What happens when the Doctor isn’t around to save the Earth? This will become a running theme of the David Tennant era, most notably in Turn Left, but it is an odd theme to explore in an episode that actually introduces a new Doctor. However, it does the obvious (and obviously wrong) thing of the Doctor being incapacitated post-regeneration. There is a reasonably common sci-fi and horror trope of people coming back from the dead, but coming back wrong. It is almost as if Doctor Who writers feel like they have some obligation to write a little nod to the idea, which is admittedly a very interesting one, but it rarely extends beyond one episode so achieves little other than a bit of comedy, and that comes at the expense of getting on with the process of persuading the viewers to like the new Doctor. Luckily, when the new Doctor is David Tennant, you are on safe ground whatever you do.
The Doctor’s regeneration has never been smooth and, to be honest, I was hoping this was one aspect of continuity that Russell T Davies would have thrown out. The transition between Doctors is difficult enough for the viewers to swallow, without having him acting out of character in comparison both with who he was and who he is going to be. On the other hand, it does have the effect of introducing him gradually and gently to the viewers, while the familiar and much-loved Rose carries most of the episode, along with the extended Doctor Who family of Mickey and Jackie. Let’s side-step to take a look at how regenerations can work. Broadly speaking:
1) The best approach: being a bit crazy and then getting on with an adventure quickly. That’s Troughton, Tom, McGann, Smith.
(2) The much much worse approach: going completely crazy and/or staying in bed for the first adventure. That’s Davison, Tennant and to a lesser extent Pertwee.
(3) The “let’s lose all our viewers” approach: making the Doctor somebody we really, really don’t like in his first story. That’s Colin, McCoy and Capaldi.
So imagine you are a showrunner, we haven’t seen a regeneration since 1996, and this is your first attempt at it. What would you do? Thankfully, the wonderful Billie Piper allows this (2) option to just about be ok, in much the same way that the Brig did for Pertwee and Adric/Nyssa/Tegan didn’t for Davison. In hindsight it still seems like a slightly wonky decision though.
The Doctor spends the episode trying to figure out what kind of a man he is and in an heroic moment decides the answer to that question is “no second chances”. This tends to suggest that he will be a more ruthless Doctor than we have seen before, but it is never really followed up on (thankfully). It would be more accurate if he had said “kissing companions, I’m that sort of a man”, or “making pop-culture references, I’m that sort of a man”. There are two here: The Lion King and Hitchhikers. The latter is the first of our Christmas Celebrity Paradoxes, as the character of Arthur Dent was created by Douglas Adams, who also wrote and script edited Doctor Who. So if you’re striving for an immersive viewing experience (don’t bother, it won’t work) there’s a thorny little problem for you, but just wait until you get to The Idiot’s Lantern and then Voyage of the Damned.
This is one Christmas special that really is Christmassy, with Christmas trees, Santa Clauses and (kind of) snow. The difference with Doctor Who is that the Christmas trees come to life and Santa Claus wants to kill you – a wonderful twist on traditional seasonal images. This is exactly what we would want and expect Doctor Who to do with the theme of Christmas, and in fact subverting the festive goodwill-to-all-men until the happy ending is what most Christmas drama does anyway. Much more original is the way the episode plays on real adult fears rather than childhood fears, which is the playground Doctor Who more commonly plays in. Whether you think the fear of loved ones going weird on us and then trying to commit suicide is a good theme for Doctor Who on Christmas Day or not is a matter of opinion, but it is certainly something that is designed to be troubling to the adults watching just as much as children.
The Sycorax are an interesting alien race in that they are culturally different to the way technologically advanced races are generally portrayed. In some respects this is the Klingon approach, but this goes further because the technology has been harvested, so they have stolen something and then twisted it for their own use. When they use blood control they see it as magic which, basically, it is. Doctor Who is steeped in Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law, which is basically a way of sci-fi being fantasy with a bit of added credibility. It’s not fooling anyone, and it’s magnificent. It is exactly what Doctor Who should be.
