Sunday, 26 December 2010

Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol

Doctor: 'Tonight, I'm the Ghost of Christmas Past.'

You've got to hand it to Steven Moffat—his first Christmas episode was an absolute blinder. It was exactly how a Christmas episode should be: it was different enough from a regular episode to justify its special status; it had regular companions (even if they were criminally underused); there was a strong Christmas theme; it had great celebrity guests; and there was an emotionally engaging narrative which both warmed and broke our hearts. In short, it was both Christmassy and special.

This was almost the perfect episode. I initially had reservations about Katherine Jenkins' casting. I do like her, she just not an actor, and all it takes is one weak link and the episode's ruined. I expected Katherine to be that weakness. Celebrities who can't act usually end up playing themselves (Ken Dodd anyone?) Admittedly, Katherine is a singer, too—but the similarities ended there. Abigail was more than just an excuse for a celebrity cameo, she was a fully formed character. I found myself tearing up several times during tonight's episode, and it was mostly due to Abigail.

We know Katherine can sing—that aspect of her performance was never in question—but she also turned in a remarkably competent acting performance. She managed to get across perfectly the innocence, sadness and wonderment of the doomed Abigail. It was obvious that the countdown on the cryo-casket was her time running out, and I loved the idea of the Doctor bringing her back to life every Christmas Eve, oblivious of the fact he was killing her. Only Abigail knew—a secret she kept from Kazran until the end.

It was satisfying, too, that Abigail got to spend Christmas Eve with her sister. I couldn't help but smile when the Doctor drew back the curtain and beckoned her in. The Doctor's in his element at parties, and Matt really comes to life when there are children in the room. He's a total kid at heart. I liked it, too, that the Doctor had no advice whatsoever to give Kazran on women—before going out to pull Marilyn Monroe! I guess some women just love a confident looking man.

Full marks, too, to the mighty Dumbledore for a master-class in how not to ham it up. Gambon played the role of Kazran Sardick to perfection. Kazran was the product of a violent, unloving father, who treated humans like cattle. Despite starting out a caring, emotionally capable young man, the years of abuse had taken their toll. He'd started to display his father's Scrooge-like characteristics, and had become cold and uncaring.

The Doctor had less than an hour to effect a change. He befriended Kazran as a boy and then introduced him to Abigail—whom he instantly fell in love with. But in the end, it was Abigail who inadvertently caused Kazran's downfall. The Doctor gave him someone to care about, and then took her away again, freezing her in the ice, seemingly forever. From that moment on, Kazran started to hate the Doctor. He resented the heavy burden the Doctor had placed upon his young shoulders, and thus, despite the Doctor's well meaning attempts at changing history, their predicament became the same at the last as at the first. Kazran became oblivious to the suffering of others. Even an impassioned appeal from holo-Amy fell on deaf ears.

Except, really, he wasn't. The Doctor's plan had worked! Kazran didn't care because he couldn't face caring. He didn't want to open himself up to the well of pain and guilt he felt inside, so he tried to block it out. Gambon was at his best hating the Doctor. You could really sense his frustration. I loved him hissing at the Doctor 'You try it!' His bitterness was utterly palpable.

Meeting his younger self in the vault was the game changer. Kazran, devastated by the realisation he'd become like his father, chose that very moment to change. He begged his younger self for forgiveness. Unfortunately, it was a move which altered things significantly. He no longer had control of his father's machine, and thus, unable to save the crashing ship, Kazran set Abigail free one last time.

How lovely that Abigail wasn't put off by Kazran's advanced years. Jenkins and Gambon totally nailed those scenes. They were so tender. Props, too, to Murray Gold for writing such a haunting Christmas ballad. (Particularly on such short notice.) In hindsight, I'm glad they didn't show us Abigail's death—the emotional pay-off was already enough. A death would have been too much. Instead we got to see Kazran and Abigail enjoy Christmas Day together—flying through the sky in a shark drawn carriage.

If I have one complaint it's that Amy and Rory were underused, though to be fair, they weren't really needed. I enjoyed Amy's brief cameo as the Ghost of Christmas Present (albeit in an impossibly short skirt), and her good natured banter with Rory. Nice outfits guys. Why they had them on I shudder to think. I was also moved by Amy's 'thank you' to the Doctor and that awkward hug. Tonight it was the Doctor's turn to save Amy—which he did in style.

Other Thoughts:

—I liked how we saw time being rewritten on the fly.

—Thank God the Doctor didn't sing. Arthur, Matt and Karen have dreadful singing voices. See for yourself here.

—Loved the Doctor falling down the chimney. Matt excels at physical comedy.

—It was great to see young Kazran wearing a Fez. Fezzes are cool apparently. What was also cool was seeing the Doctor wearing a Tom Baker scarf. Nice touch.

—The crashing spaceship looked a bit cheap. Galaxy Quest anyone?

—Even the psychic paper couldn't pull off a lie as big as the Doctor being a 'universally recognised as a mature and responsible adult'. Even psychic paper has its limits.

—Marilyn's voice sounded a lot like a posh Emma Thompson. No American accent whatsoever.

Quotes:

Doctor: 'Ah, yes. Blimey! Sorry.'

Doctor: 'Father Christmas. Santa Claus.... or, as I've always know him. Jeff.'

Amy: 'Have you got a plan yet?'
Doctor: 'Yes I do.'
Amy: 'Are you lying?'
Doctor: 'Yes I am.'
Amy: 'Don't treat me like an idiot.'
Rory: 'Was he lying?'
Amy: 'No, no.'

Doctor: 'Clever old Mrs Manters, she only went and won the lottery.'
Young Kazran: 'There isn't any lottery.'
Doctor: 'I know! What a woman.'

Young Kazran: 'If you're my babysitter, why are you climbing in the window?'
Doctor: 'Because if I was climbing out the window I'd be going in the wrong direction. Pay attention.'

Doctor: 'Dangerous? Come on, we're boys. And you know what boys say in the face of danger?'
Young Kazran: 'What?'
Doctor: 'Mummy!'

Abigail: 'This is amazing.'
Doctor: 'Nah, this is transport. I keep amazing... out here.'

Young Kazran: 'When girls are crying, are you supposed to talk to them?'
Doctor: 'I have absolutely no idea.'

Young Kazran: 'They look very poor.'
Abigail: 'They are very poor. That doesn't mean you can't be happy.'
Young Kazran: 'Then why aren't you?'
Abigail: 'Because this is the life I can never have.'

Doctor: 'Oy, stop it. You're doing it wrong.'

Doctor: 'Kazran, trust me, it's this or go to your room and design a new kind of screwdriver. Don't make my mistakes, now go.'

Doctor: 'Marilyn. Get your coat.'

Young Kazran: 'What are we going to do?'
Abigail: 'There is nothing to be done.'

Kazran: 'I could release her any time I want and she'd live a single day.'

Captain: 'Nobody has to die.'
Kazran: 'Everybody has to die.'
Captain: 'Not tonight.'
Kazran: 'Tonight's as good as any other night. How do you choose?'

Doctor: 'Better a broken heart than no heart at all.'
Kazran: 'Oh, try it. You try it!'

Abigail: 'Look at you. You're so old now. I think you waited a bit too long, didn't you?'
Kazran: 'I'm sorry.'
Abigail: 'Hoarding my days like an old miser.'
Kazran: 'But, if you leave the ice now...'
Abigail: 'We've had so many Christmas Eves, Kazran. I think it's time for Christmas Day.'

Amy: 'You know, that could almost be mistaken for a real person. The snowman isn't bad either.'

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