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RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
STUDIO: BBC Worldwide
- Doctor Who Confidential
- Doctor Who at the Proms 2010
Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol carries the beats, meaning, and hefty holiday cheer of Dickens’ classic, with an added dose of confusion and sci-fi lunacy.
Matt Smith as the Doctor; Karen Gillian as Amy; Michael Gabon as Kazan Sardick, our Scrooge stand-in; and Katherine Jenkins as the dreamy ice maiden Abigail.
After 50 years on the air, the expanding mythology of Dr. Who becomes tricky to pitch. But here goes: Alien doctor plays ghost of Christmas past, present, and future, recreating Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for a future Scrooge who controls the fish that swim in the sky.
Getting low with the good Doctor isn’t easy. With 50 years of continuity under its belt, Doctor Who makes mincemeat of Marvel comics and its exhausting number of reboots. Eleven doctors later, the show continues and is popular than ever before. In those five decades, I have spent a combined three-and-a-half hours with but one of the eleven. Based on my limited knowledge, for all I know, Doctor Who is a disheveled English MD with a penchant for blue telephone booths, time travel, and scarves. Like I said, I am ignorant to most things Who. However, during my first failed attempt to bring myself up to speed, I came across an episode featuring famed writer Charles Dickens. “I loved the one with the ghosts,” the Doctor remarks to the author. So when it comes to a Christmas special, writer Steven Moffat makes no qualms about wearing the influence on the DVD cover.
Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol re-configures the Dickens classic for its own sci-fi purposes. The Doctor doesn’t return to the 19th century to visit with Scrooge, Bob Cratchet, and Tiny Tim. Rather, he meets a horrible, new curmudgeon who places dollars over Christmas cheer on an alien planet somewhere in the future. Yet, the plot keeps many of the traits that have become hallmarks of the story. The Doctor plays the three ghosts in hopes of churning some goodwill out of the old man. By keeping the story of A Christmas Carol largely intact and framing it in the Who-niverse, Steven Moffat turns in an exciting and highly affective take on the classic that feels wholly original.
Like most stories, this one begins at the end of another. Aboard a crashing spaceship, the Doctor’s companions Amy and Rory await the arrival of their bow-tied savior. But he isn’t aboard, he is busy crashing through the chimney of Krazan Sardick (Gabon), a type of future banker and industrialist. Sardick has a machine that will grant the ship safe passage, meaning that it’s up the Doctor to teach him the meaning of Christmas and save the ship.
The setup for the episode is painfully convoluted. The Doctor whizzes through explanations of why they can’t land, why there are fish in the sky, and what a frozen woman is doing in his basement, but it’s almost irrelevant. Basically, the Doctor must change Sardick’s mind by altering his timeline. Moffat zips through the setup for the already confusing show to get to the meat of the series: Time and memory.
The Doctor changes Sardick’s timeline to teach him about love and regret. In doing so, the show veers off course from the Dickens classic. Instead of simply showing Sardick’s mistakes and wrongdoings, the Doctor introduces Sardick to his one true love, and then, watches him lose her. This plot takes an unexpected emotional turn that plays to the strengths of Smith and Gabon, as well as Moffat, who lives up to his reputation as the savior of Doctor Who.
The whole special is handled with the most amount of care. It is both faithful to the source material, as well as the spirit of the show. The Doctor’s time traveling antics amuse and confuse, as he plows through future jargon at lightning speed, slowing down to deliver a well-timed jab or a moment of emotional catharsis. The show takes its time introducing characters and giving us reasons to care about or laugh at them. The actors give pause to mention the spirit of Christmas with complete sincerity, allowing moments of glee and sadness to land as intended.
Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol is a special enjoyed by just about anyone. It’s an entertaining and joyous celebration of a holiday classic, with a modern twist that rarely wanders into areas of distinct cheesiness.
As a seemingly cheap-o blu-ray, Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol doesn’t have too many expectations to live up to. Opening the box, you’ll expect a featurette or two, trailer, and maybe one of those handy menus that tells you about other products from the studio. But you’d be mistaken.
There aren’t a wealth of features on here, but you’ll find two that are definitely special. The first, a look behind the scenes of A Christmas Carol provides some great insight to the making of. At an hour running time, the production is extensively covered. The cast and crew discuss their excitement about working with Gabon, creating some of the more practical effects, and the joy of adapting Dickens. Each of the show’s fantastic element get their due.
There’s also concert footage of from “Doctor Who Live at the Proms.” Performed in the summer of 2010 by the BBC Orchestra of Wales, the show highlights the music of Doctor Who. It’s fine footage with some appearances by actors, characters, and monsters. Proms also makes a case for how the concert can attract a younger audience to classical music. True or not, the concert celebrates the show’s music with ingenuity and excitement. They treat the concert like something worth doing, not a cash grab.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars