Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol

Doctor: 'Tonight, I'm the Ghost of Christmas Past.'

You've got to hand it to Steven Moffat—his first Christmas episode was an absolute blinder. It was exactly how a Christmas episode should be: it was different enough from a regular episode to justify its special status; it had regular companions (even if they were criminally underused); there was a strong Christmas theme; it had great celebrity guests; and there was an emotionally engaging narrative which both warmed and broke our hearts. In short, it was both Christmassy and special.

This was almost the perfect episode. I initially had reservations about Katherine Jenkins' casting. I do like her, she's just not an actor, and all it takes is one weak link and the episode's ruined. I expected Katherine to be that weakness. Celebrities who can't act usually end up playing themselves (Ken Dodd anyone?) Admittedly, Katherine is a singer, too—but the similarities ended there. Abigail was more than just an excuse for a celebrity cameo, she was a fully formed character. I found myself tearing up several times during tonight's episode, and it was mostly due to Abigail.

We know Katherine can sing—that aspect of her performance was never in question—but she also turned in a remarkably competent acting performance. She managed to get across perfectly the innocence, sadness and wonderment of the doomed Abigail. It was obvious that the countdown on the cryo-casket was her time running out, and I loved the idea of the Doctor bringing her back to life every Christmas Eve, oblivious of the fact he was killing her. Only Abigail knew—a secret she kept from Kazran until the end.

It was satisfying, too, that Abigail got to spend Christmas Eve with her sister. I couldn't help but smile when the Doctor drew back the curtain and beckoned her in. The Doctor's in his element at parties, and Matt really comes to life when there are children in the room. He's a total kid at heart. I liked it, too, that the Doctor had no advice whatsoever to give Kazran on women—before going out to pull Marilyn Monroe! I guess some women just love a confident looking man.

Full marks, too, to the mighty Dumbledore for a master-class in how not to ham it up. Gambon played the role of Kazran Sardick to perfection. Kazran was the product of a violent, unloving father, who treated humans like cattle. Despite starting out a caring, emotionally capable young man, the years of abuse had taken their toll. He'd started to display his father's Scrooge-like characteristics, and had become cold and uncaring.

The Doctor had less than an hour to effect a change. He befriended Kazran as a boy and then introduced him to Abigail—whom he instantly fell in love with. But in the end, it was Abigail who inadvertently caused Kazran's downfall. The Doctor gave him someone to care about, and then took her away again, freezing her in the ice, seemingly forever. From that moment on, Kazran started to hate the Doctor. He resented the heavy burden the Doctor had placed upon his young shoulders, and thus, despite the Doctor's well meaning attempts at changing history, their predicament became the same at the last as at the first. Kazran became oblivious to the suffering of others. Even an impassioned appeal from holo-Amy fell on deaf ears.

Except, really, he wasn't. The Doctor's plan had worked! Kazran didn't care because he couldn't face caring. He didn't want to open himself up to the well of pain and guilt he felt inside, so he tried to block it out. Gambon was at his best hating the Doctor. You could really sense his frustration. I loved him hissing at the Doctor 'You try it!' His bitterness was utterly palpable.

Meeting his younger self in the vault was the game changer. Kazran, devastated by the realisation he'd become like his father, chose that very moment to change. He begged his younger self for forgiveness. Unfortunately, it was a move which altered things significantly. He no longer had control of his father's machine, and thus, unable to save the crashing ship, Kazran set Abigail free one last time.

How lovely that Abigail wasn't put off by Kazran's advanced years. Jenkins and Gambon totally nailed those scenes. They were so tender. Props, too, to Murray Gold for writing such a haunting Christmas ballad. (Particularly on such short notice.) In hindsight, I'm glad they didn't show us Abigail's death—the emotional pay-off was already enough. A death would have been too much. Instead we got to see Kazran and Abigail enjoy Christmas Day together—flying through the sky in a shark drawn carriage.

If I have one complaint it's that Amy and Rory were underused, though to be fair, they weren't really needed. I enjoyed Amy's brief cameo as the Ghost of Christmas Present (albeit in an impossibly short skirt), and her good natured banter with Rory. Nice outfits guys. Why they had them on I shudder to think. I was also moved by Amy's 'thank you' to the Doctor and that awkward hug. Tonight it was the Doctor's turn to save Amy—which he did in style.

Other Thoughts:

—I liked how we saw time being rewritten on the fly.

—Thank God the Doctor didn't sing. Arthur, Matt and Karen have dreadful singing voices. See for yourself here.

—Loved the Doctor falling down the chimney. Matt excels at physical comedy.

—It was great to see young Kazran wearing a Fez. Fezzes are cool apparently. What was also cool was seeing the Doctor wearing a Tom Baker scarf. Nice touch.

—The crashing spaceship looked a bit cheap. Galaxy Quest anyone?

