This review may contain spoilers.
When Steve Moffat took control of “Doctor Who” for the shows fifth season, he vowed that the show would become something of a science-fiction fairytale … and you can’t get any closer to a fairytale than “A Christmas Carol.”
Borrowing from Charles Dickens’ finest masterpiece, the 2010 Christmas special utilizes a wafer thin plot to showcase some very hearty material that leaves you watching with bated breath. The tone of the adventure has more than a smattering of Dickens-era romance combined with futuristic science-fiction of peril and intrigue, creating an almost steampunk atmosphere.
With Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) rather absent from the episode (the duo are limited to small appearances packed with humor of a more adult nature), the job of companion falls to Katherine Jenkins (making her acting debut), Danny Horn and Michael Gambon (both playing the same character).
Almost as if borrowing from timeless classics, Abigail’s (Jenkins) dilemma of being frozen to pay off her family’s debts comes with a multitude of fairytale connotations. Sleeping Beauty and Snow White are but two examples of classic tales that share the plotline.
It helps that Jenkins brings her vocal talents to the mix, providing a touch of enchantment that wonderfully re-enforces the magic that comes with such tales. Prior to the episode airing, Jenkins was reported nervous about her acting debut. However, the singer need not have worried as her acting talents proved to be as mesmerizing as her voice.
Similarly, Gambon was simply terrific as the shows own Ebenezer, Kazran Sardick, offering a very complex take on the character. He is both twisted (almost sinisterly so!) and deeply misunderstood … exactly the kind of soul The Doctor would try to save.
What helps establish Gambon as a loveable character is the time travelling of his younger self (Danny Horn), and the simple way in which he watches the creation of his own new memories along with the audience. In sticking close to the Dickens tale, we are treated to his past, present and future, meaning there is still time left and he can change.
Together, the star-crossed couple grows closer and closer through their many adventures with The Doctor. Every Christmas Eve sequence they have together becomes that bit more bittersweet as Abi’s biological clock ticks down by one day, leading to certain death.
None of the problems that were woven through the fifth season were present in the episode,
The fifth season was a mixed bag in terms of scripting, acting and execution; not totally unexpected given the scope of the production changeover that took place. There were times where you couldn’t help but feel that the story was constructed for a different cast, or the dialogue was written for a different actor.
In “A Christmas Carol” though, Matt Smith is simply fantastic as The Doctor in the festive outing, bringing his own flavor and tone of authority to the character (something that was only beginning to become apparent in the latter half of the fifth season).
Belting out some cracking dialogue (including some terrific one-liners, the most entertaining of all being, “Marilyn, get your coat”), Smith rightfully owned each and every scene. Whether it was down-to-a-whisper expositions or grandiose speeches of human decency, his attention-grabbing presence dominated the screen from the moment he came shooting out of the fireplace.
Above all else, this episode leaves you feeling Christmassy.
Points Of Interest
1. Did anyone else spot Matt Smith once again sporting his fez hat? Not to mention a very Tom Baker-like scarf.
2. As much fun as it is to see Karen Gillan in a police kiss-o-gram suit, the honeymoon suite and special outfits is a little risqué for a BBC primetime slot for families … especially on Christmas Day.
3. Finally, Arthur Darvill is listed on the main credits for the series … he certainly earned his place after last season.
The opening sequence is terrific for a festive adventure; stellar visuals, the epic score of Murray Gold hinting at terror and adventure, and the three words children fear most … Christmas is canceled.
Although paradoxical, the sequence in which The Doctor re-writes Kazran’s life was perfectly executed and illustrated through a projection reel.
What Didn’t Work
It was a tad disappointing that both Amy and Rory were relegated to a handful of scenes on a stranded starship, as both have proven they have a lot to offer as the Doctor’s faithful companions. However, previous special episodes have already proven that “Doctor Who” festive adventures work best with a new character as the companion.
Almost like a tradition, these special episodes are a way to showcase new and notable talent on the series; “The Christmas Invasion” introduced us to David Tennant, “The Runaway Bride” to Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), “Voyage Of The Damned” touted Kylie Minogue, and then “The Next Doctor” had David Morrissey. So, it comes as no surprise that “A Christmas Carol” works so well with Jenkins and Gambon.
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
“A Christmas Carol” was written by Steve Moffat. It was directed by Toby Haynes.
“Doctor Who” airs returns in the Spring.