Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol – Christmas special 2010

Doctor Who tones things down this year, with a small-scale drama that's full of heart and soul – and flying sharks

Doctor Who Christmas
Kazran (Michael Gambon), young Kazran (Laurence Belcher) and the Doctor (Matt Smith) in A Christmas Carol. Photograph: BBC/Adrian Rogers/BBC

"That ship needs to land, and it can't land unless a very bad man decides to turn good just in time for Christmas Day …"

Back in the wilds of 2005, when it was by no means clear that the revived series would be a hit, let alone get a Christmas special, the Doctor Who production team might have missed a trick. In The Unquiet Dead, the third episode of series one, the Doctor and Rose met Charles Dickens, on Christmas Eve, and were visited by ghosts. It was the most perfect Who Christmas special you could imagine – except, of course, it wasn't. Instead, we found ourselves on the road to the giant Cyberking stomping all over London.

That is, until now. A Christmas Carol is so audacious that if it wasn't done so well it might amount to blasphemy. On a human colony sometime around the year 4000, the Doctor must make Michael Gambon's Scrooge-like miser Kazran Sardick mend his ways and prevent the crashing of the doomed starliner carrying Amy, Rory and 4002 others. Finding the obvious parallels irresistible, the Doctor decides to use the Tardis to play out his old mucker Dickens' most famous story.

And that, basically, is it. Moffat scripts are always ingenious, but A Christmas Carol is a remarkably small-scale caper. There's no malevolent alien invasion force – just Michael Gambon perfectly cast as a lonely old man with a grudge against the world in general and Christmas in particular. Because we need a behind-the-sofa sequence there's the flying shark, but "Clive" (as she was dubbed by the production team to ward off spoilers) turns out not to be a baddie after all. And while we don't want to belittle the lives of 4004 people, the stakes are remarkably low – no threat of enslavement of a population, no nuclear Armageddon circling the Earth, no madmen flirting with the end of reality. Which feels right – because Christmas isn't really about those things. It's about the kind of warm and shameless sentimentality in which this episode deals, a time where it always snows and love always saves the day.

A Christmas Carol riffs magnificently and faithfully on the beauty and simplicity of its source material. At Christmas people always talk about the Greatest Story Ever Told in other terms, but this is a sumptuous triumph from start to finish.

"Father Christmas. Santa Claus. Or as I call him, Jeff."

If you thought the Who specials were Christmassy in the past, then even discounting the Dickens stuff this was off the scale. The Doctor pops into Kazran's house down the chimney. There's a shark-powered sleigh ride through the chimneys of Sardicktown. There's a wonderful peasants' Christmas dinner where the Doctor proves himself hopeless at card tricks. And, of course, Father Christmas is real and our hero is mates with him. I just hope that for next year's special we get to meet Jeff for ourselves.

"Do you know, in 900 years of time and space, I've never met anyone who wasn't important."

The stunt casting sirens were sounded when Katherine Jenkins was announced as Abigail in her acting debut. And a wag would venture that all that was really required of her was to play a lovely Welsh girl with a wonderful voice, something she did beautifully. But the whole thing would have failed if the love story wasn't credible. As Abigail was awoken every Christmas Eve – wowed by outer space, Egypt, Rome, Sydney, Paris, California and beyond, holding on to her terrible secret – Jenkins proved she had the chops to melt hearts. And the final payoff, as the mended Kazran admitted that it was now finally time for Christmas Day, was as effective a climax as the showy ones of the past. I watched this sober in a screening theatre in mid-December and was welling up. If you've just watched this drunk and high on chocolate, I pity your tear ducts, I really do.

"Marilyn! Get your coat!"

In a story heavy on romance, the Doctor once again proves himself hopeless with women, but still ends up inadvertently marrying Marilyn Monroe. Also fab: the moment in Young Kazran's bedroom where the psychic paper is finally shorted by a lie – "I'm officially recognised as a mature and responsible adult!"

Honeymoon Watch

Are Amy and Rory Pond taking the universe's longest honeymoon? In SJA story Death Of The Doctor they were off on a honeymoon planet (a planet on a honeymoon, it married an asteroid). Here they're engaging in saucy WPC/Gladiator roleplay in the honeymoon suite of the doomed Starliner. And next the Doctor promises a moon made of honey (not made of real honey, and alive, and a bit carnivorous, but it has beautiful views). We trust they'll be suitably rested in time for series six. Talking of which ...

