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STUDIO: BBC Worldwide
RUNNING TIME: 180 minutes
- Doctor Who Confidential
- Doctor Who at the Proms
The Pitch I think Steven Moffat just decided he was tired of Doctor Who having terrible Christmas Specials, so he made the best one yet.
The Humans Written by Steven Moffat. Directed by Toby Haynes. Acted by Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, Michael Gambon, Katherine Jenkins, Laurence Belcher and Danny Horn.
The Nutshell It’s just like it says on the box. Amy Pond (Gillan) and Rory Williams (Darville) are on a Christmas honeymoon on a space cruise liner when it gets caught inside a dangerous cloud belt. The Doctor (Smith) is unable to land on the ship, so he travels to the planet beneath the cloud cover to find Kazran Sardick (Gambon), a mean old bastard with a machine that controls the storm. When the Doctor finds that Sardick is so selfish and awful that he won’t calm the clouds and save the ship (along with the 4,000 souls on board), he realizes that what Sardick truly needs is a healthy dose of the Ghost of Christmas Past. Luckily he’s a Time Lord and can do things like that.
Maybe I was having a bitter year, but watching the first series of Matt Smith as the Doctor wasn’t my favorite. I liked Eccleston quite a bit, but I absolutely loved David Tennant and everything he brought to the role. His child-like wonder and glee was a joy to watch and, contrasted with his dark and sometimes dour nature, he became a truly complex Time Lord. When he left I was still excited to see the show because, even at it’s worst, Doctor Who is always fun to watch. I was also going to give it the benefit of the doubt because Steven Moffat was taking over and he was responsible for writing not only my favorite Who of all-time, The Girl in the Fireplace, but Blink and a few other incredible episodes as well. But when I watched the first few new Who’s (ha!), Matt Smith just wasn’t jelling for me, not because he wasn’t great (he was), but because his Doctor was almost too much like Tennant’s. If I couldn’t have Tennant then I wanted to forgot him, like a lost lover whose home is at sea. It wasn’t until the 2-part finale of Series 5 where Smith’s Doctor clicked for me and I really got swept into the show. Then I saw the Christmas episode and am now full-on swooning.
Up until this point, I haven’t been a big fan of New Who’s Christmas episodes. The Christmas Invasion is probably my favorite of them because it’s Tennant’s first full episode of Doctor Who, but watching it at the time without the benefit of nostalgia made it quite the slog. The Runaway Bride I found torturous, mostly due to Catherine Tate’s incessant mugging (although she grew on me once she became an official companion). Voyage of the Damned was instantly forgettable (that was the Kylie Minogue one, right?) and The Next Doctor was fun because of an extremely game David Morrissey. All of this is to say that I’m not the biggest apologist for Doctor Who and am easily turned off by it when it starts to go too broad. So, imagine my surprise when A Christmas Carol, which should have easily been the broadest and most ridiculous of Christmas specials, turned out to be its best.
I’ll get my biggest disappointment out of the way first, which is the criminally underused Amy and Rory. All they have to do the entire episode is get bounced around the control room of their ship and yell at the Doctor to hurry up and save their asses. Amy does get to have one nice moment with Gambon at the end, but it’s too little too late. I know part of the structure of the Christmas episodes is to have it center around a big guest star and leave the companions off to the side a bit, but we know Rory and Amy aren’t going to die on the ship, they’re not going anywhere. So to have a large chunk of the dramatic tension be based around whether they’re going to explode with 4,000 other people rings a bit false. If they were off of the ship and on the planet with Sardick and the Doctor, we might be more concerned about the fate of everyone on board the cruise liner.
Aside from that fairly minor complaint, just about everything else worked perfectly for me. I knew Michael Gambon would bring his A-game because that’s what he does, but the amount of vulnerability he brought to Sardick was unexpected. The success of an adaptation of A Christmas Carol usually hinges on whether the audience cares about Scrooge’s transformation from jerk face to a bowl of Jell-O and Gambon plays those beats flawlessly. I was invested in Sardick’s redemption from minute one and (SPOILERS) by the time he’s finally behind the Doctor and trying to save everyone, I might have had a tear or two on my cheek.
The supporting cast also works extremely well, with the young version of Sardick being the standout. Laurence Belcher is a great child actor and his rapport with Matt Smith makes for some of the most purely enjoyable moments of the episode. When the Doctor and Young Sardick have themselves barricaded in the closet while trying to catch a flying shark with the sonic screwdriver, I had a completely un-ironic grin from ear to ear. Katherine Jenkins also made an impression with her gorgeous voice and more theatrical method of acting. I looked her up and she’s not only a very accomplished mezzo-soprano, but she got second place on last season’s Dancing with the Stars. Overachiever.
There are just so many wonderful moments in this to choose from. I guess my personal favorite would be during the montage of the Doctor and Sardick waking up the sleeping beauty once a year on Christmas Eve and spending the night having fun with her. One year the Doctor is wearing a fez (which the doctor had recently become a fan of) and the next year they’re both wearing long, striped scarves like Tom Baker’s Doctor liked so much. It’s a joyous montage that released me from all cynicism and just allowed me to fall in love with this wonderful show all over again.
And that’s the thing: cynicism isn’t allowed in Doctor Who. You have to leave that shit at the door. I don’t think I realized how cynical I was when I sat down to watch this. I was bemoaning having to sit through another version of A Christmas Carol and I wasn’t happy about it; I was forgetting the fact that there was no way Steven Moffat would do something predictable and easy. Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol might not be perfect but, while I was watching it, I’ll be damned if it didn’t feel like it was.
There’s an hour long episode of Doctor Who Confidential that feels like it covers every base on the writing, shooting and acting of the episode. We get to see Michael Gambon getting directed, so I guess I can cross that off of the bucket list. Doctor Who at the Proms is an awesome taping of a live show they put together with the Doctor Who Orchestra and some Daleks, Cybermen, vampire girls and more. It’s like a full theatrical production more focused on the score than anything else. Honestly, the Blu-Ray would be worth purchasing just for this bonus feature.
I’ve only ever watched Doctor Who on DVD’s and Instant Watch, so I was pretty blown away by the quality on display here. The special effects looked better than ever, the surround sound was completely immersive and the picture quality was flawless. Truly an excellent package in every regard.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars