Written by Russell T. Davies
Directed by Richard Clark
The worst episodes of Doctor Who are often the Christmas specials. They enhance all of the show’s weaknesses and sacrifice its strengths in the name of creating a child- and religion-friendly little box to put under the tree. They emphasize emotion and melodrama over plot ant intrigue and generally just work against Doctor Who‘s typical themes.
“The Next Doctor” was a very pleasant exception, closing out a fairly weak season with one hell of a bang.
First, the episode hints at an interesting possibility of the Doctor meeting his future self, as David Tennant runs into a man calling himself “the Doctor” who is rushing through 1851 London with a companion, chasing a strange little cyber-furry creature. Then, the other Doctor doesn’t recognize the Tenth Doctor. As the episode continues, we find that this new “Doctor” has a regular screwdriver instead of a sonic one and a hot air balloon that he calls the TARDIS. Eventually, the Doctor discovers that he is actually a local man named Jackson Lake who was the victim of a Cyberman attack and ended up with an infostamp of information on the Doctor entering his damaged mind so that he believed himself to be the Time Lord.
David Morrissey’s appearance as Jackson Lake is an excellent guest appearance, as he manages to have all of the confident swagger of the Doctor and then let it give way to a heartbreaking vulnerability as the damaged Lake. While the story begins as one of the funniest in the show’s history, his performance is much of what gives it a strong emotional core when it turns to a sadder tale.
Meanwhile, a local madam, a strong-willed woman in a place and time that did not allow strong-willed women, is using the Cybermen to gather power in London in order to take revenge on the society that has treated her so poorly. She eventually discovers that the Cybermen are not going to leave her human but instead will make her the Cyberking, giving her control over an enormous Cyberman that will attack the city under her control but also turning her into a cyber-creature. This part of the story is pretty standard Doctor Who, though the commentary about a society that held women down to the point that she can become so resentful as to want to destroy it is a bit deeper than this show usually attempts.
This episode is fantastic because it uses a typical Doctor Who adventure as a backdrop to tell a deeper emotional story and also manages to make some of its best jokes. It’s an episode that wouldn’t interest any non-Whovian, but it’s fantastic for us.