"I wear a Stetson now. Stetsons are cool!"

If there's one thing more exciting than the Christmas special, it's the coming-soon trailer – and here was a doozy. We got our first glimpse of the US two-parter, with the Doctor in the Oval Office and a gun-toting River Song (yes!) queening through the boulders of Utah. Then there was a chained and bearded Doctor, a glimpse of an Ood, what looked like a Clockwork Robot, and Suranne Jones in the Neil Gaiman episode. All ludicrously exciting.

But for now: well done everyone, well done, we're halfway out of the dark.


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  • 90214

    25 December 2010 7:08PM

    I rather quite enjoyed this episode and I nice play on the whole "Ghost of Christmas Past/Present/Future"-theme.

    Unfortunately, my family were able to guess how it was going to end but still, it was a cute xmas special. Will eagerly await for the next series next year.

  • GlasgowGuy

    25 December 2010 7:14PM

    If this isn't the most boring and pointless Doctor Who episode ever then it's definitely in the top five.

  • MBC1955

    25 December 2010 7:16PM

    If this isn't the most boring and pointless Doctor Who episode ever then it's definitely in the top five.

    If this isn't the most boring and pointless comment about a Doctor Who episode ever then it's definitely in the top five.

  • jcianchi

    25 December 2010 7:17PM

    The US episode looks outrageously brilliant:

    "get me a pot of coffee, twelve jammy dodgers and a fez!"

  • HTPBDET

    25 December 2010 7:19PM

    I will be the Grinch.

    Firstly - this was beautifully made and played. It looks lustrous and Christmassy and perfect. Gambon was frankly wonderful, as was Jenkins.

    BUT

    It is simply no good for Doctor Who.

    I will only state three reasons, but they are enough:

    1. The Doctor not just broke but was utterly contemptuous of the First Rule of Time. You could dismiss this as something from the "classic" series, but for Father's Day in the Eccleston season. The Doctor should not mess with the time lines of individuals in that the way he does here.

    2. The Doctor did nothing - not one single thing - to either investigate what would kill Jenkins' character or attempt to help her or save her. Despite his penchant for casually altering time lines.

    3. The "solution" with the broken sonic screwdriver was ghastly - particularly as, if you accept the story's own strictures, the solution was literally right in front of him. The boy version of Gambon''s character was unaffected by the Doctor's changes and he should have been able to respond to the controls and be recognised by them.

    Thank God for Rory - that is really all that can be said for the regulars.

    However - the trailer for the season looks amazing. And none of the other Xmas specials have been particularly satisfying, so yuletide disappointment may, itself, be a tradiiton.

    I just expect a better Doctor from the "Doctor" - and I am unconvinced that Steven Moffatt knows what the essence of the Doctor actually is.

    Merry Christmas though.

  • GlasgowGuy

    25 December 2010 7:21PM

    @MBC1955

    I was waiting for someone to respond to my comment by making an even more pointless comment, well done it only took you two minutes. Keep up the good work.

  • JohnnieGoat

    25 December 2010 7:30PM

    i enjoyed it. the christmas specials don't need to be serious or concerned about time lines or the "rules of time"

    i think the trailer demostrated that there will be plenty of seriousness in the next series

    and i think that of the 3 "new" doctors so far, Matt Smith is by far the best

  • SouthEndBrit

    25 December 2010 7:30PM

    I loved it but Katherine Jenkins gets on my nerves, though I can see why she was frozen, you always defrost a dumb bird at christmas, right.

  • shibori

    25 December 2010 7:33PM

    Wow, that was just awful. Nothing engaging or amusing about it at all. What a waste of a great cast.

  • Kibblesworth

    25 December 2010 7:37PM

    @HTPBDET - Yes but Doctor Who has never been that good with keeping to its own canon has it? Besides the doctor has mentioned plently of times about how sometimes time can be altered slightly, whereas in other times it is fixed. This time, it could obviously be altered. And the Doctor never follows rules anyways.

    And whilst he could have tried to save Jenkin's character, as it would have been fitting in with his general character, it would have ruined the story. He either would have succeeded, which would have blunted the emotional ending (something it has been mentioned that Moffat isn't that good at, but which I think he pulled of well here), or failed, in which case the plot would have been extended needlessly. Besides, as well as realising when people require saving, the Doctor is just as good at recognising when someone's time is up.

