Doctor Who: The Next Doctor
(Christmas Special, 2008)
The Doctor who wasn’t really the Doctor.
The TARDIS materializes under an archway in a snowstorm. The Doctor strides out with a smile on his face, happy to be in London for Christmas in 1851. His joy is interrupted by someone screaming “Doctor!”, and he finds a growling creature behind a door wearing a copper Cyberman mask, a frantic woman, and a man claiming to be the Doctor.
This other Doctor, armed with his own “sonic” screwdriver, tries to lasso the primitive assimilation as it runs up a wall. The Tenth Doctor grabs on and the pair finds themselves dragged along until companion Rosita cuts the rope with a hatchet. The Doctors laugh about their adventure while Rosita chides them. While she goes to check the traps, the Doctor rambles along, mistakenly believing that the other Doctor is a future regeneration. He soon figures out that the other Doctor has memory loss, something that happened just before the Cybermen arrived.
The Tenth Doctor adopts the John Smith alias as the other Doctor rushes off to a funeral.
The Cybermen, led by a new Cyber Leader and a human ally named Mercy Hartigan, review the Cybershade’s surveillance footage while they prepare for the rise of the Cyber King. These Cybermen are the Pete’s World variety, somehow left behind when the worlds merged.
The other Doctor and Rosita observe the funeral procession of Reverend Aubrey Fairchild before springing into action. Rosita heads to the “TARDIS” while the other Doctor investigates the house of the deceased. He’s joined by Mr. Smith, and he explains that the Cybermen presence is linked to a number of murders and child abductions across the city. The rash of crimes started with the death of a man named Jackson Lake and have led to the reverend’s demise by some advanced form of electrocution.
The pair find a pair of infostamps, one of which contains the history of London from 1066 to 1851. The other Doctor has a flashback to his “regeneration” and memory of another infostamp. They also uncover a Cyberman home invasion and have to run. While they flee, John Smith reveals himself as the real Doctor and the other Doctor bypasses the safeties on the infostamp to overload the pursuing Cybermen.
The other Doctor is troubled by the happenings. The Doctor promises to help him.
At the reverend’s graveside service, Miss Hartigan crashes the proceedings with an admission: The reverend had to die in order to get the mourners in one place. She dispatches the Cybermen to attack them, sparing only a few as the rest are deleted.
The Doctors return to Rosita’s side at their home base. Jackson Lake’s belongings are stacked by the wall, kept as evidence of his disappearance, and the Tenth Doctor finds another infostamp in the luggage. The other Doctor shows off his TARDIS – a gas balloon, fueled by the local gasworks for a substantial fee, long-form called Tethered Aerial Release Developed In Style – and dreams of flying it one day.
The Doctor now knows that this man is not him. He shares the story of the Battle of Canary Wharf, presuming that some of the survivors fell through time and landed in London, 1851. He draws the parallels between Jackson Lake and the man’s memories, even showing him the JL inscription on his fob watch. The man, truly Jackson Lake, was flashed with an infostamp that contained all of the Cybermen’s information the Doctor, thus side-booting his brain with an alternate identity.
There’s still one missing piece that Jackson can’t remember, but the Doctor helps him remember based on the amount of luggage on hand: Jackson remembers how the Cybermen invaded his home and killed his wife Caroline. His fugue state ends as he breaks down in tears.
While Jackson Lake mourns and is consoled by Rosita, the infostamps start to chime. The Doctor finds a whole cache of them and realizes that the Cybermen are on the move. The Doctor rushes out, and Jackson sends Rosita after him.
Miss Hartigan fits her survivors with Cyberman EarPods and uses them to fulfill tasks for her. The Doctor and Rosita find the survivors marching children from their workhouses and orphanages to the River Thames. The procession is guarded by Cybershades and Cybermen, and it ends at the court of the Cyber King.
The Doctor and Rosita are ambushed by Miss Hartigan and the Cybermen. The Cybermen don’t recognize the Doctor because of the corrupted data on the infostamp, but they repair it. The Cybermen march on the Doctor and Rosita, but are stopped by Jackson Lake and his cache of infostamps. The trio run (after Rosita sucker punches Miss Hartigan!) and Jackson reveals that his cellar may be a gateway into their operations.
