Doctor Who #724: The Christmas Invasion

"No second chances. I'm that sort of a man."
TECHNICAL SPECS: Episodes from The Christmas Invasion through Doomsday, excluding only Attack of the Graske, are available in the Series 2 DVD set. First aired Dec.25 2005.

IN THIS ONE... The 10th Doctor (no, I'm not going to start calling him the 11th now, for clarity's sake) sleeps through most of a Christmas special and wakes up to kick Sycorax ass (Sycorass?).

REVIEW: Outside of Hartnell breaking the fourth wall on 25 December 1965, this is Doctor Who's first real Christmas special, in the TRADITION of such things. With millions more people watching in the spirit of celebration, it's a great time to introduce a new Doctor, but also to throw all sorts of zany stuff at the screen. It seems audiences are more likely to accept the insanity on Christmas, because it's all supposed to be a lark, isn't it? And so The Christmas Invasion weaves in and out of Christmasy "don't think about it too hard" silliness, bam-pow kickass "it's a SPECIAL" moments, and the sheer emotionalism the new show has become known for, but which are also part of the holidays. Or does no one cry at YOUR Christmas parties and family gatherings? You can admit it. That's it. Cry it out. So yes, space robots dressed up as Santas with fire-throwing trombones, and spinning Christmas trees that destroy Jackie's flat, and an original song (in Doctor Who!) played over the Doctor finally going domestic and having a proper Christmas with the Tylers. It's Christmas, let's do this thing. Watched any other time of the year, those elements lose their luster (well, maybe not the last one). They're just buying time while we're forced to wait for the turkey--I mean the Doctor--cooks to perfection.

So this new Doctor? He gets a quick scene during Children in Need (see Additional Materials), and an even quicker one out of the TARDIS, and then it's into a coma he goes. He wakes up too early to wave his magic wand at the pilot fish (starting, I must say, a rather nasty trend with the sonic screwdriver) and can't get a word in edgewise because of Jackie. Everything conspires to keep Tennant mostly under wraps until the oven dings. It's worth the wait, and I don't know how the episode would have read without that wait, even if we have to suffer through Rose giving up, blubbing about the Doctor having left her (dude, get a grip), and shouting at her mother. But that's part of the holidays too, isn't it? You find yourself with your family, and you regress, you become the person you used to be when you were around them, playing the angry teenager, etc. Rose is annoying in those moments, but it's a sly comment on what the holiday season does to us. It's like we've forgotten who we are. Sound familiar? That's the Doctor's thing too (and I suppose the Harriet Jones "Yes we know who you are" gag uses the same motif, as does her arc, finding out what she's capable of as Prime Minister). Rose doesn't know who this new Doctor is, and HE doesn't know who he is, and WE don't know who he is. As the TARDIS translation kicks in, building to a cool entrance, we're ALL about to find out. The brilliant thing is, RTD dramatizes that process of discovery by having the Doctor do a running commentary on it. Basically, Tennant's got less than 20 minutes before the end of the episode, and sells us on his Doctor in less than 2. He's a gabby Doctor, a funny Doctor, one who might do accents or voices (love the mocking of the Sycorax voice) or pop culture references, throwing up a whirling storm of words that stops the villains in their tracks. He's an impulsive Doctor, but that seems to be because he's testing his new limits, seeing how it might feel to do something, not because he's reckless like his previous self was. And unlike that previous self, he's not about fostering the hero in others, but is an action man himself, sword fighting in his pajamas, Earth's champion as the Sycorax sums him up. He's not ginger. But he's also a Doctor with a dark streak. No second chances, he says as the goofball humor evaporates. We'll see this a lot over the next three seasons - the Doctor giving the villain an out and having to be taken down, sometimes mercilessly, when he/she/it/they refuse. This first time though, wow. It's the kind of thing RTD excels at. He introduces a quirky comical detail early on - fruit in Howard's nocturnal pockets - returns to it with the satsuma presented as a Christmas treat, the toe-piece in a Christmas stocking, and then turns it into a weapon to do away with the Sycorax. It's so badass and shocking, you don't even notice the nonsense of his knowing that button would open the floor under the baddie's feet (or indeed the super-regeneration that allows his hand to regrow - but perhaps Time Lords were imbued with a different version of the ability during the Time War).

