After revisiting this one, I’m regretting ranking it quite so highly on my Christmas episodes list…
Did you miss me?
The Tenth Doctor
It’s Christmas Eve and high above London, the alien Sycorax are holding the Earth for ranson. The newly regenerated Doctor must recover in time to save the human race from slavery.
The first Doctor Who Christmas special is a fairly uneven affair, although it does serve as a good introduction for the Tenth Doctor. The newly regenerated Doctor and his companion Rose crash back to Earth following the events of The Parting of the Ways, but any chance for rest and recovery is short-lived, as a human probe, Guinevere One, is intercepted by the villainous Sycorax, who head to Earth with their vial of A+ blood…
Firstly, the positives. The episode is at it’s best when Tennant’s Doctor is conscious, and he certainly occupies the role with gusto, charm and with a glimpse of darkness that will be explored in later series. It is also good to see Penelope Wilton return to the role of Harriet Jones, even if the “Harriet Jones, Prime Minister” joke wears a bit thin after a while. The sword fight for the planet is really nicely choreographed and I like the bit with the hand.
Unfortunately, for the majority of the episode, Tennant is recovering from his regeneration, so the focus is squarely on the trio of Rose, Jackie and Mickey. This is where Rose as a character really appears to grate on me. At the beginning of the episode, she isn’t certain at all about the new man with the TARDIS key, which is an understandable reaction – if my best friend who I had been travelling with suddenly changed their face, I’d be a little concerned, to say the least. However, once the Doctor is awake, Rose is suddenly fawning all over him. This does mark a change in the Doctor-companion relationship that I’m not a big fan of, and also is the start of the Doctor and Rose smug fest that is series 2. So stay tuned for that! Rose is also given the opportunity to show what she’s learnt from her time with the Doctor when they are teleported but doesn’t seem to have learnt anything at all.
Jackie continues to be irritating, and the only one of this trio to escape from this episode with any credit is Noel Clarke. Clarke himself has spoken about his change in attitude towards the role following a serious car accident that he was fortunate to walk away from relatively unscathed, and The Christmas Invasion shows just how far his character has come since Rose, and sets him up nicely for joining the TARDIS, albeit temporarily for series 2.
The Sycorax are also a pretty forgettable opening adversary. Although they look intimidating, at no point do you feel that they are going to follow through on their threat to kill all the people with type O+ blood on the planet. I appreciate that it’s supposed to be a Christmas episode, a bit more of a light-hearted romp, but a good villain in a Doctor Who story is something that I believe really lets down the story, in a way that someone like Kazran Sardick in A Christmas Carol makes a story compelling. I’ll come to look at the other Russell T Davies Christmas episodes in more depth later on, but this is something that is lacking in most if not all of his era’s Christmas specials.
It really pains me to criticise the Doctor’s actions as well, but I feel his treatment of Harriet Jones, following her decision to destroy the Sycorax spaceship after they are running away is a poor one. The Doctor had previously highlighted her fledgeling political career as leading to Britain’s Golden Age; yet here he is shown to be willing to throw that all away. The Tenth Doctor here can be shown to be meddling in time, and the effect of this decision to bring down Harriet Jones’s government can be seen to lead to the opportunity that the Master will later exploit in series 3, and ultimately leading to his ultimate end.
I accept that as the first Christmas special, it is attempting to appeal to a wide audience and I feel it does that well, and I understand the need for the Christmas references, like the killer Christmas tree. However, things like the Pilot Fish are potentially using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut. That being said, I enjoy Harriet Jones’ televised speech in replacement of the Queen’s Speech – “Did we ask about the Royal Family? Oh. They’re on the roof” is a fantastic bit of a dark humour, in what is a good, if flawed, first episode for the new Doctor.
Verdict: The Tenth Doctor’s introduction is much better when he is conscious but is let down by weak villains. 6/10.
Writer: Russell T Davies
Director: James Hawes
Starring: David Tennant (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Penelope Wilton (Harriet Jones), Daniel Evans (Danny Llewelyn), Adam Garcia (Alex), Sean Gilder (Sycorax Leader).
Behind the Scenes
- The second episode of Doctor Who to be broadcast on Christmas Day after Part 7 of The Dalek’s Masterplan (The Feast of Stephen) and the first episode to be commissioned specifically as a Christmas special.
- The first time in revived series that another area of the TARDIS is seen other than the console room, and the only time in the Russell T Davies era that any other area of the TARDIS is seen.
- The first episode since Survival to credit the leading actor as The Doctor, at the behest of David Tennant. The initial change in the classic series was requested by Peter Davison ahead of the broadcast of Castrovalva.
- The first drama production to be permitted to film on the roof of the Tower of London.
- The first episode to use music performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.
- “Song for Ten”, written by Murray Gold and sung by Neil Hannon, is the first original song commissioned for Doctor Who since the untitled rap in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.
The swordfight for the planet Earth.
Look at these people, these human beings, consider their potential. From the day they arrive on this planet and blinking, step into the sun, there is more to see than can ever be seen, more to do… no, hold on… sorry, that’s the Lion King… but the point still stands! Leave them alone!
The Tenth Doctor