Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol

January 1, 2011

Okay. So, I should probably preface this by saying that I don’t think I’ve seen such an adaptation of the Dickensian classic handled so well. If you have seen something that does it so originally, please refer me to it. Please.

To business.

Usually I would use that a jumping on point, to refer to Sardick’s cold, businessman opening. But I really can’t recap it. Really. I’d just be writing ‘wow’, over and over again. Just the reactions then.

I’m aware that this is a Doctor-strong, companion-lite episode. While I do hope we might see more of Amy and Rory in next year’s special, I entirely see why and quite approve of this cast ratio for this story. Quite from the get-go of Matt Smith explaining why he slid down the chimney “Christmas Eve on a rooftop, saw a chimney, my whole brain just went ‘What the hell!'”, to his avowing a personal relationship with Jeff Claus, to his “Ooh, now, what’s this? Now, I love this, a big flashy lighty thing!”, and his assurance that they have his name written all over them, given enough time, and a crayon, to the Sherlock scan of the room revealing Freudian feelings, to his getting distracted by the fish, to his repeated shoutings of “A Christmas Carol!” before a figurative light bulb pops up over his head … I was simply in love with the dialogue and one-liners of this episode.

The time-travel – recorded-diary aspect of this was just visually stunning, to my mind. The play with the Doctor walking off-camera, and into a screen on-camera, still ellicts the moue of surprise and wonder it did in The Beast Below – and it reverberates with the plot from that – a crying, unheard child, being attended by the Doctor … and saving him from flying sea-beasts. Speaking of recurring themes, this is the third time a Moffat-Doctor has met someone in childhood, then adulthood. As each of the three has been used quite differently – for instance, this is the first time we see the adult first and work backwards, just as Amy was the first time the Doctor ended up altering that person’s past. Watching it happen – watching Kazran go from “But there is no lottery!”, to “No Doctor you musn’t” to “yes, I trust you” to realizing he himself in the present is wearing a bow-tie is fantastic. Looking at the photos he has only-just/has-always had, to seeing the portrait on his wall, while young Kazran is obviously falling in love with her … this is beautiful plotting. By the way, the dialogue continues – everything from the recurrence of the lottery joke to the psychic paper finally shorting out at a lie too big: “I’m widely acknowledged as a mature and responsible adult”

Don’t know who the young actor is here, but he should be getting work soon of the back of it. Levels of adorableness are equivalent to Amelia Pond. Maybe I’m mixing him in with the Magnificent Gambon’s performance, but he added a thorough-going good show on his own. Anyway, the world’s design is quite wonderful. I’m a sucker for steampunk style, from steel-rimmed shades to lovely top hats. The larger aesthetic of a cloud-bound storm-planet with a sky-sea is a good use of the alien planet premise we’ve glimpsed in Midnight and Planet of the Dead. The Star-Trek-esque bridge of the starship, the spiderbaby-“submarine-sonar-pinging”-shark scene, the surplus-population freezers, the shark-drawn sleigh-ride in the sky, the old-timey-modern-christmas with Abigail’s family, Frank Sinatra’s Christmas party – wonderful stuff. And the dialogue – “is this your card?” “Marilyn, get your coat!”

Amy and Rory had generally good characterisation here. Generally. I assume of course that they were dressed like that in an attempt to recreate the costume party they attended were photographed at in that manner, in an attempt to reason out the identity of the silence. I, of course, applaud their dedication of doing so, even on their honeymoon. I particularly liked Rory’s facesaving line:”You know, history lesson, a bit of fun every now and then, a bit of nostalgia!” I loved their being Ghost of Christmas Present – mostly Amy there. Which is something I may struggle with, in the future, being as fond of Rory as I am. Being the ‘like I’m stupid’, or outside Doctor-&-Amy’s conversation on Abigail-&-Kazran at the end was short shrift, a little bit – I mean, Rory is pretty knowledgeable about putting the dying woman you love in box to keep her alive and taking the slow path yourself. Not that it got in the way, really – there is something of a hierarchy there, but it is understandable and doesn’t really get on my nerves – partly as they played down the previous Amy-trying-to-snog-the-Doctor aspects of the character here, and, partly, because Rory got to talk to Marilyn Monroe and, presumably, got to tell her that that was never a real chapel. Also, he got to do that ‘widen the field’ bit. Gangbusters! Amy as the Ghost of Christmas Present was pretty brill, particularly the scene with the spectral singing by the 4003 population of the starship. And her hugging the Doctor was very sweet, and, y’know, remarkably non-lecherous.

