“The Christmas Invasion”
An alien race called the Sycorax are planning to invade the Earth on Christmas Day and only The Doctor can stop them. But it’s not going to be that easy; The Doctor is out of commission, having just regenerated, leaving Rose and Mickey to try and figure out how to save the day.
“The Christmas Invasion” was the first of the now mandatory Christmas specials that have become a New Who staple since the show’s return. Aiming for a fun and festive tone, these episodes have always been a bit hit-and-miss; sometimes they perfectly capture that adventurous spirit that we so love to see in Christmas themed stories, but other times they fall flat on their arse. Happily, “The Christmas Invasion” manages to maintain high spirits and good times throughout, in spite of a few niggling plot points. But this is also the introductory episode for a new Doctor, one that features him very little and which runs the risk of sidelining the character in favour of the main story. And to some extent, it does just that.
After crash landing in the TARDIS, The Doctor promptly checks out and has to be put to bed by Rose, Jackie and Mickey in order to recover from his regeneration. Rose is feeling understandably confused by this turn of events and confesses to her mother that she keeps forgetting how alien The Doctor truly is. In an effort to help Rose take her mind of this strange development, Mickey takes her Christmas shopping but it’s not long before they’re interrupted by a brass band of robot Santas. It’s not often that you get to write a sentence like that. Whilst they’re only a minor plot point to lead us to the bigger antagonists, the robot Santas are a fun idea and one that would crop up again in the future. I especially like the idea of a ballistic trombone!
Returning to the flat, Rose and Mickey discover that a new Christmas tree has been delivered. Jackie tells them that she thought it was from them but it’s actually a gift from the robot Santas, who are outside controlling it via remote control. The Christmas tree promptly begins spinning like a tornado and advancing on our heroes, destroying household furniture in its wake. Thankfully, before any of them are shredded into pieces small enough to be hung on a Christmas tree, The Doctor wakes up and uses his sonic screwdriver to blow the tree up. He reveals that some of the excess energy from his regeneration is still draining out of him and the Santas were drawn to it. But where pilot fish swim, there are bigger fish waiting to feed.
And so we jump over to U.N.I.T. who are monitoring the approaching Sycorax ship and the return of Harriet Jones (played by the bloody marvellous Penelope Wilton) who is now the Prime Minister of Great Britain. She is consulting with U.N.I.T. and having her people try to locate The Doctor at the same time. It turns out that Mickey is also monitoring the ship in one of New Who’s most blatantly silly moments, using a run-of-the-mill laptop with a dial-up modem to hack into the government’s computer network. The Sycorax send a message to the Earth, informing the human race that they are now cattle and the world is a resource for the Sycorax to exploit. In a genuinely unsettling moment, the Sycorax push their demands by threatening to kill a third of the world’s population by using blood control to make everyone whose blood type is A Positive walk onto the roofs of tall buildings, standing on the edge and waiting to jump at the Sycorax’s command. It’s an effective visual image, all those people standing on ledges who could die at any moment.
Harriet Jones goes on television to send a plea for The Doctor to help – throughout the episode she’s been making reference to Torchwood and other methods of defending the world, giving us the impression that she’s preparing to take matters into her own hands if The Doctor doesn’t get his arse out of bed and save the day. The Sycorax ship enters the atmosphere, scaring the shit out of everyone and causing windows to shatter. Rose, Mickey and Jackie carry The Doctor to the TARDIS; with no plan and no Doctor, Rose figures that their best bet is to hide in the TARDIS, have a nice cup of tea and wait for all of this to blow over. Meanwhile, Harriet and her staff are transported up to the Sycorax ship so that the Sycorax Commander can demand Earth’s surrender. They also beam up the TARDIS when they discover a signal coming from it and Rose and Mickey are captured. Luckily, that nice cup of tea falls on the floor of the TARDIS next to The Doctor and manages to perk him up enough to make an appearance (at last).
So we finally get to see David Tennant in action. It’s a lot of fun to watch him work through all the possibilities of what kind of man he now is, already strutting about like he owns the place and randomly quoting The Lion King before challenging the Sycorax leader to a duel. During the fight, The Doctor loses a hand (which will be important in later stories) but regrows it thanks to his regeneration cycle still being underway. He defeats the Sycorax Commander and they all go home. The End! Well, not quite. Harriet Jones incurs The Doctor’s wrath when she has Torchwood blow up the retreating Sycorax ship, telling him that he can’t always be around to save the day, as he very nearly wasn’t this time. Even so, The Doctor is not happy and uses six simple words to bring down her entire government; “Don’t you think she looks tired?”
The episode walks something of a tightrope; on the one hand it’s trying to be a Christmas special with all the fun and adventure that entails and on the other hand it’s trying to be the first story for a new Doctor. “The Christmas Invasion” just about manages to deliver on both fronts, giving new Doctor David Tennant some strong material to work with and giving the audience a good impression of what this new Doctor is going to be like, even though we’ve seen little of him. A festive 7/10.
Written and edited by Richey Hackett