The official BBC press launch for the forthcoming Doctor Who Christmas special, "The Next Doctor", was held in London today.
A somewhat lower-key affair than the corresponding events of previous years, the event has nonetheless managed to attract a good deal of media coverage on television, radio, online and in print. Readers are warned that any or all of the following links may contain spoilers for "The Next Doctor".
SFX Magazine have posted a spoiler-free review of the episode, which they describe as "not an out-and-out classic episode, but it is great Christmas entertainment. And it does have a few classic moments." SFX is just back from the preview screening of The Next Doctor. So yes, now we know exactly who the David Morrissey Doctor is, and no, we're not telling you, because that's part of the fun of the episode.
And it is only part of the fun. There's a hell of a lot of fun to be had here. Once again, the Christmas episode is not an out-and-out classic episode, but it is great Christmas entertainment. And it does have a few classic moments.
The odd thing is, for much of its running time, it feels surprisingly small scale, both in terms of its plot ambitions and its imagery. Indeed, it barely feels like a Russell T Davies story for a long while, as there are few of those quirky moments that divide fans (but which the general audience laps up). While it's very funny in places, and has some patented RTD character moments, for a long time this Victorian based story is more "Evil of the Daleks" than "Voyage of the Damned" - it's very trad Who, and quite wordy in places. Nothing wrong with that, but it leaves you wondering where the budget went...
And then it becomes obvious in the last 10 minutes when the episode goes very big and completely bat's arse. It's pure RTD and jawdropping. Jawdroppingly brilliant or jawdroppingly stupid really depends on how much you like New Who. Gotta admit, I loved it unreservedly, but then I unreservedly loved the TARDIS towing the Earth.
Morrissey is great, and there's a lot more to his role than just pastiching the Doctor. The Cybershades are also surprisingly effective - they may look a bit naff in the trailers, but they prove worthy successors to the Cybermats. The Cybermen themselves aren't exactly on top form; they're more like Ciphermen much of the time, and come across a bit stupid. They also seem a lot weaker than usual. What happened to their super strength? And if you've heard that there's an Oliver Twist element involving lots of kids, well, there is, but don't worry - it's more Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom than the Baker Street Kids.
Andy Goddard directs with a lot of style, atmosphere and an eye for striking imagery, though he does seem out of his depth in a couple of the the action scenes which lack a certain oomph. However, a set-piece scene in the graveyard is shot very effectively and the opening encounter with a Cybershade is hilarious. The production design is stunningly good, really bringing to life a snowy, Victorian London and providing some wonderful cyberpunk additions.
So, yeah, there's a lot of lightweight fluff here, and one very cheesy moment, but the Next Doctor mystery provides the emotional core of the episode. Other than that I'm saying no more, as any discussion of it will give away too many clues.
Overall, though, it's enormously entertaining. Even if you don't plan on watching it, tune in for those last 10 minutes. It's something you'll definitely want to have an opinion on.
Oh, and Morrissey's TARDIS is brilliant, plus there‘s a very, very sweet final scene, and a (possible) visual allusion to Earthshock.
OffTheTelly describes how outgoing BBC Controller of Fiction implored journalists "to promise not to tell anyone else what to make of that. The ability of Doctor Who is to ask big questions and keep everybody guessing. Please enter into the spirit of that, and allow everyone to keep asking questions."Thursday 18 December 2008, and a pointedly low key press launch for Doctor Who’s Christmas episode, ‘The Next Doctor’ held at London’s Soho Hotel.
Jane Tranter, the BBC’s outgoing Head of Drama, warned the assembled: “‘The Next Doctor’ - for the next 60 minutes or so, make of that what you like. And I’m absolutely not going to tell you anything. But by the time you’ve got to the end, you’ve got to promise not to tell anyone else what to make of that. The ability of Doctor Who is to ask big questions and keep everybody guessing. Please enter into the spirit of that, and allow everyone to keep asking questions”.
So I will. Although I can’t help but squeal that all the previous TV Doctors get a fleeting cameo. That’s unrelated to the main plot, though.
With Tranter set to move to LA, she reflected on what the Doctor Who team has achieved - and the future.
“We’re coming to the end of an era with the show,” she said. “Or as I like to say, the end of the beginning. The next generation are here: Steven Moffat, Piers Wenger and Ben Stephenson. They will not disappoint you - that much I can absolutely promise. I can’t wait for the fifth series to begin, and neither can they. I can literally feel their feet moving even as they’re sitting here; as they wait, running on the spot, waiting to be unleashed. There are exciting times ahead…”
Gareth McLean, writing for The Guardian, describes the episode as "a lot better than last year – a lot – and not just because David Morrissey is a magnificent actor and a lot easier on the eye than Kylie Minogue. For a start, The Next Doctor is about something. It has a proper story (as opposed to a surfeit of CGI), some lovely sharp lines and self-referential moments that, mostly, aren't self-indulgent." Having rushed to judge last year's Doctor Who Christmas special – and praised what I subsequently thought on second viewing was overblown and a little empty – I realise that you may view any critique of this year's offering with something approaching suspicion. I further realise that drawing attention to my misjudgment, made in the giddy afterglow of a razzy screening, may also lower your opinion of my opinions. Obviously, I'd say that admitting I may have made an error is actually a sign of strength rather than weakness. But then I would say that, wouldn't I?
