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One of those times where the ACTING far outstrips the PLOT!
on 25 January 2011
If Series 5 of Doctor Who proved anything, it was that it certainly turned out to be the most divisive series of the show yet. Just as Russell T Davies had radically reinvented Doctor Who when he headed its revival, so too did Steven Moffat radically reinvent the programme when he took the helm.
Opinion has certainly been divided over what Moffat has done since succeeding Davies. Some think that the show has become better and more intelligent than ever. Some think it too much of a radical reinvention and are wishing for Davies to come back. Personally, I thought Series 5 suffered from inconsistency, making it hit-and-miss overall. Some beautiful classics (e.g. "Vincent & The Doctor") counter-balanced by some appalling letdowns (e.g. "Vampires in Venice").
But in any event, Series 5 was generally regarded a critical success, Matt Smith had truly proven himself as the Eleventh Doctor, and with both Karen Gillan (Amy Pond) and Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams) providing excellence as the Time Lord's newest companions, Steve Moffat and his magic was here to stay.
Regardless of criticisms I had here and there for Series 5, I was looking forward to the 2010 Christmas Special, mainly because it hit upon a remarkable idea. Loosely adapting elements of Charles Dickens' classic tale and working it into the Who universe. It certainly made for a refreshing change from Christmas Specials past, and the fact that Doctor Who at Christmas had long become a great festive TV tradition (ever since the success of 2005's `The Christmas Invasion') was reason enough to tune in.
Premise-wise, "A Christmas Carol' sees newly weds Amy and Rory enjoying their honeymoon...right up until the point the space liner they're on malfunctions and is about to crash-land on the planet below, killing them, all the other passengers and doubtless many more civilians. The only man capable of averting disaster...is rich, powerful `Scrooge', Kazran Sardick (played by the legendary Michael Gambon). Bad news is that he simply doesn't care if people die or not. So it's up to the Doctor to try and bring Kazran around. And to do that, he must show him the true meaning of Christmas...and humanity.
Now, as I said, the plot-premise is a remarkable idea. It's never been done before, and it was a wise-move to go for this to set it apart from previous Christmas epics i.e. "The Christmas Invasion", "Voyage of the Damned" and perhaps most notably "The End of Time" (where David Tennant was on his way out), so Steven could again continue with his unique style and bring it to Christmas.
Unfortunately, like Series 5 misses such as "Victory of the Daleks" and series-finale "The Big Bang", the excellent premise isn't executed like its meant to be. "A Christmas Carol" falls into the same trap that "The Big Bang" did, which is that the plot becomes too convoluted for its own good, to the point where it gets lost within itself. Though its not as severe as it was with "The Big Bang", the special still lacks the beautiful intricacies and coherency of such Moffat-classics like "Blink", "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead" & "The Time of Angels"/ "Flesh & Stone".
Other notable elements which I criticise is the `space-liner-in-peril". That's been done before in Doctor Who (and much better) and the premise of flying fish comes across as being really stupid. To see a shark pull a sleigh through the sky was something I had great trouble taking seriously, even for a science fiction programme.
But where the story suffers, the character-focus and ACTING triumphs. Matt Smith - who truly graduated with honours as the latest Time Lord - succeeds utterly as the Doctor yet again. Matt brings all his trademark wit, dynamism, quirky oddness, warmth and sharp drama that makes his Doctor just so appealing. Even if the story is bad, Smith can make it at least watchable with his performance, because he has that gift.
The legendary Michael Gambon is another actor to keep your eye on here. He makes the character of Kazran Sardick the centre of attention, putting on a quality rendition of Scrooge; stubborn, resolute, bitter old man to the point of him being almost completely unfeeling, yet betraying just a spark of compassion. As the Doctor works hard to try and redeem him, Gambon reels you in with his performance, taking you along for the journey that will have you booing, hissing and ultimately rooting Kazran on for the path towards redemption.
But in my opinion, the most exceptional performance belongs to (rather surprisingly) singer Katherine Jenkins as Abigail. Given that she had no acting experience prior to this, Katherine gives truly emotional and utterly heart-warming gravitas to the part she plays. It's utterly plausible, making the tragic and loving Abigail one to appreciate. Jenkins could really make a go at further acting if she ever chooses to, because her acting is every bit as class as her singing.
Alas, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill are criminally underused in their respective roles as Amy and Rory, which is another disappointment about "A Christmas Carol". The characters are reduced to `companions in peril' status, and although both Karen and Arthur make the most of the screen time they get, it's not enough. And at over an hour, this Christmas Special does also drag on at times. Still, there is the fantastic 2010 Doctor Who at the Proms (presented by Karen Gillan), a nice Confidential piece and a trailer at the end for Series 6, which looks highly promising. So there is a fair amount of content on the disc to satisfy fans.
Like Series 5, Doctor Who: "A Christmas Carol" has certainly divided fan reaction. My opinion? It's certainly not the best Christmas Special that's ever been done, but if you want to see Matt Smith, Michael Gambon AND Katherine Jenkins at their finest, then check it out. Just don't expect the story to go with it. Take it or leave it.