When David Tennant let it be known he was going to leave Doctor Who after three seasons, the BBC strongly considered just canceling the show without its popular star. Then someone remembered that the idea of recasting the Doctor was actually baked into the premise of the show. The Doctor can always regenerate.
Which is why this episode, where David Morrissey shows up claiming to be “the Doctor” is such a lovely tease.
Apparently, to ease things into a new incarnation, a few special episodes were filmed with Tennant, now companion-free, to show this incarnation’s last few adventures before he regenerates into the next Doctor who probably hadn’t been cast yet. So, seeing the TARDIS pop into what turns our to be London on Christmas Eve in 1851, the Doctor takes a step out, enjoys the sights, and hears some woman call for his help. He runs off only to have the woman, Rosita, have no idea who he is. But then some other dashing fellow played by Morrissey shows up, claims to be the Doctor, no other names. He has what he says is a TARDIS and a sonic screwdriver, and he calls himself a Time Lord.
The Doctor, confused, asks if the man recognizes him. The man does not.
But then what looks like an ape wearing a Cyberman helmet jumps out and makes both men look like chumps.
Alright, so new Doctors don’t always remember things right away. Regeneration diseases and all. Sure, this guy has a loyal female companion on Rosita, and he even has a little bit of advanced tech. But he seems to be spending all his time trying to solve the murder of a man named Jackson Lake, allegedly killed by the Cybermen. The Doctor even asks to see his possible replacement’s pocket watch because that could have changed him into a human with no memory of his past, but no, it’s just a broken watch.
Now, there’s a lot of Doctor-ish qualities to the guy. He’s brave, up to a point. Sure, he gets really scared when confronted by real Cybermen, but does that make him any less of the Doctor? His sonic screwdriver isn’t really sonic. It’s just a screwdriver. His TARDIS turns out to be a hot air balloon he made himself. And meanwhile, an angry woman named Miss Hartigan is working with the Cybermen to produce a Cyber King, and the Cybermen also think the new guy is the Doctor.
It’s actually a really cool twist. Obviously, this new guy isn’t the Doctor. He’s Jackson Lake. Cybermen attacked his home, killed his wife, and some broken gadget that was actually a Dalek memory bank of some kind hit Lake with some sort of beam, giving him some fractured Dalek records on the Doctor. Lake thought he was the Doctor, and while he had a lot of Doctor-ish qualities, he isn’t. The Cybermen, using the same gadget, made the same mistake.
WIth that information out, the Cybermen know who the real Doctor is. Also, Miss Hartigan was picked to be assimilated as the new Cyber King. And those things are giant, killer robots. However, Hartigan actually takes the thing over before stomping all over London.
Now, obviously, something like that will be remembered forever, but by then, the Doctor is at the top of his game. Turns out taking down the Cybermen is easy. All he has to do make Hartigan feel again. Sure, he offers her a helping hand first, but she’s a villain, and they never do that. The Cybermen and Hartigan all disintegrate, the Doctor saves the day, and Lake leads the crowd in a cheer.
Also, there were a lot of children in danger because this is 1851, and there were a lot of orphans in workhouses back then. So, they had to be rescued. That included Lake’s son that his condition made him temporarily forget, but this is still a Christmas story, so it all works out well for the kids at least.
As for the Doctor, well, he’s back on the TARDIS. Lake may not have been the newest Doctor, but as humans go, he would have been a fine one. And I have to say, as potential Doctors go, I think he would have been a fun one. But, he isn’t, so I’ll need to wait and see who the Eleventh Doctor will be.
Wait, I already know it’s Matt Smith.