Thursday, December 25, 2008 by Graham Kibble-White
This year’s special ends with the Doctor accompanying a new friend to The Traveller’s Halt.
And that’s just one shadow darkening the picture as we’re gently – oh so gently – reminded this incarnation of the (time) traveller is embarking upon his final voyages. The Doctor and Jackson walking off through the streets of 19th century London marked not just the beginning of the end, but also a nicely subdued climax to an – at times – melancholic Yuletide adventure.
The big idea, of course, played on the Doctor’s mortality as he encountered Jackson Lake (David Morrissey), a possible future incarnation of himself. Morrissey brought us a hugely likeable character, a credible, almost archetypal, take on the Time Lord. He spoke like a Doctor of the old school – lots of usage of “sir” where the current incumbent might say “mate”; formal English, no contractions; and allusions to the classics (Robert Burns: “Let’s pull this timorous beastie down to earth!”) rather than pop culture. Throw in the pre-Eccleston Doctor garb – all frock coat and cravat – and faintly patronising attitude to companion Rosetta, and you could believe Russell T Davies was paying tribute to all the elements of the Doctor’s character he jettisoned for the 2005 revival.
Ultimately, though, “The Next Doctor” mystery was done and dusted all too quickly, the truth about Jackson revealed some time during the second reel, and the character efficiently demoted to another bystander, sobbing ineffectually as the real McCoy (er, not that McCoy – we’ll get to him in another couple of paragraphs) swung in and rescued the curiously static Frederick from a fiery bath. A real shame, as Morrissey’s lust for the fruitiness of his Pertwee-style dialogue had brought real sparkle to the screen.
So what of the Cybermen, this episode’s other draw? Demoted to brainless henchmen, they interacted with the tale more as – ahem – cipher-men. They were but fun icons of steam-punk Victoriana, ball-less knights in shining armour easily subjugated by scarlet woman Miss Hartigan. That funeral scene aside, this lot were eclipsed by their pet dogs, the lurching Cybershades, and that Transformers-alike Cyberking, a stomping salute to younger viewers who’ve been hanging on through Jackson’s tragic back story waiting for some merchandise-able mayhem to kick-off.
This Christmas won’t be remembered as a vintage venture for the Cybes, but other small moments will surely be celebrated for some time to come: The feign with the fob watch, the “Tethered Aerial Release, Developed In Style” and – chiefly – that cameo from messrs Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee, Bakers (mk I and II), Davison, McCoy, McGann and Eccleston.
All Doctors, fleetingly back together again? It doesn’t auger well. Having flagged up that one day there will be a next Doctor, Davies then reminds us ‘our’ Doctor is soon to become another face from the past. As the episode finishes, he’s opting to travel alone once again (“I suppose in the end,” he says, referring to his companions, “they break my heart”). It’s almost as though he’s reverting back to that wounded, lone wanderer we first met in a Cardiff department store. The show, tidying itself up, ready for a new regime to take control…
“But this is nonsense! Complete and utter wonderful nonsense! Very silly!”