A Christmas Carol
The Doctor: Halfway out of the dark.
Doctor Who Season: Between S31 and S32 (Christmas Special).
Production Code: Probably 2.X. (Footnote ).
Story Number: 213.
Doctor Who is not a show about time-travel…
At least, it wasn’t for the years 1963 to 2009 – sometimes there was the odd story which made a big thing out of the time-travel aspect – The Aztecs (the Doctor arguing with a companion “You can’t change history. Not one line!”); Day of the Daleks (alternative timeline comes to fruition, for a “while” at least); Mawdryn Undead (young-ish Brig meets old Brig).
In the main though, the TARDIS functioned as a “dear old Magic Door”, allowing Doctor and companion to start the adventure in a strange time or place then leave the story for the next one (much like Mr Benn and the Shopkeeper’s “magic door”). 2010 and times change. This idea of how exactly Doctor Who has changed will be discussed through the review.
Recent cinema (the Lens Flare from, appropriately, 2009 Star Trek) and classic cinema (the way the long camera move comes through the window via a lightning flash, Citizen Kane) introduce the peril for Amy and Rory and the other passengers, in media res. The opening scene deserves praise for being such an exciting loud kinetic start which would surely rouse any Christmas Day viewers from their mince-pie-chomping half-slumber.
The main storyline on the planet below though – Christmastime, “halfway out of the dark” – is not just a retelling of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol by the programme Doctor Who, it’s a conscious retelling by the Doctor himself – his plan for making Kazran someone who “suddenly decides to turn nice just for Christmas Day” (to operate the isomorphic control to guide the ship in) is a template from a book he’s read – a book by his old friend Dickens. He explains to Amy it’s (another kind of) Christmas carol playing over the walkie-talkies – and that’s what inspires him. That Kazran is himself familiar with the story is clear from his expectations of what the “Ghost of Christmas Future” would try and show him.
There is a certain Victorian gloom to the planet – a commentary on the UK today? – and in the fog-bound streets the newspaper headline of “Spending plummets, tax soars” seems to be a nod to the January 2011 VAT rise and draconian spending cuts of the Coalition government. Any doubt is removed by the names of the currency used for Kazran’s draconian loans – Gideons, obviously a reference to (Gideon Oliver) Osborne (the UK chancellor of the Coalition who chose to add “George” to the start of his name.) Osborne is the one really in charge of the purse-strings and economic climate of the UK, and it seems Kazran is in a similar position in this story when the “President” pleads for Kazran to change the weather: the very sky and air is privatised on this planet.
He’s not all bad though Kazran – even though he seems to despise Christmas.
The Doctor says – “You shouldn’t it’s very you”, what?, “Halfway out of the dark”. The Doctor saw that he wouldn’t hit the boy.
As the plan of the Doctor’s of trying to bring Kazran fully out of the dark begins, it begins with a dazzling visual conceit (albeit one that is a further mutation of Moffat’s previous concerns on this idea). The Doctor stepping through the heavy panelled doors of the room, visually (but not actually) “into” the projected image, into the panelled doors of the TARDIS beyond and then actually into the projected image is a wonderful sequence.
“That didn’t happen”, Kazran turns with a startled expression “but it DID”: also startling to long-time viewers of Doctor Who as this onscreen rewriting of a character’s memory, the rewriting of events and the character himself has never quite been seen in this way. It has however been done in the Moffat Doctor Who short story Continuity Errors.
One quote from that particular story crystalises what exactly is extraordinary about that story and this one, “Extract from Professor Candy’s lecture notes”:
The Doctor is a time traveller. Never forget that because it is central to an understanding of what makes him so terribly dangerous. Most of us, in our tiny, individual ways, are involved in the writing of history. Only the Doctor is out there rewriting it.
From the perspective of, say, Utopia, history has already been completely written. The only TARDIS left in the universe is the magic blue box of the only person rewriting history – presumably every adventure that doesn’t have pre-destined elements like Blink – it’s just that with these two Moffat stories the readers/audience watch the changes and people being rewritten (and so does Kazran as the movie-projection unfolds).
