“A Christmas Carol” – Review: Redux

Doctor “Guys, we’ve really got to go quite quickly. I just accidentally got engaged to Marilyn Monroe”

A Christmas Carol

I have never watched an episode of Doctor Who “live” on Christmas Day because I always seem to be out enjoying myself with both my and my in-law’s families, none of whom share my passion for all things Who. Prior to five Christmas Specials of the new era, those being “The Christmas Invasion”, “The Runaway Bride”, “Voyage of the Damned”, “The Next Doctor” and “The End of Time, Part One” before this one, the only other Christmas episode was 1965′s “Feast of Steven”, at which time I was about five year’s away from being born. And so it came to pass (to coin a Christmas-y phrase) that, after a day of being suitably fuelled by much alcohol and rich foods at about 11pm of Christmas 2010, I switched on the Sky+ planner to see what Steven Moffat could do with his first festive Who. I was not to be disappointed.

If the stated theme of Series Five had been to re-invent Doctor Who as a fairy tale, then there was no sign of that abating with the first instalment of Series Six. A beautifully realised colony world was the setting for the story: a kind of Dickensian / steampunk / Christmas mashup that was charismatically brought to life by some clever cinematography and fantastic sets. And on this world the focus of the story was Kazran Sardick, who effectively played the Scrooge character in a post-modern version of A Christmas Carol. You could hardly go wrong with Michael Gambon in the role and the opening scenes between him and Matt Smith were captivating.

Plot-wise, we saw echoes of “The Voyage of the Damned” as a space ship was on a crash course with the planet, except this time the Doctor was off the vessel as he tried to save it. Chuck in the aforementioned Dickens classic, a bit of a clever love story and a splash of Finding Nemo and you could be excused in thinking that this was going to be a horrible mess. And of course, it would be very easy to dissect the plot a little too much, which had a couple of moments of techno-babble that served to stop the viewer being distracted by lingering on awkward questions. For example, why doesn’t he materialise the TARDIS on the stricken ship and save the day from there?. However, anyone with fears that this would all get in the way of a bloody good story, clearly haven’t paid much attention to the Moff’s previous endeavours.

Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill were reduced to bit parts for the most of the story, so much so, it made me wonder why Karen had been involved in so much of the pre-publicity but, in truth, this was not their story, it was Matt’s. In his first Christmas outing I would assume that this would have been the first time that some people had seen him in the role and from the moment he entered (via the chimney) to the final scene he cannot have failed to impress. Also impressing were special effects team. The fish and sharks that swam around with the cast were beautifully realised, even the spaceship and the cityscapes were jaw-droppingly good (anyone flicking over half way through could have been forgiven for thinking that they had stumbled on the Christmas Day movie by mistake). The shark-led sleigh ride was a challenge too far though, and an unnecessary one at that, as the illusion was broken.

So, with a nice complicated little plot, world-class acting and impressive effects it was hardly surprising that the other details also stood up to a second viewing in the cold light of Boxing Day this morning. When I heard that the soundtrack for the episode was to get its own CD release in the New Year, I did wonder quite how much value was being placed on the music. I had been cynical that the merchandising team were just rubbing it in a bit. However, having seen how integral the music was not just to the show but to the plot as well, and also hearing the remarkable quality of Katherine Jenkins vocals, then my cynicism was soon washed away. If this is any indication of what is to come in the next thirteen episodes of 2011 then it might turn out to be one of Who’s greatest years.

Highlight: Michael Gambon being wonderful

Lowlight: The shark-sleigh ride

Talking Point: Katherine Jenkins, good at acting or stick to singing?

Demon’s Run Rating: 18 out of 20

Original BBC1 Broadcast: 25th December 2010

Marathon Status: Series Six here we come

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