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The Doctor’s Christmas Carol

January 12, 2011

I know I’m a few weeks late to the party on this one but now that I’ve got some time to do it I wanted to finally turn my notes into a review of what was easily one of my favourite Doctor Who Christmas specials to date. Though I was a fan of Russell T Davies’ seasonal offerings (The Runaway Bride is up there with the best of them) it appears that Steven Moffat has done it again, managing to successfully adapt a classic tale into one of the Doctor’s adventures in a way that was touching, intriguing and most of all fun!

The first thing I noticed that really pleased me was seeing Arthur Darvil’s name in the opening credits. It’s good to see Rory getting the inclusion he deserves, especially now that he and Amy are married, and a greater presence for him also hints at there being fewer love triangle stories with the Doctor, which for me can only be a good thing. The other first thing that I noticed was the effects. I watched it in HD, and although I’m a bit of a naysayer when it comes to High Definition technology (I don’t even have a tv in my flat let alone an HD one) I was suitably impressed with the visual effects on show, particularly the opening and closing wide-shots and all of the flying fish. I did have some difficulty with sound levels, particularly in picking up speech when the backing music was doing its thing, but that’s probably because I was watching it on my uncle’s tv and I don’t know how to work his sound system.

Once I got used to the levels I was able to enjoy the excellent writing that I’ve come to expect from the show’s most recent incarnation. Matt Smith was fantastic again – I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed so many one liners from one character as I do with him when he plays the Doctor. I thought the plot was good too. The difficulty with adapting a classic story into something modern, and doing a good job of it, is that everyone knows what’s going to happen. So you need to mix it up a bit, you need to be unexpected with the methods you employ to reach your destination. A Christmas Carol did this in spades, constantly diverting and jumping around to remind us of the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey-ness of the Whoniverse. Sure, we knew he was going to be good in the end, and yes as soon as we saw Katherine Jenkins in that ice-box we knew she’d come out sooner or later, and probably sing, and of course we were expecting the three ‘ghosts’ of past, present and future to be key plot points. Like I said, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the ride there in the flying shark-drawn carriage (another excellent feature). And it’s a testament to the writing team that they managed to fit in all of these elements into just one hour of television, alongside plenty of good time travel, a spot of fishing, a christmas dinner and a wedding in Vegas, and without any of it feeling forced or shoe-horned in. Well, apart maybe from Amy and Rory’s outfits, but then they were on their honeymoon.

I also liked the way that, because the peril was relatively small (i.e. the whole planet wasn’t in danger this time), you were able to form an emotional attachment with the characters. Past Doctor Who specials have risked holding visual spectacle or epic-ness above emotional attachments and character driven plots, but what Moffat does is combine these things into a story where they’re all balanced, and brilliantly so. His use of time travel in particular is masterful. The juxtapositions of past and present played out beautifully, especially when old Kazran is watching his younger self and the Doctor on the tape, and what this does to Kazran (“…if the Doctor hadn’t changed my whole life to suit himself!“) raises an interesting moral point for the viewers.

All in all this was an excellent piece of television and the 10.3 million viewers who watched it on Christmas day are a testament to that. Well done Doctor Who, we look forward to seeing you again in 2011.

Best bits:

  • Michael Gambon. ‘Nuff said.
  • “Do you know, in 900 years of time and space I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important before.”
  • The video flashback was cool. A nice setting of the scene, especially when he goes through the door into the projection and then appears in it;
  • Face spiders.
  • (about the psychic paper failing) “Finally, a lie too big”
  • “Mary Poppins?” …blank stare… “good because that comparison would have been rubbish”;
  • “There’s a SHARK in my bedroom?!” “OH FINE, focus on THAT bit!”
  • “What do you call it if you’ve got no feet and you’re taking a run up?”
  • “She was trying to eat you.” “…she was hungry”
  • The poignant mix of humour and sadness at the Vegas party where, on the one hand, we’re finding out that there’s something wrong with Abigail, and on the other we’re seeing the Doctor resisting a marriage with Marilyn Monroe.
  • “This is amazing!” “No, this is transport. I keep amazing out here”;
  • “When girls are crying are you supposed to talk to them?” “I have absolutely no idea.”
  • The way the ‘ghost of Christmas future’ is revealed and the effect it has on Kazran.
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