Ah, the infamous Christmas specials of Doctor Who, loved and loathed in equal measure, but this time was the first time. We were innocent and knew not what was coming that first Tennant Christmas when Santas’ and trees and Sycarax came calling…
The Pre-Title Sequence
Ben: Is it bad the main thing I took from this episode is that the Tenth Doctor is just as bad a driver as the Ninth?
Maureen: Dude, you’re fixated!
Ben: Also, I’m a sucker for a scene where they reference the name of the show.
Maureen: Me too, actually. It got a bit much in the Moff years, but in this episode I admit I grinned.
Ben: Jackie ends up providing great comedic moments in this episode (anything else he’s got two of?), and boy does she start off strong! Also, the Doctor and Rose made it back to London in time for Christmas!
Maureen: God, I love the opening for a new Doctor. The long shot of earth, then we dive in close as Murray Gold’s bombastic score plays, the world spinning. Interesting note: both Mickey and Jackie come running the second they hear the TARDIS, like perhaps they’ve held out for its sound…
Ben: Rose is firing all cylinders from the get go this episode, although to be honest things like checking the Doctor’s heartbeat might have been impressive to Mickey and Jackie, but she really has no idea what she’s doing. A similar moment happened when she was suspicious of the creepy Santas’ at the shops. Clearly, she’s picked some stuff up as the Doctor’s companion, but without him she can only react to events.
Maureen: I’ve reviewed my notes and I’ve penned and underlined the following: I want Rose’s jacket. But in all seriousness, Rose didn’t do much this episode except whine that The Doctor wasn’t her Doctor. To be fair, this fits with her teen character profile, and RTD probably needed to play this up to make sure the New Who audience accepted Tennant as the new Doctor. More irritating was Rose’s ongoing insistence that she and others were worth nothing without The Doctor:
Mickey: What do we do?
Rose: Nothing. There’s no one to save us.
I get that RTD needed to sell us the enormity of The Doctor saving the day in record time, but it sucked that he chose to do that by making the companions agentless. I mean, has Rose seriously learnt so little from The Doctor she can’t think of anything to do but run away as the apocalypse falls (compare Rose in this episode to Martha in Season Three when she walks around the earth resisting The Master with nothing but a story damn it!).
Ben: She’s had the carpet pulled out from under her fairly dramatically. She goes through a few of the stages of mourning The Doctor; anger, sadness, before finally accepting that he’s gone. The scene where Rose finally broke down paired with the alien ship arriving felt profoundly apocalyptic. And of course, without the Doctor, hiding in the TARDIS makes excellent sense. (Maureen interjection: speak for yourself, Ben)Although you’d need a lot of food to be able to wait out the apocalypse. Unfortunately, for Rose, Mickey, and the Doctor, this is the moment the TARDIS gets taken aboard the Sycorax ship.It is only when The Doctor is behind Rose that she feels she can make her speech to The Sycarax. I did adore Rose’s last ditch attempt to emulate the Doctor and send the Sycorax on their way, it’s a shame it was played as a comedic moment…
Maureen: Yes, she makes her pretty speech, but it’s still The Doctor who saves the day. I know I sound like a whiny brat, but The Doctor as savior trope REALLY annoys me.
Ben: Jackie was one of my favourite characters this episode, taking on the role of comic relief like a champion. Her panicked exchange with the Doctor as she’s trying to figure out what he needs without letting him talk had me giggling something awful. I’m not always a fan of Jackie, but this episode would have been much grimmer without her.
Maureen: I loved that scene too! Who doesn’t enjoy Jackie being told to shut-up by The Doctor. There was Jackie’s proof Ten hadn’t changed all that much from Nine.
Ben: But Harriet Jones was by far my favourite character this episode. From flirting with her right-hand man to dealing with an imminent alien invasion with a no-nonsense, practical approach, Harriet represents some of my favourite elements of Doctor Who. I loved her shutdown of the American President, and that she didn’t place all her hope in The Doctor coming to save the day. As we saw last season with the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire, he has a tendency to swan off once he thinks the day has been saved. In short, Harriet is a badass who stands up to terrifying aliens without breaking a sweat.
Maureen: I love Harriet Jones too. I thought she stuck around for way longer and got this sinking feeling in my stomach when I realised where The Christmas Invasion leaves her. She’s wound up leading Britain’s Golden Age, and is calm and professional in the face of alien invasion. I loved the caustic humour in some of her lines:
Harriet Jones: It’s hardly the Queen’s Speech. I’m afraid that’s been cancelled.
Then she finds out the Royal Family are mind-controlled, about to jump off a roof… and Harriet is teleported onto the Sycarax spaceship. She begs them for understanding, yet they show none.
Harriet Jones: Children who need help. Children who need compassion.
What choice does this alien race give her? Surrender and be sold into slavery or die. Let’s be real now… who wouldn’t have made the choice she made at episode’s end?
Ben: Yes, she’s the defender of the human race we deserve, not The Doctor. Yes, she does end up making a public plea for The Doctor to help, but only as an absolute last resort. But then, after that emotional plea she’s immediately back to business, calmly recognising she was being teleported while everyone else was panicking. I also LOVED the “yes, we know who you are” exchange with the Sycorax. What an sublime joke. Unfortunately, things come to a rather enraging end with Harriet. Authorising Torchwood to destroy the Sycorax ship was definitely an aggressive step to take, but it was well reasoned by Harriet. The way the Doctor punished her for this, taking away her Prime Ministership was so ugly, and not at all justified in my opinion.
