Have I ever mentioned two of the things about Doctor Who that I’m not crazy about? One are the series’ Christmas specials (which seem to have no real use for the series canon and are mostly mediocre stand-alone adventures [David Tennant’s introductory episode aside]). The other is the Cybermen who are only not the worst recurring villains in the franchise because the Slitheen came back for more than just one episode. So, when I hear that I’m about to watch a Christmas special that features the Cybermen as the main antagonists, I’m obviously going to be a little reticent. While this particular Christmas Special, “The Next Doctor,” was no worse than some Christmas specials of the past, it reminded me of how boring Cybermen stories tend to be (although this one attempted to subvert some aspects of the traditional cybermen tales) and I wish that one of the final episodes of David Tennant’s run as the Doctor could have been a little more outstanding.

After the events of the fourth season finale, the Doctor is alone and transports himself to Victorian London on Christmas Day. As he is walking around and taking in the sights, he hears a woman shouting for “the Doctor!” Never a man to leave a damsel in distress, the Doctor goes running off only for the woman to be confused and accuse him of not being the Doctor. Of course that’s when another “Doctor” (David Morissey) shows up, claiming to be a Time Lord and in possession of a TARDIS and Sonic Screwdriver. The new “Doctor’ shows up chasing some hairy, mechanical creature and before long, the tenth Doctor is embroiled in his adventures. It turns out that things aren’t quite what they seem when this “Doctor’s” sonic screwdriver is a regular screwdriver and his TARDIS is a hot air balloon. To make matters worse, the Cybermen have returned and are being led by a revenge-thirsty woman named Mrs. Hartigan who has sold humanity out to the Cybermen for a place of power in their new society when she never had any of it to begin with. Is this new “Doctor” the next (or even more future) regeneration of the Tenth Doctor suffering from amnesia, or is he something else entirely. Watch the 2008 Christmas special to find out!

I appreciated the way the episode turned the typical “human uses cybermen to gain power. cybermen turn on human story” that is the plot of almost every Cybermen tale that’s ever been written. Rather than becoming a mindless, emotionless drone like the rest of the Cybermen, Mrs. Hartigan’s strength of will is so powerful that she becomes the first Cybermen with emotions and imagination and becomes the Cyberking. So that was a plus. Unfortunately, the rest of the episode that dealt with the two Doctors trying to destroy the Cybermen before it was too late relied on the most stale of Doctor Who technobabble and exposition that I didn’t even care to follow. David Morrissey was an awesome contribution to the cast and since it’s no spoiler at this point that the next Doctor is Matt Smith and not this guy, I would have really loved to have seen him as some incarnation of the Doctor. It’s a shame he was just imprinted by some cybermen technology with memories of the Doctor. Also, there was a nice moment where David Tennant mournfully reminisces on why he isn’t with any companions anymore.

The only thing that really bothers me about episodes like this is that I begin to feel as if they are chores I have to sit through in order to get to the really good stuff like Stephen Moffat stories (or even the good Russel T. Davies tales). Doctor Who is a wildly inconsistent program in terms of the quality of its stories, and I only wish there was a more cohesive tone to the series. Maybe it will improve when Stephen Moffat takes over as head writer. Regardless, we’re now down the final three episodes of the show (I guess technically “The End of Time” is a two-parter but I’m reviewing the whole thing at once). It’s been a long crazy ride that I started here with Doctor Who. My dad and I began watching it with Christopher Eccleston’s run back in May and I’m only just now crawling along to the finish line for David Tennant.

Final Score: B

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