—Even the psychic paper couldn't pull off a lie as big as the Doctor being a 'universally recognised as a mature and responsible adult'. Even psychic paper has its limits.

—Marilyn's voice sounded a lot like a posh Emma Thompson. No American accent whatsoever.

Quotes:

Doctor: 'Ah, yes. Blimey! Sorry.'

Doctor: 'Father Christmas. Santa Claus... or, as I've always know him. Jeff.'

Amy: 'Have you got a plan yet?'
Doctor: 'Yes I do.'
Amy: 'Are you lying?'
Doctor: 'Yes I am.'
Amy: 'Don't treat me like an idiot.'
Rory: 'Was he lying?'
Amy: 'No, no.'

Doctor: 'Clever old Mrs Manters, she only went and won the lottery.'
Young Kazran: 'There isn't any lottery.'
Doctor: 'I know! What a woman.'

Young Kazran: 'If you're my babysitter, why are you climbing in the window?'
Doctor: 'Because if I was climbing out the window I'd be going in the wrong direction. Pay attention.'

Doctor: 'Dangerous? Come on, we're boys. And you know what boys say in the face of danger?'
Young Kazran: 'What?'
Doctor: 'Mummy!'

Abigail: 'This is amazing.'
Doctor: 'Nah, this is transport. I keep amazing... out here.'

Young Kazran: 'When girls are crying, are you supposed to talk to them?'
Doctor: 'I have absolutely no idea.'

Young Kazran: 'They look very poor.'
Abigail: 'They are very poor. That doesn't mean you can't be happy.'
Young Kazran: 'Then why aren't you?'
Abigail: 'Because this is the life I can never have.'

Doctor: 'Oy, stop it. You're doing it wrong.'

Doctor: 'Kazran, trust me, it's this or go to your room and design a new kind of screwdriver. Don't make my mistakes, now go.'

Doctor: 'Marilyn. Get your coat.'

Young Kazran: 'What are we going to do?'
Abigail: 'There is nothing to be done.'

Kazran: 'I could release her any time I want and she'd live a single day.'

Captain: 'Nobody has to die.'
Kazran: 'Everybody has to die.'
Captain: 'Not tonight.'
Kazran: 'Tonight's as good as any other night. How do you choose?'

Doctor: 'Better a broken heart than no heart at all.'
Kazran: 'Oh, try it. You try it!'

Abigail: 'Look at you. You're so old now. I think you waited a bit too long, didn't you?'
Kazran: 'I'm sorry.'
Abigail: 'Hoarding my days like an old miser.'
Kazran: 'But, if you leave the ice now...'
Abigail: 'We've had so many Christmas Eves, Kazran. I think it's time for Christmas Day.'

Amy: 'You know, that could almost be mistaken for a real person. The snowman isn't bad either.'
---
Also posted at The Time Meddler.

15 comments:

E221b said...

Wonderful, just wonderful! I agree with all your assessments about this special episode. It was just perfectly Christmas-y and special.

You know I'm someone who only started watching Doctor Who this season and it rapidly became something I absolutely love. I'm almost content not going back and watching other seasons because I've fallen in love with Matt Smith's interpretation of the character and can't imagine anyone else doing it as well.

Mel said...

I agree with the review and with E221b except i fell in love with David Tenant as the Doctor. I still have not gone back to watch series b/4 him. However, I have continued to watch Matt Smiths take on the role. I am really beginning to enjoy him. He has a youthful exuberance that is enviable and makes him easy to watch.

Anonymous said...

Arthur actually has quite a nice singing voice. :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXslYq4HFMI

yukonark said...

Singing a lullaby to a shark - how wild is that? But Jenkins' version of "In the Bleak Midwinter" moved me to tears. What a strangely wonderful Christmas gift! Looking forward to April, 2011.

Paul Kelly said...

I stand corrected, eclecticmuse. Arthur does indeed have a decent singing voice. Sorry Arthur. Karen and Matt, though? Terrible! ;o)

Anonymous said...

I was curious as to how you rate this among the other Christmas specials on terms of creativity, style, and plot?

I loved the special too and reviewed it myself on my wordpress (http://cdeitrich.wordpress.com/). I agree with you on the incredibly Christmassy atmosphere and the great guest-talent (aside from Katherine Jenkins' better-a-singer-than-actor performance). However, what disappointed me about the special was that they remade an already-used (and reused) plot instead of created a beautifully original story, like I was so used to Doctor Who doing.

I also had a hard time grasping the idea that Moffat somehow felt the need to write a flying shark into a Christmas special.

Dont get me wrong, i still enjoyed it immensely. I just miss the days of elaborate aliens and creative story lines.

Also, how did you feel about the fact that The Doctor, though good-intentioned, did a very dangerous thing and allowed someone to cross his own time path? As I recall, way back in Series 1, The Doctor told Rose crossing her own time path was 'very dangerous.' Is The Doctor getting reckless? Or is Moffat?

~Colleen

Juliette said...