Miss Hartigan, in it for her own social liberation from this patriarchal society, takes control of the child workforce after killing the EarPod-clad men. Meanwhile, the Doctor’s trio finds a Dimension Vault in Jackson’s cellar. The Cybermen used the Dalek technology to travel through time and escape the Void. They follow the tunnels to the enemy base as the Cybermen attempt to convert Miss Hartigan and provide her liberation (from her anger and rage) as their Cyber King.
Unfortunately for them, she’s too strongwilled for conversion. Her mind is too powerful to control, and she uses her new powers to obliterate the Cyber Leader when it tries to intervene.
The conversion has also moved up the CyberKing’s timetable. Since they’re no longer needed, the Cybermen try to delete the children, but the Doctor and Rosita free them instead. While the children run, Jackson remembers that the Cybermen had also abducted his son, and he finds the boy among the workforce. Unfortunately, Frederic is trapped on a ledge, so the Doctor swashbuckles his way up and rescues him.
As the base ignites around them, the Doctor, Jackson, and Frederic run. Outside, a giant mechanical CyberKing rises from the Thames with Miss Hartigan on the throne, ready to convert millions into Cybermen as it rampages through London. Jackson, Frederic, and Rosita rush to safety.
The Doctor grabs the Dimension Vault and uses the “TARDIS” balloon to look the CyberKing in the eye. He offers Miss Hartigan one last chance at mercy, extending the opportunity for the Cybermen to travel using the Dimension Vault to a place where they can live in peace. She rejects him, so he uses the cache of infostamps against her. The assault breaks the cyber connection and leaves her mind open to see what she’s become. The shock and terror of her reasserted humanity destroys all of the Cybermen, leaving the giant automaton to stumble about until the Doctor uses the Dimension Vault to transport it into the time vortex where it will be disintegrated.
Jackson Lake addresses the onlookers and rallies them to cheer for the Doctor as he drifts above the city. Later on, they discuss the Lake family’s future, including Rosita as Frederic’s new nursemaid. The Doctor offers Jackson a look inside the real TARDIS. Jackson is amazed by the sight, but Jackson has had quite enough adventure. He asks the Doctor about his companions, to which the Doctor turns maudlin.
Jackson offers the Doctor a Christmas dinner in honor of all those that they’ve lost. The Doctor accepts.
I’m of two minds about this story. The Jackson Lake mystery is simultaneously amusing and tragic, adding a compelling throughline to the Cyberman invasion plot. The flip side is that the climax of the Cyberman story – the Pacific Rim-style CyberKing – is utterly ridiculous.
It’s a shame, really, because this story balloon really flies along until the cyber-mech lets the air right out.
There are some good but minor things that help tie things off:
- The sequence with the boy at the beginning is a direct reference to A Christmas Carol;
- God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen makes yet another appearance as a fairly generic Christmas song, continuing from The Dæmons, The Curse of Peladon, The Unquiet Dead, The Christmas Invasion, and The Runaway Bride;
- There are direct ties to the previous nine incarnations of the Doctor, once again breaking any claims that “nu-Who” doesn’t connect to the classic era;
- The scene where the Cybermen “identify” the Doctor is an homage to Earthshock;
- The Cybermen in the snow reflects The Tenth Planet;
- Li H’sen Chang’s show poster appears as an easter egg in the background.
The infostamp memory files of the Doctor’s lives 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, Doctor Who (The Movie), The Parting of the Ways, and The Family of Blood, none of which are actuallyCyberman stories. The War Doctor does not appear in the library files, which makes sense from a production standpoint, but doesn’t quite jive from an internal chronological standpoint.
Finally, I also love the character development as the Tenth Doctor considers that his time may be coming to an end. He’s excited to think that he won’t be the last of his regenerations, and his joy is infectious.
I just wish that the cyber jaeger hadn’t been a thing.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
Keeping in mind that the Timestamps Project is following the franchise chronologically at this point…
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.