After the Doctor’s hand has been bloodlessly cut off, he has regrown it, and used Chekhov’s Satsuma to save the day, we have our happy ending, as we always have to at Christmas…
But then the happy ending becomes bittersweet, because Harriet Jones does a naughty thing and subverts the usual all-is-well narrative approach we would expect at this point. The Doctor’s reaction is fascinating and misunderstood. Let’s look at the actual deed before we look at the method:
The Doctor deposes a Prime Minister, which is surely a pretty major interference in Earth’s history, especially as she has brought some kind of a “golden age”. This is clearly far beyond what he would normally do, but nobody pulls him up on it. It is perfectly possible to rationalise this in terms of Harriet’s back story. Her first encounter with the Doctor propelled her into a position of power, so perhaps the Doctor is simply redressing the balance. Unfortunately he makes matters worse, by creating a power vacuum… and who will step into that?
More interesting is the method he uses. “Don’t you think she looks tired?” is sometimes criticised as if it is some kind of newly invented superpower of the Doctor’s, but this is not the case at all. The scene merely demonstrates he is intelligent and insightful enough to choose exactly the right words in exactly the right moment. This is the Doctor using intelligence as a weapon. Plus he is simply using a well-established technique of psychologically undermining somebody, by not telling Harriet what he said, making her paranoid enough to bring about her own downfall. He has probably been watching some horror films, or maybe reading Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters:
Only once, in the entire history of witchery on the Ramtops, had a thief broken into a witch’s cottage. The witch concerned visited the most terrible punishment on him.
She did nothing, although sometimes when she saw him in the village she’d smile in a faint, puzzled way. After three weeks of this the suspense was too much for him and he took his own life; in fact he took it all the way across the continent, where he became a reformed character and never went home again.
Happy Christmas and, if you’re a politician, don’t have nightmares. RP
A few bits of the article above have appeared on this site when it first launched and also on the website that pre-dated it. Virtually all of it was written for this revisit, so The Christmas Invasion could form a part of our Advent countdown.
The view from across the pond:
C-18! Christmas is just around the corner now, and I still have tons to buy! But back in 2005, it was another lifetime for me. I was still employed at a financial firm and living a very different life. But one constant remained: I was still a fan of Doctor Who. During the 2005 season, I believed Christopher Eccleston was going to stick around until Christmas so when he changed at the end of episode 13 and that scrawny, geeky looking goofball showed up on our screens, his mouth over-exaggerating the word “Barcelona”, I thought: “Oh no! What are we in for?”. But there I was a couple days after Christmas getting to see the special and all I could think is: “Oh yes! This Doctor was going to be fantastic!”
Watching the episode really illustrates one of Russell T. Davies strongest qualities: he knows how to write human drama! They say the devil is in the details, and it’s the little details that bring the story to life. Because the Doctor is out of commission for the better part of the episode, it’s down to the supporting cast to carry the episode. So notice the way the Sycorax leader moves his eyes and head. Or the way Harriet Jones, now prime minister, is still making sure to take care of people. These small touches create a very believable environment for the audience. Her character is written as a compassionate one and she demonstrates that throughout the episode. And that makes it so much harder when she authorizes the attack on the retreating enemy. It’s no wonder the Doctor turns on her.
Jackie (Camille Coduri) has some great moments; she has to convey a feeling without saying a word when she walks into the TARDIS early in the story. And she’s the source of quite a bit of humor “Anything else he’s got two of?” And when she won’t let the Doctor get a word in until he finally tells her to shut up, she gives a very comical: “he hasn’t changed that much!”
Noel Clark breathes life into a character that felt very one dimensional when we first encountered him; he’s now part of the family. He conveys feelings of utter betrayal when talking to Rose about her leaving him for the Doctor. But Mickey is immensely likable and he has taken on a life of his own separate from, but very much a part of, Rose.
And then there’s Billie Piper who deserves special recognition for her role, since she has to carry the story! Her desperation and loneliness have never been more profoundly felt. When she tells her mom, “I thought me and him were… and then he goes and does this!” it lets the audience know she definitely felt something for this man and she’s stunned that he never mentioned this could happen. It is not until Harriet’s impassioned plea for the Doctor’s help that Rose realizes the Doctor she knew is gone and she breaks down with a heart-breaking “he left me Mum… he left me.” And his absence now forces Rose to pick up the mantle and try to do what the Doctor would do, as she told her mom in The Parting of the Ways. “They’ll kill you.” “Never stopped him!”
