Special Guest Review by Dale Who (Doctor Who scholar and all-around sexy Brit)
This year’s festive episode of Doctor Who has an up-front, very different feel to it from the other Christmas specials. Frankly, Russell T Davies has Christmas issues, my friends and I decided, which is why his specials for the Holiday Season are amongst the darkest examples of his output, and usually just stopped short of mincing the Doctor’s soul and his love of humanity into a paste.
All change please. Matt Smith‘s Eleventh Doctor is so different from his predecessor, and the same can be said of this special. The whole mood has been lifted and lightened, and although it’s still one hundred percent Doctor Who, it’s also one hundred and ten per cent less soul-destroying. This year involved the imminent crashing of the Starship Enterprise (oh come on, it SO was) onto a planet inhabited by people who’ve appeared as extras in EastEnders, and can’t lose their accent. Amy and Rory are on board the Enterprise in the honeymoon suite when the craft gets caught up in the cloud/fog/fish belt around a planet seemingly owned by a Mr. Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon). They can’t get out of it because…erm…well, they just can’t. It’s worth noting from the beginning that the Enterprise scenes are about all you’ll see of Rory and Amy, cleverly sidelined out of the main action, so the Doctor can weave his magic with some Christmas companions. They pop up often enough so you don’t miss them; but they’re definitely not part of the major story this time.
Once the scene’s set, and the Doctor arrives to save the day on the planet below, you remember instantly quite why Matt’s Doctor is so intensely lovable. Spouting off one- and two-liners with great rapidity, and being a gangly, quirky, perfectly uncoordinated mess that manages to be elegant and precise even with all the flailing, it’s impossible to be distracted when he’s on screen. The interplay of the lead actors this year is amazing; Smith’s Doctor is matched perfectly by Michael Gambon as the elder Sardick. I have a feeling that if he’d had a mind to, Gambon could have acted everyone else off the screen; but his performance is quietly powerful instead. His moments of joy and despair are SO well put across that it’s really hard not feel sorry for the man by the end, knowing what’s about to happen.
The other guest star for the year—and the one whom, in the story, holds the key to the saving of the Enterprise (anyone else notice there was a woman driving it? Does this not happen every time a woman pilots the Enterprise?) is Katherine Jenkins, in her acting debut. And simply stunning she is, too. Jenkins really does sparkle onscreen, and her singing voice—put to good use to save the day—is just captivating. She’s a joy to watch as Abigail Pettigrew, the love interest of the slightly younger Kazran. She’s hiding her own secret, of course, one that becomes clearly apparent to the viewer within a few minutes, but Kazran and the Doctor take a little longer to catch on.
The visuals thoughout the story, from Kazran’s abode, through the lens-flaring Enterprise scenes, to the completely amazing and stunning fish around the lamp posts and sonic screwdrivers are all top notch. The score is energetic and clever and has cut down on the intrusive qualities that haunted some of Tennant’s era, so the whole production is much more enjoyable for that. Steven Moffat‘s writing, though, is where the buck stops; and it doesn’t disappoint, not for a second. The man is a genius. The world he deftly weaves is instantly likable and believable despite the lunacy of shark-powered rickshaw rides and using the TARDIS to get a code you need from 50 years in the future. Despite the sadness running through the episode—mostly at the impending fate of the lovely Miss Pettigrew—the episode manages to stay happy and positive, funny and touching, and above all, a compelling, perfect festive outing for the latest Time Lord. And then, just as the credits finish, and you’re convinced the ride is over for a few months… there’s the “Coming Soon…” trailer, which looks to be brilliant, inventive and so very, very dark.
Off-screen, it’s worth noting that this was the first year that BBC America decided to show Doctor Who on the same day as the UK—Christmas Day itself. I’ve heard nothing but praise about this decision, and the mooted decision to do the same with next year’s series of Who—both halves of it. The US fans will now only have to wait around seven hours to be up with their British counterparts instead of three or four weeks. Now all we have to do is wait patiently for the new season to begin…