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January 3, 2011

Doctor Who - A Christmas Carol

The 2010 Doctor Who Christmas special and the first from Steven Moffat. The Christmas special is now traditional since the start of Nu Who. Also traditional is that the episodes were great fun (influenced by missing Doctor Who for months) but ultimately lacking, and often with ridiculous RTD plot escapology. Moffat did better.

What I love about Steven Moffat's writing for Doctor Who so far is the use of time travel. For to0 long the TARDIS has just been a convenient plot mechanic for getting to somewhere new, used at the start and the end of the episode (someone now is going to point out that on average that's not true, citing the Tom Baker episode from 1976 as the perfect example, go on....). Moffat has turned the TARDIS into a time machine, like it really is.

Crucial to the time travelling stories is the fact that The Doctor can control the TARDIS accurately, something that io9 recently examined in detail. A time machine that can be controlled suddenly opens up a huge swathe of interesting plot choices, leave external forces to push The Doctor somewhere unexpected and let him use his machine to solve problems. Much better.

A Christmas Carol continues the time travelling idea with great success and piles it on top of a perfect Christmassy story. It's the most Christmassy Doctor Who yet, and the best Christmas special. Yes there were some minor negatives: the fish swimming through the air felt like an unnecessary monster, but I guess it was for the kids in case they weren't hooked by the time travelling love story. The shark drawn sleigh was also very silly. Apart from that the episode was brilliant.

Gambon was fantastic as Sardick the Scrooge, a perfect foil for the increasingly impressive Matt Smith. He's turning into a great Doctor. Adding quality actors doesn't always pay off, it needs good writing to prevent turning into stunt casting, but Moffat provided the script and the story: great dialogue and great story. And talking of stunt casting, classical singer Katherine Jenkins was perfectly fine as the frozen Abigail. Yes she sang to a big shark, but yes she can act as well.

I loved the time travelling dinks, slipping from present day into the black and white projected film was pure style. Then the yearly visits, as The Doctor lived a crazy week in Christmas Eves. Including marrying Marilyn Monroe, and name-dropping Father Christmas (aka Geoff). Witty and touching. All the thoughts that time couldn't be changed were thrown out the window as The Doctor relentlessly pursued making Sardick a good man. Only to realise that the result didn't change (couldn't change?) and it was The Doctor himself who made Sardick what he was. Nice.

It also helped that Amy and Rory were out of the way for an episode, letting The Doctor loose in the way that the other Christmas specials tried to.

The poetic tendencies of the episode is exhibited by the brilliant line to sum up the Christmas festival "halfway out of the darkness." I like it.

And to top it all, the also traditional trailer for the upcoming series! Nazis! Men in black! The Oval Office! Stetsons! River Song!

Oh yes.


The Who Xmas special was rather wonderful - funny and whimsical with a tragic love story underpinning rather than overwhelming it.

Moffat has such a talent for telling incredibly complex stories in such a simple way. The whole notion of the Doctor going back in time to rewrite Kazran's memories could have gotten all tied up in knots, but Moffat makes it work so easily that you almost don't notice it.

And he knows exactly how to write for Matt Smith. He is a supremely gifted all-rounder who does both spoken and physical comedy brilliantly. His "go and kiss her" pep talk to Kazran was brilliant, as well as weaving a little footnote about the sonic screwdriver into the Doctor's own history.

I know some have been complaining that the Xmas special was light, fluffy and relatively meaningless - but I think they miss the point. Xmas episodes are supposed to be light, fluffy and meaningless - we can leave the serious stuff for season six proper.