The Doctor Who Christmas specials are always a treat: fun escapism to share with friends and loved ones during the holiday season. It's a real pleasure that for the first time, BBC America is debuting the latest Christmas special actually on Christmas Day - and this one, like the ones before, is unique and delightful in its own way.
The legendary Michael Gambon does his best impression of Ebenezer Scrooge in space as Kazran Sardick, including keeping frozen people as collateral for the debts of the poor. It's sad for all of two minutes before The Doctor drops in through the chimney on a mission. Four thousand people, including Amy and Rory, are trapped on a spaceship hurtling to the planet, and they need to be rescued - but first, The Doctor has to convince Sardick to help him rescue them. The title gives you a clue as to what you're in for, but the Doctor Who team takes the classic setup and adds an element of the fantastic. Time travel, flying fish, and Matt Smith jumping on the furniture - yes, this is definitely Doctor Who. That's the brilliance of the Christmas specials: they're a perfect fusion of a holiday story and a Doctor Who adventure, not simply another episode with a cursory holiday element or a narrative with the sci-fi elements squeezed into it. There's laughter, there's tears, and there's a plot that isn't going to bend your brain. It's just good, clean fun, which isn't necessarily easy to find anymore.
Matt Smith continues to effortlessly slip into the role of The Doctor; even as a David Tennant fan, I can admit that he won me over fairly quickly. Smith just has the same kind of high energy and enthusiasm that Tennant's Doctor had; he always seems like he's having a ridiculous amount of fun and that's infectious. It's impossible not to smile as he's wearing a Santa hat, riding in a sleigh piloted by a flying shark. His main companions for a large part of this episode are well played by Katherine Jenkins (as Abigail) and Danny Horn (as a younger Sardick, a completely different man from the coldhearted one he'll become). Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill don't appear as much as you might think, which is disappointing on one hand being that I'd gladly welcome more of them, but the story isn't really about them and so it's understandable that they're mostly absent. They're effective when they do appear, and that's good enough for me.
Unsurprisingly, the real scene-stealer is Gambon, who's always reliable when you need a cantankerous yet fully-developed character (see: Layer Cake or Brideshead Revisited). I say "unsurprisingly' because when you cast a big-name star like Michael Gambon, you'd better make good use of his talents, and Doctor Who certainly does. We've seen plenty of people play a role like this before, but Gambon plays particularly well off of Matt Smith; the two almost feel more like equals despite the differences in their characters' personalities. It allows Smith to remind us that The Doctor's seen a lot more than his youthful face belies.
"A Christmas Carol" also does the one thing all Doctor Who Christmas specials have never failed to do: it gets me excited for the upcoming series. After watching this, I'm not only still in the Christmas spirit, but I'm ready for series six to get here. I call that time well spent.
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