Maureen: I completely agree. It annoyed me as a teen. It has annoyed me on every subsequent re-watch. It’s the same bullshit that was pulled in Season Eight in Kill The Moon when the story hated on Hermione Norris’ character for choosing killing the moon, despite the fact it was a perfectly reasonable choice to make. Based on the duplicitous and violent way The Sycarax dealt not just with humanity, but with The Doctor and based on The Doctor’s flippant remarks that ‘you’re getting noticed more and more. You better get used to it,’ and that he can’t promise he’ll always be around to protect earth, why on earth shouldn’t Harriet have destroyed the space ship of murderous nut job alients? Or is it just that RTD has an issue with women in power going against the whim of The Doctor?
Ben: Talk about a rough regeneration! All this talk of neural implosions and brain collapse was very dramatic, and all remedied with a cup of tea! (You know, I think I had the same thing a couple of times when I wanted the day off school.) It isn’t until the last twenty minutes of the episode that he actually has his moment. I wonder if it were a scheduling issue?
Maureen: I’m not sure it was. I think it was a way to build up to The Doctor in action reveal and give the audience time to mourn the loss of Nine alongside Rose. Moffat pulls a similar conceit with The Eleventh Hour (albeit more successfully in my opinion).
Ben: Anyways, I did like the scenes of the Doctor discovering who he his in this new body, up to a point. Beyond that it just became silly. I’m perhaps comparing this regeneration to Eleven’s a bit too much, but these scenes of self discovery became a bit much.
Maureen: I was pleasantly surprised actually. It’s no secret that Ten is without a doubt one of my least favourite Doctor’s (and I include Classic Who in that assessment), but I found him quite funny for most of the episode. AND HE QUOTED THE LION KING. AND MENTIONED MEETING ARTHUR DENT. What’s not to love?
Ben: I didn’t at all like the sword fight, and while I did like Ten’s speech about the earth being protected, I think Eleven did it better in his debut episode.
Maureen: Oh yes, me too. Eleven had such a lovely debut though.
Ben: And then we get to the bit I hated about this episode, as The Doctor, enraged at the measures Harriet Jones took to defend the Earth, engineers a petty revenge, setting up Harriet to lose the Prime Ministership. I hated it, especially when it’s been established in earlier episodes that The Doctor can be something of an unreliable protector. For me, this end really brought down what had been an excellent episode of Doctor Who, and really left a sour taste in my mouth.
Maureen: God I hate this ending so very fucking much. From the sword fight on I was reminded of all the reasons why I loathe Ten. He’s an action hero who has a compulsion to save everyone his way or the highway, and the story rewards him for it even when it’s completely unmerited. His dismissal of Harriet is mean and petty and God-like and sanctimonious and white man ego and the only good thing to come out of it is The Master getting the Prime Ministership later because of The Doctor’s shitty decision. Moving on…
The Alien of the Week
Maureen: YOU WANT CHRISTMAS SPECIAL? I’LL GIVE YOU CHRISTMAS SPECIAL, said RTD. That’s not a bad thing this first time round in my opinion. It was a bit silly, I guess, but overall I found the spinning Christmas tree and the Santa reconnaissance aliens and the Christmas dark apocalypse stuff fun and grim AT THE SAME TIME.
Ben: Look, for me, the creepy Santa’s and killer Christmas Tree were a bit much, but once we got past the pilot fish and met the metaphorical shark, the Sycorax, things got much more exciting. Their demands were pretty standard, all your base belong to us material, but what was particularly terrifying was their blood magic. I am curious to see what would have happened if one of the humans being controlled was physically blocked, because all they did was show distraught humans pleading with them to stop. It’s a great way to engineer a hostage situation, and what terrifying visuals it leads to. And their ship! Monstrous. Although it clearly marks them as being on the primitive side when it comes to aliens capable of interstellar travel and teleportation, as does their warlike behaviour and the restrictions of blood control. Despite that, they’re definitely more than humanity can handle. They came to something of a dishonourable end, being shot out of the sky as they’re leaving Earth, but considering their champion tried to cheat in the dual they don’t exactly come across as an honourable species. It is a bit morbid that the final shot of the episode was the people of Earth celebrating Christmas in the falling ash of a destroyed alien ship.
Maureen: I know right. Happy Christmas kids. HUMANITY IS GONNA JUMP OFF BUILDINGS IN A MASS SUICIDE ON CHRISTMAS DAY. BUT DON’T WORRY COZ EARTH IS SAVED BUT THE DOCTOR AND HIS COMPANIONS ARE PLAYING IN MURDERED ALIEN ASH. I’VE GOT THIS KIDDIES. TEN HAS FOUND HIS PINSTRIPE SUIT AND HIS CRACKER HAT. I’m seeing how Torchwood came out of RTD given this alien plan and the one in The Parting of the Ways.
Ben: Look, this is a really hard one to rate. Russell T Davies is just so inconsistent with his writing! The first forty minutes were really great, but once The Doctor arrived on the scene things started heading downhill at a fairly rapid pace. The final scenes with the demise of Harriet Jones really reminded me of how they treated Adam at the end of his storyline. Disappointing. I found it really hard to rate this episode, but I think I’m going to give it a 6.
Maureen: I’m with you Ben. I might have ranked this an 8 or 9 for sheer outrageous Whovian fun until Ten turned up for his sword fight and his crappy Harriet (doesn’t she look tired?) takedown. I’m going to go with a 6 too.