After watching the first season of the new Doctor Who, I have to admit to often being disappointed in it. Granted, the show is quite often creative, well acted and has good production values. All well and good, but subjects have been added that have no place in a family program. I’m disappointed in the gutter morality being displayed, particularly in the off-color jokes that turn up in almost every episode. For a family show to discuss and joke about sexuality of all kinds is beyond the pale, particularly since that’s a topic best left to parents. I don’t care to hear the Doctor swear. That’s a very human habit, and the Doctor’s always been above that in the past. The constant intrusion of the author’s political views also grates, as does the moral equivalence that’s been drawn between the Doctor and his enemies on at least three occasions. All of this can be laid square at the feet of Russell T. Davies, executive producer and head writer.
All of which leads me to my point, that I now go into an RTD scripted episode expecting the worst and have to be won over. One may wonder just why I bother watching the show, and it may be that like my experience with the EDAs that culminated in the utter trash that was “Adventuress of Henrietta Street”, that there may come a point when I’ve had enough and drop the new series as well, as much as I’d rather not. However, to my relief, Mr. Davies has written a pretty good script when it comes to “The Christmas Invasion”. It has some of the same flaws as his other work, but on the whole it works rather well. Unfortunately, rather than being something entirely new, it is “Aliens of London/World War 3” told with more restraint. As such, if it wasn’t for the new Doctor it would feel very much like the retread that it is. The fact that I can actually take the Sycorax more seriously as a threat (“Sycorax rock” aside… ugh) than I could the Slitheen, and the fact that I’m interested in seeing how the Doctor is ultimately characterized keep me from feeling as if I’ve seen this all before.
“You’re drawing attention to yourself.” After umpteen-million invasions of Earth in the late 20th century, an alien invasion finally occurs that can’t be covered up. I find it difficult to believe that everything from Mondas itself approaching Earth to the Slitheen crashing through Big Ben have been covered up and explained away, but that was something that much of the old series didn’t handle any better than the new one, so I’ll let it go. The idea of an invasion that affects 1/3 of the Earth’s population and thus makes aliens an everyday fact of life for our planet is interesting to say the least, as is the long overdue fact that the Earth has salvaged alien technology that enables it to defend itself. As always with Doctor Who it’s a cut-rate invasion with just one ship, although thanks to CGI we have more than ten aliens. There is an armada mentioned but not seen. The ship itself is large and impressive, casting a foreboding shadow over London. The Sycorax themselves are very much like Klingons, aren’t they? They speak a harsh guttural language, are aggressive, bound by rules of combat, and fond of melee weapons. However their apparent belief in mysticism and ‘spell-casting’ set them apart from most aliens, and their stone spaceship that looks like a flying mountain is very distinctive, particularly when it’s casting a dark shadow over London. The blood control gambit to essentially hold the world hostage is another clever idea, and a reasonable way for a single spaceship to be an effective threat.
“Harriet Jones, Prime Minister”. Yes, we know who you are. This particular character was the best part of AOL/WW3 (possibly the only good part), and it’s very nice to see her again. She has a good rapport with her ‘right hand man’, and generally projects an air of confidence and strong leadership. Except of course when she gets on national TV and begs for help from the Doctor. I’m sorry, but no national leader with any pride is going to go on television and make themselves look weak. Jones’ decision to fire on the retreating Sycorax spacecraft is absolutely correct, and it’s disappointing to see the Doctor acting vindictive and childish. One hopes that she survives the no-confidence vote.
“He left me mom. He left me!” I’m of two minds about Rose. On the one hand, I have no patience with this Doctor/Rose unspoken romance nonsense, which leads me to roll my eyes when Rose pulls a jealous fit or gushes or cries over the Doctor. On the other hand, watching the Doctor regenerate must be very much like losing a close friend, and Rose’s grief at the loss is understandable. Rose herself helps to carry much of the episode while the Doctor is unconscious, and her attempt to ‘play the Doctor’ and bluff the Sycorax is highly amusing, as well as being admirable.
“Now I know what kind of man I am.” The Eccleston to Tennant change reminds me somewhat of the changeover from Pertwee to Baker, in that we’re going from an essentially straight and earnest portrayal of the Doctor to a more eccentric and humorous one. Tennant certainly seems to exude the Doctor’s characteristic eccentricity more easily than Eccleston did. On the other hand, he often seems to be walking a very thin line between playing the character seriously and trying to be Tom Baker at his most energetic, which simply isn’t going to work for anyone other than Tom Baker. An example of a good scene played well is the Doctor’s dispatch of the killer tree. Tennant is suitably sombre when wondering about the aliens who sent the tree, and then again when threatening them from the balcony. However once he steps out of the TARDIS on board the Sycorax ship, he veers perilously close to camp. In the face of numerous threatening armed aliens he takes time to walk around and greet Rose and Harriet Jones, worried more about his hair color than the threat. Of course, it’s just as absurd that the Sycorax allow him to get away with it. The sword fight is reasonable, and is in character for the Doctor. The severing of the Doctor’s hand is remarkably blood and pain free (and thus rather unconvincing), as well as instantly bringing to mind the severing of Luke Skywalker’s hand in The Empire Strikes Back. However, the ability of the Doctor to regrow his hand due to the lingering effects of his regeneration is pretty creative. The button on the side of the ship that collapses just the right wing section to allow the Sycorax champion to fall to his death is too incredibly convenient to be believable. Please, think these things through before they are commited to film!
The humor in this episode is sometimes crass, as seems to be RTD’s wont. There are a couple of instances that work very well however. The repeated use of “Harriet Jones, Prime Minister” joke pays off when even the Sycorax leader says “Yes, we know who you are.” The killer Christmas tree ought to be too stupid for words, but when it starts chopping through walls and furniture, accompanied by a sort of hyper-Jingle Bells musical score while Jackie screams “I’m going to be killed by a Christmas Treeeeeee” I just have to laugh. The Doctor’s sword fight in his pajamas is genuinely amusing and the revival of the Doctor with tea just feels exactly right.
Happy smiles and celebrations all around are cut short when Harriet Jones gives the order to destroy the retreating Sycorax ship. Her position is entirely reasonable given what the Sycorax have just done to Earth, and her argument that the Earth has to defend itself when the Doctor isn’t around is quite sound. Frankly the Doctor looks very petty and somewhat self-important when he takes his revenge and sets in motion events which hurt Jones’ status as Prime Minister. I suppose it’s okay for the Doctor to kill aliens who threaten Earth, but not for humans to defend themselves. It does make him look very hypocritical.
I enjoyed the sequence in the wardrobe where the Doctor chooses his new clothes. It’s nice to see more of the TARDIS than just the console room. It’s great to see the fourth Doctor’s burgundy scarf as a nod to the past. Tennant looks more Doctorish with his collar and tie and long coat than Eccleston did with his t-shirt and leather jacket, and I wonder if the pin-stripe suit is again, a bit of a tribute to Tom Baker, who seemed to wear such suits for a while back in the 90s. The Christmas dinner shows us a different side to this Doctor, who would not have sat around the table with the Tylers and Mickey before. The final scenes put a damper on the festive ending however, with ash instead of snow as the Sycorax ship burns up in the atmosphere.
Overall, a promising beginning for David Tennant. He needs to settle down and take things a bit more seriously, but he already fits the part better than Christopher Eccleston, despite the fine job Eccleston did. The story is yet another tiresome alien invasion of contemporary Earth, but at least it’s big and public and shakes up the status quo so that something new is brought into the mix. One of Russel Davies better attempts. Worth watching.