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STUDIO: BBC Warner
RUNNING TIME: 60 Minutes
- Doctor Who at the Proms
The Doctor gets a little steampunky to start off his ’09 US Farewell Tour.
“Say Quantum Leap is better one more time. I fucking dare you.”
David Tennant, David Morrissey, Dervla Kirwan, Velile Tshabalala
Fresh off the dememoritization of Donna Noble at series four’s conclusion, the Doctor finds himself back in ole’ Londontown, circa Christmastime in 1851 to be exact. Upon arrival he runs into a lass calling for help from the Doctor. Little does he know that he isn’t the Doctor she’s looking for. Another man arrives on the scene under the same moniker, talking of a TARDIS with a sonic screwdriver at the ready looking to dispatch with what looks to be a Cyberman crossed with a dog. The Doctor then proceeds to find out that this new Doctor has a few memories missing, which may or may not be linked to the proliferation of Cybermen in town. The Doctor has to get to the bottom of how both of these things occurred (could it be they are related?) along with a bit of Christmas cheer as is custom in these holiday specials.
Paul never went out in public without rocking the neon ‘stache, that was a given. But only on those extra special winter days would he break out the GLOWBURNS.
There’s a definite bittersweet quality to this, the last Christmas special featuring David Tennant in the role he’s so irrevocably made his own. Bitter because we’re fast approaching the end of his delightful run as the Time Lord from Galifrey, sweet because once they put that “UNDER NEW OWNERSHIP” sign on the TARDIS the writing on Doctor Who might avoid many of the pitfalls this special succumbs to. Which isn’t to say it isn’t entertaining, even the weakest episodes of this reboot have much to offer in terms of unbridled joy and whimsy, it’s just that Russell T. Davies’ tenure as show runner has often lapsed into syrupy unearned big moments and flimsy overly convenient plotting.
Tennant is as good as ever, he’s fully inhabited the role of the Doctor and he manages to pull off very tricky sequences that pinball between winking at itself and unabashed earnestness (the scene where he buckles some swash with the Cybermen and then passionately pleas for them to spare the ‘other doctor’ comes to mind). He’s deft with the comedy and the pathos and he makes you feel for the Doctor in a way that none of the other iterations can lay claim to. David Morrissey does respectable work as the Macguffin Doctor although he is saddled with some unfortunately hyperbolic dialogue at the episode’s close. The ping-ponging of tones does him no favors either, as he is playing a tormented character who has lost much of his memory but it has to take a backseat to derring-do and shenanigans at many points in the episode.
“I’d heard stories, of course….but how could I have known? It wasn’t until I was in a Target, just browsing, and there I saw it: Basic Instinct 2 – the unrated edition. Two. Extra. Minutes.”
The biggest impediment to this show being the best X-Mas special is that it features what might be the lamest villains carried over from series past, that being the Cybermen. Not that their hive mentality and zombie gait aren’t welcome in the Whoniverse, it’ s just that they’ve never really felt like the proper conclusion to jump to in the storylines they’ve been present in. Take this episode for instance, as it would seem the Mercy Hartigan character helps the Cybermen and their plot because… she hates men? She wants power? It’s not really ever clear and the way the episode wraps up her and the Cybermen storyline doesn’t help you any on that front. And it’s a shame because the hook of dueling Doctors, one lacking certain memories is a hell of a hook to open the episode with. And whenever you’re with the two doctors the episode seems to zip along. But when it’s time for the two storylines to converge, things get incredibly convenient (the mechanical whatsit that provided the episode with its helpful exposition also serves as its helpful weapon for dispatching the enemy) and the story begins to falter and stumble.
He had grown weary of the hunt and its monotony. Of course having Bossk’s head over his fireplace is a great conversation piece and all, but he strived for something more, the most dangerous game. Let’s just say it was a bad time to be Alan Thicke.
It reaches its nadir with the object that earlier isn’t powerful enough to be of any use for the Doctor to suddenly becoming powerful enough to be very useful indeed just at the point when the Doctor needs to pull a rabbit out of his hat (there’s only eight minutes left in the episode, after all). It’s the push/pull of many of the Davies episodes where clumsy plotting hurts what are some great episode concepts that are eventually pulled out of the fire by energetic performances that raise the stakes beyond where they would be otherwise.
“FUCK YOU ROBARBERSHOP!”
This isn’t top notch Who so I wouldn’t recommend it to any newcomers, but the faithful will enjoy it and have probably already done so so there’s little use in preaching it now. However, as much belly aching and minutiae-mining I may have indulged in above shouldn’t deter you from watching what is a pretty consistently entertaining show that tries to navigate the ever-murkier waters of entertainment suitable for both children (Whovenile delinquents) and adults, family programming. That the show most often succeeds beyond compare is reason enough to start from the beginning of the reboot and enjoy it. After all, any show that works a giant robot into its conclusion can’t be all bad, now can it?
Nope. It scientifically can’t.
The cover art is meh, but these single discs seem to just operate as a cash-in before all of the specials will be collected together as something of a Season Five sometime next year. The video and audio is fine as they didn’t make the great HD transition until the recently reviewed subsequent special. In terms of extras all you get is the Doctor Who at the Proms which is a live performance of most of Murray Gold’s scoring for the past four-odd seasons of Who*. It’s loud, boisterous bombastic stuff that fits the tone of the program perfectly so for fans of the show it will be a treat. There’s even multiple instances of awkward live audience interaction (to be a kid at this event must’ve been something fierce) including David Tennant in a pre-taped video short. Fun for Who fans, but far from essential. My advice would be to wait for the inevitable box set collecting all of these specials together.
*And isn’t a Twilight-like furor of young British girls hurling themselves like projectiles at David Tennant trying to get him to dance with them to “Say You, Say Me”.