Thursday, 22 November 2012

All I Want For Christmas

Doctor Who
The Christmas Invasion
2005 Christmas Special

A Doctor Who Christmas Special.  How mad is that?  For the show to get one in its first year back must have been a huge boost for the people making it.  On top of which, it became a tradition, and we're now approaching eight years of Christmas with Doctor Who.  Not an achievement to sniff at.

All the same, you don't expect very much from a Christmas Special.  The audience are largely in festive spirits i.e., they're a bit drunk so they're hardly in the mood to concentrate.  Most shows consequently churn out exactly the same as usual, minus a few IQ points but with added tinsel.  (Apart from Eastenders, which inexplicably sees Christmas the way Hollyoaks sees the watershed.)  The Christmas Invasion could easily have been a mindless, Christmassy victory lap, and most people wouldn't have minded.  Or quite possibly, noticed.

Well, you could do that.  Or you could be like the Children In Need Special, which opted out of daft Pudsey hijinks for something fans would actually benefit from seeing.  Christmas?  Check.  Special?  Thank goodness, you can check that as well.

Oddly, the Doctor's hair continues to regenerate for several minutes.
As the first full-length episode to feature David Tennant, it's obviously important, but there's more going on here than just the new guy.  Rose is still coming to terms with the Doctor's transformation.  She has no idea if she can trust this new bloke, or if the past few months of her life even amount to anything now the Doctor, as she knows him, is gone.  (Even now, though, she manages a sliver of unlikeability: she's sad not that the Doctor's dead, but that "he left me".  How very dare he!)  As for the new guy, we only see him in short bursts.  And quite right.  We've got a whole new series to get to know him: this is just a tease to let us know the Doctor has landed.

Billie Piper's more than able to pick up the slack.  Rose copes by using what she's learned, immediately noticing some disguised robots and a suspicious Christmas tree that everyone else missed, and parroting the Doctor's "I am talking!" speech to intimidate some aliens.  It's legitimate character growth, mixed in with some not-uncalled-for celebration of the past year.  Well, it's Christmas, so why not?

Mickey has settled into his role as Rose's standby, and he's developed a cheery callousness about it, ruthlessly taking the, er, mickey out of her tendency to go on and on about life in the TARDIS.  Jackie's grown as well, being happy enough to look after the Doctor if it means Rose coming home for the day.  Anyway, she doesn't seem to hate him any more.  Now his face has changed, it's as if the man she mistrusted is gone.  Camilla Coduri bounces hilariously off of David Tennant, instantly developing a rapport that couldn't have existed with Eccleston.  (Of course, it helps that David Tennant is a more comedic actor, and that the Doctor is now poorly and in a dressing gown.  He's 60% cuddlier just to look at.)

Daleks are so last year.
The episode is more about the Doctor's effect on others than the man himself.  His absence is sorely felt, particularly when Harriet Jones (now Prime Minister) appeals directly to him on television.  But his presence is part of the problem, as it's his regeneration that draws the Pilot Fish, i.e. Robot Santas and a killer Christmas tree.  It's a great idea to use the regeneration in the plot, and I've got to say, fantastic monsters.  The Santas are creepy enough, especially when Rose catches one looking at her moments before they attack.  But the tree?  Amazing.  It encapsulates all the insanity Rose has come to expect from travelling with the Doctor, and obviously it's mega Christmassy, all of which adds up to the perfect slightly-more-ridiculous-than-usual gag they can only get away with in a celebratory episode.

It's a pity they drop the regeneration-as-energy-source idea almost immediately.  It seems too good to throw out, as do the Pilot Fish, but when the real baddies arrive they're not remotely interested in the Doctor or his weird yellow gases, which makes all the earlier stuff seem pointless.  It's like Russell T Davies came up with the tree and the Santas and the steal-his-regeneration story, noticed he had about ten minutes' worth of plot, then came up with the Sycorax and forgot to really tie it all together.

Anyway, following a few skirmishes and numerous hasty cover-ups, Earth has its first real contact with aliens, which is a story big enough to warrant that "Special" label.  (As is a third of the population standing precariously on rooftops a brilliantly eerie threat.)  The Sycorax are stock alien warriors, complete with a distaste for humans and the odd reference to Independence Day.  But there are some fun touches, like their heads looking almost as weird as their helmets, and their capper to the old "I know who you are" Harriet Jones gag.  Let's face it, they're only here to be swiftly got rid of by the new Doctor, but they make an impression.

Oh yeah, him.  The length of a full episode goes by before he's properly up and about, at which point you're chomping at the bit to see him.  It's a smart way to pace the action, raising the anticipation until a few squeezes of the sonic screwdriver just won't do.  The Doctor's not just going to win.  He's going to win with a swordfight.  (Admittedly not brilliantly shot, but we can't have everything.)

Yeah, I get it, sometimes the weather is nice in Wales.
Maybe point the camera at the swordfight, too?
When it finally arrives, his big scene doesn't disappoint.  It's great watching him tease out his new personality, and the results are immediate: Doctor Nine would have found someone else to pick up the sword.  He also wouldn't quote The Lion King.  This guy's talkier, friendler, funnier, and now that Time War angst is out of his system he's happy being Earth's champion, rather than just the guy encouraging others to do the dirty work.  It's a refreshing change.

And what about Christmas dinner?  This Doctor's happy to pull crackers with Rose and Jackie, sit down and watch telly, and generally "do domestic" in complete contrast to his previous self.  That's nice, and more importantly different, but it does chip away at the alienness that's supposed to come as standard.  Swings and roundabouts; some people prefer him acting more human.  It certainly makes for more comfortable viewing.  For now, it's Christmas, so fair enough.

It's not all about ringing the changes.  When Harriet Jones destroys the fleeing Sycorax ship, the Doctor's anger is pure Nine.  I'm not so keen on this bit: it's all well and good telling Harriet off, but what was to stop the Sycorax coming back with their armada?  Their leader was as honourable as the rest of them, and he quite happily went back on his word.  In any case, the Doctor kills him, claiming he's a "No second chances" kind of man.  What, so Harriet's not allowed to be a No Second Chances woman?  Harriet's point, however horrible it is, stands, and deep in the Doctor's brain I'm betting he's glad someone else took the plunge.  New man, same old hypocrite, unfortunately.

Despite a few nagging swings and roundabouts, The Christmas Invasion is a triumph.  It's big, but still has its eye on the important thing, character development.  It's silly, but just a little bit, and anyway it's Christmas so there had to be some silly in there.  It even has that unshakeable novelty that comes with a Doctor's first episode, which guarantees it rewatch value pretty much forever.  Jingle bell rock, indeed.

1 comment:

  1. Stupid hypocrite Doctor.

    There's been 8 Christmas specials?! No way!

    I dislike The Lion King quoting - he's an alien genius, come on.