Steven Moffat delivers his first festive special after he inherited and successfully revamped Doctor Who this year, give or take some rocky patches. "A Christmas Carol" was an obvious riff on Charles Dickens' seasonal ghost story, with uncompassionate Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon) the equivalent of miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, and encapsulated the pro's and con's of Moffat's vernal tenure...
There's no denying the imagination on display throughout this special: a steampunk Victorian city, an enormous airborne shark gliding through a peasouper, terminally ill citizens frozen inside vertical containers. Moffat's creativity with visuals and ideas is his indubitable strength, and he has the skill to marry them with a story that feels logical enough to pass casual muster. The production designers also have the budget and expertise to craft a TV spectacle that (chintzy CGI composites aside) are surprisingly immersive for what's a transient treat for casual audiences. The care and attention is much appreciated and really helped keep "A Christmas Carol" engaging, while giving it that much-needed sense of specialness.
Did we really fear for Amy and Rory's life? Of course not, they were there to be distressed and rescued (in drama that was handled off-screen most of the time.) Did we care about Kazran and desperately wish to see him mend his ways, as many generations have done with stingy Scrooge? Curiously enough, no. He was just a pigheaded pain whose past The Doctor had to temporally manipulate, in a rather unethical manner that geekier fans will gnash their teeth over. (What next, The Doctor takes Hitler on some fun childhood escapades to prevent WWII?) Or how about Abigail (Katherine Jenkins), the blonde inamorata of two younger versions of Kazran (Laurence Belcher, Danny Horn), who's woken from sub-zero stasis every Christmas Eve by The Doctor to melt the middle-aged Kazran's heart with pensive looks and trilling song? Unfortunately, as touching as soprano Jenkins was in her debut acting role, Abigail never amounted to much beyond a beatific plot-device. In fact, The Doctor was denied a decent provisional companion for this yuletide yarn, with Amy and Rory taking a backseat, making him look quite interfering and manipulative throughout.
Overall, this was an entertaining and imaginative special that didn't outstay its welcome, but it felt like Charles Dickens simple story was needlessly complicated and smothered by additional ideas and a rather rambling mid-section. For me, "A Christmas Carol" didn't really come together to create a knockout emotional punch; the ingredients were there, the execution was excellent, but the magic just didn't appear.
- Knowing the media furor that Karen Gillan's miniskirt caused earlier this year, I found it especially cheeky that Moffat decided to give it another appearance. The inference that Amy and Rory have a fetish for dressing up (as a police woman and Roman soldier, respectively) was also an amusing sub-textual joke for the adults watching.
- I'm sure everyone noticed the JJ Abrams-style lens flares aboard the Star Trek-style spaceship. It was even designated a "Galaxy class" ship, a la The Next Generation's USS Enterprise.
- Why did The Doctor make no attempt to save Abigail's life? Was there nothing he could do for her condition?
- "IT'S A CHRISTMAS CAROL!" yelled The Doctor to Amy, just in case you were in any doubt where Moffat was getting his influence from.
WRITER: Steven Moffat
DIRECTOR: Toby Haynes
TRANSMISSION: 25 December 2010, BBC1/HD, 6PM