This year’s Doctor Who Christmas Special carried with it all the excitement that the rest of series 5 enjoyed. With audiences now having seen Steven Moffat’s vision of the show, and Matt Smith’s Doctor, the question became, just what would a Christmas Special made by this new team be like?
And it was, unsurprisingly, rather excellent. But also very different to what has come before. With previous Christmas Specials all being set, at least to some degree, on Earth, this was the first one set exclusively on an alien planet, and yet in many ways it was the most human, focusing on the character of Kazran Sardick, the “Scrooge” of the piece, and magnificently played by Michael Gambon.
With Amy and Rory’s honeymoon disrupted when the spaceship they’re on starts crashing towards an unknown planet, the ship gets caught up in the planet’s unusual atmosphere, which is controlled by Sardick, and so the Doctor must convince him to mend his ways and help the trapped passengers.
And how the Doctor goes about this is typically Steven Moffat, with the Doctor travelling back into Kazran’s past to change the events that led to him becoming the bitter old man he is. Time travel plays a key role in this story, with the Doctor whizzing back and forward in time between young and old versions of Kazran, altering his life. This culminates in them freeing Abigail Pettigrew (in a fine acting debut by Katherine Jenkins), who is kept frozen by the Sardicks as collateral on a loan, along with countless others, who then joins Kazran and the Doctor on their many Christmas Eve adventures.
Throughout all this, the whole concept is fantastically sold by Michael Gambon. We often return to him while all this is going on, and so its up to Gambon to play a man who’s life is altering by the minute (as the Doctor’s changes catch up to the present day). Its a great performance, with a wonderful twist when all the Doctor’s meddling backfires and ends with Kazran roughly the same as when he started.
The design of the world was also a fantastic part of the episode. To capture the Dickensian feel of the story, we’re presented with a wonderful, Steampunk alien world, blending that Victorian feel with technology. And the idea of the fish swimming through the air was simple, but created some brilliant weird and alien visuals.
Possibly the only shame of this story was that its the first Christmas Special that’s not seen a change in the TARDIS crew, and yet Amy and Rory are barely in it. However the story of the Doctor and Kazran is so compellingly played by Gambon and Matt Smith that its understandable, and I found myself so immersed in that story that I didn’t really miss them.
And of course the script isn’t just clever (the reveal of the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come is a powerful moment), but also has those great quotable lines that Moffat is so good at writing and Matt is brilliant at delivering. From the Doctor’s first arrival down the chimney, to the psychic paper finally shorting out or to the Doctor marrying Marilyn Munroe there’s a lot of great lines and laughs.
The only real worry I had about the episode, also relates to how much I loved it. But I’m an adult fan, and thinking about the episode afterwards, I could see how its story of one man finding the joy and love in life could maybe lose some of its younger viewers. I hope that’s not the case though.
With its Dickensian tone, steampunk setting and Katherine Jenkins’ frozen beauty, this Christmas Special really embodied the fairy-tale aspect that Steven Moffat brought to the show last year. Much like the success they enjoyed with his series opener and finale, the new team have now also proven that they can bring something special to the Christmas episode.