December 27th, 2010


Doctor Who: "A Christmas Carol"

I have to admit, I've never been a big fan of the Doctor Who Christmas specials, except for 2008's "The Next Doctor," which was charming and continuity-friendly in the way that all lifelong fans like myself appreciate. But the other Christmas specials generally did nothing for me. Robot Santas? Giant spider women? A space Titanic? Meh. Part of the problem, indeed the main problem, went beyond the thin storylines, though. The truth is, they just weren't Christmasy enough (something this Jew never thought he'd find himself saying).

The episodes took place on Christmas, sure, but they weren't about Christmas, they didn't encapsulate the idea of Christmas. Not the way this latest special does. And that's why "A Christmas Carol" works where, say, "The Runaway Bride" doesn't (despite my love of Catherine Tate's Donna). It's funny and imaginative and filled with a sense of wonder, and it truly earns its Christmas slot by being about love and family and generosity, rather than about robot Santas with bazookas.

A spaceliner carrying thousands of passengers, including Amy and Rory on their cosplay honeymoon, is about to crash into a planet, and for presumably a variety of reasons, the only way the Doctor can prevent the crash is to get mean old Scrooge stand-in Kazran Sardick, played by Michael Gambon, to become a better person. So the Doctor takes the mantle of the Ghost of Christmas Past and goes back to Kazran's childhood. Amy takes the role of the Ghost of Christmas Present, and as for the Ghost of Christmas Future, well, it's a twist so brilliant I won't ruin it here. But it's tingle-worthy in the way that all Steven Moffat episodes have a tingle-worthy moment.

I say "presumably" above in regard to the reasons for all this because it's never really explained why the Doctor needs to go to these lengths. There's a throwaway line about the TARDIS not being able to stabilize or tow the ship, but no explanation why this would be when just a couple of years ago the TARDIS actually towed the entire planet Earth out of a hole in space. Indeed, the episode is filled with these kinds of logic holes: Why are there fish in the sky? If it's another planet, why are they Earth fish? Why do the cryonic chambers have countdown clocks on the outside if the chambers are only meant to be opened once, when the families' debts are paid off? How come the Blinovitch Limitation Effect, one of the few time traveling rules the series bothered to create and adhere to over the course of forty-odd years, doesn't seem to be applicable here? How long exactly do sharks live?

But Steven Moffat has always claimed his vision of Doctor Who was as a fairy tale, and that comes through in "A Christmas Carol" more than ever before. The logic is certainly the logic of fairy tales, or dreams, and we go with it because we're eager to suspend our disbelief and give ourselves over to a sense of awe and wonder. Kind of like opening presents on Christmas morning. In that regard, "A Christmas Carol" works very well and is a solidly entertaining episode.

On a side note, I do find myself still missing the gravity of the Eccleston and Tennant years. Moffat taking the reins from Russell T. Davies has led to a lighter, younger-skewing Doctor Who. I suppose that actually puts it more in tune with the classic series, but one thing I loved so much about the reboot is that it was more emotionally mature than the classic series ever was. The Matt Smith tenure has yet to truly embrace that. They've been very funny and they've had some amazing moments, especially in the latter half of Smith's first season, but I do hope they'll eventually recapture the depth of the Davies episodes.