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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “The Christmas Invasion”

(intro to my Who blogging, please read before commenting / previous: Season 1, Episode 13: “The Parting of the Ways”)

Maybe it seems silly, at first glance, to be discussing the David Tennant episodes in reverse order of season — I’ve just wrapped up the “Harold Saxon” arc, and here we are back in the “Torchwood” arc, Tennant’s first season and Billie Piper’s last. But I’m glad I did it this way, because if I’d done it the other way around…

See, I loved Christopher Eccleston before Doctor Who, I loved him as the Doctor, and I wasn’t ready to see him go. I wasn’t ready for a new Doctor, and who the hell did this Tennant guy think he was, anyway, that he could step into Eccleston’s shoes, step into the Doctor’s shoes? I was eager for more Doctor Who, of course, but I was also convinced that, well, if that first new season wasn’t the huge fuckup we dedicated Whovians were convinced it would be, then surely the huge fuckup was coming now. Another new Doctor, already? Sheesh.
If you’d asked me then, I never could have guessed I’d be so madly in love with Tennant and with his Doctor now. (Who could have guessed that we’d all be madly in love with him?) If I’d starting writing about Tennant’s episodes when they first aired, this would all be very different than it’s going to be.

Ah, the benefits of hindsight…

Anyway, Tennant’s tenure as the Doctor starts, as far as I’m concerned, before the actual beginning of the episode, with the short “Children in Need special,” which can be found in the Special Features section on Disc 1 (of the U.S. version, at least). It’s a “missing scene” between the ninth Doctor’s regeneration at the end of “The Parting of the Ways” and the tenth Doctor’s stumbling from the TARDIS at the Powell Estates at the beginning of “The Christmas Invasion.” And it’s perfect: between his quick assessment of his new body — “New teeth. That’s weird”; “Hair! I’m not bald! Ooo, big hair…” — to Rose’s bone-deep shock, this is exactly what regeneration scenes should always have been. Especially the part about Rose’s shock. Other companions seemed to take it in such easy stride, when, c’mon: Holy shit. In my Who fan fiction — which I’m still vacillating back and forth on about posting here; is it better to preserve the thin illusion, if only for myself, that I’m not a 100 percent complete and utter dork than to remove all doubt, or should I just say what the hell? I haven’t figured it out yet — my companion (in stories I never got around to writing) actually has nightmares about regeneration, which she’s heard about but never witnessed…

With Rose, though, Russell Davies really gets how it almost feels like a betrayal, not just for her character within the context of the story but for all the geekily devoted fans, too. Tom Baker was my first Doctor, and I almost refused to continue watching once he regenerated into Peter Davison, refused to believe anyone else could be the Doctor. Hell, as I just told you, I felt that way again about Eccleston. And all the Doctor’s stumbling around in this episode as he tries to figure out precisely who is he now mirrors the conclusions we come to, as well: it seems like an ironic dichotomy, but it isn’t, that just as everyone else is deciding the Doctor’s absolutely the same man he was, he himself concludes that there is indeed something new about him — he’s harder, colder, less merciful, and he recognizes that. He’s the same, and he’s different. Whichever Doctor you “really love” (to quote Mickey mostly in context), whatever he becomes is not “the proper Doctor” (to quote Rose mostly in context)… until, suddenly, he is.

The missing scene also has something that I’m not sure we’ve seen — or, rather, heard — before or since in the new Who: the TARDIS’s cloister bell, clanging in the background as the Doctor’s regeneration begins to be in trouble. The bell was always used as an indication of extreme danger — well, I say “always,” but it was hardly used at all: it wasn’t like the klaxons on the Enterprise, which blared if Picard got a hangnail; when you heard the cloister bell, it was pretty much time to kiss your ass good-bye. The interesting thing here, though, is that the TARDIS itself is not in danger: the Doctor is. There’s been all sorts of stuff all through the new series about how the TARDIS is alive and how the Doctor has some sort of telepathic connection to it, but here is the best evidence of that: when the Doctor shudders and cries out in pain, so does the TARDIS. Later, when Rose wonders why the Sycorax language isn’t being translated in her head, she concludes it’s because the Doctor is a vital element of the circuit that makes that happen, and because he’s out to lunch, the circuit’s not being completed. I like to think, though, that the reason the TARDIS isn’t working is because the Doctor isn’t working. They’re too intertwined for either of them to go it alone.

I like to think that the TARDIS — along with Rose and Martha and Jack and the rest of us — is in love with the Doctor, too, in its own alien-machine, TARDISy way.

But the Doctor and Rose… it begins here, really. The Ninth Doctor was so traumatized by the Time War — and, I also imagine and will probably have to write fanfic about, the long stretch after the war was over and Gallifrey was gone and the Doctor believed himself to be totally alone and was alone for a long while rebuilding and remaking the TARDIS — that he was so desperate for any contact with other creatures that he simply latched onto Rose out of necessity. And he got lucky that her enthusiasm and youth and kindness turned out to be exactly what he needed to save him from… what? insanity? If there was anything like “romance” in their relationship, it was of a more vague, distant, hypothetical nature. But now it becomes something else, something more urgent and, well, earthy. “Am I funny?” the Doctor wonders aloud. “Am I sarcastic? Sexy?” And he winks at Rose, and she ‘s intrigued by that.

Too bad it didn’t come a little earlier for her. Cuz, umm, who got the Doctor out of his clothes and into his jammies? Not Jackie, I’m guessing, since she asked, “Anything else he’s got two of?” in that way that makes you understand precisely what body part she’s implying it might be interesting for a man to have two of. So: it was Rose, wasn’t it? When Cassandra, in the next episode, accuses Rose of, ahem, “looking” at the Doctor, I’d guess this is where the looking started… except poor Rose was probably too distraught at this early point to really take much notice at all. Poor girl.

I think she gets more chances later on.

Torchwood! That begins here right away, too. “Not even the United Nations knows about Torchwood,” but they will later, when Jack takes over… although clearly at least the UNIT part of the UN knows about Torchwood, too. Ah, I’ve got all sorts of delicious new fanfic in my head regarding pissing contests between UNIT and Torchwood…

Random thoughts on “The Christmas Invasion”:

• Will the Doctor ever get to Barcelona, do you think?

• I do believe that the purchase of a widescreen HDTV may have been worth every penny for one reason alone: I can see now that David Tennant has freckles.

• “Tea! That’s all I needed, a good cup of tea. Superheated infusion of free radicals and tannins, just the thing for heating the synapses.”

• Nice touch, all the scaffolding around Big Ben, so recently half destroyed by a crashing spaceship…

• Very Arthur Dent, the Doctor in his bathrobe… and he knows it too! “Now, there was a nice man.” Hmm, when did the Doctor meet Arthur? And presumably Arthur was not a man to be walking around in his bathrobe for no good reason, when, exactly, in the Doctor Who timeline did the Vogons demolish Earth to make way for a hyperspace bypass? You’d think UNIT would have noticed that one…

• “No denying the existence of aliens now,” the Doctor says at the end of the episode. “Everyone saw it.” Except, yup, lots of people seem to be able to deny it or excuse it after all, as we’ll continue to see throughout this season and next, and in Torchwood. Stupid humans…

• The Doctor’s no secret now, either, thanks to Harriet Jones and her request on TV for his help. Though I suppose people will forget all about that, too. You gotta know, though, that a whole bunch of geeks immediately Googled “who is the Doctor” five seconds after the Prime Minister mentioned him…

• “Don’t you think she looks tired?” And so it begins — the Doctor clears way for Harold Saxon…

(next: Episode 1: “New Earth”)

MPAA: not rated

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