic screwdriver is just an ordinary screwdriver. Apparently he’s engaged in an ongoing battle with the Cybermen, and they have taken more than just his memories. But the pair get along quite well, and the Doctor basically assumes the role of companion through the first half of the story, although the Next Doctor does have his own companion as well – Rosita (Velile Tshabalala), a name which provokes a bit of a reaction from the real Doctor. The Cybermen are being led by the evil Miss Hartigan (Dervla Kirwan), a lady with a 20th century attitude, who was clearly born into the wrong era of history. She doesn’t seem to care for men, and there may be a subtext there that doesn’t explicitly come through onscreen, but that’s probably just as well since Christmas is probably not the best occasion in which to showcase evil lesbians. Together the two Doctors must fight to make things right, and since it’s a Christmas story, you pretty much know going into it that everything’s going to work out for the best.
Although it’s being released on DVD after “Planet of the Dead,” it actually takes place before it in the timeline. “Planet” was bumped up on the release schedule since it was the first high-def story to be shot, and the powers that be wanted to take advantage of that by getting a Blu-ray disc out there on the market ASAP. It’s something of a shame that this story wasn’t shot in high-def as well, because from a visual standpoint, it’s at times positively breathtaking. One scene in particular, which features Miss Hartigan and the Cybermen interrupting a funeral set against a wintery, snowy backdrop, is one of the most visually breathtaking scenes the series has yet unveiled. The steampunk CyberKing that dominates the climax of the story is pretty damn cool, too. Visuals alone do not a “Who” story make, of course, because if they did, “Planet of the Dead” wouldn’t have been such a letdown. “The Next Doctor” mostly succeeds because it’s got a lot of heart, and two fine actors leading the way. Tennant’s always good, and we expect that, but Morrissey is his equal in this story, and he makes a strong impression as the man who claims to be a new, yet broken version of the Time Lord. Don’t get me wrong, “The Next Doctor” is hardly a highpoint in the series from a script standpoint, but it’s a classy enough way to spend an hour of your time, especially if you understand what these Christmas offerings are all about in the first place. Oh, and there’s a fantastic montage sequence featuring all ten actors to have played the Doctor since 1963 that’s just flippin’ neato.
Special Features: Sometimes you get an extra on a DVD that may just be cooler than the main feature, and this is such a disc. “Doctor Who at the Proms” is a concert that was taped at the Royal Albert Hall in July of 2008. The version that’s presented here is a one-hour edit, which removes all the classical pieces that were played, but leaves most of the “Who” incidental music pieces intact. Ben Foster conducts the music of Murray Gold, as giant screen plays montages of scenes from the series above. Freema Agyemen hosts the festivities, and even Catherine Tate shows up at one point. The concert also includes the “Music of the Spheres” sketch, which stars Tennant as the Doctor addressing the audience, and it is only available here. There are also numerous monsters from the series such as Daleks, Cybermen, and Judoon that show up and invade the hall. Even Davros emerges and holds court at one point. It’s all great fun, and it’s a real kick to watch all the kids in the audience and note their reactions to the monsters swarming around them (their parents seem to be having just as much fun). It’s the kind of thing that most any fan would love to have attended, and you know these kids are going to remember it forever. A great, great extra (assuming you enjoy Murray Gold’s music for the series) and practically worth the price of the disc alone.