    I enjoyed the episode. I always found the past christmas specials to be a bit tacky, but this one was beautifully crafted. It was just a christmas story, nothing more, nothing less.

  • nkenny

    25 December 2010 7:37PM

    It was better than the last couple of Christmas specials, but still felt a bit messy and overblown.

  • mdf1

    25 December 2010 7:40PM

    Fell asleep after first ten, woke up to last shot of Gambon on sleigh pulled by flying great white- thought, "Santa Jaws".

  • BadwolfBracken

    25 December 2010 7:42PM

    Funny - Fun - Over the Top - Loved it even if it left me and the Mrs with lumps in our throats :)

  • ManEatingFish

    25 December 2010 7:42PM

    See Christmas has bought out the trolls again!
    I love how in one episode Moffat has undermined two of RD's greatest conceits, the psychic paper and the screwdriver for all occasions.
    He shows a true sense of wonder and maturity in dealing with tough subjects, such as death, intelligently

  • froggeckosnake

    25 December 2010 7:43PM

    This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.

  • dowland

    25 December 2010 7:47PM

    Bit of a mess, I thought, but a lot of fun. Matt Smith is just a delight.

    My only query was the whole "Katherine Jenkins is dying" thing:
    - Why did she wait till she only had one day to live before telling anyone about her condition?
    - When she asked the Doctor if he was one of her doctors, why didn't he just say "Oh, are you ill? Anything we should know about?"
    - How come the Doctor and the young Kazran didn't notice that the numbers on her cell were counting down? The Doctor had already drawn attention to it when it was at 8, then seemed to forget about it for plot reasons.

    Also had to laugh at the amazing subtlety of:
    Pond: What's that singing?
    Dr: It's a Christmas Carol.
    Pond: What?
    Dr: It's A CHRISTMAS CAROL!

    But I don't mean to slag it off. It made me laugh, smile and brush away a manly tear. Good enough for me.

  • organicprankster

    25 December 2010 7:53PM

    For those who claim it was incomprehensible, it wasn't - you failed to comprehend it. There's a chasm of difference.

  • simlmx

    25 December 2010 7:57PM

    amazing, stephen moffats scripts on both this and sherlock holmes are just great. and katherine jenkins has a new fan, What a voice and beautiful too.

  • kawerau

    25 December 2010 7:58PM

    What a bunch of pathetic morons (ie the people who didnt like this episode).
    its incomprehensible if you have nothing to comprehend with.
    its boring if you have no knowledge of literature, sense of humour or humanity.
    stephan moffat provided a moving, intelligent, humorous play beautifully set and acted (with the exception of miss J) . this is dr who at its best and **** the laws of time.
    exquisite pearls cast before particularly dumb swine.

    no offence meant.

  • SouthEndBrit

    25 December 2010 8:00PM

    What organic is suggesting, and I agree is, you were probably too dumb to be watching it if you didnt "get" it...

  • Monctonian

    25 December 2010 8:00PM

    Looks like there are one or two curmudgeons in need of some Ghosts.

    Brilliant as usual.

    Some people always look to be "displeased" as if it's the trendy thing to do.

  • froggeckosnake

    25 December 2010 8:02PM

    whats with the sharks, i may be dumb, i have thoroughly understood and enjoyed all the other episodes, but this one left me confused...

  • ArseneKnows

    25 December 2010 8:05PM

    Thought it was great but:

    Got thinking when the new theme music came up at the beginning that the theme represents a larger change in the shows ethos.

    Dr Who is not human and wasn't meant to be a goody goody and, like the theme tune, the disturbing rough edges have been replaced by energetic running around. Not sure it's an improvement overall.

    Steven Moffat much much better as lead writer though.

  • WillyBanjo

    25 December 2010 8:07PM

    STEVEN MOFFAT DOESN'T UNDERSTAND DOCTOR WHO!

    Say it loud, say it proud!

    (Of course, that's bollocks - it was wonderful, and Who to its core, but aren't these internets iconoclasts great?)

  • YorkieCelt

    25 December 2010 8:17PM

    GlasgowGuy - you're so cynical cool, and knowing. You must be great fun to be around.

