05 January, 2012

Issues With The Christmas Special (Doctor Who, Christmas Day, BBC One)

The Doctor Who Christmas special is a tradition - an annual 'tv event' where even the most anti-sci-fi family member will be forced to tune in with the rest of us. Amongst a pile of trash this Christmas, 'Doctor Who' was one of the few things we looked forward to, along with 'Outnumbered' and 'The Gruffalo's Child'. The story showed promise, despite Moffat's new tradition of changing an original story, which never seem to add much to the episodes.

However, this year, I couldn't help but feel that the Christmas specials have lost their way. Last years' adventure is something I can barely remember (that definitely says something about its quality) but I remember feeling happy and sad in all the right places. This year felt like a hastily-produced side-project, and was, if I'm honest, a struggle to sit through.

The set-up - the Doctor treats a family to a good Christmas despite their father's death - was a good one, wartime British spirit at its best. Claire Skinner portrayed excellently the stoicism and frustration of the mother, and both child actors did an excellent job in their respective roles. But you just knew the father would survive somehow. On that note, the guest stars for this episode - Alexander Armstrong, Bill Bailey - were horrifically underused. Starring in Doctor Who (almost always) denies you the right to appear again - I couldn't help but feel that you could use those two stars in a different episode, and to better use.

What the episode truly lacked, ultimately for me, was any kind of threat. The wood people didn't pose a risk to 'humanity' or to 'the human Christmas'. This, ultimately, is what made 'The Christmas Invasion' and 'The Runaway Bride' succeed - they showed normal people under threat of losing a 'normal Christmas' and made us all appreciate the festive season. That's not to say the episode didn't show the best of Christmas. It was Christmassy enough for me - the snow, the scene with the 'adapted' house and the hammocks had 'Doctor Who' written all over them. A critic described the lack of a villain as an 'experiment' - but is Christmas, your flagship episode, really the time to do that?

The last five minutes made up for the episode. I could have happily watched the Pond household's Christmas dinner in real time rather than the episode, had Claire Skinner been invited. Amy in a Christmas Jumper was an image which showed exactly how good the episode could have been, had Amy and Rory been invited. There was alot of intrigue (two years have passed? The Doctor can cry 'humany-wumany' tears now?) for the next series. But as we were recently told that the Ponds will be leaving mid-series seven, Moffat better have good replacements up his sleeve. 

A good episode, but not enough for Christmas. Claire Skinner and Matt Smith shone, but Moffat really needs to pull something special out of the bag next Christmas if the Christmas episodes are to be a staple of the festive period, and a staple of modern British culture.

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