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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Watching New Who: A Christmas Carol

December 25th, 2013 at 9:53

DOCTOR WHO CHRISTMAS SPECIALDAVID:
A very interesting Christmas special, as Doctor Who riffs on Dickens. I actually think this is one of the best Christmas specials so far, and certainly the one that takes itself the most seriously (I say this because “End of Time” doesn’t really feel like a Christmas special to me, aside from the original broadcast date which I of course missed). Yes, there are lots of a nice little moments of humour, but this has far more meat to it than the others. It’s very self contained, too, and you can imagine watching this with family members who had never seen Doctor Who, and not having to explain very much – the only vital starting point being that he is a time traveller, which is rather self evident. Because of that It reminded me a little of “The Girl in the Fireplace”, a story that shares some of the same themes – the idea of the Doctor ducking in and out of someone’s life and the way time passes differently from different perspectives.

TANSY:
It’s a great Christmas special – RTD launched the crazy fake snow tradition for the show and I do enjoy his various slightly cynical takes on what constitutes Christmas telly (a grand British tradition that we don’t have here in Australia where the idea of a flagship drama premiering a new episode on Christmas Day is basically unheard of) but I like the Moffat specials more. They feel a lot more genuinely Christmassy and less self conscious. And I do have a soft spot for Victoriana.

More importantly, this is a gorgeously designed alien planet! One of my favourites, in fact. I like all the little worldbuilding details like the flying fish and the way it all feels a bit like it’s an underwater kingdom, with all the tech and architecture resembling old world diving helmets and portholes.

TEHANI:
Very steampunkish! A lot to love, and following a theme of bloody fantastic set pieces for the season!

a-christmas-carol1TANSY:
I even like the flying sharks. Because, how can you not?

TEHANI:
I love flying sharks. Really really want to get me one of these… [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIJINiK9azc]

DAVID:
We’re helped by a great cast here. For a start, the three incarnations of Kazran are perfectly cast, and each actor puts in a wonderfully convincing performance. It was a bit distracting for the first ten minutes as I tried to work out where I had seen Michael Gambon before, and I may have yelled “Dumbledore!” at the television. I’m curious as to what the reaction to the casting of Katherine Jenkins was, whether to was similar to Kylie Minogue or James Cordern, as I am not sure what her level of fame is. However, whatever preconceptions there might been I thought she was wonderful in this, and she managed to invest Abigail’s character with not only a real sense of joy, but a sense of impending tragedy. It did leave me one question though; given their travels with the Doctor should we classify Abigail and Kazran as companions?

TANSY:
Depends on how you classify companions! There’s a new semi-companion status that really only exists in New Who, which is when characters are guest stars and take the companion role for a single Special – if Christina De Souza is a companion then Abigail and Kazran certainly are! But yes, they are quite solidly part of his life for a long time, they take multiple jaunts in the TARDIS, and it’s interesting how much he basically treats them as Amy and Rory.

(Katherine Jenkins apparently = terribly famous opera singer. I do like the way that they folded her musical talents into the story though I am left with a sense that no one was really expecting her to act in this episode and her part was written accordingly).

TEHANI:
Apparently they didn’t expect her to say yes to the role! And one of the songs is an original for the show…

TANSY:
Yes, the ‘silence will fall’ Christmas carol. As if we didn’t already know those words were quite important for the show’s future…

11Kazran-1DAVID:
This episode does raise an interesting ethical question, though. As much as it was a lot of fun, and it’s impossible to doubt the genuine affection they held for each other, the Doctor essentially manipulates Kazran into caring for him. He doesn’t just change a pivotal event in Kazran’s life, or remove a tragedy that changed who he should have been, he systematically rewrites Kazran’s memories to make the Doctor a central part of his life and it did make a me little uneasy. There is no doubt this is a redemption story, just like Dickens’ Christmas Carol, and Kazran needs to arrive at a point where he makes the right moral choices to fulfill the narrative. But, the difference between Scrooge and Kazran is that Scrooge is shown the error of his ways, realises how nasty he has been and resolves to change, but is still the same person, while Kazran is actually a different person than the original. I don’t know, perhaps I am overthinking it. Or, should we read it that all the Doctor does is reveal memories that Kazran has repressed but were there all along? This time travel stuff is confusing!

TEHANI:
I think it’s pretty clear the Doctor is rewriting Kazran’s past, and while I don’t disagree with your reading of it as a bit uncomfortable, I want to prefer the more positive reading (giving Kazran a chance to be a better man – which is why the Doctor did it, after seeing Kazran not hit the boy).

TANSY:
I agree Tehani that the Doctor only bothered at all because he saw a hint that Kazran was not irredeemable.

6708194359_c99dfd7be3_zThis use of time travel as a clever, “benign” weapon (with problematic consent/free will implications) is something that the Doctor has largely not used throughout his history, and that many fans (including a younger Steven Moffat) have evidently craved. This era has given us many examples and will give us many more! The classic example is Moffat’s first piece of Doctor Who television, the Comic Relief skit “The Curse of Fatal Death” in which the Doctor and the Master keep going back in time and bribing the architect to put more and more specific traps into the building to attack each other.

TEHANI:
I wonder what this says about us as a society these days, if it’s a trope only really used in the modern era?