Enough with the navel-gazing. Let us instead look to the stars and The Next Doctor, in which Davids Tennant and Morrissey battle Evil Dervla Kirwan (in a big red frock) and the Cybermen in snowy Victorian London. Needless to say, this special is a lot better than last year – a lot – and not just because David Morrissey is a magnificent actor and a lot easier on the eye than Kylie Minogue. For a start, The Next Doctor is about something. It has a proper story (as opposed to a surfeit of CGI), some lovely sharp lines and self-referential moments that, mostly, aren't self-indulgent. It also has a mean villainess in Kirwan's chilly Miss Hartigan, and did I mention that David Morrissey is magnificent? Well he is. Seeing him and Tennant together made me want to watch Peter Bowker's brilliant Blackpool all over again.
I would say The Next Doctor is pared down, but it would be difficult for it not to be after the frustratingly busy finale of the last series, which featured Rose, Martha, Donna, Sarah Jane, Captain Jack, Mickey and Jackie (and is surely available in a special And the Kitchen Sink box set). Indeed, the restraint of The Next Doctor – I realise that restraint isn't really a word you'd readily associate with the big, bold visions of Russell T Davies, so let me remind you that context is everything – could perhaps be a sign of things to come in 2009. Davies has said that in the next special the Doctor will be without a companion and without the Tardis – though how David Tennant's back injury will affect filming, which is supposed to begin next month, is anyone's guess.
Of course, The Next Doctor has flaws. Davies is expert in pushing emotional buttons and does so ruthlessly, which can get a little wearing. There are some extraordinarily sentimental moments, far too many urchins, holes in the plot plugged with lumps of expositional dialogue and then there's the overpowering music which, lest you're unsure, tells you precisely What To Feel and When. Furthermore, as baddies go, I'm not terribly fond of the Cybermen. I know they predate the Borg but as hive-mind villains go, Star Trek's are more terrifying, not least because they're uglier. That said, the sculptural Cybermen knock Voyage of the Damned's Max Capricorn into a cocked hat and global domination certainly beats insurance fraud as an evil raison d'etre. Meanwhile, those familiar with Buffy may be reminded of the climax of season six. (Make of the Hartigan/Hannigan interface what you will).
Those reservations notwithstanding, The Next Doctor is the best Doctor Who Christmas special yet, or is at the least on a par with The Christmas Invasion. It doesn't have the emotional scope of the Doctor and Rose's farewell in Doomsday but it's moving, funny, impressive and has a big, beating heart. Possibly two, in fact.
Michael Deacon in The Telegraph says the episode is "a blizzard of action... Much of the plot is devoted to the relationship – at times amusing, at times poignant – between these two Doctors, as we begin to learn the life story of Morrissey’s character."Ever since it was revealed that David Morrissey would co-star in the forthcoming Christmas special, bookmakers have made him favourite. The Christmas episode is, after all, subtitled The Next Doctor, and in it, we were told, Morrissey would be playing another Doctor.
Well, at a press screening yesterday, I saw the episode. And the answer is… Naturally I shan’t spoil it by telling you. But I can say this: Morrissey gives a performance that befits a Doctor. He goes about it quite differently from Tennant: he does much less of the boyish gaping and mugging and raised eyebrows. He’s solid, sturdy, serious but with a soft side. And a voice oddly reminiscent of the prison warden Mr Mackay from the Seventies sitcom Porridge: it’s a rich, full-throated bark.
The episode itself is a blizzard of action. It’s set in London on Christmas Eve, 1851. Doctor Who (David Tennant) materialises in a snow-bound market – only to bump into another Doctor Who (David Morrissey). Much of the plot is devoted to the relationship – at times amusing, at times poignant – between these two Doctors, as we begin to learn the life story of Morrissey’s character.
But the pair have something more pressing to deal with: the arrival of the Doctor’s old foes, the Cybermen, led by the sinister Miss Hartigan (played icily, but with a touch of camp, by Dervla Kirwan).
The first half is festooned with comic moments – look out for an amusing scene featuring a Sonic Screwdriver. From half way through the pace accelerates, as the Cybermen’s plans become clear.
But although there are some unnerving computer-generated graphics, the action remains family-friendly – younger viewers shouldn’t have nightmares.
Viewers who have previously considered Doctor Who over-hyped (this reporter among them) may find themselves thawing. The episode is witty, compelling, and, perhaps most importantly, does not feature Catherine Tate and her ceaseless squawking.
Tennant himself gives perhaps his most energetic performance in the role to date. Whether or not Morrissey is the next Time Lord, it’s clear that Tennant will be a hard act to follow.
Writer Russell T Davies appeared in the last half-hour of BBC Radio 5 Live's Victoria Derbyshire programme to discuss the special, and also popped up on television on the BBC News channel's coverage of the press launch