Doctor Who’s “A Christmas Ripoff”: A Review
It’s very hard to review something you both loved and loathed.
Obviously, nothing in the entirety of the new Doctor Who series can beat the very first Christmas special that aired: ‘The Christmas Invasion.’ Subsequent Christmas Specials either lacked in the festivity (like ‘The Runaway Bride’, which was more interested in alien-fighting and flaunting Catherine Tate’s comedic timing), or lacked in originality (i.e. ‘Voyage of the Damned,’ which basically put an extra-terrestrial spin on The Poseidon Adventure with a dash of Titanic). A Christmas Carol, as evidenced by the lack of even an original name, clearly falls into the latter. An eye-rolling remake with some classic Doctor-isms and celebrity guest-stars.
Not since The Christmas Invasion has a companion (or, in this case, two) lasted beyond the regular series’ finale to appear. Amy and Rory Williams were so painfully shoved to the side it almost made me miss them (they key word being ALMOST, but we’ll dive into that one later). Moffat clearly wanted to keep the tradition of a new-but-one-time-only (exception-being-Catherine-Tate-because-shes-just-that-awesome) companion for the holiday special, but with two companions not dead/retired/mind-wiped, where was the room for the fresh young faces?
Oh, sorry Michael Gambon. Did I say young?
Anyway, the entire premise of the special this year was as follows: on some other planet that remarkably resembles Victorian England (what a stretch) a Scrooge-like Michael Gambon controls the skies (in what way?) with some machine (that is never explained other than it’s creation). Amy and Rory, on their honeymoon, are on a star cruise that begins crashing, and the only way to stop it is to be able to land in Gambon’s hood, but he refuses to open up the skies for them…err…because he’s a douchebag.
In comes the Doctor, of course! Using his time-traveling abilities, he has an hour to travel back and forth from present to past in order to attempt to change Gambon as a child and teenager so he isn’t such a prick in the present. Only, unlike the original Dickens tale where the Ghosts and Scrooge merely observed the shadows of Scrooge’s past, The Doctor actually interacted and actively changed the memories of the Scrooge-like Gambon.
That’s…a bit of a stretch, Doctor. A bit of a stretch.
What ever happened to the extremely-cautious do-not-change-the-timeline Doctor of 1-10? Suddenly he’s a time-vortex surfer with the cautiousness of a four-year-old? Most, if not all, past Doctors would’ve probably stayed in the observer-not-interference position, as changing one man’s life could inadvertently see the present as a pool full of ash or a breeding ground for radioactive sabre-toothed tigers.
Anyway, back to the plot, because we haven’t even hit the meat of it yet.
Whilst in the past, the Doctor and young-Gambon come across Scrooge’s father’s collateral room. In this world, ‘collateral’ entails a member of the family taking out a loan being frozen and put in a sarcophagus in the basement. This was referred to as ‘the surplus population’ in reference to the original Scrooge’s words.
That’s…a bit of a stretch, Moffat. A bit of a stretch.
One of these frozen collateral-people is Abby Pettigrew, a hot young female who can sing her little heart out. Here we go! The young n00b fresh on the scene to romance out Doctor and save the day and subsequently never heard of again!
Oh, wait, she romanced adolescent-Gambon. The Doctor romances an off-screen voice belonging to Marilyn Monroe. Oops.
Anywho, they let the frozen girl out every Christmas eve and go places in order to warm-up Gambon’s memories and turn him nice. However, on the eighth Christmas eve, Abby reveals she was actually frozen with an illness and had a week to live (hooray for random popup of unlikely but dramatic clichés!), and she’s down to her last day. Gambon now turns into the cranky old miser anyway and decides to harden his heart, swallow his tears and never let Abby out again.
In the present, Amy, as a hologram from her falling ship, appears as the Ghost of Christmas Present and shows Scrooge/Gambon that there are 4000 people on the crashing ship singing in an attempt to…err….save themselves.
See, this is another spot where the special was incredibly vague. Apparently in this world, singing makes…the…clouds…vibrate or something, and attracts some species of air-fish that swims around. Perhaps a group of people singing would soften up the clouds enough to let the plane land safely. At least, that’s what I’m getting. However, the giant air shark that nearly eats The Doctor can only be calmed by Abby’s operatic voice.
Yes. Giant air shark. I forgot to mention the giant air shark.
That’s…a hell of a stretch, Moffat. A HELL of a stretch.
Let’s wrap this plot up so I can bitch it out! Amy fails, and The Doctor returns as the Ghost of the Future, only, as a twist, it wasn’t to Gambon, but to YOUNG Gambon, and the boy decides consciously NOT to become a bad old man. Thus, Scrooge is redeemed just in time to let Abby out on her last day of life to sing and…um…open the clouds up and let the shark in (I know, I know). All is well, Gambon decides to have his last day with Abby as The Doctor, Amy, and Rory move on once again.
In short, the story failed to grab me. As with what Moffet proved with Series 5, he is no Russell T Davies. The lack of that creativity Doctor Who had become so famous for was just not there. Remakes are for Cartoon Network TV Specials. I expected a little more than Ebenezer Scrooge and the runaway CGI stunt-double from Megashark vs Giant Octopus. I also didn’t appreciate the shoving-aside of the has-been companions in the direct plot in an attempt to keep up with the new-companion tradition.
And let’s not get into the lack of a backstory for this whole concept of it being on another planet, and yet it’s so very clearly an Earth copy with humans and everything. The only way you could infer it wasn’t Earth at all was the flying fish, and they didn’t really hold up much more than a matchlight to the overarching plot. So I didn’t understand why they bothered setting it on a different planet when it could’ve so gotten away with being ON EARTH! Moffet has no problem leaving out the creative aliens and monsters. No need to attempt to give it an extraterrestrial feel (and failing) but simply stating in the prologue that it was, in fact on a different planet.
And yet, it ALMOST worked with me. Why? Well, for starters, that darkest-days-of-winter atmosphere that lacked the past four seasons flooded every frame of this special. I very much appreciate the dark settings and the emotional music.
Another plus was the acting. Not just Michael Gambon, who was cast as Dumbledore II for a reason, but the whole cast (with the exception of what I felt were a few weak points on behalf of Abby Pettigrew’s actor, Katherine Jenkins, who should stick to singing) pulled the thing together. The child actors were great. Even Matt Smith is finally filling the Doctor’s shoes more comfortably. He’s starting to get away from the Tennant-copycat urges and creating his own identity. Aside from a few points that I blame Moffet and not Smith for (like the fact that Eleven seems to be treating humans with much less affection than his past three predecessors), I’m beginning to see this Doctor at long last as more than quirky large-foreheaded, mighty-chinned eye candy.
So, pitting its strengths against it’s weaknesses, I have to come to the conclusion that it’s enjoyable as a Christmas tale, but annoying for those loyal followers like myself who see it as an episode in an overall series as opposed to a stand-alone special. This universe, these characters, everything has been pre-established, and bastardizing their purposes, quirks, and rules is a major problem I have with Moffet’s writing. He can’t re-write a whole world, especially one as complicated and long-lived as The Raggedy Doctor’s. He’s just lucky he has so many loyal devotees of the series like myself who’ll will stick around until the day he writes ‘Doctor Who vs Giant Octopus.’ Otherwise he probably would sink the series with another season or two.
I’ll give it a C+ for writing, and a B for everything else, because the atmosphere was still great, and the effort was very present.
Oh, and the best line of the whole special?
DOCTOR: “You know what boys say in the face of danger?”