The Christmas Invasion
Starting exactly like Rose began was a little surprising, as if this were a second beginning after a previous false start. If we thought that Rose had some similarities to Spearhead From Space we'll soon realise that this one's working through the entire 7th series. Jackie's dressing the tree and Mickey's fixing some mota' down the Arches (with Slade playing on the radio - not for the first time we have Noddy Holder in an episode of Doctor Who, the first being when he played Aggador in The Android Invasion [his scenes ended up on the cutting room floor]), then there's the familiar noise of the TARDIS' unearthly engines. And, in what has to be the craft's most spectacular landing yet, it rips out of the vortex and bounces around the Powell Estate like a pinball. Another kiss to Spearhead as the Doctor collapses out of the TARDIS in his predecessor's garb, but not before wishing Jackie and Mickey a merry Christmas.
Further domestic details ensure as we find out that a neighbour of Jackie, Tina the cleaner, has a lodger, probably called Roger, a medical student, who just so happens to have an accessible pair of stethoscopes lying around. The most disappointing part of the whole story is that the Doctor spends so much of it laid up in bed. For the most part simply emitting wispy burps. Bit what happens after you've been on a month long curry and lager binge.
The new Prime Minister, Flydale North's very own Harriet Jones, appears on TV to talk about the final approach to Mars of the British built Guinevere One space. In common with all other UK Mars probes, the chap in charge is a comedy look-alike. First we had Professor Colin Pillinger, who looked like a reject from a Nevermind the Buzzcocks comedy line up to spot the person who used to be in the Worzels, and now a Timothy Claypole of a man, called Daniel Llewellyn, who's in charge of the Guinevere One space probe programme. But, like Beagle 2, it has encountered some unexpected problems.
Rose and Mickey are out in town for some last minute Christmas shopping and are pestered by some really brassed-off Santas playing some copyright free music. Direction here is excellent, and the editing of the threat scene too, but then Mr Gold has a veritable epileptic fit throughout the percussion section of an 80 piece orchestra eventually coming to rest in the brass section. Sounds like a street steel drum band and a set of south American pan pipe people stuck in a blender. To be fair, this is the only low-light out of the entire score and we can forgive him one minor slip up.
I had some severe misgivings about the tree, and the Santas come to that, but it all seems to work fairly well in context. The frenetic version of Jingle Bells picking up speed as the tree attacks just sets off the scene lovely. Then we get a brief bit of action from the Doctor as he just wakes up in time to dispatch the tree with a wave from the sonic screwdriver.
There's some great interaction between the Doctor and Jackie throughout this story, none more so that the "what do you need" scene. There's not too many times in his lives he's faced with a screeching cock-er-ney rattling through not only the contents of the complimentary medicines section of a medium sized Holland and Barrett, but then starts working through the menu of a JD Weatherspoons. Even out of a post-regenerative state this would have been quite hard work.
And yet still he manages to get across enough information before admitting defeat to Jackie's onslaught. Mickey gets connected to the net for a bit-sized animation on what exactly pilot fish are. And later he's hacked into military command mainframes to track the approaching space ship. All on a 56k modem. War Games this ain't. I suspect that the speed of t'internet connection is slightly faster, only just, but there's not an acoustic coupler in sight.
Having temporarily lost contact with the bin lid heading towards Mars they've managed to hook up with the probe again and are about to receive a signal from Guinevere One on the Martian surface. 'Cept it's actually the inside of a rock-like spaceship. And the world goes insane. Craggy-faced, strange looking bipedal entities broadcast live on television. Could be an episode of the Hollyoaks spin-off, Hollyoaks: Bad Skin, or just another term for Big Brother on Channel 4, but no, it's actually mankind's first contact with an alien race. The cars racing into the Tower of London is another Spearhead like scene, reminiscent of the one where the car takes Liz Shaw into UNIT HQ. And deep below the Bloody Tower, a UNIT operations centre. UNIT insignia everywhere. Excellent. But the Sycorax apparently have something else on their mind, like re-enacting Queen's video for Bohemian Rhapsody. Good job we didn't make contact with them on one of their Boney M nights. That would have just been plain silly.
As one third of the world population become zombified it's just like they've all turned on their iPods simultaneously. Scenes like this happen on a daily basis, this is nothing new, as people encase themselves in their own little world listening to, for example, podcasts of maniacs reviewing Doctor Who stories. Do you see what I did there? Crow-barred in a reference to a Tachyon TV spin off. Neat, huh? The digitally manipulated stock footage of international landmarks adds a certain cache to the programme. And why not, if Alias can travel the world and never set foot outside of California why can't Doctor Who do the same in Cardiff? Nothing so far in Doctor Who has come as close as the ludicrous episode of Alias where the estates department of Oxford University were armed to the teeth as they patrolled the campus buildings.