TANSY:
Also, just as “Blink” was based on one of Moffat’s rare Doctor Who short stories, “What I did on my holidays by Sally Sparrow,” I believe this “A Christmas Carol”, as well as quite obviously riffing on the actual A Christmas Carol story, borrows quite heavily from another of his Moffat’s short stories, “Continuity Errors”, in which the Seventh Doctor faces off against a particularly stubborn librarian, and keeps ducking back in time to change aspects of her life in order to make her more amenable to lending him the vitally important book he needs. It’s told from the point of view of the librarian, and shows her memory of reality actually changing as he disappears and re-enters her life.

It’s creepy and manipulative but it’s important to note that the Doctor IS often creepy and manipulative. Sure, he does it in a ‘good’ cause, but his ethics are quite changeable depending on circumstance. The playing with time thing feels like a specifically Moffat thing, but it’s not out of character for the Doctor.

TEHANI:
And it’s only because the character is played by such damnably charismatic actors that we fail to call out that creepy manipulativeness more often!

TANSY:
Yeah, baby. I call this the Tennant Clause. It is kind of funny though that while the Doctor goes to all this trouble to build himself up as someone for Kazran to trust and believe in (which is actually as much the point of the exercise as making him a better person) it’s the wild card of bringing Abigail along that has the most dramatic effect. As usual the Doctor is pretty dense when it comes to the courting habits of Ladieez and Gentlemen.

BDDefinitionDoctorWhoChristmas2010-3-1080Abigail’s role is somewhat passive – she’s often treated like a prop rather than a person, and Kazran’s romance with her feels like it’s 90% about him. I would have liked to see more of her input in those annual Christmas dates rather than the idea that she’s being unwrapped from the ice like a parcel every year. And of course the idea of a fatal illness that’s predictable to the point of a death date is a bit on the laughable side. But considering that this is largely based on a Charles Dickens story, we’re lucky to get any speaking roles for women at all, and Abigail is a million times more interesting than Scrooge’s lost love in the original, so I’m not going to complain too loudly.

TEHANI:
Hmmm, though that was a product of its time which means New Who should not have the same problems – Kazran could potentially have been a girl…

DAVID:
Like all Moffat’s episodes, the dialogue is wonderful throughout. When you give actors of this calibre something to work with the result is wonderful, hilarious when it is meant to be funny and moving when it is meant to be serious. There are some great throw away lines, too, that manage to stick with you for ages – I have no doubt there were plenty of people checking their cupboards for face spiders long after Christmas had been replaced by Easter eggs in the stores!

But, there is one line in particular that managed to stand out above the others.

“Nobody important? Blimey, that’s amazing. Do you know, in 900 years of time and space, I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important before.”

To me, that sums up the heart of Doctor Who in a few simple words.

TANSY:
Plus SINGING TO SAVE THE DAY. Why doesn’t this happen in Doctor Who more often? If I don’t get a Peter Capaldi Christmas musical episode at some point in the next four years I’m going to be very upset.

TEHANI:
PETER CAPALDI SINGS?! Has there ever BEEN a full musical Doctor Who episode?! If Buffy and Grey’s Anatomy can do it…

PREVIOUS “New Who In Conversations”

“Rose”, S01E01

“Dalek”, S01E06
“Father’s Day, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Series One Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani

“The Christmas Invasion,” 2005 Christmas special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion,” S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04

“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06
Army of Ghosts/Doomsday, S02E12/13
Series Two Report Cards: David, Tehani, Tansy

“The Runaway Bride”, 2006 Christmas Special
“Smith and Jones”, S03E01
The Shakespeare Code & Gridlock, S0302-03
Human Nature/The Family of Blood S0308-09
Blink S0310
Utopia / The Sound of Drums / Last of the Timelords S0311-13
“Voyage of the Damned,” 2007 Christmas Special
Series 3 Report Cards: David, Tehani, Tansy

Partners in Crime, S0401
The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, S0405 S0406
Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, S0408 S0409
Turn Left, S0411
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, SO412-13
Series 4 Report Cards: Tansy, Tehani, David

The Specials
The End of Time

The Eleventh Hour, S0501
The Beast Below/Victory of the Daleks, S0502-3
The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone
Vampires of Venice/Amy’s Choice, S0504-5
The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood
Vincent and the Doctor/The Lodger
The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang

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2 Responses to “Watching New Who: A Christmas Carol”

  1. Ray Adamson Says:

    This is totally the christmas present that keeps on giving for me.It does have fundamental similarities with Voyage Of The Damned with the basic plot concerning The Doctor attempting to prevent a starliner from crashing into a planet,only this time Amy and Rory are in peril.The casting of Katherine Jenkins is reminiscent of Kylie Minogue too.Moffat’s plotting is a wonder of precision and the story also features some superior world building and characterisation.It’s beautifully polished with outstanding performances and impressive production design and direction.It’s completely gorgeous.The script also contains deliberate allusions to Spielberg[His former boss when he was scripting Tin Tin]by homaging Jaws with the flying sharks.He even references Frank Sinatra because Matt Smith was listening to him before he was informed he had won the role of the Doctor[Time Travel is great,isn't it?]Policewoman Pond and Marilyn Monroe,actually in a story together! YOWZA!!! Really pleased that you’re so engaged and enthusiastic about your retrospective with your family Tansyrr.Thanks and Merry Christmas.Dreading the imminent Time Of The Doctor now.It’s been a pleasure and privilage,Matt Smith.Thank you,sir.

  2. Grant Says:

    If we’re name-checking musical episodes, people really need to remember that before Buffy did it, both Xena: Warrior Princess and Chicago Hope’s musical episodes had been and gone (not to mention Dennis Potter’s musicals for the BBC).

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