Sunday, 26 December 2010

DOCTOR WHO “A Christmas Carol” (2010)

I enjoyed this, certainly, and found myself moved, even, as the hideous elderly man embraced the beautiful young love-of-his-life and the first snow started falling. I've no idea why that should strike me as quite so touching. Perhaps my wife has some notion as to why. Anyway, this Stephen Moffat-scripted episode was an ingenious retooling of Dickens's Christmas Carol, smart, sometimes funny and sometimes touching. Here's the plot-summary from Wikipedia:
Amy and Rory, celebrating their honeymoon, are aboard a space liner with 4000 other passengers, flying out of control into a colonized planet shrouded by a cloud system controlled by a spire on the planet. The Doctor, alerted by Amy's distress call, lands on the planet in the TARDIS and tries to convince the miser Kazran Sardick to turn off the cloud controls, which are biologically locked to Kazran, but is unable to do so. Kazran, like his father, considers the rest of the population of the planet as cattle and has little care for the lives aboard the liner. When the Doctor arrives, Kazran refuses to release a young girl, Abigail, from cryogenic storage to her sister's family. Recognizing that Kazran's father has had a significant effect on Kazran's life, the Doctor devises a scheme based on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol to improve Kazran in the past and present so that he will help turn off the spire and allow the liner to land safely.
The notion of Abigail in stasis, with only a few days of life left to her and being taken out for very occasional special moments, is a metaphorically potent one -- although Moffat stole it from K W Jeter's Blade Runner sequel, The Edge of Human (1995) (where it makes more sense: Jeter's Rachel is a replicant with a built-in expiry date: Abigal only has some mysterious 'illness' that will keep her perfectly beautiful and then kill her after a set countdown. What? What-what? Couldn't the Doctor cure her? Anyway). Sometimes the plot creaked: I found it hard to swallow that a giant space liner could plummet through the atmosphere at re-entry speed for an hour -- (the clock chimes 11pm with the spacecraft in mid-plummet, and the Doctor notes 'we've only got an hour left!') -- without hitting the ground: for comparison, the Space Shuttle reentry speed is 25,000 mph: are we to believe this planet has an atmosphere 25,000 miles thick?* Also, I didn't buy the 'I can no-longer operate the Bio-locked controls, even though they were specifically designed to respond to my bio-signature, because the Doctor has turned me from miser to nicer' moment. Does the Bio-lock only work if the operator is in a bad mood? But niggles aside, this was fun.
*This looks like a more footling objection than I intend. The problem was not with the physics of re-entry, but with the fact that the crashing spaceship, introduced only to act as a narrative-tension-mcguffin, was over-prolonged with consequent diminution of its dramatic effectiveness.


Chardonnay Chap said...

Fair points, IMO. I thought letting her die (rather than being cured by the Doctor) was right dramatically and emotionally. People do die, and children have to come to terms with that (it's still a children's show for me). The moral being how you deal with that.

Yes, the bio-controls thing was very silly as was the hour long descent - plus Moffatt or whoever doesn't know what an orbit is, and you're not going to orbit long if you're as low as the cloud layer.

But I liked the psychology: has Kazran Sardick become a bad guy suddenly when working with his father? No, he just knew something that the audience didn't. I do like the way there are no really bad people in Who, only those who hurt more than the good ones. And of course hitting your kids sucks. Always a worthwhile message.

Shame that Kazran Sardick didn't own a global media empire which had recently persuaded the cattle to elect a pair of unprincipled public schoolboys to run the government. You can't have everything.

Adam Roberts said...

I agree, actually: and my overall impression of the show was much more positive than this snarky review conveys. I particularly liked the 'who's this?' 'nobody important', 'really, in 800 years I've never met anybody who isn't important' exchange. And Smith owns the role. He really is the best Doctor yet.

Miles said...

I don't know if I'd say Smith's the best Doctor yet, but he was really great as the Doctor in this. I felt like he was more Tennant-y than he's been before.

I also rather like how he has no idea what to do with women (and especially the advice about how to kiss), though it seems like in 900 years he ought to have figured it out at least a little.

Anthrophile said...

Agreed, from beginning to end.