The Doctor was back on Christmas Day (Boxing Day in Canada) with another Doctor Who Christmas Special. Last year’s Christmas special was the first special that wasn’t set at Christmas time. While the Russell T. Davies era Christmas specials were set at Christmas, they weren’t what one would call “Christmassy.” New Doctor Who head writer Steven Moffat set out to change that with an episode that put a Doctor Who twist on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Was Moffat successful in his attempt to make a proper Christmas episode of Doctor Who? I review Doctor Who’s A Christmas Carol after the jump.
(SPOILER ALERT: If you missed this episode, prepare to have parts spoiled below. If you did see it, you won’t be missing any details I omitted.)
The episode started with an out of control spaceship plummeting into a planet’s atmosphere with Amy Pond (wearing her kiss-o-gram police woman’s uniform) and Rory (wearing his Roman soldier costume) on-board as passengers. It’s a rough looking planet below but the main city is protected from atmospheric disturbances by a giant energy shield. Conveniently enough, the city is filled with colonists from Earth who look like they’re from the 1800s and they just happen to be celebrating the future’s equivalent of Christmas.
We immediately meet our equivalent to Scrooge, Kazran Sardick played by Sir Michael Gambon. Rather than not letting his workers get Christmas off, he’s telling a poor family that he won’t let a frozen woman that’s being used as security for their loan out for Christmas. And that’s when the Doctor shows up by falling down Sardick’s chimney in Santa-esque style. Long story short, Sardick doesn’t take kindly to his visitors and throws them all out. The only problem is that Professor Dumbledore controls a machine that will lower the energy shield and allow the spaceship to land safely on the planet. Thanks to some Christmas carols played over the city’s loudspeakers, the Doctor is inspired to do A Christmas Carol routine on Sardick.
The Doctor starts as the ghost of Christmas past but he doesn’t take Sardick back into his past but goes himself which Sardick witnesses while watching an old video he took. And that’s where the episode goes off source material as we go from Dickens to Moffat. The Doctor takes the opportunity to change time as old Sardick watches young Sardick’s new adventures. When a fog shark takes out the camera and a bite out of the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, there’s a wonderful juxtaposition of young Sardick living his life while Gambon’s Sardick “recalled” the events as his past changed. Eventually, they all end up in a cryogenic storage chamber where the Doctor and Sardick are going to lock the shark in a cryo freezer occupied by the frozen woman from earlier in the episode. Just when they’re about to get eaten the woman, played by gifted (and gorgeous) British opera singer Katherine Jenkins, gets defrosted and sings the shark to sleep (or something like that). We then get a montage of new old Christmas Eve adventures with Doctor, young Sardick and the woman Abigail as old Sardick relives events that just happened in the Doctor’s timeline but years ago for him even though he knows his memories are changing. Classic Moffat timey-wimey stuff in a Christmas adventure just seems so appropriate.
Anyway, Sardick and Abigail fall in love but it’s doomed to end tragically because Abigail is dying and her time runs shorter as she is defrosted every Christmas Eve. In the span of minutes in the episode, we watched old man Sardick go from crusty old curmudgeon to probably kindhearted old man and back to curmudgeon. And then Amy shows up as the ghost of Christmas present. Well, not really “shows up” because she’s a hologram still on board the crashing spaceship. But she was able to hologram Sardick on the ship to put a Doctor Who twist on this part of the Dickens tale. Of course, that doesn’t help so The Doctor turns up again as the ghost of Christmas future. Well, not Michael Gambon’s future but young Sardick’s future who the Doctor brought along to see the miser he would become.
This helps convince old Sardick to lower the energy shield and let the spaceship land but the Doctor’s time meddling seems to have thrown off the controls to the machine. However, sonic waves transmitted through the half a sonic screwdriver in the shark could override the shield long enough for the ship to land. That means finding a singer which just happens to be Abigail. She willingly unfreezes to save the ship but will end up dying as a result. So Sardick and Abigail spend Christmas Day together, the spaceship is safe and if you ignore the part where Abigail is going to die, it’s a happy Christmas for all.
I was a little worried about how Moffat was going to incorporate Christmas into a Doctor Who episode but taking a classic Dickens tale and putting a vintage Moffat timey-wimey spin on things made it fun. Not surprisingly, there wasn’t a lot of Amy or Rory in this one but the rest of the Christmas specials have been heavy on the Doctor and light on companions. As such, Matt Smith had to carry the episode but I can’t help but feel he was overshadowed by a brilliant performance by Sir Michael Gambon.
Usually, I really like Moffat episodes but I couldn’t really get into this one. I wasn’t really sure if this was supposed to be a sci-fi tongue-in-cheek take on the Christmas show genre or a Doctor Who version of a Christmas show. Still, it’s good to have a proper Christmas special out of Doctor Who.