It's going to be tough to gauge the impending end of the Tenth Doctor. Sad to say, "The Next Doctor" doesn't make that any easier.
As in Christmas specials past, this adventure takes The Doctor (David Tennant) to London, this time in 1851. With the events of Journey's End not forgotten (he's dried himself off since then, at least), the Doc hears another adventure calling -- but there's another brave, if cocky, man called The Doctor answering it with him. This other Doctor (David Morrissey) has his own TARDIS, his own Companion and even his own Sonic Screwdriver.
No telling how that's possible, but it's at this point the episode diverges from the audio book* that seems to have inspired it, because the show substitutes the slapstick of The Runaway Bride for a meatier relationship between the two Doctors, showcasing the chemistry between the two Davids, which anybody who watched Blackpool is already aware of. While not a bad idea for an approach, Russell T. Davies' script does err too far on the side of bromance, leaving the other Doctor's Companion, the otherwise caustic and competent Rosita (Velile Tshabalala), terribly lacking in screen time.
Providing a welcome respite from the schmaltz, at least, are the Cybermen, taking center stage for the first time since getting utterly pwned by the Daleks two seasons ago. Thankfully, not only do the viewers get an explanation for their whereabouts since Doomsday, but the Cybermen gain a welcome new ally in Miss Hartigan.
Played by Dervla Kirwan with a mind more than steely enough for her Cyberbuddies, this devil in a red dress is the first Christmas special baddie who seems fit to join the Doctor's regular rogues' gallery. Our villains' ultimate plot, served with just a touch of steampunk, also makes for a decent visual spectacle to match the latest threat to The Doctor.
Despite the more interesting batch of villains, though, "The Next Doctor" failed to rise above the level of previous Christmas episodes, stand-alone and possibly even forgettable in hindsight. One clue provided tonight: apparently The Doctor will be flying solo for a bit longer; Companions, he says, break his heart.
Normally the lack of set-up is no big -- there's always the season premiere, right? Not this time. With the Tenth Doctor's final lap consisting of a group of "special episodes," there is literally little time before Tennantmania is forced to bite the dust. Is RTD up to his final task -- orchestrating the grand send-off deserving of Everybody's Favo(u)rite Doctor? Unfortunately, we're going to have to wait until Easter 2009, at least, before getting any further clues.
* Thanks to Peter Pixie for tipping us off!
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