Quantcast
subscriber help

artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “A Christmas Carol”

(all spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode! this is a love fest only — all complaints and bitching must come from a place of love / previous: The Sarah Jane Adventures: “Death of the Doctor”)
Are there no cryogenic debtors prisons?

I look at this episode and I cannot help but imagine that Steven Moffat set himself a challenge. I’m almost convinced he must have put a whole bunch of little slips of paper into a hat, each of them with snippets of story notions written on them — things like “a day at the beach” and “killer bees” and “nice Dalek” — and vowed that he would write a story using all the little disparate elements that popped up on the slips of paper he pulled out. And he pulled out these:

“steampunk”

“shark attack!”

“Dickens’ Christmas Carol”

“Marilyn Monroe gets married”

“disaster in space”

“famous opera singer guest star”

“cryogenics”

How else do you explain the insanity of the hodgepodge that is this episode? And I mean that in a good way… no, a great way. Because Moffat pulled it off. This is brilliant. Insane, yes. But genius in a way that only Doctor Who can get away with. And maybe genius in a way that only Steven Moffat can get away with.

This is a lovely story, funny and weird and poignant and multilayered. It works as meta commentary on how we consume stories: the old Kazran Sardick watches his own story unfold in projected imagery — and talks back to it, in a way that impacts what he’s watching (when the Doctor gets the secret code from him that way)! — at the same time that his memories of having been a participant in those events come to him for the first time… which is sort of how we form memories of events that aren’t real just by watching them in fictionalized form. We may project ourselves into pleasant fantasy realms like the one the Doctor moves in… and that really works for Kazran!

But it’s simply its own kind of bizarre cracking yarn at the same time. It shamelessly steals from Dickens, but it’s so cheerful about it, and makes the Scrooge story so entirely its own that you can’t fault it. (Dickens wrote serialized stories, too, ones so popular they were widely pirated and awaited breathlessly on both sides of the Atlantic. No question, he’d be writing for Doctor Who if he were alive today.)

It’s beautifully designed, too, visually and conceptually textured:

Doctor Who has been doing amazing things with TV since 2005, but this may be the best example yet of how gonzo and how simultaneously emotionally satisfying TV can be these days.

With Russell Davies’ Christmas stories, I was always astonished at how grim they were. I always thought, Geez, people are watching this after their Christmas dinners? But for all its momentary darknesses, Moffat’s is a much nicer vision of Christmas in which hardly anybody dies. In fact, young Kazran and Abigail get perhaps the best experience of being the Doctor’s companions — for that’s what they are, if only in brief bursts — with, we can presume, none of “the bits in between,” as David Tennant’s Doctor described all the dangerous stuff to Jackie Tyler. We can guess that there were no Dalek or Cybermen encounters on their journeys, just the fun stuff.

I do wonder how Abigail ends up falling in love with Kazran. I mean, he’s cute enough and all as a young man, before he turns bitter and nasty, but the Doctor is… the Doctor. Of course it’s only when Kazran is no longer a little boy that she stops melting — literally and figuratively — at the Doctor’s arrival each Christmas Eve. Is it only my Doctor-besotted imagination that makes me think he’s a little bit miffed when she suddenly turns her affections on Kazran?

She’s loopy, this woman. From her perspective, Kazran was a little boy the day before. The Doctor’s been consistently amazing, though…

Ah, the bit with the offscreen Marilyn Monroe:

This is what I imagine, with my dirty mind, for the Doctor: torrid romances with the great women (and probably a few of the great men) throughout time and space. (Marilyn is phoning the TARDIS at the end. Of course she is. Who would let him get away?) No one gets “accidentally” engaged to Marilyn Monroe who has “absolutely no idea” how to talk to a woman who’s crying, or who does nothing in his bedroom but design new kinds of screwdrivers. And the Doctor knows wherefrom he speaks when he tells the old Kazran “Better a broken heart than no heart at all.” When Kazran says, “Think about it, Doctor. One last day with your beloved. Which day would you choose?”

how can the Doctor not be thinking about how he will know for a certainty when his one last day with River Song will be, before she goes off to the Library? Oh, he’s thinking about it, all right.

