"Half way out of the dark....."
This year's Doctor Who Christmas special is probably the most Christmassy episode yet, a strange fairy tale fuelled by mince pies and eggnog. ( Whatever that is. )
Amy and Rory are trapped on board a doomed starliner with 4000 other passengers, their only hope the miserly ruler of a Dickensian colony-world, Michael Gambon's Kazran Sardick. But he's not interested. The Doctor falls down Sardick's chimney and becomes a cross between Father Christmas and the Ghost Of Christmas Past as he attempts to change Sardick's mind and save the day.
"Christmas Eve on a rooftop. Saw a chimney. My whole brain just went: 'What the Hell!' Don't worry - fat fellow'll be doing the rounds later. I'm just scoping out the general... chimney-ness!"
The Doctor realises that Sardick, like Scrooge before him, is an essentially good man who has become twisted and embittered but is not beyond saving. Jumping back into Sardick's past, the Doctor endeavours to steer his life in the "right" direction, inadvertently causing more heartache for the future miser by sparking a romance between Sardick and the lonely - and lovely - Abigail Pettigrew.
The heart of the story ( and the reason the regular companions are sidelined ) is this romance between the young Sardick and Abigail, as played by Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins. In an episode where Matt Smith and Michael Gambon are dependably excellent, Jenkins - with no previous acting experience - is the real revelation. Her character is cryogenically frozen by Sardick's tyrannical father, but the Doctor manages to unfreeze her every Christmas Eve over a number of years. Jenkins' performance of a woman living on borrowed time is genuinely touching and helps to ground the more outlandish aspects of the story.....
.....Including flying sharks.
Yep, only Steven Moffat could write a Who story based on Dickens, but replacing foggy London with a planet where fish swim about through fog-like atmospheric crystals. This leads to one of the maddest scenes of recent years: a world famous opera-singer, kneeling in dry-ice, singing to a model of a flying shark. At Christmas.
So, it's a strange, romantic and unusually low-key Doctor Who episode. Which is fine by me. After the hysterically escalating threat-levels of the RTD era ( the end of time, the Reality Bomb etc. ) it's good to see the series producing small-scale human stories for a change of pace. Not to say the episode is mundane - the steampunk look of Sardick Town is beautifully realised and the effects of Sardick's atmosphere-controlling device and the Doctor's wild sleigh-ride are gloriously surreal.
It's a wonderfully weird Christmas present for children of all ages.....
"Fish that can swim in fog. I love new planets."
4 Out Of 5 Bow Ties. ( Or Mince Pies )