This story in a nutshell: A portent of the future?
Let's be honest, David Tennant was something of a television phenomenon come The Next Doctor. Regardless of what a section of fandom might think about the tenth Doctor, I don't think there has ever been an incarnation that has been so embraced by the general public and so adored by them too. No wonder this episode secured over 13 million viewers (look at the current state of the ratings, even at Christmas, and bask in that number) - people were desperate to see if this was his last story. A Doctor so popular that he had three potential exits (it's mooted in The Stolen Earth, The Next Doctor and The End of Time), a cheap trick that worked every time because the average Joe did not want to see the back of the coolest, smartest, sexiest Doctor there has been. That might not tally up with your opinion of the tenth Doctor but run any poll amongst the general audience (non Doctor Who fans, that make up a huge part of the audience of a figure like 13 million) I promise you Tennant will come out on top. Having him step out of the TARDIS with an enormous beam on his face as he takes in a quaint Christmas setting was probably enough to sate their appetites alone. He's fascinated by the whole idea of meeting a future incarnation of himself and follows him about like a bad smell. I love the idea of the Doctor being pursed by Cybermen in a Victorian house and tackling them on the stairs with a cutlass (or possibly a brolley). He makes quite a keen companion, nudging all the clues into the Doctor's path and refusing to take the credit. He hands Jackson his son and then tells him to bugger off before rushing into danger himself. Jackson has something to live, which rather suggests that the Doctor is still hurting from the loss of Donna. He admits as much at the climax, in an emotional moment that took me entirely by surprise.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'Hope I don't just trip over a brick, that would be embarrassing' - oh no, Ten, it is far more protracted than that.
'He dreams of leaving...but never does' - I wonder if that description was pinned on the Doctor before he stepped out into the universe.
'I suppose in the end...they break my heart.'
* Nobody puts on Christmas quite like the BBC. As much as I might be a little tired of the festive sojourns, I have to admit that when I am in the mood for a little Christmas (usually when the nights start drawing in the weather turns inclement) I need look no further than the yuletide exploits on my favourite show. The Next Doctor sports an impressive recreation of Victorian London captured in snow and flame, a bustling marketplace full of urchins, coppers, carollers and Christmas wares, and a funeral of black undertakers marching against a white graveyard. This the sort of yuletide imagery that the BBC excels at. What really impressed me was the visual representation of what the Cybermen are all about, using biological slaves to create a mechanical killing machine. The children working in the cogs of the Cyber King, a masterful piece of engineering that is filled with smoke and atmospherically lit. It's lunacy to think that children are running the clockwork inside this ridiculous machine of war but that just makes it uniquely Doctor Who. Take in all the detail of this set, for all that it is busy with extras it is a very impressive piece of design. The long shot with enhanced CGI cogs turning quite took my breath away. Welcome to the industrial revolution.
* I will never get bored of Cybermen's heads exploding like technological boils jammed full of foamy pus. The first time we saw the Cybermen they were marching out of the snow and it is an visual that remains potent, especially when they slide between the gravestones of the dead. Walking dead men, marching among their own kind. I found the action less interesting than the imagery, this is far more artistic than dynamic (especially when you add drop of blood to proceedings, Miss Hartigan's dress). This is wonderful setting to tell a Cyberman story (certainly more appropriate than a department store dressing room), an age of steampunk, of steel and cogs and industrial improvements. It's just a shame that the Cyberman aren't really needed, beyond their looks.
* If you are smart enough not to be distracted by the possibility of two Doctors working together and Cybermen invading a funeral then it is possible to piece together the mystery of Jackson Lake before the twist is revealed. A murdered man, an info stamp, too much luggage, something important being stolen... Davies smartly reveals the truth about his ploy halfway through the story, allowing Jackson Lake to claim his identity again and crumple at the murder of his wife but saves the emotional kick of this storyline (learning that he has a son and he is alive) for the climax. I have felt genuinely nauseous at the 'love conquers all' climaxes of several Matt Smith episodes (Night Terrors and Closing Time are equally vomit inducing in this respect) but the way this surprise is handled is expertly done. Morrisey's reaction to discovering his child was kidnapped by the Cybermen, coupled with the fact that he is in instant danger, delivers a double punch to the gut. After everything he has been through, I was rooting for Lake to have some kind of happy ending and pleased when it was delivered.