I keep thinking about this: When the Doctor brings the young Kazran forward to see his own Christmas future, to see what a bastard he will become — which is, by the way, a creepy and unexpected twist on Dickens — that young Kazran has not yet had all those travels with the Doctor. He’s not yet in love with Abigail. But he sees — by seeing the old Kazran and Abigail together — that he will be someday, and he knows that he won’t have more than a few days with her over the course of his entire life. So: Has the Doctor now made him bitter in a whole new way? Is the young Kazran not halfway out of the dark but only beginning his journey into it?

Merry Fishmas!

Random thoughts on “A Christmas Carol”:

• There’s something very Tom Baker-ish about Matt Smith’s Doctor suddenly here

as he busts into Kazran Sardick’s home and takes over and talks nonsense: “Big flashy lighty things have got me written all over them… well, actually, give me time, and a crayon…”

Smith seems to be settling into the role very nicely now.

• Ah, we have a timeframe for this episode:

Late 44th century, and perhaps into the early 45th…

• Is it wrong that I suddenly find Matt Smith — as distinct from the Doctor — so much more physically attractive when he’s all dirty?

It makes him look older. Which is a good thing.

• Now wait just a minute! This is not fair! Long have I dreamt of the Doctor appearing my bedroom, and it still hasn’t happened. But some little kid who just happens to grow up to be a monster gets this boon?

Do I have to endanger the lives of thousands of people before I get to see the Doctor in my bedroom? Cuz I’ll do it, don’t think I won’t…

(Perhaps I can cling to the hope that this could still happen even when I’m, like, 90 years old, and I could still then enjoy a life of travel and adventure and, ahem, romance with him, as long as I ensure that he pops back into my past so I can have some new memories of a life of travel and adventure and, ahem, romance that didn’t exist before. This timey-whimey stuff could work to my benefit…)

• They’re gonna need a bigger boat:

• Oh, dear. So that Radio Times cover was, in fact, representative of a scene from the story:

(I had worried what it would mean if it were… though it all turned out okay in the end.)

• There’s something kinda familiar about those scarves… can’t quite put my finger on it…

• Did the Doctor take young Kazran and Abigail only to places on Earth?

I expect him to be less provincial than that…

• Amy and Rory’s honeymoon cruise ship sorta looks like a Christmas ornament:

I love the nice touch of the logo, presumably of the cruise line that operates the ship, unobtrusively in the background:

It appears on the uniforms of the crew, too.

• So Star Trek!

And a nice design contrast — so sleek and clean and white — to the chunky, clunky steampunk look of the planet below.

• Old Kazran hugs young Kazran:

So, no worries about shorting out time differentials and such, as when the old Brigadier met the younger Brigadier in “Mawdryn Undead”? It’s a Christmas miracle!

• “I love you so I punch you.” Rory can’t bring himself to hug another man, so he shows his relief with faux violence:

He’s such a guy.

• Great quotes:

“What do you want?” –Sardick
“A simpler life.” –the Doctor (though I think he’s full of shit)

“Me and Father Christmas, Frank Sinatra’s hunting lodge, 1952.” –the Doctor

“In 900 years of time and space, I never met anyone who wasn’t important.” –the Doctor

“I’m universally recognized as a mature and responsible adult.” –the Doctor (but that’s “a lie too big” and it shorts out the psychic paper)

“Fish that can swim in fog… I love new planets.” –the Doctor

“Fish in the fog. Fish in the clouds. How do people ever get bored? How did boredom even get invented?” –the Doctor

“Dangerous? C’mon, we’re boys! And you know what boys say in the face of danger?… ‘Mummy!’” –the Doctor, to young Kazran

“Marilyn, get yet coat!” –the Doctor, to Marilyn Monroe

(next: “The Impossible Astronaut”)


viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
  • Radek

    Wait, you thought any Christmas special was too dark? Wow I always thought they were comfortable and domestic. This was, of course, over the top Christmas-y. I don’t like when the Doctor acts like a pimp to other people. I think the Doctor has better things to do than to advocate heteronormativity around the universe.

Pin It on Pinterest