A review for a good Doctor Who episode usually writes itself. Yet with A Christmas Carol I’ve found myself “umming” an “ahhing”.
This is the sixth Doctor Who Christmas special that I have reviewed. In that time I have seen aliens trying to take over the Earth with voodoo, giant spiders under the Thames, space liners in attempted insurance scams, Cybermen building a giant Cyber-King under the Thames and the Master replicating his DNA into every human on Earth.
Wildly entertaining stuff to one degree or another, but nothing that actually screams out “It’s Chrisssssstmasssss!”
So what’s the problem writing this review? Probably the fact that there is so much going on with this episode. It’s more than just a rewrite of A Christmas Carol; if you want a genuine pastiche of the Dickens classic head towards Ben Elton and Richard Curtis’ 1988 classic Blackadder’s Christmas Carol, but if you’re looking for something as deep and as meaningful as the original then Steven Moffat is the man for you.
What The Grand Moff has done with A Christmas Carol is basically succeed in blending a serious threat with a true and meaningful Christmas tale that mixes the old timey-wimey nature of Moffat’s Doctor Who with a recognised parable.
Now almost a day later I have been baffled by some posts on Facebook, Twitter and the like expressing dislike for the episode. I am absolutely bewildered by what these people were expecting in an episode called A Christmas Carol. Cybermen? A mouthy bride? John Simm over-eating? Timothy Dalton over-acting?
Did these viewers not appreciate the sumptuous costume and set design, the wonderful dressing of the locations used to evoke Sardicktown? Was the CGI not good enough? Did they not appreciate the more balanced use of a soundtrack that allowed both music and dialogue to be heard at the same time?
There have been a few voices of discontent over the wonderful Karen Gillan following Series 5; where they not content to see the actress sidelined in favour of the guest case?
And just what did the noisy types who have been dismissing this episode think of Matt Smith, an actor who seems to inhabit the Doctor more and more each time he is on screen? Did no one notice how at times he outshone his illustrious guest star?
A Christmas Carol naysayers seem to have not “got” the episode; but what was there to “get”? Was it as empty and vapid as some have claimed? Well at risk of turning this into a defence (which the story does not need) rather than a review, A Christmas Carol features such dark themes as terminal illness, child abuse, a crashing spaceship (carrying Amy and Rory in full adventurous honeymoon attire plus over 4000 others), killer sharks in a child’s bedroom and the horrifying idea that passengers should have to sing for their lives.
And at the centre of all of this is a man who made it all happen, Kazran Sardick. A miserly bully played with absolute perfection by none other than Sir Michael Gambon. Names like that don’t just wander into Doctor Who every day. As one of the key cast members of the Harry Potter movies, Gambon has held a few audiences in the palm of his hand on Christmas Day, and A Christmas Carol was no different. Rising to the task as a younger Sardick was hitherto unknown Danny Horn, whose scenes with the beautiful Abigail Pettigrew did enough. Enough to carry final scenes of Abigail and the older Sardick beyond “young girl and old man” and into the narrative state of life-long lovers.
While the clues to Abigail’s short lifespan were there for anyone paying attention to see, the final scenes of A Christmas Carol, where we learn that not only does she possess a wonderful, day-saving voice but that she will enjoy one last Christmas with snow before dying was very, very moving for this particular Doctor Who fan. Katherine Jenkins may never have acted before but the combination of her own natural talents and a superb script, coupled with some expert direction from Toby Haynes prevented this from ever becoming an issue.
Previous special episodes of Doctor Who wrapped up in the framing of a Christmas themed adventure have failed to deliver anything more than spectacle. A Christmas Carol is not one of them.
As a long term admirer of The Christmas Invasion, a few hours of reflection on the issue of “which Doctor Who Christmas special does the job best?” has lead me firmly to the conclusion that A Christmas Carol isn’t just the first truly “Christmas” special, but it is also the best of the bunch to date.