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Review: “Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol”

Happy Christmas, Everyone!

I hope everybody enjoyed their holiday feasts, some spiked egg nog, and some sweet nerd swag. I for one was given a replica sonic screwdriver by my best friend (Thanks, man!). It’s now approaching midnight here at my family home in not-cold-or-snowy Colorado and I’ve just finished watching the annual Doctor Who Christmas special, this year given the clever title, “A Christmas Carol,” and before I pass out with a belly full of ham and fudge, I’m here to give my spoiler-free opinions of the whole experience.


There were many things to love in this special. It’s particularly Christmasy, taking place on a steampunk Victorian-style planet with snow and fish in the sky (I promise no spoilers). I’d go so far as to say it’s the Christmasiest of all the Christmas specials the show has had since its return in 2005. The thing I probably liked the most is that, unlike the Tennant-era specials, it didn’t really try to further any greater plot thread or lead directly into the events of the following series. This is a standalone episode, but because it’s written by Steven Moffat, it absolutely feels genuine and true to the characters. In Moffat’s usual way, we get some timey-wimey stuff, some passing references to the Doctor’s historical shenanigans, and a wonderful fairy tale feel to everything. Moffat is often accused of being too clever for his own good, and “A Christmas Carol” treads dangerously close to the line without ever passing it.

The performances are uniformly good with special guest star Michael Gambon’s crotchety miser playing against Matt Smith’s always-stellar performance as the manic and mystical Eleventh Doctor. Katherine Jenkins, who I understand is an opera singer with no previous acting experience, held her own with the big boys extraordinarily well. The only downside in this department was the small amount of time spent with Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill as Amy and Rory, though I was pleased as punch to see Darvill’s name in the opening credits. Hopefully this means Rory will be a permanent member of the TARDIS crew.

Negative reaction, if there can be any, is that we don’t get much lead-in before we’re off and running with the story. We’re mid-crisis when the opening scene fades in, which is fine, but I wouldn’t have minded a little bit before hand. And the reason we didn’t get it is because we needed a lot of buildup to the plot, which I will say took a little long to get going.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the trailer for the upcoming season of the show. It looks pretty crazy thus far as the Doctor will visit Monument Valley, UT and come across Nazis (not necessarily at the same time.) I’m very excited for the next season and can only hope Series 6 is as good as 5.

My favorite thing about the Moffat/Smith tenure is giving us is the idea that the Doctor can touch people’s lives irreversibly in what is, to him, only a few hours. The Eleventh Doctor seems very keen on using time as a tool in solving his predicaments and not just a location for them. I can’t recall any other Doctor to have done that and, at this point in his long life, he would have almost totally mastered his manipulation of it. Having just rewatched all of Series Five this week prior to the special, the theme, often reiterated by Amy Pond, is “time can be rewritten,” and after tonight’s special it seems something that will continue throughout the run, which I personally couldn’t appreciate more.

In short, Matt Smith still rules and Christmas is awesome.

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8 comments

  • Just watched it and was not disappointed. I especially enjoyed the set design for this episode. The Dickensian-Steampunk feel reminded me greatly of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s work. The fish were a wonderful stroke as well. I…may have teared up a bit too.

  • @Kyle Anderson

    Not only could he screw things up, even if all goes smoothly it’s still very very wrong! I think that he didn’t think about it much, he just saw the boy crying and, as usual, he couldn’t stop himself from helping him. I still think he probably felt guilty about it afterwards.

  • author

    @Nadia
    I think that’s a really excellent point. What he did to Kazran is an absolute invasion of privacy, which I think he realized toward the end. There’s a huge danger that he could screw up things irreparably, but I love how innocent he is when he does it, like he doesn’t see the hazard of it. It’s a great character trait.

  • I totally agree with the whole concern about the timey-wimey stuff. It really made the episode for me, not only because I just drool over Moffat’s evil-genius timelines, but because of the moral dilemma that followed. I think that really speaks to who the Doctor is in general; he’s not afraid to get the job done, but he’s always got to deal with the (in this case, moral) consequences of getting involved in the first place.

    Needless to say, I nearly cried at the end of the episode, It was just amazing, cause I’m just a ball of mush like that.But you didn’t hear me say anything.

  • I loved the episode and I loved season 5, as you said, this Doctor uses time as a tool, Moffat loves his timey-wimey stuff a lot, but I think this could be very dangerous. Obviously the Doctor is a really good guy (alien), but think about it for a second, if someone evil had that power he could go back and change who you are! It’s very wrong! The Doctor uses that power to make people better, but it’s still a big thing, he can change your personality and you can’t do anything about it!