A First-Timer Watches Doctor Who: “The Next Doctor”

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Another regeneration tease—this time in the form of a future Doctor. Or at least, what seems like a future Doctor, but is actually just a regular guy who thinks he’s the Doctor.

It’s Christmastime, and the Doctor finds himself companionless in Victorian London. But it’s not long before he makes some new buds: “the Doctor,” an affable fellow who carries around a regular screwdriver that he calls his sonic screwdriver, and Rosita, his companion (who is not Rose, but still has a lot of pluck). When the (real) Doctor arrives in town, the poser Doctor and Rosita are trying to solve a series of murders—or again, they think they are. But they’re actually caught up the latest Cyberman attack, which is being led by a vengeful woman named Miss Hartigan, who prances around town—and even visits a gravesite—in a garish red dress.

This special felt like Doctor Who holiday comfort food: the classic Cyberman premise, the classic London setting, the classic heroic ending. It’s rare that a Doctor Who episode concludes with a whole crowd applauding the Doctor—more often it ends with the Doctor returning, solemn and depressed, to his TARDIS—but the triumphant conclusion felt like an antidote to last season’s devastating finale. It may not have been the most thoughtful or clever Doctor Who episode, but it was a nice piece of happy-ever-after (or happy-for-now) Christmas entertainment.

One element of the episode that was a little confused was Miss Hartigan and her allegiance to the Cybermen. Though it’s not said outright, it is implied that she is a prostitute—which is why she’s so determined to team up with the Cybermen to take revenge on the men of the town. Although she eventually realizes her mistake and blows up her own metal troops—after realizing “what she’s become”—it seemed like a bit of a two-dimensional “scorned woman takes revenge” plotline. Why, if she has experienced so much pain in her lifetime, did she want to take it out on children, forcing them into labour—and eventually into becoming Cybermen? Her demise seemed harsh for a woman whose villainy comes from suffering.

“The Next Doctor” also introduced a new species (not sure if that’s the right word?) of Cyberman: the Cybershade! Is it just me, or are these guys totally cute? It’s like if the Cybermen had a puppy. Surely they can be domesticated and made to play nice/sit.

As for Jackson Lake, the true identity of the man who claims to be the Doctor, I realized as I was watching the episode that so far the Doctor has very rarely formed a connection with another man. He never got on with Mickey, he’s frenemies with Jack Harkness, and he’s only had female companions. Again—as we saw last episode with the “human” Doctor—this alternative “Doctor” represents everything the real Doctor isn’t: a family man, loving, reasonable. His reaction to the inside of the TARDIS was perhaps the most realistic we’ve seen so far. He freaked, and had to get the hell out of there!

The Doctor is by nature a solitary, unanchored man, but he feels especially so right now. No companion, no home planet, no Doctor Who regular season. He’s a free agent, careening through space.