So, Doctor Who has finally jumped the shark… although, this being Doctor Who, it’s a CGI shark that swims in the night air and can pull a carriage behind it like reindeer pulling Father Christmas’ sleigh. In short, ‘A Christmas Carol’ is daffy, daft and entirely ridiculous entertainment – and it’s all rather wonderful.
This time last year, fans – even the Moffat faithfuls – weren’t too sure what to make of Matt Smith. Surely he was too young? (It’s worrying when you start noticing that the Doctors are getting younger than you.) What Moffat and Smith declined to mention – mostly because we wouldn’t have believed them – was the very fact that a young Doctor was the joke: this Doctor is a gleeful, wide-eyed child, all too eager to see the best in everyone – he even claims to have Santa as a best mate. This is best summed up when he finally has the psychic paper claim one lie too big: that he’s universally known as a ‘responsible adult’.
Since the 2005 reboot, we’ve had every extreme aspect of the title character: Nine’s wrecked impotent survivor, Ten’s wide-eyed over-achiever and now Matt Smith, a big kid hiding an ancient heart, reacting to things that seem slightly out of his control. After Tennant’s ‘Lord Of Time’ shtick, it’s quite refreshing to have the character so often look as if he has no idea what’s going on.
In fact, this episode is stuffed full of signature notes that have the Moffat/Smith DNA hardwired to its very core, with a breathless and exciting pre-titles sequence that manages to give a gracenote to all that was memorable about the last series, complete with Rory worrying about the absence of a blinking light on a distress call (does that mean help is on the way or that he needs to replace the bulb?) to a catchphrase obscure enough to find itself on a cool t-shirt (“Come along, Pond”) – all without the Doctor actually being present.
This is very much a Christmas episode. That might seem a bit of an obvious point, but it’s abundantly clear that it’s also quite deliberate. This is frivolous and light-hearted stuff, and it’s reasonably unlikely that you’re going to be watching it at any other time of the year. But these are all positive points: there’s something joyous about the ‘one-off’ feel of the episode, which is a relief after the heavy and continuity-laden specials which saw off David Tennant (unless Moffat is being remarkably clever and subtle with seeding some clues for Series 6 – certainly, the “silence” references in the lyrics to Abigail’s closing hymn can’t be coincidental).
Another obvious point to make is that Michael Gambon (Harry Potter) is truly wonderful and effortlessly engaging as the Scrooge-like Kazran Sardick, but perhaps more surprising is the success of opera singer Katharine Jenkins, whose presence transcends simple stunt casting and brings her talents to the fore as an essential plot point, whilst recalling years gone past when the musical guest on a Christmas special would stop proceedings to give us a song.
‘A Christmas Carol’ shouldn’t work, really – a silly, overly-sentimental hour which has what appears to be pilchards swimming around a lamp-post (and the ‘time can be rewritten’ element certainly doesn’t hold up when you give it too much thought). Entirely barmy and entirely beautiful – roll on Series 6!
Extras: Doctor Who Confidential and Doctor Who At The Proms 2010.
Released on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 24th January 2011 by 2entertain.
Watch the trailer…