"No second chances. I'm that sort of a man."
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.