"The fish like the music."

I remember when the Doctor Who 2010/2011 Christmas special came out, I saw a headline in the Guardian that made some comment about the show “jumping the shark.”

And I thought, “Ah, fuck — they lost their grip and fumbled the special. Oh, well, after such a good season, no-one will blame them for it.” And I clicked into the story — only to discover that the end of the sentence was “…and landed perfectly.” Or words to that effect.
Having been forced by the vagaries of the DVD market and the wonders of the BBC marketing division — does anyone know if they’re still employed, by the way? — to wait a whole month (or two; I can’t now remember) to see the special, I couldn’t immediately take in the glories of the Guardian reviewer’s commentary.
Now having seen the special several times, I have to say: I absolutely, whole-heartedly, and 100% concur.

And, to coin a phrase, “Spoilers.” Not really huge gigantic brain-sucking ones, but still. 

Not to belabor my point but, short of the Runaway Bride, this may be my favorite of the Christmas specials. Yes, I love the Starship Titanic: there is Geoffrey Palmer, there is Russell Tovey, there is Kylie Minogue — but there is also a lot of pain and, honestly, now I can’t look at Midshipman Frame now in any context without seeing Captain Jack post-Children of Earth and that’s just bad. We’ll get to how bad that is in another post.
The Doctor Who Christmas Carol is a worrying, perfect thing. The few blog posts I have read about it are pretty much unanimous in how awesome it is, so I’m not going to spend too much time on that. It is awesome and if you happen not to agree with that verdict, you have long since stopped reading this post — not to mention this blog, so that’s all good.
I want to talk about the worrying — and then again about the perfect. But lets hit up worrying first.
Sardik’s machine that controls the sky.

I haven’t seen a single commentary that talks about how disturbing the Doctor is in this story. Hello? Anyone? Anyone else out there think what he does is totally freaky and a little unokay? Lets just have a brief review, shall we? Amy and Rory, on their honeymoon, as organized by the Doctor. Their ship — the standard super-luxurious space cruise-liner — is crashing. The only man who can stop the ship crashing is Kazran Sardik, the self-nominated ruler of the planet who “controls the skies.” The Doctor goes down to ask Sardik — quite nicely — to clear the cloud layer over the planet and allow the ship to land. Sardik — not very nicely at all — refuses.

Cue the Doctor’s meddling side, apparently, because, man, does he go all out. Not satisfied with browbeating Sardik in the present — and it is Michael Gambon after all; I love Matt Smith but even he has a little way to go before he can truly go toe-to-toe with Gambon — the Doctor immediately travels back in Sardik’s life to his boyhood and plunges into trying to rebuild the man from the ground up. Sardik’s memories of the past as he remembers it and as it is being rebuilt for him by the Doctor begin to collide and reshape.
I mean, yeah, as Amy says to Sardik at one point, “He was trying to make you a better man.” But what right does he have to do that? Who the hell, to coin a phrase, is he? He takes personal, by hand control of Sardik’s life and, admittedly, he tries to undo or ameliorate a lot of damage. Sardik’s father is abusive; his emotional life is stunted; and, as events develop, the woman he idolizes as a boy and loves as a young man, is dying, confined to a tiny metal cell in an induced cold sleep by his father. So, yeah, pretty not good all ’round — but I don’t know as the Doctor makes it a lot better.

This is very similar to what the Doctor attempts, as 10, in Waters of Mars except this time — major point here — he gets away with it.

Sardik and the Doctor face off.

Yes, some of what he does for Sardik is wonderful: when talking to the older Sardik, the Doctor mentions that perhaps Sardik Senior was a bit of the not-good kind of father. Perhaps Sardik Junior has an opportunity to be a different man and wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing? And even when forcibly rewriting Sardik’s memories, he takes him — and Abigail; mustn’t forget Abigail — to some wonderful places, shows them glories of the universe including his own unscheduled wedding to Marilyn Monroe.

And the Doctor’s original reappearance back in Sardik’s memory as he recalls being a sobbing boy in his room is absolutely in keeping with the tenor of the rest of the season: don’t interfere…unless there’s a crying child. Sardik’s line that leads into the quick TARDIS jump to the past is something the Doctor could never resist: “…no-one comes.” Well, how could he ignore that? I mean, c’mon! He’s been trying so hard to be good and I think that’s possibly why I find what he does with Sardik’s past life so disturbing: he tries so hard to be good and talk to him in the here and now and when he can’t change things that way…

But on the whole — I get uneasier and uneasier every time I watch the show. What the Doctor does is just not good and he gets away with it which is bad.

So there. I’ve made my point about what I feel is the “worrying” bit of Christmas Carol and we can finish by talking about what the “perfect” is which is everything else including the “worrying.”. If I wasn’t a little bit worried, I would think Steven Moffat wasn’t doing his job (and, by the way, Moffat? We need to talk about the proposed Sherlock seasons and where you need to be putting your effort in the next few years. Just whenever you have a few minutes…).

Because you have to have snow.

Rory and Amy are great as the honeymoon couple (“Eyes off the skirt!”) and I could have even done with a little more Rory — but I feel that way a lot. I can’t wait for the episode I’m sure he gets in Season 6 where he just steps up, sheds the flannel’y outside, and goes for it — in whatever form that takes.

Abigail is a lovely, sweet, absolutely charming character. Her voice is…revelatory. The British press talked about her casting as a huge give-away but I had no idea who she was; in the promo photos, she was just the blonde lady holding a lamp. Her rendering of “In the Bleak Midwinter” is gorgeous.

The fish — the fish are great. The fish are…just so great. They make me smile uncontrollably every time I watch the show.

The Doctor’s entrance is fantastic (“My whole brain just went…what the hell!”) and Matt Smith doesn’t really stumble once in this — neither does anyone else in the cast. They pick up what could have been a thin, unconvincing story with far too much schmoop and transform it into brilliant Doctor Who and a great story.

And so, as a closing thought, have a Wednesday video. If you wish to skip some great stuff about fish and fog and frozen people, skip straight to 12.30. Otherwise, just enjoy.

https://dailymotion.com/video/xghfg7

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One thought on “"The fish like the music."

  1. I agree with you on so many points! Runaway Bride is an awesome Christmas special as well, and this one was almost as great. I also fully agree that the Doctor gets away with a LOT more things now, and I don't think it stops with just this special. This was a fun read and made me want to go back and watch the special again.

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