I agree, I thought it was really good - but I did have one small niggle. It was very Moffat, all tomey-wimey and complicated, and I'm not quite sure that's what we're after in the evening of Christmas Day, when the kids are over-excited to the point of bursting and want to play with their toys, and the grown-ups have got through a fair bit of the Christmas booze. On the other hand, RTD's Christmas speicals were all pretty awful, so on the whole I liked this one very much!

Paul Kelly said...

Hello Colleen,

To be honest, I don't think Doctor Who has a very good track record when it comes to Christmas specials. “The Runaway Bride” was dire. “Voyage of the Damned” was equally as embarrassing. The best of the crop (IMO) was “The Christmas Invasion,” but even that had its faults (not enough Doctor, poor action sequences, etc.) Christmas episodes, for me, always stand alone from the main series. The tone of them is different. The Doctor's almost always on his own, so he acts different. They just feel disconnected somehow. And this year's story felt no different.

The other thing I always try to remember, is that there's a child-friendly element to Doctor Who. CGI sharks are part and parcel of what the show is. Kids love the Adipose, the family Slitheen, the giant wasps and (dare I say it) Abzorbaloff. As an adult I could do without them. But the show appeals to a broad demographic, and these things are par for the course. So I try not to criticise them too much. Otherwise, every review would be just a shopping list of complaints.

Did I think A Christmas Carol was a rip-off? Not really. I think it was dissimilar enough to the original to make it seem fresh. Plus, A Christmas Carol is one of my favourite Christmas books/films. So I was quite happy with it. Some of the elements didn't work... or felt overly complicated (the whole fish in the sky idea, for example). But this was essentially a story about people. I sympathised with the characters, and thought the emotional content rang true. So it worked for me.

Is the Doctor getting reckless? Yes he is. But he always was. He was reckless to the point of madness in “The Waters of Mars”. And, yes, crossing time lines is dangerous. I'm guessing the Doctor felt that saving the lives of 4000+ people was worth the risk. I'd probably agree with him.

As for elaborate aliens and creative storylines, I'm not sure the RTD era was any better. “The Lodger” and “Blink” were based on existing stories, appearing in other formats. "Human Nature/The Family of Blood" was an adaptation of Paul Cornell's 12 year old novel. "Voyage of the Damned" bore stark similarities to “The Poseidon Adventure” and “Starship Titanic”. Personally, I've found the Moffat era to be of a far higher quality than the RTD era. Season six (with the notable exception of “Victory of the Daleks”) had nowhere near the season lows of Tennant's first season (or even season three). And this year's Christmas episode (to my tastes) was the best of the lot.

So, personally speaking, I'm quite content. I think the show's in good hands.

Billie Doux said...

Personally, I thought it was wonderful. Best Doctor Who Christmas special ever. I even cried. And I wasn't expecting to love it, because I really dislike take-offs of A Christmas Carol. Maybe because it wasn't just a take-off. They used it as a jumping off point, but made it their own.

Mark Greig said...

Simply wonderful, another triumph from Steven Moffat. After a series of increasingly bonkers blockbusters from Russell T. Davies it was refreshing to have something truly magical for Christmas, a Dickensian steam-punk fairy tale with flying fish and fezzes. My only grievance was the limited involvement of Mr and Mrs Pond but that drunken sing-a-long more than made up for it (gotta love Matt’s air guitar).

shawnlunn2002 said...

Apart from wishing that both Amy and Rory had done more in it, this was an excellent special and beauitfully festive.

I really liked Kazran and Abigail as guest characters and Marr Smith continues to be a wonderful Doctor.

Also silence cropped up a lot during Abigail's second song of the episode.

The Series 6 trailer looks amazing as well.

Mark said...

I wasn't thinking Galaxy Quest so much as having fun with the recent Star Trek movie. (Take a drink every time there is a "lens flare" while on the bridge.)

The "try it" line was definitely a homage to Men in Black. One of my favorite moments from that movie, so if Moffat is going to borrow, it was a worthy choice.

Matthew said...

I agree with all the positive sentiment here, superb episode - but what I really appreciated was that Moffatt took out the one element of the original Scrooge story that I always felt made it a bit of a weak redemption - that he only really seemed to change his mind when he saw that he'd die alone and hated - and more of a selfish one than selfless. Changing the 'future' ghost the way Moffatt did was, dare I say it, inspired.

Morgan India said...

I have to agree with Billie: This is probably one of the best Christmas specials I've seen. It was so sad and haunting but so beautiful. I loved every minute of it.

On a slight side note, regarding Matt Smith and how he portrays the Doctor around children, there is a video made for Doctor Who Confidential, where Matt's childlike behaviour is fantastically obvious.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gldWm0oVAlQ

But this episode would have to be one of my ... possibly all time favourites when it comes to Doctor Who.

Kara said...

Somehow I missed this episode when it aired so I just watched it for the first time last night. What a treat!