  • kawerau

    25 December 2010 8:24PM

    Dear Froggecksnake
    the sharks are not particularly relevant but a symbol of prime fear and make for good visual efects.
    What moffat has done is take the rather overused story of the christmas carol and combined it with the paradox of time travel so that scrooge actually changes before our eyes as his past is altered. At the same time he juxtaposes the innocent goodness of the boy with the corruptness of his own old age so that in the end it is the boy who saves his older self.
    Scrooge is his own ghost. How clever is that!

    There is also the joke of the honeymoon couple dressed up in costumes, a nice adult touch.

    There were also heaps of in jokes - psychic paper having a limit, etc.

    Lastly, it had something serious to say about mortality, redemption, and a whole lot more.

    To me it was close to perfection.

    Apologies for rude emotional outburst earlier!

  • mjbsen

    25 December 2010 8:27PM

    Yep the trolls come out to play here as usual - why do they bother to watch it then?

    All round family entertainment remember - wonderful cast, great script, beautifully shot. I watched Confidential afterwards and found it very informative.

    The review was spot on.

    Having recently just watched the Tennant series for the first time, I have to say Matt Smith is for me much better. Also just watching Torchwould wood for the first time - would the trolls be better off there as it is more mean spirited?????

  • froggeckosnake

    25 December 2010 8:30PM

    thankyou very much kawerau,

    i sort off understood though i feel the plot could have been more coherent and too me i think that many aspects have not been explained!

  • PeterGriffin

    25 December 2010 8:30PM

    I loved it.

    Yes it wasn't perfect. Yes, it was a bit forced in places and I found the younger Karzan's a wee bit too stage school for my liking, and there wasn't enough Rory for my liking. Yes, some of the plot was forced and if one is obsessed with canon at the expense of a good story then it's not for you.

    However, it's Christmas evening, most people are stuffed full of food and have had more than a lot to drink (sadly I've not as I've been hit with the flu) and there's just times when you want to sit down and have an hours entertainment, and this was just the job.

    After last year's quite awful specials (which were a huge let down after the excellent Waters of Mars) this was a joy. Gambon was splendid, and Jenkins did a decent job. The plot had enough lovely Moffatisms & timey wimey stuff wrapped round what was basically a love story, and I think that's what's got a few people's knickers in a twist because Who's 'not supposed' to do a soppy love story.

    Well nuts to that. It was a lovely episode and series six looks fantastic.

  • sjholland87

    25 December 2010 8:33PM

    It was good. Not great mind. I thought the pacing was a bit off though. First 20 minutes went quick then all of a sudden it slowed down to a grind. Not that I minded though.

  • MindOverMatter

    25 December 2010 8:36PM

    Wow ... tis the season to be Jolly, until you read some of the comments above.

    That was genuinely great TV. So many touches to love, my favourite being Katherine being woken for the various Christmas Eve's. One year matching Fez, the next year fourth Doctor inspired scarf's. Just made me and the family giggle. In one of the preview threads I asked for "Bonkers" and "Mad as a box of frogs" but, Steve Moffatt, you spoiled me.

  • reversedthepolarity

    25 December 2010 8:43PM

    Any one else notice a Tim Burton inspiration for the style of this one? I mean the planet they were on, the clothes the people wore, the atmospheric lighting, the larger than life dark characters?
    A wonderful episode, was supprised by Gambon's performance (I thought his character wouldn't be so deep), I was under the impression that he would play it as a maveric antogonist rather than a tormented soul. Especially with the subject it dealt with, I mean child beating is rather a dark subject to put into a special like this, I guess it was a way to create a more tension and more understanding for the character, it also makes the threat seem far more real, inspite of the stakes being alot lower in this one, but it is christmas, plus to be honest I think the whole grand scale plots have been done far too often, especially at christmas, it was a balance of threat and joy.

    And anyone who harshly criticises this episode to me is a kill joy, it's a christmas episodes, it's designed to celebrate and entertain, rather than be treated so seriously like most fans do.

    And to those who think the laws of time were broken by Gambon's character touching his previous self, remember, there are things that are in flux and things that are fixed, the fact that the damaging effects previously seen aren't there means that Gambon's character's timeline is in a state of flux.
    Plus time can be rewritten, The Doctor didn't realise how easy time was to minipulate until he was forced to in the big bang.

    Plus it isn't like RTD hasn't messed up with stuff like that before (in non christmas specials) e.g. compare Father's Day to Waters of Mars, in Father's Day, Rose changed a fixed moment in time, while in Water's of Mars the Doctor did the same thing and history just created a new reality, but he was the last of the time lords in both stories, the Doctor is realising as he goes along in his travels that the laws of time aren't as strict as he originally thought.

