May the heavens rain odours upon them, BBC America is capping off my year very nicely thank you by making the Doctor Who Christmas specials available On Demand. Better – the 2010 Christmas Special was available, did I but know it, on Christmas, rather than months from now.
New Doctor, #11, 2010 special: “A Christmas Carol”. I loved it. I need to see it again before I say much – much beyond why in the name of heaven has everyone on this planet not heard of Katherine Jenkins?? I laughed, I cried, I was surprised – I loved it. I’ll come back to it.
#10, 2005 special: “Christmas Invasion”. Ohhhh. I know I’ve said it (ad nauseam), but it’s my blog and I’m sick, so I’ll say it again so there: I was inconsolable when the Ninth Doctor went. It wasn’t just because poof there went another regeneration, but because Christopher Eccleston had done amazing things with the role when I was expecting another Paul McGann-style debacle. (Which may not be fair; I like McGann in other things – like Luther – so maybe with a little time and space, so to speak, between me and my original outrage I might … nah.) At the time I finally had the chance to watch the first season of New Who I was certain that it was better just to let the sleeping series lie rather than stir it up – raise hopes – and crash and burn. I didn’t know Russell T. Davies, or Christopher Eccleston, or Billie Piper, and I did not have high expectations. But Eccleston won me, heart and mind, and when he went … I was back to square one. As witness my fussing with the advent of #11, change is difficult.
I suppose I should have known better, but – well, look at Peter Jackson. He created something lovely in Fellowship of the Ring, and then … oh well. So there I sat ready to watch “Christmas Invasion”, with my arms folded, waiting for them to take something I loved and screw it up.
And they didn’t.
It was wonderful. Full of wonders, and – fantastic.
Watching it again, for the first time in a long while – only the second time? – was a joy. Enough time (and space) (and Eleven) has gone by that I could look at Ten, at Tennant, on the screen and say “Oh, I do miss you”, and not feel quite the depth of sadness. I like Eleven a great deal – but second only to #5, this was my Doctor.
It was beautifully done in that it gave the fan – me, that is – the chance to get used to the idea. The new Doctor was offscreen for most of the first, what, two thirds of the episode, and the screen time he did have was calculated to rouse sympathy and concern. And he was impressive, and he was funny:
The Doctor: My head! (groans) I’m having a neuron implosion… I need…
Jackie: What do you need?
The Doctor: I need…
Jackie: Just say it!
The Doctor: I need…
Jackie: Tell me, tell me, tell me!
The Doctor: I need…
The Doctor: I need…
Jackie: D’you need aspirin?
The Doctor: I need…
Jackie: Codeine? Paracetamol? Oh, I dunno, Pepto-Bismol?
The Doctor: I need…
Jackie: Liquid paraffin? Vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E?
The Doctor: I need…
Jackie: Is it food? Something simple? Bowl of soup? Nice bowl of soup? Soup and a sandwich? Bowl of soup and a nice ham sandwich?
The Doctor: I *need* you to *shut up*!
Jackie: Oooh, he hasn’t changed that much, has he?
And all the while Jackie and Mickey and especially Rose are trying to wrap their heads around the fact that this skinny bloke is the Doctor. Just as I was. Sitting alone watching it, it was nice not to be alone feeling that. And God bless Jackie, her mothering instincts were brought out full force. She may have hated him in the past, but by God if he was that important to her daughter she was going to look after him. (I adore her line after all the excitement, during the group hug at the end: “Are you better?” It’s very dear.)
Then, when the Tenth Doctor makes his real entrance late in the show, he sets the tone for the rest of his reign. That whole first scene – because the scene starting with “Did you miss me?” (YES) feels like his first scene – is a marvelous encapsulation of him.
See, that’s the thing – I’m the Doctor, but beyond that I just don’t know. I literally do not know who I am. It’s all untested. Am I funny? Am I sarcastic? Sexy? (gives a wink and a click of the tongue at Rose, who grins) Right old misery? Life and soul? Right-handed? Left-handed? A gambler, a fighter, a coward, a traitor, a liar, a nervous wreck – I mean, judging by the evidence, I’ve certainly got a gob!
Funny? Oh, yes. Sarcastic? “Oh, yeah, that helps! I wouldn’t’a thought o’that otherwise, thanks!” Yes. Sexy? Yeah. Right old misery? Not yet. Life and soul? Yeah. Right- or left-handed … huh. I don’t know. A gambler – sometimes; a fighter – always; a coward – never; a traitor – never; a liar – when need be; a nervous wreck – now and then … He is the Oncoming Storm, and that applies to words as well as mayhem against Daleks. And then there’s the Lion King.
But what this episode does best, among a lot of greatness, is to underscore what Rose says – “Thing is … I thought I knew him, Mum. I thought me and him were… And then there’s this. I keep forgettin’ he’s not human.” It is easy to forget. He’s fun and funny, and the second heart isn’t visible, and neither are the 900+ years. There’s the small fact of the time machine, but for the most part he seems more human than, say, Sherlock Holmes does. And then a situation arises in which the surface of his humanity is scratched. As it does here – twice.
He goes into the challenge against the Sycorax leader joyously: this is what he does. He fights the warrior around the chamber and out for “some fresh air” onto the hull of the ship, and loses his hand (and I love that it comes back into the story), and regrows it, and beats the Sycorax. “There we are then. Thanks for that. Cheers, big fella.” This was possibly the best scene in an excellent show: he walks away, Rose joining him, and launches into a natter:
Not bad for a man in his jim jams. Very Arthur Dent. Now, there was a nice man. Hold on, what have I got in here? A satsuma! Ah, that friend of your mother’s, he does like his snacks, doesn’t he. But doesn’t that just sum up Christmas? You go through all those presents, and at the end, tucked away at the bottom, there’s always one stupid old satsuma. Who wants a satsuma?
We can see behind him as he comes to this point that the Sycorax isn’t going to abide by the sanctified rules of combat. And the Doctor knows it. The smile vanishes from his face, all of the silliness is erased, and he pitches the satsuma and (rather conveniently, but who’s counting) collapses the section of hull under the warrior’s feet, letting him plummet. And in that moment he’s a little scary – more than a little – grim, and hard, a direct 180 degree turn from just a second ago. “No second chances. I’m that sort of a man.”
That resolve is tested very shortly. He sends the Sycorax off with a classic Doctor-as-Earth’s-champion (“Thank you. I have no idea who I am, but you’ve just summed me up.”) speech: “When you go back to the stars, and tell others of this planet – when you tell them of its riches, its people, its potential – When you talk of the Earth, then make sure that you tell them this: ‘It. Is. Defended.'” He and the others are returned to London, and all is rejoicing. Until the Prime Minister’s assistant gets a call from … Torchwood. And the decision is not an easy one, but Harriet Jones makes it: “Tell them to fire.” And Torchwood does. And the ship is obliterated. And the Doctor rounds on her.
And there comes the second illustration of the Doctor’s Otherness. Because although they were friends, although they saved the world together, and although she adores him – “My Doctor!” – although she is a very good Prime Minister (“I’m 18 quid a week better off. They’re calling it Britain’s Golden Age”) … despite all of that, despite the reasons she gives him, which are actually very good reasons … That look returns to his face, that cold, hard, inhumanity, and he takes her down. In his plush borrowed blue robe he begins the rot which will take down the British Prime Minister. And which will open the door for Harold Saxon.
Doctor: I should have stopped you.
Harriet: What does that make you, Doctor? Another alien threat?
Doctor: Don’t challenge me, Harriet Jones, because I’m a completely new man. I can bring down your government with a single word.
Harriet: You’re the most remarkable man I’ve ever met. But I don’t think you’re quite capable of that.
Doctor: No, you’re right. Not a single word… Just six.
Harriet: I don’t think so.
Doctor: Six words.
Harriet: Stop it.
Doctor: Six. (walks past her to Alex, takes earpiece off him and hands it to him, and says quietly) Don’t you think she looks tired?
And it works. He’s enlightened her to the fact that there are hundreds of species out there which may or may not have tidings of goodwill for the Earth. And we’ve been SETIing like mad, trying to get others’ attention. By golly, it’s working. And she was right – the Doctor isn’t always there, isn’t always reachable; apparently the Doctor’s telephone number isn’t given out to all Prime Ministers. He has other battles to fight, and would not want to be at the Earth’s beck and call even if he could be. But he did make a bargain with the Sycorax, and they seemed to be abiding by it; whether they would have continued to do so is an open – and moot – question. It was defense – and it was murder. And it allowed for no second chance.
It’s a painful moment. It’s difficult to feel hard against a woman who feels about the Doctor much as I do.
But the episode is lifted back up to where it ought to be, for a Christmas episode and for a Doctor’s first outing. With just one little hiccup – “This isn’t snow, it’s ash” – it looks forward in a way reminiscent of a Star Trek movie or two:
Mickey: You’re never gonna stay, are you?
Rose: There’s just so much out there – so much to see. I’ve got to.
Jackie: Well, I reckon you’re mad, the pair of you. It’s like you go looking for trouble.
Doctor: Trouble’s just the bits in between! It’s all waiting out there, Jackie. And it’s all brand new to me. All those planets and creatures and horizons – I haven’t seen them yet, not with these eyes! And it is gonna be … (looks over at Rose, and grins) fantastic.
(She smiles back. He holds out his hand – the right one)
Rose: That hand of yours still gives me the creeps. (His smile widens and he waggles his re-regenerated fingers. She puts her hand in his) So – where’re we gonna go first?
Doctor (studying the “snowy” sky): Ummm – that way. (points) No, hold on – (redirects his point by a couple of degrees) that way.
Rose: That way?
Doctor (looking at her): Nhm.
Rose: Yeah. That way.
It’s not a very Christmas-y Christmas episode, despite the robotic Santas (which, while being explained as “pilot fish”, were never explained, really) and the killer tree (ditto), and the crackers and turkey and paper hats at the end. It is, like RTD himself, rather nonsecular, which in a way is as it should be; it isn’t as though the Doctor even ought to be intimated to be Christian. But comparing it to this year’s is like night and day.
Still and all, it was a gift, this episode. It was a new Doctor, even, amazingly, better than the last – young and bold and funny and exciting. A new Doctor – but everything else just, comfortingly, the same. There were the mentions of Torchwood – not that they were pleasant mentions. There was the first appearance of the “brainy specs”, which geeked me deeply. One of the nicest things they did for the Whovian, though, was the glimpse into the TARDIS wardrobe. There’s the delight of watching as he rejects a leopard-furred coat, and a Sergeant Pepper coat, and then happily picks out the brown suit and long coat. And as he examines the results of his sartorial and regenerative transformation, there are holiday ties draped over the corner of the mirror and a feather boa draped over the neck of a suit of armor. But best of all is this gift:
Now that’s a Christmas present.
And a New Year’s present.
Who – er, New Year!