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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Doctor Who Review: Christmas Special - "A Christmas Carol"

Dialogue Triumphs

(After splashing down through a chimney.)

The Doctor: “Cough, cough, blimey, sorry, Christmas Eve on a rooftop, saw a chimney, and my whole brain went ‘What the hell!’”


The Doctor: “Who’s she?”

Kazran: “Nobody important.”

The Doctor: “Nobody important? Blimey, that’s amazing. You know, in 900 years of traveling in time and space, I’ve never met anybody that wasn’t important before.”


The Doctor: “Fish? Fish… fish that can swim in fog. I love new planets.”


The Doctor: “And I bet I get some very interesting readings from my sonic screwdriver when I get it back from the shark that’s in your bedroom.”

Young Kazran: “There’s a shark in my bedroom?”

The Doctor: “Oh fine! Focus on that part!”


Amy: “Why is she still in there? You can let her out anytime.”

Kazran: “Oh yes, anytime at all… anytime I choose.”

Amy: “Then why don’t you?”

Kazran: “This is what the Doctor did to me. Abigail was ill when she went into the ice, to the point of death. I suppose lying in the ice helped her… but she’s used up her time - all those Christmas Eves with me. I could release her anytime I want… and she would live a single day. So tell me, Ghost of Christmas Present, how do I choose which day?”

Double Entendres

Rory: “Amy! The light stopped flashing; does that mean he’s coming?”


Kazran: “I cried all night, and I learned life’s most valuable lesson.”

The Doctor: “Which is?”

Kazran: “Nobody comes!”

The Review

Amy and Rory, while on their honeymoon, get trapped on an intergalactic cruise liner plunging on a crash course to a planet shrouded in thick, icy clouds that are populated by fish. It's up to the Doctor to save them, but the only way he can is by convincing a cruel, wealthy industrialist, named Kazran Sardick, who has a machine that controls the ice clouds, to help steer the ship to safety. However, Kazran, truly living up to the last four letters in his last name, is content to let the ship just crash. So, the Doctor takes Kazran on a Scrooge-like journey through his past, present, and future, with the hopes of thawing Kazran's icy heart, before the planet's icy clouds doom a ship of 4,000+ people.

You know, silly me, I actually doubted that this episode would be very good. The Doctor Who Christmas Specials can be kind of dodgy sometimes. Sure, they're almost always entertaining, but, with the exception of David Tennant's debut episode, "The Christmas Invasion", they're usually pretty forgettable. "The Runaway Bride", while bombastic and funny, wasn't even Christmas related, and the less said about "Voyage of the Damned" and "The Next Doctor", the better. Mind you, none of these are bad episodes, just not as good as the show is usually capable.

When I heard that showrunner, and all around genius, Steven Moffat, was writing a Doctor Who version of "A Christmas Carol", I kind of sighed irritably. The story of "A Christmas Carol" has been fucked out considerably, and I really didn't know how a Doctor Who version of it would be all that great.

I really ought to learn to trust the Moffat.

Sure, with the exception of a few minor quibbles about last season, many of which will probably be dealt with next season, Moffat has seldom ever let me down. He most certainly blew my mind this time.

While "A Christmas Carol" borrows the basic theme and formula of the Charles Dickens classic, it's done very cleverly, utilizing the Doctor's ability to travel in time to great effect. I clapped in utter joy when the Doctor went back to Kazran's childhood, while adult Kazran watched on in an old video log he recorded as a child (just like in "The Beast Below", the Doctor can't resist helping a weeping child). That's one thing I love about Moffat - he really takes advantage of the time travel aspect of the show to tell some really cool stories. Most writers, even throughout the classic era, spent more time focusing on the Doctor fighting monsters from outer space, or traveling to strange planets.

Speaking of strange planets, I also loved the concept of whatever planet this takes place on. The idea of fish that swim through fog is delightfully absurd, and serves to set the perfect, fairytale tone for the episode. I also like how, even though this is clearly the future, the people on this planet still dress like Charles Dickens characters. I suppose it stands to reason that such fashion could make a come back in the distant future, right?

The story is a very sweet departure from the normal Christmas Special fare, wherein the Doctor is usually pitted against some alien threat. Instead, the only the threat is the callous nature of Kazran, a trait which he inherited from his abusive father, and all the Doctor can do is try his best so show Kazran that there is another way of living his life. I absolutely loved the multiple Christmas Eves montage, where the Doctor comes back to spend every Christmas with young Kazran, and a beautiful cryogenically frozen woman named Abigail (who becomes Kazran's love interest as he grows older).

Naturally, as always, the performances are excellent. Unfortunately, Karen Gillan (Amy) and Arthur Darvill (Rory) didn't have much to do but scream for help most of the episode, but I do like how much Gillan seems to have toned down her character. Something about Amy bugged me all last season (and it certainly wasn't the looks, grrrrowl!) - it just seemed like none of the writers, except for Moffat, knew how to write for the character, and Gillan didn't really know how to play the character. It was good to see her again, especially in that sexy policewoman's uniform! Meanwhile, Matt Smith as the Doctor is, as always, a joy to watch. He crackles with energy all throughout the episode with the confidence of someone who has positively taken ownership of the role now. Lastly, veteran actor Michael Gambon turns in a superb performance as Kazran Sardick, which is hardly surprising considering that this is Michael Gambon we're talking about here.

Complaints? There aren't any. I found this to be an incredibly entertaining hour of television, and I came away not only feeling the Christmas spirit, but also looking forward to season six with an almost feverish enthusiasm.

Verdict: Fucking Awesome

Speaking of season six...

"I wear a Stetson now. Stetsons are cool."

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