It’s this way of storytelling that’s an example of how “Doctor Who is now about time-travel” – before 2010 it just ignored the implications of time-travel, now Moffat wallows in the deep narrative possibilities of this aspect of the show.
The young Kazran it seems was kept away from a “fish storm” in his youth that simply everyone had been talking about afterwards. There are no “stories” that Kazran can tell as he wasn’t part of it. The Doctor it seems will give Kazran some stories of his own, or rather he will rewrite the story of Kazran.
The fish are a metaphor for life – good and bad – and young Kazran has been sheltered (like the planet) “supposedly for his own good” from fishes, from good and bad experiences. The Doctor will change that. Like the “blue boringers” of the TARDIS of The Time of Angels the lack of fish makes this “boring” and the Doctor prefers things not to be boring.
The story that the Doctor provides for young adult Kazran is one that actually Moffat has told before – “star-crossed time-tangled lovers”, the emotional throughline of The Girl in the Fireplace. (There’s also echoes of The Eleventh Hour with the “childhood ‘imaginary’ friend”.) That Moffat has certain motifs that he uses again and again is a strength rather than a weakness for Doctor Who, as the stories can resonate with each other – and, as said before in the review – Doctor Who IS a show ABOUT time-travel now.
Kazran’s memento-box now overflowing with memories/photos of Abigail – at the Pyramids, at Hollywood: another great visual element to the programme. Hollywood is where Abigail tells Kazran the tragic news. The problem with Kazran now having stories in his life means that there is now a tragic story to his life.
The Doctor doesn’t realise the heartache – the audience’s perspective is with young adult Kazran: the Doctor now appears as a terrible sort of imp or genie at the window, beckoning Kazran to use the “lamp” of the Sonic once more. (The Doctor is also a kind of Peter Pan and Kazran is “growing up” and “shutting the window” – just as the shark is a kind of crocodile, though with a submarine-beep from the Sonic rather than a tick-tock from a swallowed pocket-watch!)
“Ghost” Amy though is the one who apologises on the Doctor’s behalf in a clever scene where she appears as a ghostly-green hologram as the Ghost of Christmas Present.
Even cleverer is the “Ghost of Christmas Future” moment which confounds both the audience’s and Kazran’s expectations. The Blinovitch aspect of it which bothers the fans who understand this part of the review – well it can be explained that this Kazran is a “new man” just like the several “new men” (Doctors) of The Five Doctors and it doesn’t apply.
Now that the “fishes are free” – the Sardick sky-technology gone (and by extension the planet has more life to it, good and bad, less boringness) the short story Fish by Michel Faber may give an idea of what MIGHT happen but probably won’t: young Kazran did try to explain the fish were generally “nice”, (though I guess it will certainly be less boring now on the planet.) So Kazran – like the planet now has – had a life with good and bad things (much like life as described by the Doctor in Vincent and the Doctor and The Pandorica Opens to Amy.)
If the 2010 and 2011 seasons are Moffat’s new “dark” Doctor Who, (and there seems to be a two-season-arc of plotlines) then this is “halfway out the dark”. This Christmas Special though really is a tipping point. Timey-wimey curiosities like Blink are now the regular sort of story in Doctor Who.
Doctor Who is now a show about time-travel. It’s about time – and it’s about time. This Christmastime, Doctor Who CAN be rewritten.
(A Christmas Carol iPlayer)
Footnotes (and links)
The production codes before and after this story are “1.13” and “2.1” and it’s Nu-Who tradition to code a Special in this sequence as “2.X”, though nothing confirmed for this particular Doctor Who story by DWM as yet.
The Genesis of Doctor Who
Background Notes for ‘Dr. Who’
Decalog 3: Consequences
edited by Andy Lane & Justin Richards
by Michel Faber (via barcelonareview.com )