* I can't decide whether the Cyber shades are rubbish or not, the only real conclusion I can come to is that they are...different. Certainly the stunts they perform climbing up buildings and dragging the Doctors to their doom are very impressive and there is something weirdly creepy about their shaggy hides crawling across vertical facades. However when studied in depth they are simply the Taran Wood Beast (nice to see he got work after his brief appearance in season sixteen) decapitated with a bronze age Cyberman helmet bolted on in place of its head (a shame it had to suffer such body horror to secure employment). They are unlike anything we have seen in Doctor Who before and they aren't iconic looking enough to be given another appearance so they become a Christmas special aberration that add to this story' sense of individuality.
* She's not badly performed (although the accent grated a little), she's quite resourceful and she's certainly very attractive but I have to say that Rosetta (I groaned at the Doctor's reaction to the name) left very little impression on me. Like Clara, she's a bit of a non-entity. There isn't really the time to explore her back story and make a mystery out of Jackson's and one of them has to suffer as a result. Perky, quick to react, humane...she's a perfectly adequate companion without ever threatening to be a compelling one. Rosetta could be seen as a truly liberated woman, smacking Miss Hartigan around the chops for her compliance with the Cybermen.
* I prefer the 2nd Doctor's method of scarpering before anybody can heap any praise on him for saving the day (or possibly just to avoid clearing up). All this basking in applause is a bit too much for me. Yeah, yeah, we know the Doctor is great because of what he just did. You don't need to labour the point.
The Shallow Bit: In that Victorian garb Morrissey is quite a dashing looking chap.
Result: What an odd beast The Next Doctor is. Those coming to it expecting the sort of high-jinks that came with The Runaway Bride and Voyage of the Damned were confronted with something quite uncomfortable. Don't get me wrong there was plenty of action and not a little spectacle but along with that came questions of identity, allusions to sexual abuse and some very dark character drama. Visually it gives you all the trappings of a Christmas adventure in Victorian London but its a story that is far more interesting in heading into the shadows and finding out what is festering there. I think Davies was quite conflicted at this point, perhaps bored of his festive obligations and trying to shake things up by opting for a character drama rather than another blockbuster. However because this was broadcast on Christmas Day the audience demands an extravaganza of sorts and so he is compelled to toss in a sequence of cinematic madness at the climax. The twisted story of Jackson Lake and his family and the rise of the Cyber King are two entirely different stories that are bolted together at the point where he became the Doctor. I would take probing character drama over impressive visuals any day of the week and I found clinging onto the pendulum swinging from one story to the other quite disconcerting. Despite the fact that he is dressed up as the Doctor for half of the story, Jackson Lake emerges as one of the most vivid characters to feature in the Davies era. Thanks not only to David Morrissey's superb performance but the subtlety of the script that forces him to wear a mask, rips it away to discover the horrific truth and then allows him some redemption and peace at the climax. We go on one hell of an emotional journey with the character. Tennant is riding high on his success, engaging, funny and warm and falling into a gentle on-screen bromance with Morrissey. It makes me wonder if a trick has been missed with an all male TARDIS team. In comparison the Cyberman story doesn't have any heart (what a surprise). It boasts some astonishing visuals and features a thrilling turn from Dervla Kirwan (another character with a disturbing past) but ultimately leads to nothing more than the ultra-camp preposterousness of a giant Cyberman stomping around Victorian London. After the nuanced characterisation on display, this feels like the story selling out for the Christmas crowd. It is rare for me to be this conflicted about a story; the Lake stuff is worthy of full marks for the emotional reaction I had to the material but the climax is massively problematical and it does awkwardly try and juggle every kind of mood. For once I think the child in Davies should have been restrained and the adult should have claimed Christmas Day. This could have been as disturbing and memorable as Midnight. Because the Cybermen don't really add anything aside from attractive window dressing in the period, I can't award more than: 7/10