BLU-RAY REVIEW: Doctor Who - A Christmas Carol
A typical Christmas tale with crashing spaceship, flying sharks, and Time Lords...
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The Doctor Who series has lots of traditions, as you’d expect from a show that’s been on television since 1963. One of the more recent and very popular is the “Christmas Special.” Every year since 2005 there has been a special Christmas episode of Doctor Who. Unlike a lot of other TV shows, these actually premiere on Christmas day (at least in the UK). They all take place at least partly on the holiday and share themes with traditional Christmas stories and songs. 2010’s Christmas Special titled “A Christmas Carol” was, for lack of a better term, special for a few reasons. It was the first such episode in which the current Doctor, played by Matt Smith, was the only Doctor (sound confusing? Christmas Specials often span the gap between actor changes). Most notably though, A Christmas Carol was the first ever Doctor Who episode that aired on the same day in the United States! In previous years we poor Americans had to wait until sometime in the new year to see the Doctor’s Christmas exploits, but with the show’s huge explosion in popularity and BBC America’s growing viewership we got the episode at the same time. And now, just two months later Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol is available on DVD and Blu-ray.
The exciting Christmas special opens with the Doctor’s companions Amy and Rory on their honeymoon, traveling on a spaceliner. When it encounters severe turbulence entering a planet’s atmosphere that threatens to destroy the ship, the Doctor is called. Unfortunately, he discovers that the cloud layers are controlled by one man... Kazran Sardick. A stand in for Scrooge, Sardick is the wealthiest man on his homeworld thanks to his exclusive control of the meteorological conditions, keeping at bay the deadly fish that live in the clouds. His introduction is chilling as he rebukes a family begging to see their relative frozen in suspended animation. Of course, a man as heartless as that won’t simply turn off his machine to save a spaceliner full of innocents, and so it’s up to the Doctor to change his mind. He does this by enacting a Christmas Carol-style intervention, visiting Kazran throughout his past. As the present version comes to “remember” these adventures he goes through Scrooge’s revelations and ultimately becomes the hero everyone knew he could be.
The focus of the young Sardick’s frolics with the Doctor is a frozen girl named Abigail. The two release her from her cryogenic prison every year on Christmas Eve and get into all sorts of trouble (including a scene involving Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe – the less said the better). Naturally as he grows up Kazran comes to love the beautiful Abigail as well as learn from her; the native flying fish can be tamed by singing, and we’re treated to some wonderful music featuring Abigail, played by real life opera star Katherine Jenkins. The “present day” Sardick is played by none other than Michael Gambon who lends quite an air of gravitas to the Scrooge of the Doctor Who universe.
There’s plenty of fun stuff for hardcore Who fans in A Christmas Carol, including quick references to other storylines and people. In the procession of Christmas Eves watch out for some decidedly inspired costume choices that bring to mind past Doctors as well as moments in the Eleventh Doctor’s history. Amy and Rory too show up in familiar costumes, wearing their policewoman’s outfit and Roman soldier gear respectively in the opening scene! Beyond these little treats for longtime viewers, the special is chock full of the fun you’d expect from a Doctor Who episode with flying sharks, plenty of sonic screwdriver action, and temporal paradoxes that just help the story along. For us Americans, there are also glimpses into British Christmas culture that we don’t often see including traditional “crackers” (poppers filled with treats or toys) and hats. As previously mentioned, the music in this episode is top notch.
The Blu-ray transfer of A Christmas Carol is excellent, and for those of us who still don’t get BBC America in HD it’s far and away better than how it looked on TV. There are two special features on the disc: a new episode of “Doctor Who Confidential” with behind the scenes looks at production and a live concert recording of “Doctor Who at the Proms 2010.”
While it was historical, Doctor Who’s A Christmas Carol was also a great episode in the tradition of the Christmas Specials. It’s available on DVD and Blu-ray everywhere, so don’t wait to get yours and fill out your Doctor Who collection. As writer and executive producer Steven Moffat said, “It’s all your favorite Christmas movies at once, in an hour, with monsters. And the Doctor. And a honeymoon...”
Review by Scott Rubin
Review Sample Courtesy of BBC America