Sunday, December 28, 2008

Doctor Who: "The Next Doctor"

I haven’t been that impressed with most of the Doctor Who Christmas specials to date. While the series proper might have a lot of standalone episodes, there’s usually some kind of connective tissue between them all, even if it’s just the developing relationship between the Doctor and his companion. With the exception of “The Christmas Invasion,” all the specials have been minus a regular companion, and that places a lot of burden on standalone character development. How many new characters can we get invested in?

In this case, I thought the Jackson Lake false Doctor story was a great hook. The high point of the episode is probably the teaser, when we’re left wondering “What’s going on here?” There’s good moments afterwards, but once we find out why Jackson thinks he’s the Doctor, everything goes along pretty much as you’d expect. There’s some cool stuff, like the giant Cyberman/Hot Air Balloon battle, but the spectacle doesn’t have the emotion that the best Doctor Who episodes have.

Part of that may simply be this is the first Christmas Special I’ve watched apart from the series. After six months without Who, and coming off the over the top in every way “Journey’s End,” I wanted something a little bigger. We’ve also got the impending departure of David Tennant hanging over everything, I suppose I should be happy to get even just a decent standalone with Tennant, but I can’t help but want more out of these specials that will close his run.

The moments that worked best for me were the ones that played off the end of last season, and the intense tragedy of the end of Donna’s arc. I watched the commentary on that finale after getting the season four box set for Christmas, and two things stuck with me. One is that I had no clue what Tennant, Davies and Tate were talking about for at least half of the commentary, I thought I knew British culture, but apparently I don’t. The other is that even with them nattering over it, that episode touched something deep on my subconscious, and I was all wrapped up in the tragedy again. I felt almost angry after watching it the first time, that Donna got such a raw deal. I’ve come to appreciate the episode more, and the skill it took to write something that got to me so much. I think it’s a brilliant episode, and in many ways, I wish Davies had just left on that high note and not come back for this inevitably lesser encore.

I don’t have that much to say about the episode proper. The moment that stuck with me was the Doctor talking about his companions at the end of the episode, and saying that “Sometimes they forget you.” He knows why it happened, but still, to have gone through so much with Donna and then to see her go back to the way she was, it must destroy him. I think he knew he could never be with Rose forever, but maybe he did believe that the DoctorDonna would last, and now he finds himself adrift and alone again. I do like that they let him go to dinner with Jackson Lake, and not go for the typical the Doctor leaves alone ending to these episodes.

What will the future hold for The Doctor? I wish we could have gotten a teaser for “Planet of the Dead,” or at least a release date. Will these next specials try to top “Journey’s End,” or will they just let Tennant fade out. A year from now, we’ll know for sure.

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