“Doctor Who” Review: “A Christmas Carol”

Charming. Utterly charming. There are a few thousand words I could write about this year’s “Doctor Who” Christmas special, “A Christmas Carol,” but writing about what works about a particular episode of this show is on some level an exercise in futility. Telling you about The Doctor, Kazran, and Abigail riding around the sky on a sleigh pulled by a flying shark might make the events in this episode sound silly beyond belief. But tonally it fit, and fit beautifully, and fit achingly.

The trouble with time travel stories lies in the often lack of consequence: as soon as you can go back and change something, then the finality of anything comes into question. How can a viewer worry about the dangers onscreen if they can be undone in a deus ex Tardisina? The end of the Davies/Tennant run dealt with this theme in a way that the Moffat/Smith has continued: while the Doctor can often perform miracles, there are some things beyond his control. Coming across these limitations undid the last iteration of the Doctor, but provided a chance for a temporary moment of bliss for the pair at the heart of tonight’s episode.

doctor-who-a-christmas-carol-480×328.jpgThe episode both employs and subverts the Dickens classic to splendid affect. If the first fifteen minutes led you to believe the Doctor would simply re-enact the tale for a miser that would have no knowledge of the literary antecedent, then the events after he popped up in Kazran’s old home videos showed that Moffat had other ideas about how to deploy the overall message of personal redemption. Making a love story out of two people of vastly different ages that eventually learn to love each other can be tricky (see: the “Star Wars” prequels), “A Christmas Carol” sold the blossoming romance between Kazran and Abigail wonderfully in the short time we got to spend watching them spend yearly Christmas Eves together.

If there’s a complaint to be made, it’s that the Doctor never truly questions the number outside of Abigail’s chamber. The great “Who” episodes revolve around mysteries in which plenty of facts are onscreen but only can be seen by the Doctor himself. (It’s a trick employed to more specific effect in Moffat’s “Sherlock Holmes” series.) It’s understandable that the Doctor’s attention focused more on Kazran’s rehabilitation than Abigail’s health, but it still felt like a cheap device meant to garner audience sympathy at the sacrifice of the Doctor’s innate curiosity.

Still, that’s a fairly small complaint given the overall excellence of the special, one that also provided oodles of continuity even if it didn’t officially continue the end of last year’s plot. Series 5 featured two mysteries: one about the cracks in the universe (solved) and one about silence falling (forthcoming). Nothing about the silence appeared in this Christmas special, but it did give us the Amy/Rory honeymoon (in a vessel my wife described as the “Star Trek Love Boat”), but also placed the story as the central point between the two overarching mysteries in the Moffat world of this show. All the talk of Christmas as the point in which things start to come out of the dark alluded to the second half of this current arc finally getting underway, in which the darkness/silence will finally start to come to…well, the light, I suppose.

A character learning a lesson that having loved and lost being better than never loving at all is as old as the Dickens tale upon which this episode was based, if not further. But “A Christmas Carol” does what all great sci-fi does: tell a very human story in a original and compelling fashion. We don’t watch these shows to learn about alien races; we watch them to learn about ourselves. The Doctor’s redemption of Kazran may have come at a price, but Kazran’s true achievement was in learning that the price was worth paying. The result lay not in a series of photographs but in a life well spent. A moment watching his true love singing with snow falling all around them means that he’ll look at those photographs not simply with regret over what no longer is but with fondness at what will always be.

A few odds and ends…

  • OK, I get Amy’s role-playing get-up, but wouldn’t Rory’s either reduce performance or at the very least chafe like a mother?
  • I want a Sonic Screwdriver microphone for “Rock Band,” thank you kindly. (My onscreen avatar for the game already makes me look like Doctor Who. I wish I was joking, though not nearly enough as my wife does.)
  • Quick query: Did Kazran wear Tom Baker’s scarf in one of the old photos? Sure looked like it.
  • The Doctor’s explanation of why bow ties are cool pretty much summed up geekdom in 30 seconds. Another reason we all need to bow down before the Doctor.

What did you think of the Christmas special? Leave your thoughts below!

2 Comments

  1. milaxx
    Posted December 26, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    I loved this special and I think I am falling more and more in love with Matt Smith as the Doctor. I’ve been a fan since the 4th doctor so that means Matt is ranking right up there with Tom Baker, Peter Davidson & yes, even David Tennant as Doctors.

    Funny that your wife called it Star Trek Love Boat. I told my sister that the ship reminded me of Stae Trek a but, including an officer with a (sort of) visor like Lt Jordi LaForge.

    No spoilers other than to say I can’t wait for the 2011 episodes. It appears this doctor has a thing for hats.

  2. Rob
    Posted December 27, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Also loved it, but I am going to watch again on OnDemand where I expect/hope it to be complete – seemed a couple of really abrupt cuts in the TV version ..