Rory and Amy’s honeymoon takes an unexpected turn – a downward turn into the stormy atmosphere of an alien planet, as it happens. With the starship they’re aboard just minutes away from a crash landing, Amy sends a distress signal to the Doctor. The TARDIS lands in the city below, where the Doctor tries to negotiate with the powerful Kazran Sardick, who has the ability to control the weather. Sardick cares nothing for the fate of anyone aboard the crashing ship, and doesn’t have much regard for anyone else either. The Doctor decides to intervene, not technologically but psychologically, going into the past to change Sardick’s own history beginning with his childhood. But even a youth and an adolescence spent having adventures aboard the TARDIS with the Doctor may not be enough to soften Kazran Sardick’s heart.
written by Steven Moffat
directed by Toby Haynes
music by Murray Gold
Guest Cast: Arthur Darvill (Rory), Michael Gambon (Kazran Sardick / Elliot Sardick), Katherine Jenkins (Abigail), Laurence Melcher (young Kazran), Danny Horn (adult Kazran), Leo Bill (Pilot), Pooky Quesnel (Captain), Micah Balfour (Co-Pilot), Steve North (old Benjamin), Bailey Pepper (Boy / Benjamin), Tim Plester (Servant), Nick Malinowski (Eric), Laura Rogers (Isabella), Meg Wynn-Owen (old Isabella)
Notes: Arthur Darvill’s name appears in the opening credits for the first time here. The Doctor mentions making up for Amy and Rory’s curtailed honeymoon by sending them to an actual moon made of honey; this is where he says the newlyweds are in the Sarah Jane Adventures two-parter The Death Of The Doctor, so that story takes place after A Christmas Carol.
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: The first Doctor Who Christmas special under the Steven Moffat regime is a curious beast, deriving heavily from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” (even to the point of borrowing its title unapologetically). That Dickens doesn’t get a co-writing credit is almost a shame – surely it’d be quite a publicity coup for Doctor Who to boast a writer of Dickens’ caliber. Given time, that Doctor Who connection might buy him a cult following as large as Douglas Adams’ fan base!
The episode has a unique look and feel, both among the other Who Christmas episodes and other episodes in general – the flying fish are a neat idea, and the foggy atmosphere and the alien planet whose seemingly human inhabitants exist in an approximation of a bygone Earth era are right out of the classic series. There are also a couple of casting coups to boot, with Michael Gambon and Katherine Jenkins raising the bar considerably. The Dickens-inspired darker tone is unusual for a Christmas episode: still more Christmassy than The End Of Time Part 1, but still surprisingly dark.
But it’s the attempt to slavishly follow the Dickensian formula that causes some of A Christmas Carol‘s biggest problems. The ghosts of Christmas past, present and future in Dickens’ opus are somewhat omniscient beings, while the Doctor is basically attempting a last-ditch rewrite of history in order to save a ship full of people. There’s some mileage in the notion of the Doctor – who is not omniscient – doing that, but instead what we get is a Doctor who basically does away with Sardick’s free will entirely. The Doctor is reshaping Sardick’s personal history to suit himself (admittedly with the aim of saving lives) in a way that flies in the face of everything the character stands for.
Consider: in Enlightenment, the fifth Doctor relies on Turlough to find the answer to his moral dilemma within himself, without any prodding or prompting, even though one of Turlough’s choices could mean the Doctor’s own death. And even in Genesis Of The Daleks and Resurrection Of The Daleks, the Doctor tries to persuade Davros to use his unique position to influence the evolution of the Daleks – but we never see the Doctor go into Davros’ childhood to influence his own development. Surely, if one is going to break the laws of time to that degree, you’re going to expend that effort on the big fish – Davros, the Master, the origins of the Cybermen, etc. – rather than wasting that sort of risky endeavour on a miserable old man whose power extends no further than his own planet. The Doctor has never been the type to completely erase anyone’s free will.
Perhaps it could be argued that it’s precisely because Kazran Sardick isn’t some kind of genocidal maniac that the Doctor is willing to take this unusual approach, but it’s hard to make that case when A Christmas Carol is a rare instance of a guest actor who blows Matt Smith right off the screen. There’s a scene where Smith is face to face with Michael Gambon, and it’s one of the few times that Smith’s Doctor has looked “too young.” His first season was impressive in that there wasn’t anything that really drew that criticism – Smith developed a unique way of playing the Doctor as an old man in a young man’s body – but the sheer depth of Gambon’s performance simply outshines what Smith brings to the table for this episode.
But perhaps there’s too much of an attempt here to read something itno the proceedings; Doctor Who’s Christmas episodes have run the gamut from heavy storytelling (The Christmas Invasion, The End Of Time Part 1) to nearly-light-headed romps (The Runaway Bride, Voyage Of The Damned). The really weird thing about A Christmas Carol is that I can’t tell what camp it belongs to.