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Dec 27, 2005

Christmas Cracker

Xmas1_1The Christmas Invasion begins with a chaotic and confusing bang. Despite the fact that the 10th Doctor appeared perfectly fine and was still planning to visit the planet Barcelona at the conclusion of The Parting of the Ways, we suddenly witness the TARDIS crash-landing on the Powell Estate during the lead-up to Christmas. A manic and seemingly unstable Doctor emerges from his ship, and then, for some inexplicable reason, he collapses. Rose casually informs Jackie, Mickey, not to mention the audience at home, that yes, this really is the Doctor. No questions asked.

What happened in the moments (hours?) leading up to this unexpected entrance remain a complete and utter mystery. Or at least they would have done if it wasn't for the fact that there are millions of children starving in Africa. Phew.

I must admit that I was initially very sceptical about this episode. I'm not the greatest fan of Christmas (let alone Christmas specials), and when Russell kept harking on about tinsel, turkey and trees my heart sank. 'Camp as Christmas' was a term that kept surfacing in my mind during the run-up to transmission. I'm glad to report that the Christmas stuffing merely bookends the show - the rest of it could happen on any day of the year.

Xmas6_1It's telling that the Christmas trimming is by far the weakest component of this episode, especially when it comes to the plot. I mean, who or what are the killer Santas? Are they robots? Are they tools of the Sycorax? Are they another race entirely? Autons, maybe? Why do they want the Doctor so badly when the Sycorax leader seems blissfully unaware of him when he eventually turns up? Is it the artron energy that leads the Sycorax to earth or the UK probe? Why didn't the Santas just kidnap the Doctor when they installed the tree at the flat? And how can these "pilot fish" have a convoluted and culturally specific plan ready to roll within hours of the Doctor's arrival? Bah humbug!

However, I was thrilled by the notion that small children up and down the country will be utterly petrified of shopping mall rent-a-Santas and artificial Christmas trees for many years to come. I guess that was the whole point: transforming the benign into the horrific - Doctor Who at its twisted best.

Xmas14_1The biggest risk this episode takes is the decision to leave its protagonist flat out on his back for the majority of the story. Doctor Who fans are used to this of course: Pertwee and Baker were both confined to a hospital bed in their pyjamas, Davison spent a whole episode asleep in a box, McCoy almost took a whole season to really settle down, and Paul McGann didn't become the Doctor for ages in his debut. However, I was shocked to witness the same approach being taken today, particularly in this impatient channel-hoping hell in which we live in. Can you imagine Only Fools... viewers waiting 40 minutes for Del Boy to stroll in and say "cushty?"

And this is where Russell has been extremely clever, not to mention brave. He gives us a very familiar story but this time there's a fascinating - and fairly frustrating - twist.

Xmas11_1_1It doesn't take a genius to point out that The Christmas Invasion is basically a re-tread of two stories that the audience will already be comfortable with: Rose and Aliens of London. Some of the similarities are impossible to dismiss: the opening shot is a direct reference to Rose; you've got familiar household objects attacking a hapless Mickey; synthetic automatons on the rampage outside Henricks again; Jackie still refusing to get off the phone when her life is in imminent danger; and Murray Gold going all 'President Flavia' on our ass. 

The AOL riffing is even more pronounced: alien invasion - check; iconic British monuments - check; Harriet Jones (complete with running gag) - check; completely useless revamped UNIT - check; anti-US jibes - check; unconvincing computer hacking - check.

Xmas12_1The big difference is that the Doctor isn't there to sort it out for us. And things are going tits up. The Doctor's absence is the essence of the drama and his eventual Resurrection/re-birth (very Christmassy for an atheist, don't you think?) is enhanced by the fact that we are practically on our hands and knees begging for his messianic return. By the time he finally makes his bona fide hero entrance (with, remember, only 15 minutes to go!), it's a truly fabulous moment that must have thrilled everyone who was still watching.

The fact that over 9 million were still watching is testament to the fact that this show was thoroughly engrossing, even when Tennant was out like a light and subconsciously burping. The British version of 'Indpendence Day' felt suitably epic and exciting, and the thought of a third of the world's population as potential lemmings was quite a horrific one. Sally was pretty cute too. However, did we really need to see a profile of someone in Paris wearing a beret? Wasn't the Eiffel Tower enough? Incidentally, I'm not sure which city came after Rome (Cardiff, I guess).

Xmas3_1Sadly, despite some jaw-dropping visuals from James Hawes (see right) it's not always possible to get that many extras to act simultaneously. While some of them look like they are positively pissing their pants when the alien ship appears overhead, others look like they are hearing the "shocking" news that Shayne just made the Christmas Number 1 spot.

