William Hartnell broke the fourth wall and wished the viewers of Doctor Who a Merry Christmas in episode seven of The Daleks' Master Plan. In the new series, we've gotten a special Christmas episode of the series every year. So far they've all starred David Tennant.  Can Matt Smith and Steven Moffat, who so expertly took the reins of the show last season, deliver a Christmas episode on par with the previous ones? 

Does autoclaving turn the fins of a Pollifexian Bubblefish brown?


by Steven Moffat

Directed by Toby Haynes

The starliner upon which Amy Pond and Rory Williams are spending their honeymoon is in danger of crashing on a distant planet shrouded in clouds of electrified ice crystals.  The only way to save them is for The Doctor to get the help of Kazran Sardick, a man who all but owns the planet by dint of his family's invention, a device that controls the deadly clouds of the upper atmosphere, as well as the mysterious beasts that dwell within it.  One problem - Sardick is a heartless man who literally couldn't care less if the 4,000 people on the ship live or die, and won't lift a finger to help them.  The Doctor is all ready to do whatever he needs to this man to make him help. When he stops himself from striking a child, the Doctor realizes the better way to go is to fan the faint spark of goodness that may still be in his soul.  He travels back into Sardick's past in an attempt to change him, make him a kinder person. Sardick sits in his house suddenly remembering things that had never been in his head before, because the Doctor was now changing his past. Alas, The Doctor does something that may have made things worse - he changes Sardick from a man who has never loved at all to one who has loved and lost.  Oh, and there's a flying shark.

Adventure, heartbreak, last-minute rescues, and some wonderful guest stars. The DW Christmas episodes have been regularly a step above even the most exemplary episode of the regular series, but this one may stand as the best of them so far.  The other specials have incorporated Christmas imagery in one fashion or another - the Father Christmas androids, the angels of the Titanic, etc.  But this episode is the first to really make Christmas the central point of the story, as opposed to merely the setting. 

It's the latest in a long line of adaptations of the classic Dickens story for a TV series, personal favorites being those from The Odd Couple and The Six Million Dollar Man. There's a couple of quite direct parallels between the two stories.   Sardick's description of the "surplus population" is a direct pull from the original, suggesting that the poor die off, as a way of "decreasing the surplus population". Like Scrooge, the Sardicks are among other things, moneylenders. though their means of collateral are greatly disparate.  Both characters had a contentious relationship with their fathers, from which come their hatred of the end-of-year jollity.


Michael Gambon (Kazran and Elliot Sardick) May have been noticed in the last couple of Harry Potter films, taking over the role of Dumbledore from Richard Harris.  He's been in a couple of Wes Anderson's films including The Fantastic Mr. Fox, as well as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.  He's worked in nearly every genre of film and television, from comedy to Shakespeare.

Katherine Jenkins (Abigail Pettigrew) makes her acting debut in this episode, after an amazing career as a popular and classical singer.  Welsh-born, she's staggered audiences worldwide with her angelic mezzo-soprano voice, used so delightfully in this episode.  In 2005, she shared the stage with Dame Vera Lynn, effectively passing the torch to her as the voice of England. 

MONSTER REPORT - The flying fish of the episode weren't monsters per se, but they're not the first fish aliens The Doctor has met.  The star whales of last season (yeah, yeah, whales aren't fish, moving on) and the bipedal Hath from the season previous, and farther back, the Aridians, seen in the Dalek epic The Chase. The Pescatons were the titular characters from a unique radio-style adventure starring Tom Baker, released in album form during his run of the series. 

BACKGROUND BITS AND BOBS - Trivia and production details

"IN WHAT WAY DO YOU RESEMBLE A MEANS OF KEEPING ONESELF COOL?" - The Doctor met Charles Dickens in the first season of the new series in the episode The Unquiet Dead, (the episode that introduced us to the ancestor of Gwen Cooper) where he professed to being a big fan of the writer.  So it's no shock that he'd think of using one of the author's most famous stories to convert this outer-space Scrooge from his stingy ways. Not only is the story an homage to the classic holiday tale, the set design takes its cue from the Victorian age of the story, as well as the names of the characters. Moffat deliberately chooses "Dickensian" names for the main characters. Dickens' names were deliberately crafted to suggest an emotion or character trait, in the way that an onomatopoeia suggests the sound it's describing. 

CHRISTMASTIME CAN BE REWRITTEN - Whether it's simply because Steven Moffat is oh so good at keeping it all straight as he's writing it, this is a Doctor who (sorry) has realized that truly the old laws no longer apply.  Whether it's the idea of deliberately amending a person's entire lifetime solely to make him nice enough to help The Doctor, or the specific effects of the Blinovitch Limitation Effect which forbids a person from meeting, and CERTAINLY making physical contact with themselves (look how bad an effect it had in Father's Day), he's playing fast and loose with time, and its effects on people and the world.  This is an extension of what he's learned in the last couple of seasons - as the last of the Time Lords, he can effectively rewrite the laws of Time, set in place to prevent unscrupulous beings from meddling.  The Doctor, however, is a scrupulous meddler, so obviously that makes it okay.

