“A Christmas Carol”
On Christmas Eve in the far future, The Doctor must find a way to bring out the compassion in a bitter old miser in order to save the passengers of a crashing space liner.
Doctor Who Christmas specials; sometimes they capture that magical excitement we associate with the season and other times they seem to have little or nothing to do with Christmas at all. But “A Christmas Carol” manages to strike a good balance, bringing us a strong story with plenty of action and emotional resonance all wrapped up in a traditional Christmas narrative. That’s not to say that it doesn’t fall flat on it’s arse at times, though.
The Doctor finds himself having to save 4000 people on a space liner that is crashing into a planet, due to adverse weather conditions caused by flying fish (just go with it). The only person who can help him is one Kazran Sardick (played by Michael Gambon), who controls a spire that in turn controls the cloud cover over the planet. The flying fish live within the cloud and seem to have a natural predilection for aggressiveness, so Kazran’s father built a machine that is able to tame them, allowing safe passage onto the planet. When The Doctor tries to persuade him to save the crashing ship by using the spire, Kazran refuses on the grounds that he simply doesn’t give a shit.
Taking a cue from the Dickens’ classic, The Doctor decides to go back and influence Kazran at an early age in order to bring out the more compassionate nature within. Now whilst this turns out to be enjoyable for us as an audience, seeing The Doctor interact with little Kazran and all the fun and adventures they get up to, it does present the single biggest flaw in the episode. The Doctor has always asserted that meddling at this level in someone’s timeline is dangerous and best avoided, whatever good reason you may have for doing it. But here he jumps into action without a second thought. Through interfering like this, Kazran (who The Doctor visits at several points in his life) ends up falling in love with a dying woman named Abigail, who he creepily keeps refrigerated so as to never lose her (insert your own possessiveness joke here) so in fact The Doctor has interfered with two people’s timelines now. When we later see the old Kazran berate The Doctor for meddling in his history it’s kind of hard not to blame him!
In Abigail we have the second biggest problem with the episode, namely the stunt casting of singer Katherine Jenkins. When The Doctor first visits the young Kazran he discovers that the boy wants nothing more than to see one of these flying fish everyone talks about, so The Doctor attempts to lure one. Instead the two of them are left fighting for their lives when a giant flying shark turns up in the lad’s bedroom. Only the sonically soothing tones of Abigail’s singing seem to quell the frightful fishy, a plot point that is used later to resolve the episode. And this is basically the only reason for Jenkins’ appearance. Michael Gambon is in this episode because he is a brilliant actor who brings a genuine humanity to what could have been a stereotypical character, especially by the end where Kazran has learned to appreciate the time he had with Abigail instead of hoarding what remained of it. But Jenkins can’t act; it’s that simple, folks. She is like a piece of wood with Katherine Jenkins’ face painted on it. The only time she ever comes to life is when she’s singing, which she conveniently has to do in order to resolve the plot. This kind of casting has repeatedly brought problems with it in the past so there’s no real excuse. Clearly the Peter Kay Incident taught you nothing, Mr Moffat.
Other than these two complaints though the episode proves to be one of the best Christmas specials in years. Matt Smith is at his energetic best here as The Doctor and carries the whole show with great ease, clearly having reached the point where his Doctor is second nature to him (and perhaps the audience too). His scenes with Gambon remain the most enjoyable moments of the episode. The two play off each other to great effect and, as I’ve already mentioned, Gambon manages to inject all the emotional range you would expect for a character like Kazran without his performance descending into a Scrooge parody. Some of the later scenes where we finally get to see the heart of Kazran are genuinely emotional and moving, especially the one where he moves to strike his younger self only to crumple at his feet and plead forgiveness for the miserable bastard he has become.
Of course, if you’ve ever watched “Father’s Day”, the moment Kazran hugs his younger self slightly ruins the overall effect…
Putting aside the confusing use of flying fish, a pointless singing cameo and The Doctor’s blatant disregard for his own rules, “A Christmas Carol” proves to be a fun, enjoyable episode with a big heart. Gambon delivers a wonderful performance whilst Matt Smith continues to shine with his take on The Doctor. A festively plump 8/10.
Written and edited by Richey Hackett