And then the bit where he showed Kazran his future. Which pretty much blew my mind right there to no small degree. I loved that he explained that there was no plan – he wasn’t going to get anything out of it, which has to be a first for a Who villain – he just didn’t care! The following bit could have been a little overwrought but my comment that Gambon makes it great should sum up my opinion of his acting here. And then the bit with mind-changing – which was wonderfully set up, by the way – and the Androcles-shark, and that song coming from the sky itself. And so onto the singing. I had heard that the actress in the Special was a famous singer, but wow. I mean, it wasn’t just that the beauty of her singing helps pull off the whole premise of the show. It is that you go ‘wow, that is one person making that beautiful sound’. Gives it that unearthly wonder that makes you believe that this is something that would guide starships through a fog. As for the character of Abigail herself, I found her to be wonderful, with that sense of wonder of getting eight more days when she thought she was dead, and that depth of tragedy and love she displayed at the poolside. Bit like my favourite magical girls – sure, happy-happy is fine so long as the tragedy is adult, and terrible, and heart-breaking. Which is why, ultimately, I prefer her dying to save 4,003 rather the Doctor shazaming together a cure in ten minutes. Yeah, I’m mean, but there it is.

On other mean-ness: So, why didn’t Kazran’s security do … anything … to the guy who just dropped down the chimney? The Doctor is quite obviously crazy at least thrice before they throw him out. And why exactly did Abigail’s casket have a lifetimer? Wouldn’t that be pretty extraneous for people being held for debt, when the amount still owed would be more relevant? Were the caskets from a hospital or something? And why did a few years in a casket give Abigail back eight days, but the intervening decades didn’t give her another one? Was Abigail’s perfect singing pre-existing, or caused by her time in the fog-powered casket freezers? Even more basic stuff – what exactly happened to the storm drive, and why exactly can’t the TARDIS lock on, and why can’t the Doctor work out Abigail is dying, between the casket and her not questioning why she only gets out Christmas? But mostly that is all piddling plot-stuff, which is good just to get out of the system, and which I don’t even associate with the wonderful shark-drawn ride.

So – is this the Best Doctor Who Christmas Special? Quite possibly. Partially, it was the most Christmas of all of them. Partially, it was one of the best written. ‘Last Doctor’, with Jackson Lake, Mercy Hartigan and Rosita was a wonder, and I did adore Runaway Bride and Voyage of the Damned, End of Time being problematic and perhaps preferring kinda-Christmas Unquiet Dead and Waters of Mars over it. To be certain, it is a Davies-Moffat issue, but I suppose my opinion at the moment is that Davies provided the intial, simpler spectacle on a comparatively small budget (could you imagine Christmas Invasion having anything like this budget?) that got Who to the point where an appreciable audience section would watch and enjoy such fast-paced time-travel-within-time-travel exploits. Just a thought for the new year, really.

And what a year! White House! Green-eyed Ood! Stetsons! Monster-TARDIS from the Lodger! Amy looking like Victor Zsaz! River in an unclad state! And just in case you’d forgotten, because big clanging reminders “He shall knock four times” weren’t left lying about, what was the song the ship’s crew were singing? Silent Night. How many times does ‘Silence’ get dropped in Abigail’s song? Lots. Dropped, because it is going to fall.

Happy New Years!