Perhaps most shocking is his destruction of Harriet Jones' government with "six words". Quite beyond the real life inspiration for this, he amazingly turns on a friend. He judges everyone, and because she called Torchwood (first real mention, yo) and destroyed the departing ship, she's found lacking and thus worthy of his wrath. What he fails to notice is that destroying that ship takes a heavy toll on her, and that he probably pushed her over the edge with his speech about noisy little Earth. Penelope Wilton is amazing in this episode. She plays the mumsy comedy quite well, but it's the hard decisions the former backbencher has to make Wilton gives the most weight to. The deaths of two advisers are painful to her, but having to shoot someone in the back for the good of the planet hurts her equally if not more. History will show this was a bad move on the Doctor's part (although he only really rattled her and started her on the road to failure), since her departure leaves the post open to a certain Mr. Saxon. He just got out of bed and decided to depose what was, y all accounts, a great leader. It's hard not to cheer Harriet Jones, rubbing elbows with UNIT, making tense decisions at the UNIT theme thrums along (it's one of my favorite cues), standing up to the U.S., and all without using her personal touch, asking people their names, showing humility, etc. We were promised a Golden Age, Doctor!

The plot itself is meant to be epic in scope, real spectacle for the Christmas crowd. A third of the world standing on the edge of every country's roofs thanks to space voodoo is a strong image, and the episode breaks all the windows on the monstrous Swiss Re Tower, in summer blockbuster fashion. (While rebuilding another, the Elizabeth Tower than houses Big Ben, damaged in Aliens of London, has rafters all around it. Nice touch.) The TARDIS crashing. The featured aliens are just a shade off Klingons in look, language and attitude, and believe themselves to "rock". So naturally, they stand around singing Bohemian Rhapsody. Snow on Christmas actually turning out to be ash from the destroyed ship, as bittersweet as any ending. In amid these big moments, small personal ones. Jackie believing a good cup of tea can fix anything and being RIGHT. Mickey calling Rose on her being in love with the Doctor, which would mean she fell for EcclesDoc, not Ten. Interesting. Finally seeing a new room in the TARDIS, the oft-mentioned wardrobe, very cool and not hitting us too hard with references to the past (though there is the odd obligatory scarf). There's just so much to this episode, I'm sure I'm forgetting a dozen other things of note.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Children in Need broadcast Tennant's first full scene (also on the DVD), which fits between the end of The Parting of the Ways and The Christmas Invasion, and showcases some of his zaniness as he discovers his new body and it all goes wrong. More important to the narrative is Rose's reaction, suspecting some kind of swap and the Doctor having to convince her he's the real deal. On a technical level, there's a shift in lighting inside the TARDIS, which my nerd brain wants to justify through the telepathic link between Time Lord and machine. A new man, new lighting. The harsh greens of the previous season, and the blown-out soft focus lighting is mostly gone by the end of the scene and through the following episode, which has a more saturated look instead. The series 1 lighting isn't completely gone though, we'll see it crop up again depending on who's the cinematographer, but it's definitely on its way out. So it's probably not the Doctor's mood affecting the lights, but the scene also has the TARDIS shaking with the Doctor's pain, so...

VERSIONS: Two deleted scenes are on the DVD, one where Llewellyn complains about UNIT getting all the funds, and the other where the Doctor tries out new catchphrases, many of which will turn up across the series.

REWATCHABILITY: High - It tries to be everything to everyone sitting around the TV set and mostly succeeds. Tennant is the Doctor right out of the door, no question. I could do with less moaning from Rose, but at least her family calls her out on it.


Anonymous said...

"love the mocking of the Sycorax voice"

Oh god yes -- uncharacteristically juvenile, but the quickest way for the Doctor to show how unimpressed he is.

In a lot of ways, this is my favorite Tennant appearance. Wish I could imitate his "this hand's a FIGHTIN' hand!" line properly, then find reasons to use the line in real life.

The Doctor was wrong about Harriet Jones, and I'm pretty sure RTD knew it -- he gave her exactly the right counterargument. So credit to RTD for that much nuance.

I also get the feeling Rose broke things, timey-wimey-wise, otherwise we wouldn't have gotten a Harry Saxon. ... Yes, that's probably the case, because without Bad Wolf there wouldn't have been an immortal Jack Harkness and the TARDIS wouldn't have fled from him to the end of time.

Siskoid said...

Yes, RTD's Whoniverse is one that has consequences, many stories built on other stories, just like a lot of Series 1 was about the Doctor dealing with the fallout from the Time War.

Pedro Cabezuelo said...

Couple of things I thought of while reading your review:

1) So is the Doctor deliberately altering history by forcing Harriet Jones out of office? In season one he mentioned how it was a golden age etc. Since the Doctor knew this does it qualify as a fixed point in time? Is this an early example of the Time Lord Victorious altering time to suit his needs?

