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DVD Review

DVD cover

Doctor Who
A Christmas Carol - 2010 Christmas Special


Starring: Matt Smith
RRP: £13.27
Certificate: PG
Available 24 January 2011

Amy and Rory are trapped on board a stricken space liner that’s plummeting through banks of thick icy fog to the surface of the planet below. Only one man has the power to save them: a man who possesses a machine that can clear the fog and allow them to land safely. That man is Kazran Sardick, a rich but lonely old miser who rules Sardicktown with a sky-mast of iron. The Doctor’s only chance of rescuing the ship’s four thousand passengers is to save Kazran’s soul and show him that life is worth living. But is Kazran beyond redemption? And what is lurking in the fogs of Christmas Eve...?

A Christmas Carol has to be the most Christmassy Doctor Who Christmas special to date (on television at any rate - the Eighth Doctor audio adventure Relative Dimensions is also a strong contender). Whereas previous specials starring David Tennant had been more like regular episodes with just a few festive trimmings, such as snow, killer Christmas trees and robot Santas, this one is a Christmas story in its heart and soul, despite taking place on another planet. Even Father Christmas - or, as the Doctor (Matt Smith) knows him, Jeff - is revealed to be real (lending some validity to the dotty TV Comic First Doctor comic strip A Christmas Story)!

As its title suggests, this is a variation on Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, with Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon) standing in for Ebenezer Scrooge and the Doctor as the Ghost of Christmas Past. As writer Steven Moffat explains in Doctor Who Confidential (also included on this disc), the Doctor has met Dickens (in the episode The Unquiet Dead), so he can’t actually encounter Scrooge, but he sees similarities in Sardick and is cleverly inspired as to how to deal with him.

Gambon gives a wonderful, multi-faceted performance as the elderly Kazran. Even at the start of the episode, before he has begun his transformation, he isn’t simply a villain. Gambon reveals the pain beneath the man’s callous exterior - see the tears in his eyes as he spits out the words, “I despise Christmas!” He’s also funny, with lovely little lines such as, “Was that a sort of threaty thing?”, and delightfully sardonic as he pours scorn on the seasonal festivities: “On every world, wherever people are, in the deepest part of the winter, at the exact mid-point, everybody stops and turns, and hugs, as if to say, ‘Well done! Well done, everyone! We’re halfway out of the dark.’ ... You know what I call it? I call it expecting something for nothing!”

Other gags in this largely light-hearted episode include homages to Star Trek (complete with little blinking lights beneath the ship’s screen and the presence of a Geordi La Forge look-alike), a dig at the Fourth Doctor’s claim about isomorphic TARDIS controls in Pyramids of Mars, and practically everything that Matt Smith does and says: “Come on, we’re boys! And you know what boys say in the face of danger. ... Mummy!”

Karen Gillan as Amy Pond and Arthur Darvill as Rory Williams hardly get a look-in, which is particularly ironic in the latter’s case, as this episode marks the first time that he’s had his name in the opening titles. The pair get a few good moments, particularly the embarrassment caused by what they were wearing in the honeymoon suite, but for the most part this episode belongs to Smith, Gambon, and Katherine Jenkins as Abigail - whose singing voice proves pivotal to the plot, and tremendously moving to boot.

As with his previous episode, The Big Bang, Moffat gleefully flouts the normal rules of time travel in Doctor Who, showing the Doctor overtly interfering with Kazran’s past, even cheekily popping forward for a moment to obtain a password. Last time his excuse for such antics was the collapse of the universe and the breakdown of its physical laws. This time... well, it’s Christmas! Watching the episode again, though, it’s easy to imagine Sardick’s opening scene playing out in a similar manner post-interference, with Kazran unwilling to release Abigail for an entirely different reason.

The episode is rounded off by the exciting “coming soon” series trailer that ran at the end of the broadcast episode. The fact that the trailer is present here bodes well for the future inclusion of “next time” trailers on Eleventh Doctor DVDs (the absence of them from all the Series 5 releases has been a major bugbear).

The disc also contains the Christmas 2010 Doctor Who Confidential - the full one-hour version, not a cut-down edition. This reveals, among other things, how the production team made the shark-drawn carriage fly, and that Michael Gambon’s besotted gazes at Katherine Jenkins required no acting whatsoever! Also included is the 2010 Doctor Who at the Proms, hosted by Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill. Though sadly this is the one-hour version (focusing on the Who music and omitting the classical) rather than the longer 90-minute cut shown on BBC Three, there’s plenty to enjoy here, including a personal appearance by Matt Smith (which cunningly kicks off looking like it’s going to be an on-screen cameo only), a moving regeneration montage set to the themes “This is Gallifrey” and “Vale Decem”, and the wonderful expressions on the faces of the children (and some of the adults) in the audience.

All right, so Christmas may be past, but this disc still makes an excellent present.


Richard McGinlay

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