Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol

I am a complete fan and addict of the "New" Doctor Who, and this Christmas just confirmed it. Not that I'm entirely a recent convert to the Doctor.  No, I had my first Doctor back when he was Tom Baker.

Such wonderful insanity he brought to the role.  I even have cloudy memories of trying to decide how I felt about Romana vs. Sarah Jane as companion.  But the broadcast schedule back then was different.  Each story was broadcast as a (roughly) half-hour show, with four or five episodes to complete the story, and it wasn't always possible for me to catch all of the individual episodes, much less follow an entire season's worth of episodes.  Things got in the way.

It's hard to remember that back in those long ago days, we didn't have many choices to watch anything: no VCRs, no Tivo, no streaming, no Hulu, no On-Demand, no Netflix.  You watched what was broadcast when it was broadcast, or you missed it.  It was deprivation, I tell you!  Worse than walking to school through snow up to my neck, uphill both ways!  Kids today have no idea how we suffered back then!

Disruptive kids have no idea how easy they have it these days!  

I watched more than a few episodes back when PBS ran Tom Baker's episodes, but I never actually reached critical fan-girl mass. So while things like college and life got in the way of my Doctor Who fan-initiation back then, I don't have to suffer any longer, due to the glory of Netflix streaming.

As a result, I was able to gorge on a veritable feast of New Who goodness, starting with Christopher Eccleston's turn in the re-boot and gobbling away at episodes through Tennant's tenure in a matter of mere months.  And boy, was it good!

Which one is "your" Doctor--Nine or Ten?

But then. . . then. . .then came Eleven.

I love this Doctor.  Love him to pieces.  He's so damn alien!  It's like Russell Davies wrote sci-fi and then had wonderful actors find the humanity in the madness.  Now, Steven Moffat writes stories that probe the humanity of fairy tales, and has Matt Smith to make them odd again.

But he's so much fun!  He's so light-hearted in a way Nine really wasn't, and Ten could only be occasionally.  Admit it--Eleven danced at Amy's wedding exactly the way Nine could never have done.  Actually, I think Eleven may have wormed his way into my heart by the fish-fingers-and-custard debacle, after he tossed away a plate of buttered toast and ordered it "And stay out!"

Which brings us to "A Christmas Carol."

Wouldn't you think Doctor Who had already done "A Christmas Carol?"  Hasn't everybody?  I admit, I set my expectations rather low, because we've seen everybody and their aunt do Dickens at Christmas.  Plus, I had been gorging on entire seasons of Doctor Who.  Now I had to revise my consumption habits--if one episode was weak, I wouldn't immediately have another one to watch.

Turns out, the Doctor was in very good hands.  The episode started out (literally) at warp speed.  A troubled space ship was bouncing around, the bridge staff hollering orders and emergency protocols, the whole thing a satiric riff on "Star Trek:" the lay-out of the bridge!  The snappy quasi-military ambiance!  The gratuitous lens flares!  And then the African-American navigator with the eye-hardware shouting "I'm flying blind!"
Geordi LaForge--the original

The doors open, and Amy strides onto the bridge in her policewoman kiss-o-gram outfit, joined shortly thereafter by Rory in his gladiator wear.  Oh, right--you're the people from the honeymoon suite. . . .
Things slow down as we drop to the Planet of Steam Punk!  Michael Gambon is the resident Scrooge, who actually gets some pleasure out of denying other people's requests.  No!  I won't let your relative out of cold storage for Christmas!  No, I won't clear a landing path for the spaceship!  No, I won't talk to the president just because he called me!

And then the Doctor arrived.  And we got one of my favorite versions of the Doctor--puckish, talking a million miles a minute, gawky, awkward, and yet so bloody brilliant that you know he's going to save the day somehow or other.  His entrance was literally down the chimney, which he then lampshades by saying "Christmas. . .all the chimneys. . .I couldn't resist."

Is there any point in summarizing the plot?  Michael Gambon  is Scrooge, called in this version Kazran Sardick.  He lends money to poor people and takes a family member as collateral, putting them in suspended animation, which also serves to lessen the population of undesirables: a solution Scrooge would have approved.  He also controls the clouds on the planet, which serves to keep sky fish out of people's hair.  Literally.  But the Doctor needs Kazran to clear the clouds so the Star Trek clone ship can land safely, saving all 4003 people on board.  Including Amy and Rory and their cos play outfits.  Kazran won't do it, because there is nothing in it for him.  In a nifty bit of reasoning (reminiscent of Moffat's other recent triumph, Sherlock) the Doctor concludes that Kazran's better instincts can still be reached.
This being Doctor Who (or more accurately, Steven Moffat's Doctor Who), he does it by going to Kazran's past and re-writing his memories.  And we are treated to the delightful paradox of watching Michael Gambon watching a home movie of himself as a child as that past changes by the doctor's arrival.


His memories are being re-written as the past is re-written as we watch!  "Who ARE you?" Kazran demands, and the Doctor answers coolly, "Tonight, I am the ghost of Christmas Past."


All this, and we're about, what, ten minutes in?

There's more--there's much much more.  There is a Tiny Tim-esque urchin who throws a rock at Scrooge, there is a beautiful woman who is unfrozen for a series of Christmas Eves with the Doctor and the younger Kazran, there is a mad carriage ride through the sky pulled by a cloud shark, there is half a sonic screwdriver, there is enough plot to fuel five or six episodes of any other television show all crammed into a stuffed Christmas goose of this special episode.

But most of all, there is the Doctor as I love to see him--all ADHD and random and delightful and utterly rubbish at being human.  Several of my favorite moments below, bulleted for easy digestion:
  • "Santa Claus.  Father Christmas.  Or as I know him--Jeff.  See--here we are at Frank Sinatra's lodge.  Christmas 1952.  See Albert Einstein in the back with the blonde?"
  • Fezzes!  (Fezzes are cool.)
  • The bow tie discussion!  "Why do you wear that tie?"  "Bow ties are cool."  "What makes them cool?" 
  • The young Kazran is a delightful skeptic.  "Are you sure you are my babysitter?"  Who wouldn't wonder when your new "babysitter" is actually jumping on your bed?  With his shoes on!  Not proper babysitter behavior.  And a shout-out to Mary Poppins.
  • The failure of the infallible psychic paper!  "I am universally acknowledged as a mature and responsible adult."  Kazran: "It's just a bunch of wavy lines."  Doctor: "Hmm.  Shorted out--finally a too-big lie."
  • Jaws!  Just the fin showing above the condensed fog in the storage room.
  • The Doctor failing prestidigitation--he makes a card appear inside the cracker and it still isn't the right card.  "Are you sure that's not your card?  I am very good at card tricks."
  • The Doctor accidentally getting engaged to Marilyn Monroe.  Of course he did.  She had extremely good taste in men.
  • Poor Kazran, having to look to the Doctor for advice about women.  "My advice is to try to be rubbishy and nervous."  "Why?"  "Because you're going to be anyway, so if you pretend you mean to be it gives you some illusion of control."  That and "Either you go kiss the girl or you go to your room and invent a new kind of screw-driver.  Don't make my mistakes."   
Sure, there were things that didn't work, things I could nitpick about. *cough* Blinovitch Limitation Effect *cough*  But that's like complaining that you don't like almonds in your stuffing, and ignoring the absolute groaning sideboard of a Christmas feast. This episode was the television equivalent of that feast: I was literally laughing out loud and bouncing in my seat with joy.

In fact, I think I'd better to watch it again.  Because, unlike in the bad old days, I CANAnd then I order the DVD/Blue Ray and watch it again and again. . . .

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