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TV: Doctor Who - “The Next Doctor” (BBC1)

So who was the biggest sensation in the Christmas special? Bookies' favourite 11th Doctor David Morrissey or that massive Cyberman thingy? Stuart Ian Burns decides

Published on December 30th 2008.

TV: Doctor Who - “The Next Doctor” (BBC1)

IT'S a little remembered fact that Doctor Who's first ever Christmas episodewas set in the Liverpool. 'The Feast of Steven', sadly now lost from thearchives, but for its soundtrack, was a jolly festive farce set in a localpolice station (which was almost going to be staffed by the cast of Z-Cars) with the companions trying out their Scouse impressions, and which ended (after a brief detour in Hollywood) with 1960s Doctor William Hartnell,crystal wine glass in hand, breaking the fourth wall and wishing all of us athome a merry Christmas.

Pre-broadcast, Knotty Ash-born actor David Morrissey was tight-lipped as to who this new spirit could be, which, along with the actual title, only increased the expectation that this Christmas we'd somehow, through some timey-wimey bit of magic, be watching the first adventure of the next actor to take on the role

It's perhaps entirely fitting then that just weeks after the show celebrated itsforty-fifth anniversary, a Liverpudlian actor should be one of the leadsin this year's extravaganza and intriguingly playing the titular character 'The Next Doctor'.

Pre-broadcast, Knotty Ash-born actor David Morrissey was tight-lipped as to who this new spirit could be, which, along with the actual title, only increased the expectation that this Christmas we'd somehow, through some timey-wimey bit of magic, be watching the first adventure of the next actor to take on the role of the 11th Doctor, once current incumbent David Tennant regenerates off at the end of next year.

It was fairly obvious, within the first ten minutes, that this wasn't going to bethe case. In contrast to Tennant's modern geek, Morrissey's character seemed basedon the public perception and, it has to be said, the reality of what the originalcharacter was like: an Edwardian gent, all frock and waist coats, cravatsand casual sexism, his speech patterns more akin to a human of the period,than the alien jibber-jabber that is the hallmark of the Tenth Doctor. Notthe kind of figure the BBC would risk in the lead of one of their highest rated TVshows.

Which isn't to say it he didn't work brilliantly within this context as amystery for proper Doctor and us to solve. Only an actor of Morrissey'squality could possibly carry what turned gradually into an emotionallycomplex role, as someone (Jackson Lake) who had deluded themselves to escape great personal tragedy. After three years of killer Santas and sky-yomping spaceships in acontemporary context, it was a real treat to return to period London and aninitially more intimate story. In the first half, the Cybermen

were a bit of a distraction from the clever exchanges between former Blackpool co-stars Tennant and Morrissey, as the former pondered who this impostor might be.

Once this central mystery was exploded, though, the plot opened out andbecame a touch less interesting, as the Cybermen accompanied by the deadlyCybershades stomped around in the night with their usual mission to convertanything with opposable thumbs and pulse. These aren't my favouritereimagining of the classic monsters; in the old show, at least in the 1980s,they were far more manic and witty, at their best when clenching theirski-gloved fists and declaring "Excellent!" when it looked like were gettingtheir own way (and usually played by early Brookside actor David Banks).All the noughties Cybermen seem to do is march around electricuting peopleshouting with their new, kid-friendly, sub-Dalek catchphrase "Delete".

On each appearance they've needed a human face to make them interesting andexplain their plan, and 'The Next Doctor' offered a reptilian Dervla Kerwin,resplendent in her scarlet dress against the snow white backdrop. She'swhat made the graveyard scene so thrilling, willingly watching her fellowman die. Strong stuff for the post turkey torpor and writer Russell TDavies also infused the episode with a range of Dickensian motifs, withladies of the night, street urchins and this workhouse madam straight outof Nicholas Nickleby, who, like the Cybermen, had divested herself of muchof her humanity even before she was inevitably converted. Odd that sheshould be called the Cyber-“King” not Queen, though – it eems out of characterfor the Cybes to be championing gender neutrality.

Then, probably sensing that kids might be fidgeting at all of this socialcommentary, Davies chucked in what might well be the most bonkers conclusionto a Christmas special yet. Not even last year's image, of a lookalike ofthe Queen scurrying from Buck House as a space replica of the Titanicskitted overhead, prepared me for the sight of the 1,000-foot tall, manga-friendly steampunk Cyberman stomping across London like mechanised cousin ofMr Staypuffed in Ghostbusters. I think I giggled from the first push in,through to its zapping into another dimension, as it perfectly demonstratedwhat I love about Doctor Who, its ability to encompass thesubtle and spectacular and usually in the same story.

About my only criticism of the climax was that despite some initial bravadodefending the Doctor and his own 'companion' Rosita (who was played withmouthy gusto by Velile Tshabalala), Morrissey became something of abystander.

The perfect resolution would have been for him to ride his hotair TARDIS with Tennant towards the mouth of the beast, returning to thedouble act established earlier in the episode. Instead he was left cradlinghis child and gathering the population of the capital together to hail theconquering hero.

But perhaps in keeping him away from the main action,Davies was simply re-emphasising the words he'd put in Morrissey's mouthduring the teaser: That even when Tennant leaves, we'll still have theDoctor to look up to, "the one, the only and the best".

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Pete TylerDecember 29th 2008.

I couldn't agree more. Good that he's not being the new doctor who though, I couldn't have taken it. John Sim is the kids' choice. Robert Carlyle won't so it for me, despite the fact that Tenant generously says it's a role that any actor can make his own. Yeah right! Anyone asked Jimmy Corkhill?

The Meddling MonkDecember 29th 2008.

This seemed like a rushed and sloppy script to me. The true identity of the "next Doctor" was revealed far too early and should have been kept going as being a future regeneration up until the end. Morrisey, whom I like,was initially very impressive but keeping up the By Gad Sir upper class Victorian Gentleman accent proved difficult and hints of scouse began to slip through " what was I like?" he asked early on when trying to fill th gaps in his memory and i imediately thought, Kensington Regeneration rather than a Gallifrey one. Other than that Morrisey was excellent, as the Cidermen would have said during their White Lightening days. The problem Russell T. seems to have is writing for additional characters when they are brought back. The example being the waste of Mickey in the last seris finale or Captain Jack in every return since he left as a regular Tardis passenger. Captain Jack after a brief good start was vitually almost forgotten about in the Master episodes and the Davros return. Very little of the wit and sparky one-upmanship exchanges with the Doctor that had made him work so well as a character but then that has also been lost in the often tedious Torchwood. Maybe Mickey will brighten it up after the swines killed off the lovely Tosh.I just didn't feel that this special was special. And Tennant is just starting to annoy me enough now with the wide eyed patronising sentimentality over humans, who let's face it, were not at their most benign towards the smiling well dressed cockney street urchins. This episode extended the acronym TARDIS to TARDISACBTime and relative dimesion in space and chocolate box. By the way I had to watch it on replay as I fell asleep halfway through. For somebody who still has a tear in his eye when thinking about Patrick Troughton saying goodbye to Jamie and Zoe (stuff Donna, they had their memories wiped too!)falling asleep during Doctor Who is unheard of. Although I did consider counselling during some of the Cbeebie Sylvester McCoy stories. Anyway Who cares?

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