First the good news. ABC is giving us the 2008 Doctor Who Christmas Special in January – usually they take months to get around to it. Now the bad news: ABC is giving us the 2008 Doctor Who Christmas Special in January. If you’re a die-hard fan you probably watched this on Boxing Day via illegal downloads, right?
Britain’s tradition of Christmas specials is legendary. Eleven million viewers watched this one, just behind the 14 million for Wallace and Gromit. At least we saw that one before the Brits did.
This 60-minute edition is titled ‘The Next Doctor’, which sounds like a teaser for the switcheroo to Matt Smith, who was announced as David Tennant’s replacement just days after this aired. Wrong. Instead there’s a second Time Lord here played by actor David Morissey (Viva Blackpool). The TARDIS lands in Victorian London on Christmas Eve, where Tennant collides with a second Doctor who has a feisty female assistant (Velile Tshabalala) and a sonic screwdriver… sort of… Without giving too much away, Morissey’s Doctor is arguably more Wizard of Oz than Who.
London is under attack from the robotic Cybermen, led by a human ally, the ravishingly dressed Miss Hartigan (Dervla Kirwan). As the villain of the piece she gets to have all the fun here, running riot over the men of British society, drawing in scores of Dickensian children to abet her masterplan and spitting out all the best dialogue, too.
The more the episode progresses, the more you get the feeling we’re now in a holding pattern before the takeover of Matt Smith and new writer Steven Moffat. Ironically, as if to remind us of how brilliant he has been, in this adventure Tennant can be heard yelling “I am The Doctor! I am The Doctor!” There’s even a visual reminder of the actors who have preceded him (he still looks #1).
Ultimately, this Christmas edition feels like the universe, or ‘WHOniverse’, is undergoing great change – rather like some of the plots we’ve enjoyed before. With Donna Noble’s tale concluded in 2008, The Doctor is now sans assistant. As enjoyable as it tries to be, the writing in this episode is no better or worse than a weekly episode, upstaged by the 2007 Titanic special featuring Kylie.
There are four more specials to air before Smith’s arrival, including temporary assistants for Tennant’s Doctor. Hopefully ABC will air them just as quickly?
‘The Next Doctor’ airs 7:30pm Sunday on ABC1.