2) The minisode is also noteworthy for mentioning Captain Jack and the Doctor casually mentioning he's "busy rebuilding the Earth." If you skipped the minisode (and many non-UK viewers did) you would assume that the Doctor still believes Jack to be dead (especially since I'm pretty sure he's not even mentioned in the season). The minisode however makes it clear the Doctor knows he's alive but apparently can't be bothered to go back for him (and we'll know why next season).

Never really thought about those until I read this so thanks!

Siskoid said...

Great comments Pedro.

1) I don't think Harriet's reign is a fixed point. In fact, it only seems to come into being because of the Doctor's intervention in AoL/WW3. After they triumph he suddenly knows who she is, as if getting a handy update on the timeline (and this perception of time seems to be supported by dialog in The Parting of the Ways). That he undoes it here changes history, but no more than the first time. In both cases, it's still up to Harriet herself to steer her destiny, accepting a nomination, or getting all flustered by the 6 words and losing it.

2. Yes it's true, the Children in Need special does have that baffling piece of dialog (how does he know?). In Utopia, it's clear the Doctor knew why the TARDIS ran away, so he doesn't believe Jack is dead. TARDIS info download? Bad Wolf thoughts absorbed when he took in the vortex energy?

If he DIDN'T know Jack survived, then the dialog can be taken as white lie not to distress Rose.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

The ending really kills me. It's the start of 10's arrogant, I'm-a-god routine, in which he decides an entire nation's golden age is less important than his fit of pique.

I like your analysis of the Harriet Jones ending; the toll taken, the judgement and pushing her over the edge, etc. And I heartily agree with the toll it will cost him, though I'd take it one step further. (Well... perhaps more than one...)

I'm prepared to argue Harriet justified- if not in the right, as I think a less lethal measure would've been preferable if it was available*- to begin with (the Sycorax JUST finished demonstrating that they were treacherous beings who would act as if they were defeated, then attack when your back was turned, and as they're so fond of pointing out in this era 'the Doctor isn't always around')... but even leaving that one decision aside, the Doctor was VERY happy for her to lethally take out aliens as an elected representative of the people who had the right to make those choices in World War Three, where it absolved him of moral responsibility... but here, suddenly, he decides she doesn't have the right, while HE has the right to completely steal the future Britain would've had over disagreement with that one judgement call ('the Doctor giveth, the Doctor taketh away?'). Hypocritical. (But then, the 10th Doctor specialized in hypocricy... especially when relating to soldiers and lethal force).

Worse, I do believe he set himself up for every heartache that he ever had. Now, the foundation of that thesis is admittedly subjective; personally, based on what we've seen of her, I think Harriet Jones would have kept control of Torchwood and kept the rift/ghosts thing from running amuck. (Which, obviously, cost the Doctor Rose, and through Caan's escape and the events of Journey's End, an entire regeneration and Donna Noble). In addition, the power vacuum allowed the master to accomplish everything that he did (including taking over Britian AND engineering his own resurrection), meaning that it also cost him Martha (who left to take care of a family abused by those events), and eventually, his own life (which wouldn't have happened without a resurrected Master).

Interestingly- this is one of the rare blogs I've seen that actually seems to recognize this was a bad choice. One of my biggest annoyances with modern fandom (Who and Star Wars especially) is the mentality of its majority that seems to be "X is our hero. X did Y. Therefore Y is good and right and laudable." I'm so used to ranting and railing against that... it's rather nice to see the recognition that RTD might just have been writing his character's making the WRONG choice (intentionally or unintentionally), rather than believing that everything the doctor does or says be right because the Doctor did or said it. :-)

That said... I liked the tree (silly as it was) and the Doctor's wake-up there, and the song (like the next few specials' original songs, with Stowaway being both my favorite, and the only good thing to come out of VOTD) was great and very nostalgic/evocative.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

*The Doctor- the guy with a space/time machine and sonic screwdriver that can do anything and knowledge of the whole universe is always going around saying "be better than guns. Do better than killing in self-defense" and the like, which is kind of hypocritical; of course, with all these tools at his disposal and extra lives if he gets it wrong, it's easy for him to say that. If he gave mankind a phaser pistol with stun setting only, I'm sure they'd use it- but often guns and missiles and lethal defensive/offensive measures are all they have; it's asking them to risk a heck of a lot more than he does- sometimes entire civilian populations- to withhold using them, which would often mean 'merely doing nothing' rather than 'deploy nonlethal alternative that advanced technology or galactic knowledge affords' like the Doctor does.


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