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Review: “Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol”

by on December 27, 2010

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.