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Allons-y: Sonic Screwdrivers, Steampunk Robots, and Heartbreak on "Doctor Who: The Next Doctor"

It seems only fitting that the final Doctor Who specials starring David Tennant (who will leave the series at the end of the year) should be airing on BBC America.

There's a sense that the legendary sci-fi series is finally coming home and I think that as the series is so quintessentially British that it only makes sense that it should be airing on the most British of networks, BBC America. The channel is using the first two of the five David Tennant Doctor Who specials as the linchpin for the launch of its HD simulcast channel next month. Said launch will coincide with the US premiere of Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead on July 26th and spin-off Torchwood: Children of Earth the week earlier.

But before all that, there's Doctor Who: The Next Doctor, which aired on BBC One in the UK last Christmas and airs tomorrow night on BBC America. It stars David Tennant as the Doctor, still reeling from the events of the Season Four finale, in which companion Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) sacrificed her memories in order to save the universe. Alone and shaken, the Doctor arrives in the Victorian era just in time for Christmas... and, when he meets a man claiming to be the Doctor (David Morrissey), catches a possible glimpse at a future incarnation of himself.

Back when Doctor Who: The Next Doctor originally aired in the UK last winter, there were rumors swirling about just who (no pun intended) would be taking over the mantle of the Doctor when David Tennant departs the series. Since then we've learned that Matt Smith will be replacing Tennant as the Doctor but that doesn't diminish the mystery and frisson as the Doctor comes face to face with his possible future self.

(Aside: You can read my spoiler-laden review of Doctor Who: The Next Doctor from January here.)

It's fantastic to witness an on-screen reunion between Tennant and Morrissey, who starred together in the deliciously surreal musical-murder-mystery limited series Blackpool (which aired Stateside as Viva Blackpool). The duo are so well-matched and are both such consummate and brilliant actors that the screen crackles every time they appear in frame together.

While Tennant's Doctor quickly falls back into his old patterns when faced with danger (madcap action, anyone?), Morrissey offers a somber counterpoint to Tennant's more manic Doctor that is absolutely haunting and heartbreaking. There's some nice emotional mirroring going on here as the two men (or is it one?) come to terms with what they've lost and how they process that loss in their hearts.

Likewise, the superb Dervla Kirwan (Law & Order UK) turns in a wrenching performance as the embittered Mercy Hartigan, a woman so driven by rage and vengeance that she bears no relation to her namesake. Her story is proof positive of how we open ourselves up to corruption when we lose sight of our innate humanity. Yet, there's a fantastic twist to Mercy's story that speaks volumes about how the downtrodden can be underestimated time and time again.

While Doctor Who: The Next Doctor is a fairly lightweight and breezy Who installment, there is a kernel of emotional truth lurking beneath the surface as the Doctor comes to terms with his eternal loneliness. The last member of a dead race, he's constantly being left behind by those he chooses to keep as his traveling companions, who inevitably "break [his] heart", whether because they leave because they have to, they meet someone else, or they "just forget" him. It's a touching and bittersweet reminder of Donna's sacrifice, Rose's exile, and Martha's choice to move on.

And, as I said in my original review of Doctor Who: The Next Doctor, the knowledge that the Doctor's heart(s) can break just as easily as our own "is perhaps the beauty of Doctor Who as a series: a reminder that, no matter how far we travel, we cannot ever escape our essential truths, no matter how hard we try."

Doctor Who: The Next Doctor airs Saturday, June 27th at 9 pm ET/PT on BBC America.


Bella Spruce said…
While this isn't my favorite Doctor Who episode it's still very enjoyable and David Tennant and David Morrissey are brilliant together (made me want to go back and watch Blackpool again) and Dervla Kirwan is excellent in her role too.
Heatherette said…
I can't wait for this! I need my Doctor Who fix!
Mazza said…
Thanks for this. I've been waiting to see DW: TND since Dec and I am glad I waited to watch it on T.V. instead of getting it through less legal means. I am going to miss DT when he leaves. To me he IS the Doctor.
Eric said…
I thought that this was a fun DW outing but not the best by far. Can't wait to see what Moffat is able to do when he takes over the show.

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