Review: “Doctor Who” 2010 Christmas Special: “A Christmas Carol”

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Rating:  ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Note to BBC America: Thank you for bringing Christmas on time this year to BBC Americans like me. And to a certain chimney-hopping man in a red suit: The Moff is my new Father Christmas now, so suck it, Santa!

When teasers from earlier in the year had Steven Moffat touting this year’s “Doctor Who” Christmas special as the most Christmassy ever, he wasn’t hyperbolizing. This is by far not just the most Christmassy, it is also the most fun, funny, heartwarming, bittersweet, and beautifully told holiday special in the revived show’s run. Definitely warmed the cockles of this Scrooge’s heart.

As we’ve all heard, and as the title more than implies, the special draws heavily from the Charles Dickens story. But instead of Victorian England, it’s set in a planet where the sky is populated by fish; and I don’t mean just little innocuous fish (the next person to ask how this all works gets bitten by a fish). Their presence is a constant danger to the human population, until the heartless Elliot Sardick discovers a way to harness the fish by “taming the skies.” Enter his son, Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon), who has inherited not just his father’s invention, but also his lack of humanity. Simply put, Sardick is, well, a bit of a dick. This becomes problematic for the Doctor (Matt Smith) when his companions Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill, who  now shares top billing, a welcome addition to the opening credits) are stuck on their honeymoon in a crashing spaceship. The cruise ship needs to make an emergency landing, but the only thing standing in the way of its passengers’ safety is Kazran, who is unwilling to let the ship through with his cloud machine. To save his friends, the Doctor works his magic by rewriting Kazran’s past right in front of him, in the hopes of changing him into a nicer man who would let the space liner through (in one of the coolest DW moments ever, the Doctor plays a projection of Kazran’s childhood self to the present-day Kazran; he then time travels back to the very scene unfolding before the miser, and Kazran watches his past change before him while new memories magically develop in his mind). The way the Doctor brings cheer into the young Kazran’s life is just so cute and cleverly thought out. But things go awry when the Doctor introduces a new problem into the equation–a love interest (Katherine Jenkins) brings with it tragedy–causing Kazran to end up unchanged. But with 4,003 lives on the line, the Doctor of course persists with his mission to convince Kazran to change, and how he ultimately does it–by showing young Kazran his future self–is an utterly smart take on the Dickens tale. Classic Moffat.

"You know what boys say in the face of danger? Mummy."

Matt Smith’s Doctor is at his best here: Cutely plan-less, loveably alien, clownish, and at the core a 900-something-year-old Time Lord child. I loved the bits when the Doctor would be utterly stumped by human nature (just as in “The Big Bang,” he wonderingly and a bit disgustedly asks how humans can lock lips for an inordinately long time). Smith continues to embody the role so well; actually, perfectly. Just as I’d been thinking throughout Series 5, we are so lucky to have him as the Eleventh.

I got a great kick out of seeing Amy back in her strip-o-gram outfit and Rory in his Roman centurion get-up again (I also loved the return of the “What are you wearing?” line from the Silurian episodes). Though this was an Amy- and Rory-lite episode, I have little complaints. Time traveling with Abigail and the child then young adult Kazran was a great substitute; the photographs of their trips (which includes the momentary return of the fez, and a funny off-screen brush with Marilyn Monroe) brought smiles to my face.

The Moff’s script is sparklingly good. I could list all the funny lines from the script, but really I’d end up just reproducing the entire script. The bittersweet ending (Kazran stops hoarding Abigail’s last day, finally letting her live her Christmas Day, and sadly letting her finally die) was touching without broaching on sentimental territory; the Moff’s writing is too smart for that. On a somewhat tangential note: I wondered about the song in the end (an utter beauty written specially for the episode), which mentions silence (“When you are alone, silence is all you know”); is this some foreshadowing for the storm to come in the upcoming series, which will reportedly revolve around the enigmatic “Silence?”

If the writing of “A Christmas Carol” is any indication of the quality of the episodes to come in the next series, we are in for a neverending Christmas throughout spring (and then fall, given that the series will be split into two). The trailer and the BBC America spots for Series 6’s two-ep opener have me feeling all sorts of good. (The Doctor in the White House! The Doctor in a Stetson! River Song!). Series 6 cannot come any sooner; I can’t wait to find out what else the Moff has in store for us!

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7 thoughts on “Review: “Doctor Who” 2010 Christmas Special: “A Christmas Carol”

  1. Have to agree that the quality of the writing here was superb, even though the plot was (deliberately, with tongue in cheek, I suspect) borderline silly at times. There are so many great visual and verbal moments, with little in-jokes and references for regular viewers, but not enough to irk the millions of non-fans who only ever watch Who at Xmas.

    I like Matt Smith more with every passing episode. He has a great gift for physical comedy, and he plays the awkward adolescent side of the Doctor brilliantly. The little moment where he stops to admire a Xmas tree, and then at the end when he is building snowmen, are lovely little touches.

    And doesn’t the season six trailer look awesome?

    http://slouchingtowardsthatcham.com/2010/12/26/doctor-who-2010-christmas-special-a-christmas-carol-review/

    • Hi there, Tim. Steven Moffat really seems to like silly, and I think he pulls it off well. His writing can be so fun that, like a child, I just eat it all up unquestioningly. (And I think that may be the point!). Whenever I start questioning the silliness, I imagine the Moff saying, just like the Doctor, “Oh, shut up.”

      The series six trailer has me wishing I could time travel to spring 2011! I so envy Alex Kingston right now for knowing, apart from the Moff, the truth behind River Song. But I am going to try with all my power not to check Internet forums for spoilers, which I had done (much to the lessening of my enjoyment) last series. As River says, “Spoilers!”

  2. Keznie

    Man! I loved that Christmas Carol episode! It sure brightened up my day! I especially loved the line by the Doctor: “I lied too big” or something like that.

    • Thanks for your comment, Keznie. The special made my Christmas Day, too! And the psychic paper line was also one of my favorites:

      Doctor: I think you’ll find that I’m universally recognized as a mature and responsible adult. [shows psychic paper]

      Kazran: It’s just a lot of wavy lines.

      Doctor: Yeah, it shorted out. Finally, a lie too big.

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