And as the massive Sycorax craft hits the atmosphere, passes over the head of a statue of Winston Churchill, and parks over central London, there's only one single solitary question on the, quite frankly, quivering lips of a terrified nation, "does this mean they're going to have to re-do the opening titles to Eastenders, you know, like what they did when the Dome was opened?". The imbeciles.
And with the Sycorax the BBC have finally proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they're perfectly capable of creating a Klingon-like race just as ably as any American television network. Complete with spurious made-up lingo. I'd bet that if Who fans were as anal as Trek fans then we'd have a Sycorax dictionary, thesaurus, Linguaphone Speak-Along-a-Sycorax style cassette and complementary tea towel set out by the end of January. The Sycorax themselves look like the combined effect of 1000 Itchy and Scratchy cartoons, usually the ones where Scratchy invariably becomes separated from his fur and epidermis.
With a massive ship parked over central London, and more than likely flouting the strict congestion charge regulations, Mickey starts soling his undergarments as he and Rose carry the still unconscious Doctor to the TARDIS. Nice nod in the direction of Carry on Up The Kyber here as Mickey remarks on how British it is, having a cup of tea whilst the world ends. But, noticing that there's a strange energy emission coming from the planet surface, as Mickey attempts to get Sky Sports News on the TARDIS scanner, the Sycorax take the opportunity, whilst Jackie's not in the TARDIS, of bringing it on board.
And then the fun really starts... Is there anyone who didn't see the sudden speaking of English coming? And as the music swells, and everyone turns, expectant, to the TARDIS who didn't jump for joy as there, standing in his borrowed jim-jams, was the Doctor. And things just got better and better from there on in. Tennant is just brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. To use the Sycorax vernacular, Tennant Rocks.
The whole sword fight scene, I feel, could have benefited from a little more injection of pace, but that's a fairly minor point. And with humour ("and it's a fightin' hand") there's a touch of darkness as he sends the Sycorax leader to his death. I'd guess that, purely because of the density of them in the capital, he would have landed square on top of a Pret-a-Manger. Would have made quite a mess too, all that bone and sinew.
The return to terror firma is very Pertwee too, on two different counts. 1) as the Doctor tells Harriet Jones that the human race is sending things deeper and deeper into space, and is drawing attention to itself and 2) as the PM order the destruction of the retreating spaceship, like the Brig in Doctor Who and the Silurians, offering the new Doctor a chance to engage the indignation of his former self and lambast the PM. These Torchwood geezers seem to have managed to turn the whole of central London into the Death Star's death ray. Nifty. I wonder whether they've done that by placing strategic Pret-a-Mangers around the city as a cover? Perhaps that's why there are so many of them?
And the closing few scenes are simply glorious. The newly regenerated Doctor doing what newly regenerated Doctors do best, and visit the now immense TARDIS wardrobe. I didn't even spot first time round the appearance of a scarf or two. I'd certainly like to see more of this version of the TARDIS. Jarvis Cocker is the Doctor.
And did you spot? The credit had reverted back to "The Doctor" again. What's that all about? And the BBC National Orchestra of Wales found the middle eight of the theme tune. Could it really have been any better? I always had a problem with Eccleston, as past postings will confirm. Sure, he's a great actor, but just not really Doctor material. And I think he pales into insignificance next to Tennant. But perhaps it was a necessary process, needing someone of Eccleston's profile/range/ability to kick start things again to make it accessible to a brand new audience. To use a bank holiday related analogy, Eccleston was the primer, the dull but perfectly functional application that's required to treat the surface before the highly glossy and brightly coloured final coat is applied.
And what a glossy finish we've ended up with...
The Bumper Book of Made-up Doctor Who Facts has this to say about The Christmas Invasion: The Queen, who's speech was beaten yet again in the Christmas ratings, has enlisted the services of RTD for next year's relaunch of this long running series. Gone will be the ceremonial robes and received pronunciation and in place there'll be a denim jacket and sarf London accent. The Queen is expected to be joined on her broadcasts by her new companion, Phil. It's expected that she'll meet an army of re-animated Lady Di's and the corgis will be back with a brand new look. The lawyers are still negotiating over the rights to use Camilla Parker-Bowles in the new series.