Some of the humour also fell a little flat: "they're on the roof" and "Doctor Who?" (come on, get over it!) induced groans in my house, but there were plenty of genuine humdingers too: UNIT know what real Martians look like; the various Arthur Dent allusions tickled me no end (including the big yellow bulldozer); the staff gag was brilliant; the Bohemian Rhapsody video reference might have been unintentional, but still hilarious; and the already infamous 'Lion King' plagiarism had me projecting Baileys out of my nose.

Xmas13_1The Torchwood hints were marvellously mysterious too; they sound like a cross between 24's CTU and The X-Files. And they probably shag like rabbits too. Maybe Sally will get a transfer there. Torchwood also seem to have taken over UNIT's Top Secret position as well, that organisation having blown its cover by putting up big signs telling the world where their HQ was situated. I just love the idea that Capt Jack could be sitting a few miles away, pressing a big red button that engages the Excalibur's main guns that blows the Drakh, sorry - Sycorax, out of the sky.

'Torchwood' sound really shady too. I wonder what fell to earth ten years ago? Was the Doctor involved somehow (who seriously wants to bet against it?). Stupidly enough, when I first heard the line that they had lost a third of their staff I put it down to a recent alien incursion, failing to grasp the fact that this was probably down to the whacky statistical coincidence that exactly one third of them have the same blood type. I don't know about you, but I think my theory sounds much better.

Xmas4_1The Drakh, sorry - Sycorax, were an adequate race of foot-stampers who provided some necessary jeopardy and who reminded me a little of Faction Paradox (non-novel readers can skip this next bit). Let's see: they wear skulls for helmets, they are attracted to Time Lord bio-data (maybe), they use curses and voodoo as science, and they fly around in big edifice-type ships. Oh, and their name ends in an X.

Billie was magnificent as usual, and she essentially holds the whole thing together for large portions of the story, proving once again that they could legitimately change the name of this show to The Doctor and Rose. The moment where she tales on the mantle of the Doctor and attempts to talk down the aliens was gorgeous (although relegating the Daleks to an afterthought felt a bit tight!) It's just a shame that Murray Gold consistently undermines her beautiful performances with cheesy "sad music" whenever she starts crying. For christsake, tone it down!

And then, thanks to Jackie's flash of tea(!), the Doctor finally wakes up and kicks some arse.

Now, I know this is going to sound lazy and corny but Tennant nails it. Yes, I know that's what I said about Eccleston back in March, but as much as I loved Chris' performance, I always had this nagging feeling that he was either trying a little too hard, or sometimes he didn't quite get it.

David gets it.

Xmas9_1What's really fascinating is that the Doctor doesn't settle on his character immediately. He plays with his persona. He tests it out. To put it simply, he uses the current threat to discover who he is and what he's capable of. And while it has become de riguer to echo past Doctors after a regeneration, the 10th does so in such a way it left me feeling dizzy with anticipation. For a moment there it could have gone either way. We could have ended up with a right bastard or a fey fop. What we get is an incredibly natural amalgam that simply screams Doctor! without ever feeling forced or a diluted parody.

OK, so the sword fight is literally a hit and miss affair - although it was an inspired decision to take it outside - but that image of the Doctor as the defender of earth - in his jammies no less - getting his hand cut off and then exacting righteous retribution with a satsuma was, in a word, priceless. The best Christmas present I've ever had, in fact. And I've been spoilt something rotten over the years.

Xmas10_1But the biggest surprise for me was realising just how dark this Doctor could be. I thought Eccleston could be terrifying but when Tennant delivered his "I'm that kind of man" line the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. This is not what I expected. But the coup de grace has to be the dispassionate way he in which he watches Harriet Jones' golden age crumble to dust as his six magic words take their effect, all the time looking like an unholy cross between Jarvis Cocker and Eric Morecombe. In a party hat.

The fact that this image still manages to chill me to the bone convinces me that we're about to get one of the most compelling and complex Doctors yet.

Xmas18_1Ah, poor Harriet Jones. Some critics have pooh-poohed the power of those six little words, but remember this: she was on national TV appealing for a seemingly non-specific Doctor during a moment of crisis! She must have come over as just a little bit crackers!

This bittersweet denouement came as quite a bit of a shock to me, especially in the midst of all the group hugs. To take an audience favourite like Harriet and then tear her down for her actions (even though the Doctor himself planted the seed that instigated them) elevated this into more than the cosy, celebratory romp it could so easily have been.

There are distinct echoes of The Silurians here, and Harriet's insinuation that the Doctor could be an alien threat, and the Doctor's riposte that humanity are the real monsters looks like it could set up a 'Torchwood V Doctor' stand-off. I dunno, somewhere in season seven...

