Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Doctor Scrooge

Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol
Airdate: December 25th 2010. UK. BBC1

There’s some things, over the years, which have become part and parcel of the whole “Christmas Phenomenon”. You need the big iconic stuff to ensure things go smoothly and usher in the real spirit of Christmas. Turkey... check. Tree... check. Crackers... check. Socks... oh yes. And then, of course, there’s the new annual event that seems to have become almost as equal in stature over the last few years as those traditional stalwarts and it just wouldn’t be Christmas without it. I am of course referring to the annual Doctor Who Christmas Special. Something I always look forward to.

Now my track record of enjoyment with the Christmas specials has been a bit hit and miss over the years with, perhaps, my absolute favourite one being the Victorian Cybermen story, The Next Doctor. That, to me, is everything I wanted in a Doctor Who Christmas story... but the following year I had rather a time of it. Not only did my favourite Doctor, next to Patrick Troughton, regenerate (in part two of the special) but I thought the last two Tennant episodes, broadcast over the holiday period last year, were easily the worst episodes of Tennant’s wonderful reign as the Doctor. I’m telling you this so you can put my comments on this years offering in perspective... since so many people loved those last two episodes of the Tennant era, this may mean I am not to be trusted as a reviewer of these kinds of things.

However, if you’re still with me... lets take a look at this years offering, which came with all the ballyhoo of a “star cast”. The star cast being the wonderful actor Michael Gambon, who I at least knew, and the singer Katherine Jenkins... who seems to have slipped off my radar completely because I had no idea who she was until reading the pre-publicity articles on this years Chrimbo show.

The premise of the episode was Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, but instead of using three ghosts to influence the way the Scrooge character thinks, The Doctor goes back in time and befriends the scrooged up Kazran Sardick earlier in his life and as Gambon watches from a very-tricky-to-explain “live-feed”, his memories of his life change and his cold heart thaws... which is what it needs to do if The Doctor is going to be able to stop Amy and Rory and a host of other passengers from crashing into the planet. However, of course, the changing of Sardick means the parameters of the original solution to the problem also change and after all this happens, a new and last minute means needs to be discovered to save our heroe's companions. This comes in the form of Katherine Jenkins who sings a bit and this somehow allows the starship to land safely (oh, look, I was never much good at paying attention to the scientifiction gobbledy gook that passes for physics in these situations... just go with it). It’s by no means a happy ending because the Jenkins character has been thawed out to live her last day to do this... but her death scene is kept off camera so we can all go out feeling Christmassy anyway... kind of Stephen Moffett’s bitter pill of consequence snuck in and left dangling at the final curtain.

So did I like it? No, but it wasn’t too terrible and I really enjoyed the first half. The trouble with setting up such a strong premise from the offset (and then bloody hyping it to all and sundry before it airs) is that it’s already stuck firmly in your mind and you can imagine all kinds of exciting ways of doing this stuff which are in all likelihood, not going to happen. As it got nearer to the end it kinda got a bit, I dunno, locked in and predictable but as always with Moffett’s writing, it’s getting there in style that counts.

Moffett does an admirable job as does Matt Smith. With Amy’s strong personality absent for most of the episode (which is a shame since she’s my favourite character of late), the brilliant Matt Smith comes into his own and shines and lights up the screen - and he even holds his own with consummate professional Michael Gambon, which is no mean feat. Jenkins does well too and there are some amazing images of flying fish, flying shark and a Christmas sleigh pulled by dolphins which are great little Whovian moments. And it was lovely to see the BBC attempt to stir up some trouble again by having Amy Pond back in her kissogram police uniform for her... um... honeymoon activities (with Rory back in Roman Soldier costume).

Murray Gold’s music, too, was great. Lots of nods to the Matt Smith sub-theme and lots of musical Christmassy cliches to give it that special lift but I do question Silva Screen records wisdom in their scheduling the album release of this score for February. Honestly people... who wants to listen to a Christmas album in February? Why not schedule the release for November when everyone’s going to be back in the mood?

All in all, not my favourite Who Christmas special but certainly not the disaster that some members of my household were portraying it as (that’d be everyone but the dog and me then). I think a lot of people will like this one because, whether you think the episode lacked the necessary oomph or not to lift it onto another level, it certainly went a long way to capturing the spirit of Christmas without compromising Who continuity... and that’s really all it needed to do, I think.


  1. Every Thanksgiving when I was little my family and I watched Yellow Submarine until the network stopped showing it. I still get confused by the movie because my childish take on it was so completely off (someone disappears for good? someone loses a friend?) Then recently it has been A Christmas Story marathon. And for you, the Dr. Who episodes to be faithfully watched. Maybe it supports the constancy we imagine our society to have (or maybe our society does and I'm too cynical)? But whatever--the comfort of it is something I turn to every year.

  2. Ha! Yeah... every Christmas I play the Chipmunks album and The Charlie Brown Christmas special soundtrack.

    Comfort is right. Hadn't thought of it from that angle.

    Thanks Bucko!