The rules can be rewritten – fish and ships for Christmas
“A Christmas Carol”
Writer Steven Moffat
Director Toby Haynes
THE ONE WHERE The Doctor re-enacts Dickens’s A Christmas Carol to convince a grumpy old man to save a ship full of passengers from crashing on his planet.
VERDICT Steven Moffat was clearly ding dong merrily high on something when he came up with this beguiling Christmas whimsy. Eschewing the broad strokes, action-packed, Die Hard With A TARDIS approach of the Davies Christmas specials he instead gives us a festive fairy tale – sweet, tender and shamelessly sentimental. It feels like the ultimate incarnation of the “dark fairy tale” approach he’s taken with his vision of Who . This is about as far from Who ’s SF heartland that the show has ever strayed; you could argue it’s total fantasy. Let’s face it, most of the technobabble exposition could just as easily be replaced with Potter-style “Singasongalarius” magical gubbins. And yet, ironically, in many ways it is also the most adult Christmas special we’ve yet been given, with some complex story-telling techniques, a plot driven by the characters and some quite mind-bending concepts.
Sure, there will be some who mourn the passing of Who as hardcore SF (ignoring the fact it was only ever softcore), but if you can suspend your disbelief and accept the most spurious approach to time travel paradoxes ever written, it’s all too easy to get swept up in the sheer emotion of it all. Okay the plot may not be watertight, and the science is pure fiction, but some of the plotting is so audacious, the script so full of laugh-out loud dialogue and the visuals so sumptuous, it would take the most logic-obsessed Scrooge to dismiss the thing as a load of humbug.
Matt Smith is simply superb, a force of nature unleashed on screen, dominating the screen even when he's a mere silhouette at the back of the shot thanks to a well-observed quirk in his pose, or a precision-engineered twitch. The FX are often quite breathtaking, especially the shots of the city and the shark-pulled sleigh ride. Gambon is broodingly magnificent. The gorgeous, evocative production design creates an enticing steampunk Dickens-scape. And there are too many amusing little flourishes to take in on a first viewing: lies that are too big for the psychic paper to handle; face spiders; the Doctor hanging out with Marilyn and Sinatra.
There are creaky moments. The spaceship scenes, especially, are a touch too Galaxy Quest , and look a little low rent next to the glorious planet settings, and Amy and Rory get little to do other than shout. A lot. But all that’s forgivable, if only for the spine-tingling moment when you realise how cleverly Moffat has woven the Ghost of Christmas future into the plot.
NICE TOUCH We’d all assumed that the story was just going riff off from A Christmas Carol , but in fact the Doctor is shown to be directly inspired by the Dickens story.
LOL Amongst the many Matt Smith highlights in this special is the fantastic montage sequence when he’s trying to perform a card trick for a young boy. His repeated protestations of, “No, you’ve got it wrong!” are downright hilarious.
REVELATION Katherine Jenkins is no Kylie, thank heavens. Against all odds, she can actually act. Okay, the role doesn’t exactly stretch her, but the moment when she comes out of the freezer to find the aged Kazran in front of her, Jenkins nails absolutely beautifully.
SURREAL Katherine Jenkins singing to a shark. Just bizarre.
CONTINUITY Sardick’s console uses “isomorphic” controls, meaning that only he can use them; the TARDIS was said to have “isomorphic controls” in the classic 1975 Tom Baker story “Pyramids Of Mars” (although that’s a particular piece of Who lore that has been pretty much ignored ever since – the climax to “Journey’s End” would have been pretty buggered otherwise).
DID YOU SPOT? During the montage of Christmas Eves, the Doctor is seen not only wearing his fez again (“The Big Bang”), but a classic Tom Baker scarf.
DRESSING UP So, Amy and Rory are on honeymoon, in the honeymoon suite, dressed as a policewoman and a Roman gladiator? We know what you’ve doing.
The Doctor: “Marilyn, get your coat.”