Thursday, 10 April 2014

On with Season Two: 'The Christmas Invasion'

‘Not bad for a man in his jim-jams…!’

Can the best Doctor Who stories be summed up in a question?
Is what was missing from every Christmas Day TV schedule of your childhood basically this..?

Best moment for Old School Who?
It’s a UNIT story about an alien invasion on Christmas Day, and a post-regenerative Doctor recuperating just like Jon Pertwee in 1970 – except he didn’t have to do it in Jackie Tyler’s back bedroom.

Best new thing?
There are Christmas songs on Doctor Who, and the Autonesque monsters are dressed as Santa when they attack the crowds in the Christmas markets. This is classic Doctor Who stuff with unashamed baubles and tinsel on. Doctor Who in the 70s and 80s seemed to happen in a separate dimension where no one celebrated Christmas or ever took heed of what was happening here on Earth. Now we’ve got a Doctor who comes round, all dressed up, for Christmas dinner and a Dr Who family like we haven’t had since about 1976.

They’d never have got away with that in the 20th century…
The Doctor becomes famous. There’s a turning point for the whole series here – when Harriet Jones (Prime Minister and Spokesperson for the whole Earth) addresses the nation on Christmas Day – she puts out a last desperate plea for the Doctor to come and help. This, in the context of a very public alien invasion, marks a special moment for The Show. The UNIT years happened under a veil of secrecy. Invasions were stealthy, hushed-up things. But now the invasions are on the telly and the Doctor’s name is bruited about as our only possible saviour. It’s an exciting moment. The Doctor is becoming a celebrity inside his own fiction. Where will this take us..?

Hurray for Jackie Tyler – best guest moment?
Oddly, best guest moment is David Tennant’s. He’s new amongst an already-established cast, all of whom we love and are already very familiar with. Here’s the new boy – being silly (‘I need you to shut up!’) and intent (his expression when he blasts the deadly Christmas tree!) and unnerving (‘No second chances.’) He assumes the mantle of Doctorishness effortlessly. It’s a wonderful debut – twitchy, larky, action-packed, no holds barred.

The ‘I love me Nan…’ moment
Maybe we get a bit much of Rose sobbing about having lost her Doctor. He’s still there! He’s under the bedspread in the back bedroom! Give him a chance, love! But obviously, the trauma of the past season’s climax is weighing heavily on her and naturally she sobs on Jackie’s shoulder. But shouldn’t Jackie have a few questions about stuff like the Dalek Empire and everything Rose was fussing on about, last time she saw her? And what about swallowing the Time Vortex, eh? But all those explanations get swept aside in proper Dr Who fashion, because the Christmas tree has come to life and is chewing up the sitting room. Rose wallows – but not for too long, thank goodness. There’s too much to get through in an hour.

Fifteen hours after a regeneration and he can still grow another hand. There’s almost a hint of sorcery about the way Time Lordishness is portrayed here… along with the golden breath that escapes him and draws the alien invaders to London… As the new series continues to build its mythology, there’s a bit of unabashed magic swirled into the mix.

The extra fifteen minutes rounds out this story a treat. It just makes me think that every episode needs that bit of elbow room. Even so, it would have been fun to see the Sycorax stick around a little longer. UNIT don’t do a whole hell of a lot. After their years of doing things on the quiet I wanted to see them suddenly going public. And just why have they been superceded by Torchwood, who are suddenly thrust violently to the fore here? (Another great example of the new show gradually creating its own mythos.) There are always further stories, branching off from what we get… obviously I want to see Sarah and Harry and K9 and Ace and Jo and Ian and Barbara all watching TV on Christmas Day and startled to hear their old friend being mentioned on the news… What’s the Brig up to? Why doesn’t Harriet try phoning up Rose in the first place? But never mind. The momentum of what we have is impeccable and fab. And I love the idea of Earth being attacked every Christmas Day and companions of old watching it all unfolding on the telly…

Where was I?
Christmas 2005 was our first proper Christmas in this house. Doctor Who at Christmas was just one of those perfect things that should always have happened. I adored this one from the first – a fizzy, festive rewrite of both ‘Rose’ and ‘Aliens of London’ – but funnier, sillier and more macabre than both. And with a Doctor who was both more flippant and perhaps more in tune with and comfortable with this very particular (and ultimately silly) genre. Eccleston was wonderful but the whimsy and camp at the heart of Doctor Who was not really his thing. It’s clearly Tennant’s.

Singlemost fabulous thing
Lots of moments stand out for me. But the Doctor having a dressing-up-moment in the TARDIS wardrobe, just as many earlier incarnations did, and then turning up for Christmas dinner – suddenly at home in his new form, and in the company of others – that’s the clincher. The episode ends and it’s a whole new beginning for the series.

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