And then we get the proverbial icing on the fruit cake. According to the commentary track to this episode (you have to love the BBC) it took the Mill three whole weeks to create the virtual wardrobe room. Worth every second, if you ask me. Is it just me, or is Tennant's shirt a very pale blue, and not white after all? If it's the former then all those people who tried dressing up as the 10th Doctor at the recent Stockton convention must feel like a right bunch of idiots now...

This scene also provides the opportunity for endless freeze-framing as you try to work out if that really is Casanova's tunic or McCoy's trousers. Hours of fun.

Xmas7_1And just when you think it might go all syrupy as it starts to snow, Russell turns the situation on its head with the sick realisation that humanity is dancing and frolicking in the remains of their victims. Just think about that for a moment. A kids show. At Christmas. With dead bodies for "snow". Our characters are, quite literally, "steeped in death".

I also loved the revelation that when the Doctor and Rose head off for the stars again, leaving Mickey and Jackie behind to the safety of an estate that's already been threatened by three different alien races, the adventures are just the bits in between. The rest of the time they are simply having the trip of a lifetime...

Xmas8_1And finally, just as you believe that things really can't get any better we get a (ah fuck it, I'm gonna use the word) fantastic trailer for series 2.

Sarah-Jane Smith! K9! Anthony Head as "I Can't Believe It's Not The Master"! Cats dressed as nuns! Robotic Adam Ants! Queen Victoria! Cybermen! Full-on snogging! Erm...

Only three short months to wait...

The Bumper Book of Made-Up Doctor Who Facts has this to say about 'The Christmas Invasion': if you look really carefully you can spot Ricky Gervais as Andy Millman standing on the roof of the Powell Estate.

And that's almost it for this year. I'll try to post a review of the Who year within the next couple of days*, and then I'm having a couple of months off! The blog will no doubt continue, and you be pleased/terrified to know that I have a very special 'Stripped Down' season planned for the blog's 1st anniversary (details to follow early in the new year).

Finally, in related news, Tachyon TV's first podcast experiment is being recorded this Thursday and new webzine issues of TTV should emerge in the first quarter of 2006. Q and I will also be redesigning this blog a bit over the coming weeks; if you have any requests or suggestions please get in touch.

*you can also read another Who flavoured review of mine over at Stuart's rather excellent Feeling Listless blog.


The direct link to Neil's piece is ...


As well as the Faction Paradox, did you see how much also seemed to be influenced by Lance Parkin's The Dying Days?

Just a quick update on the podcast front: the first recording was snowed off! It should happen next Wednesday instead so our first "cast" could be out by the middle of January... fingers crossed...

Quick poll:

Should we tackle

a) The Five Doctors or

b) The Christmas Invasion?

What *is* the "cast"?

It's short for 'podcast', although how Neil & Co. are going to do it, I'm not sure. Perhaps one of them would care to explain it to us?

And I'd pick The Five Doctors, because we've just had a TCI commentary.

yep, that chestnut needs a podcast. Five Doctors please

It's basically a DVD commentary by three fans (the first will be myself, Q and John Williams). The difference is it's from a fan's perspective - and this being Tachyon TV - not entirely accurate in the fact department.

In short, they will be part MST3K (but without the rehearsal or script!). part fan observation/celebration, part SFX couch potato, part DWM Time Team and part Tachyon TV. We might be drunk.

If we tackle the 5 Docs first we'll release one 25 minute cast a week. You just listen along with the DVD or VHS you already own. Hell, you can even listen to it in the car if you like.

It might fall on its face. It might be a laugh. We shall see...

I shall look forward to it with the upmost interest. And Damon... it depends on your definition of alines, and that's enought to keep the lawyers busy for centuries...

*aliens. And is that REALLY how you spell lawyers? Doesn't seem right. Oh well. And since it is New Years Eve, may I once again plug my spin-off blog Tales of the Dark Side, where I intend to try and review every Doctor Who TV & audio episode released? Do come along and say hello, it's a wee bit lonely with just me and Flikafly.


well good luck fella's, if you need a hand etc and by the way neil, txted you matey, did you get them?

"I'd rather be subjected to Borusa's Mind Probe than The Five Doctors"


Sorry, I know I'll be flogged for that. Btw, just listening to Big Finish's "Faith Stealers", and they managed to use a mind probe on C'Rizz without making the mind probe joke.

The podcast has been delayed against thanks to my wife coming down with some horrible illness which involves projectile vomiting. Since she's responsible for recording and monitoring the damn thing (she's our version of Steve Roberts) it's been rescheduled to this Friday. God willing you might have episode 1 to listen to in a week or two...

At this rate we might get to see the relaunched MST3K website first !

Seriously, I have a friend who has gone down with something similar, so my condolences to your wife.

Is anyone else intrigued to hear what John, Q and Neil sound like?

Just me then.

Personally I imagine John sounding like a cross between Alan Davies and Andrew Marr. Odd, but true.

Thats horrible matey, hope she recovers soon

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