ALONE AGAIN, VIRTUALLY - Like many of the previous Christmas episodes, it's effectively a solo adventure.  Amy and Rory appear in a limited fashion (tho it's nice to see Arthur Darvill, now a full-fledged Companion, get his name in the opening credits) and The Doctor pretty much works on his own.  Only in The Christmas Invasion is that pattern reversed; Tennant lays comatose for almost the entire episode, only rising near the climax to save the day.  Much of the work is done by his Companion Rose and her family, with the able assistance of Harriet Jones, Prime Minister of England (Yes, we know who you are...)

APPARENTLY "BRUCE" TRANSLATES TO "CLIVE" IN BRITISH - Just as on the set of Jaws, the staff of the episode gave a name to the full-sized mechanical shark model they used for several scenes - they named him Clive.  The idea was to give the prop a name that wouldn't be seen as interesting in any paperwork, so no one would find out there was a shark in the episode, flying or otherwise.  It's not the first bit of sleight-of-tongue used to keep the curious and the kooky away - in the first season, a stagehand suggested the film for the series be labeled with a nonsense word, made up from an anagram of the name of the show.  That code name was "Torchwood".

"IT'S CHRISTMAS" - Both the Doctor and Moffats's other recent adapted creation Sherlock Holmes used that phrase to describe a moment of great excitement and pleasure with the matters at hand. The Doctor was overjoyed to see a castle full of pretty lady vampires in Venice and Sherlock was over the moon at the idea of a serial killer in London.  So while, yes, it is indeed Christmas literally at the time of the episode, it's also a similar period of excitement.

"WHY ARE YOU DRESSED LIKE THAT?" - Back in Amy's first episode, The Eleventh Hour, we learned of her peccadillo for cosplay.  Rory mentions the many time she had him dress up as The Doctor and play "games" - note that the age and details of these games were never mentioned...

"YOU'RE TWELVE YEARS OLD, SO WE'LL STAY AWAY FROM UNDER THE BED" - The young Madame de Pompadour had a problem with things under her bed in The Girl In The Fireplace.  The Doctor then proceeds to start young Kazran's adventures from inside a wardrobe, another bit of furniture often acquainted with adventuring.  No lions or witches in the episode, however.

"MY WHOLE BRAIN WENT. 'WHAT THE HELL'..." - That's not the first time The Doctor has travelled by fireplace either; it was the conduit between time periods in the aforementioned The Girl In The Fireplace.  The Master disguised his TARDIS as a mantelpiece in Castrovalva.

BIG BAD UPDATE -  There's nothing more fun than the first episode of the season. There's no idea of knowing what's a clue and what's just lovely, at least assuming the production office has done a good job (or the Internet hasn't) and no secrets have leaked.  But I doubt Steven would allow an episode to go out that didn't add to the ongoing narrative.  And I think the biggest bit was staring us right in the face...or singing in our ears.

"When you're alone, silence is all you know" Abigail's song at the climax was all about Silence. One of the last unanswered question of last season was the mysterious voice saying "Silence will fall".  Yes, it's a perfect description of Sardick's life, but the connection to the mysterious voice may be more than coincidence.

"Everything's got to end sometimes, otherwise nothing would ever get started" - Another line that sounds lovely, but is just dripping with portent.

NEXT TIME ON DOCTOR WHO - Some definite changes coming up in the 2011 series.  First off, the team have decided to produce two semi-series of six or seven episodes each, one to start in the Spring, the other in the early fall, and the next Christmas episode following at the obvious time. The upside is there will never be more than a three to four month wait for Doctor Who.  For a brief time, when both Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures were all in production, we enjoyed a similar experience where a Who-related series was no more than a couple months away. With the new broadcast format, there's also the opportunity to try new narrative formats than the one we have had .  The last episode of the Spring series has been promised to have the most nerve-shattering cliffhanger in the show's history.

They've already got a good bit of footage for the new season, and we got a tantalizing look at what's coming up, including:

  • Footage from The Doctor's visit to America, both the sandy plains of Utah and what appears to be the Oval Office
  • River Song in various modes and degrees of dress
  • Musketeers and Nazis (not at the same time...I don't think)
  • A control room that looks VERY similar to the one from last season's The Lodger
  • Some delightfully creepy doll-faced people
  • Ood!
  • What appears to be a gray in David Tennant's suit
If my daughter didn't have a big science project due in February, I'd want it to be April right now.

What'd you think of the special? What'd you think of the special?

Twitter activity