We get to the star of the piece, David Tennant. It all comes down to the scene where the Sycorax start speaking English and the viewer makes the connection just as Rose does. His official opening, “did ya miss me?” launches a triumphant cry for the viewer as well as the humans in the show! This is what we’ve been waiting for. It’s Christmas! “You just can’t get the staff,” he says as he breaks the Sycorax leaders staff. Then the best lines of dialog take place:
Sycorax Leader: I demand to know who you are!
Doctor: I DON’T KNOW!
And when Russell writes in the line about the humans being the monsters, it’s a reminder that the Doctor doesn’t defend humanity. He defends what is right and often the underdog. Usually, the humans are the ones in trouble, but he’ll go toe-to-toe with humanity just as quickly if they are the wrong-doers.
Foreshadowing: “One bottle of his blood could change the future.” Rose speaks these words in the very opening of the hour long episode. By the end, we’re not thinking of it. So when the Doctor’s hand is cut off and falls to Earth, we wonder what that means for the future. Was Russell hoping we’d forget? Luckily he knew what he was doing but we would have to wait to find out what that was…
Continuity: “Martians are completely different,” says the military man. Ice Warrior reference or Ambassador of Death? Nice to know the show is staying true to its past!
Best recurring gag: “Harriet Jones, Prime Minister” “We know who you are!” (Even the Sycorax!)
- Snow is wet but Mickey doesn’t realize the snowballs he’s making are dry? (Remember, they are made of ash, we learn!)
- The TARDIS scanner is picked up by the Sycorax, but the alien tech that ultimately destroys them is not?
- There is a button outside the Sycorax ship that opens a random part of the exterior that coincidentally allows the bad guy to plummet to his death!?
Verdict: The Doctor is back and it’s now part of our yearly Christmas gifts. My Christmas’s are busy; we have family over, kids opening gifts (myself included); we’re busy until late in the evening when we settle down to the last gift of the night: a new episode of Doctor Who. And we have The Christmas Invasion to thank for being the fantastic success it was. This was the first… We’ll be looking at each of them in the days to come.
Ho Ho Ho… ML
The voice from the balcony:
In the spirit of the holiday season, I agreed to write up a review of The Christmas Invasion for my friend and fellow Whovian, ML, who is one of the main writers on this site. My Dr.Who experience started with Eccleston, the Ninth Doctor, and I am working through the seasons and currently on season 6 with Matt Smith and Amy Pond. Watching season 10 got me hooked so now I am filling in time and space.
Russell T. Davies has a way of writing stories that portray a lot of emotion and I think that is fantastic. The Christmas Invasion is a great story filled with creepy Santas, spinning Christmas trees, and the ever so lovely Rose. We find that David Tennant is now the Doctor and he’s recovering from regeneration sickness. Rose is less than thrilled that Eccleston is gone and Tenant’s form has taken the Doctor’s place. In typical Time Lord fashion though, Christmas can’t just be all mince pies and Christmas crackers.
The Sycorax stop by Earth unannounced much like in-laws around the holidays and create havoc with Earth’s inhabitants. Without spoiling too much of the episode, the Doctor recovers quite well from his regeneration sickness and lends a hand in removing the Sycorax like an old fruit cake. A legendary sword fight determines the fate of mankind, and just like in Highlander, “There can be only one”. The Doctor beats the Sycorax and they agree to leave Earth peacefully but the Government takes a bold stance and in typical Government fashion, botches everything up making the Doctor upset and rightfully so. In the end though we’re treated to a great fashion show, a beautiful snowfall, and some warm fuzzy Christmas spirit.
I highly recommend watching this episode for yourself and hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Davies is one of my favorite Dr.Who writers and he offers a little bit of everything in this episode, leaving it on a high note to usher in some holiday cheer.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all reading this. PR