  • Siouxfire

    25 December 2010 8:43PM

    Absolute classic. Good use of the cast, good themes, one of the most otherworldly planets we've seen, and another strong performance from Matt Smith.

  • stevethewhistle

    25 December 2010 8:44PM

    Hello all

    I expected the shark's appearance after the small fish sucked on the Doctor's finger ends, reminding me of pilot fish. I may have a slightly black sense of humour, but I thought it was humorous when the shark got caught in the doorway. It was interesting comparing the early clips on Doctor Who Confidential, when the shark was referred to as "he", and the final cut when its sex was changed to female.

    It is also notable that the Doctor's attempts to rewrite time had little effect to the "present" situation" through most of the episode. Is this a consequence of Pratchett's First Law Of Time: "Things that happen stay happened"?

    All in all. a nice episode with no unredeemable baddies and a nice homage to Star Trek with the shaking spaceship control room.

    Merry solstice/Xmas/New Year/Hogswatch etc.

    Steve

  • MoreTeaVicar

    25 December 2010 8:44PM

    The scene where Gambon stopped himself from hitting his younger self, then hugged him, then started crying, was one of the most moving things I've ever seen on television.

  • Ursi

    25 December 2010 8:45PM

    I like the twist on a Christmas Carol and we all enjoyed it. Have to declare that I have a woman crush on River Song. Looking forward to the new series.

  • Aengil

    25 December 2010 8:48PM

    I thought it was a decent story (most 'inspirations' from A Christmas Carol are of course) with a few good ideas struggling to get out from under some shoddy writing and massive lack of attention to the details. It looked like a case of "I want the plot to get to here... er... I can't work out how to get there in a way that makes any sense... sod it, I'll just do it in a way that doesn't make sense then."

    Which you can understand, given that they wanted the plot to get to a point where Katherine Jenkins would be singing to a flying shark.

    It's not that I think Dr Who shouldn't be silly - quirkiness is part of the joy - but it's possible for it to be silly and well written (in every sense, not just in the superficially dramatic sense).

  • Heasgarnich

    25 December 2010 8:50PM

    Right - spoilers may be ahead!

    I quite loved it. I quite loved the idea of the future/present being changed as the present watches the past. It's a very elegant concept that isn't used enough in modern science fiction (which is a shame) and quite frankly, it was clever at times. The thing is, I think we've had our brains addled by the increasingly-mediocre RTD Christmas specials (The Christmas Invasion was brilliant, The Runaway Bride was good, but let's face it, by the time last year's special, it was getting pants) where it's the same plot over, and over, and over - alien menace to the Earth, Doctor swoops in, lots of special effects and behold, Earth saved and snow falls and we all have a nice Christmas. There were a few things I loved a lot about this (aside from the story) - the look and feel of Sardicktown was strangely Gothic, Victorian and Dieselpunk all at the same time. The performances were good too - Gambon without a doubt was brilliant, I loved the usual Tardis suspects (though I wish Rory had got a bit more screen time!) and I actually thought Jenkins was pretty good too.

    The thing is, people, this was pretty much old-fashioned science fiction and gothic fantasy rolled into one gloriously well-shot and clever bundle of timey-wimey-wibbley-wobbly stuff. And it was lovely to realise that at the end of the story, there wasnt' really a happy ending. Yes, people lived, yes the skies sang and yes, the snow fell - but it really wasn't that glorious a happy ending. And that's a good thing.

    Now, roll on Series Six, because one thing I noticed popped up and I hope to dear god that it's true - the Vashta Nerada appear to be back. And they were one of my favourite monsters of recent years (simply, it goes Weeping Angels, then the creature from Midnight, then the Vashta Nerada). And stetsons? Are cool.

  • NorwichTeenwolf

    25 December 2010 8:51PM

    I hope Michael Gambon and the shark get their own spin-off series. And I'd prefer Katharine Jenkins to Kyle Minogue any day.

    In one of the brief clips in the next series trailer, Amy appeared to be inside a room in Wester Drumlins...

  • nlygo

    25 December 2010 8:53PM

    methinks the audience doth protest too much

    the whole jape was wonderful to behold

    you surely dont want to go back ye olde christmasses when the queen at 3 was followed by a circus - on both channels!

    matt smith is totally awesome, remind me, who was david tennant?

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