There are certain moments in television, certain episodes, to which I greatly look forward. Yes, season premieres and finales are most certainly among them; "special" episodes for sweeps tend not to be. On my favorite long-running series though I hugely look forward to episodes in which new main characters are introduced and old ones disappear. It's a delicate balancing act, introducing a character, eliminating another.
These episodes tend to, hopefully, call for big things to happen, and I like to see how they happen. Law & Order is a show which, sometimes, eschews those big stories, people just come and go. Law & Order can get away with that — it's not so much character-based as mystery of the week-based. Doctor Who, however, can't. Doctor Who lives and dies by the Doctor and his companions. Introducing a new Doctor (and, in the new series, a companion) calls for something big, something huge. The same is true of eliminating a Doctor. It takes a special sort of evil alien creation or bit of bad luck for the Doctor to be forced to regenerate into a new form.
Thus, with only five appearances left by David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor, I headed into last night's viewing of Doctor Who – "The Next Doctor" – on BBC America with great hope and high anxiety. Yes, David Tennant would still be the Doctor in four upcoming TV movies, but with his departure announced, with Matt Smith already cast as the Eleventh Doctor — would the end of the Tenth Doctor be foreshadowed in "The Next Doctor?" Clearly, as the name of the episode indicates, some wanted us to believe so, but that doesn't actually mean anything. And, if there were hints, would they be obvious enough to glom onto without seeing the next four movies?
The answers to my questions? Who knows. If I had to guess, there is definitely a moment or two in the special that foreshadow the Doctor's death, but I wouldn't care to try to point them out. I'm not sure that they're point out-able. They probably will be once the switch to Smith comes about, but as of this moment, no. I'm going to refer to that as bad wolf-style hints. We all knew when the saying "bad wolf" kept popping up that they were leading us somewhere, that there were hints to be had, but they were exceedingly difficult — if not impossible — to actually put together into any semblance of the truth about what was to happen.
As for the episode itself, it was pure and true Doctor Who — the plot was a little silly, some of the Doctor's knowledge odd, and the villain truly over the top. It was exactly what I was hoping for… except that it ended. I would have loved for it to have been hours and hours longer, but I guess I'm going to have to wait for the next series to get that.
The Cybermen certainly make for intriguing Doctor Who villains — they would kind of have to be, to have been brought back oh-so-many times, but I'm still more of a Dalek fan (not that the bad guys can always be the Daleks, that could get kind of dull). It's one of the great things about the show (old and new versions — the recurring villains have become incredibly three-dimensional because different facets of their history and personalities have been explored through the years. Thus, in an episode like "The Next Doctor," even though we don't learn all that much about Cybermen and where they come from, who they are, etc., the long-term viewer can bring in all the Cybermen's past history to flesh the story out. Does that point out a weakness in last night's episode? Probably, but then again, I can't imagine anyone having tuned in for the special who didn't already care about the show.
In the end, I really can't wait for the rest of the specials and the new season (this last bit is a way off in the future). At least, I won't have to wait for the next series to find out how the Tenth Doctor becomes the Eleventh Doctor — that's allegedly going to happen in the 2009 Christmas special ("The Last Doctor" being the 2008 special). And, fingers crossed, BBC America HD will be on the channel lineup provided by my cable company (the HD channel launches July 20) by the time that happens.