Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Doctor Who Christmas Carol

Right off the bat, I can tell you that this year's Christmas episode of nu-Who was certainly my favorite one.

It's also a perfect example of the wonder that is Steven Moffat. This episode, "A Christmas Carol," was indicative of all the things that make him not only a great Who writer, but the perfect showrunner for the series. To wit: he's able to pack an episode with great details and bits that could be the centerpiece of someone else's episode; he's comfortable with using time travel--time itself, really--as a plot element instead of a framing device or a backdrop, telling a story that takes place in several time periods or at several different points in someone's lifetime in a surprisingly linear fashion; and he's not afraid to go for the fairytale. So while he's creating a science-driven story, he's also creating magic.

It's almost surprising that the show hasn't already just gone for A Christmas Carol. We've had a number of Christmas stories so far, but most of them have taken place at Christmas instead of incorporating the idea of Christmas. I love that the Doctor immediately went to Dickens as the solution for thawing out this harsh old man (played splendidly by Michael Gambon, as if Michael Gambon could play a role any other way), all while 4000 lives hang in the balance.

One of my favorite plot elements, in fact, was the imminent destruction of the passengers and crew of a spaceship carrying Amy and Rory. It gave the plot its initial urgency--in a way, the scenes with present-day Gambon (as Kazran Sardick) were essentially in real time--but Moffat didn't keep running back to it to put a sort of timer on the action. We could feel the urgency without having to rushing through this very special story.

The best element, for me, was the way the love story developed. You have the Doctor flitting backwards and forwards through time, and you have Kazran's memories writing over themselves because of the Doctor's annual visits, and then you have lovely Abigail, appearing once a year on Christmas Eve, though only moments have passed by for her. Moffat is some kind of mad genius for pulling this off; a love story, developing over the years, but at three different temporal points of view. It's audacious and it's amazing.

And the twist on the Ghost of Christmas Future was just lovely.

What a joy this new era of Doctor Who is. The stories are wondrous, scary, funny, and moving, often all at once in the same episode. Praise for this not only goes to Moffat and his writers, but to Matt Smith, who plays his Doctor to the hilt as something of that mad uncle who was always the most fun, even if it was in a slightly dangerous way.

Wonderful. Just wonderful.


Jaquandor said...

OK, so where's a good "jumping-on" point for Dr. Who? I haven't seen any Who since...jeez, the 80s when Peter Davison was the Doctor. So I know virtually nothing of his fifty-plus year mythology, except for bits and pieces...TARDIS...Gallifrey...Daleks...and that's about it. Where does one start?

SamuraiFrog said...

Good question.

One of the nice things about Doctor Who is that it's not SO continuity-heavy that it's impossible to catch up. You can sort of pick and choose your way through it. I came into it in 1996 when Fox aired the Americanized movie that was supposedly/possibly a pilot for an American TV version. My roommate at the time was a Who fan, and he started showing me some of his Tom Baker tapes, and I was hooked.

With the new series, it does start piling on the continuity, but in a mostly rewarding way. I have the DVDs of the first three series (I really need to catch up), and I enjoy watching it from the beginning. Really, you could almost just start at the beginning of the Matt Smith series and go from there.

But with all of the series, from the last 40+ years, the best thing is that you really can just sort of pick and choose and jump around. I'm not even close to seeing half of what's out there. It's just so much darn fun.

The Frog Queen said...

Could not agrre more. Absolutely loved that show. As perfect as it gets.


Lee said...

Tracey wasn't watching the 2005+ series at all and accidentally showed the slightest interest in Matt Smith so I rushed a season 5 marathon down her throat just in time to finish on the Christmas special.

Watching the season again only made me appreciate the great things Smith is doing even more and the Christmas special was great - you mentioned it but I've got to make note of the sheer bloody perfectness of the ghost of future...