Of all the treats in store for us over the Christmas period, perhaps the one most people were looking forward to was the Doctor Who special. Matt Smith has defied the doubters and has stepped into British sci-fi’s most famous role with ease, while showrunner Steven Moffat has taken the series into a darker, much more interesting place.
The episode was based around Charles Dickens’ classic, but since Dickens exists in the Doctor’s universe (appearing as a character early in Christopher Ecclestone’s series), rather than being a straight retelling of A Christmas Carol, the episode saw the doctor use the story as an inspiration for a plan to rescue Amy and Rory, currently hurting towards a planet in an out-of-control space cruiser. The miserly Kazran Sardick, played by the outstanding Michael Gambon, was the only man with the power to save them, as he is in control of the planet’s atmosphere. The Doctor saw that rather than being absolutely evil, Kazran could be won over, but it would take some persuading and the use of the TARDIS to become the Ghost of Christmas Past, going to his sheltered childhood and bringing a little seasonal magic and adventure into his life amongst the fish (and shark) that swim in the planet’s dense fog. Amy Pond projected herself as a hologram, a Ghost of Christmas Present to show him what is at stake. And as for the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, well, that was perhaps the most clever part of all.
Katherine Jenkins made her acting debut as Abigail, a woman cryogenically frozen as a guarantor against her family’s debts. Every Christmas eve, the Doctor would release her from captivity and would spend the day with the young Kazran as he grew up, going on trips through time and space, with the Doctor even marrying Marylin Monroe at one point. What he did not realise was that Abigail was gravely ill, with every day she spent unfrozen taking her closer to her death. She also had the ability to calm the shark with her singing, something that appeared to be thrown in simply due to Katherine Jenkins’ abilities and would have felt like more of a stretch any other time but Christmas.
At times the pace was a little too high, with some people I’ve spoken to saying it was hard to keep up with what was happening, especially after a busy day of opening presents and eating Christmas dinner. It led to a few plot points being confusing even to those who managed to keep up, for example the painting that seemed to keep changing.
While not perfect, it was probably the best Doctor Who Christmas special yet. Notably, it was the first not to be set on or above contemporary planet Earth, another pointer to the shift in tone since the Russell T Davis era. Exciting, fun and suitably festive, it whets the appetite for next year’s series.