A Christmas Carol

Posted in Episode by - March 17, 2016
A Christmas Carol

Aired 25 December 2010

With a unique spin on the basic premise of Charles Dickens’s beloved A Christmas Carol, Steven Moffat’s first holiday outing is a great success, offering a standalone and yet very emotional tale that ranks among Doctor Who‘s best Christmas tales so far.

After a very fast-paced and funny opening sequence featuring a crashing spaceship with Amy and Rory aboard, the action quickly slows down and switches its focus to a more traditional Christmas setting. Micahel Gambon’s Scrooge equivalent in Kazran Sardick is soon introduced. He ends up being quite a complicated character, though at first he is presented as a man who has the ability to save thousands of people but refuses to do so. Through time travel and several machinations of the Doctor, this crusty exterior is slowly broken down as Sardick’s deeper emotions and motivations reveal themselves.

It likely doesn’t need saying, but Gambon is superb in this role, bringing a sense of both sympathy and empathy to his character. Because of the time travel device, though, it allows the Doctor and the audience to understand why and how he has become the man he is as well as to see his retroactive response to some very important moments in his life. The scenes with the young Sardick seeing his father bellow in rage and seeing the changing emotions of the elder as he sees his younger self are some of the strongest in the episode.

The other pivotal guest star is Katherine Jenkins as Abigail Pettigrew, adding a bevy of emotional weight to each of her scenes as Sardick torments himself over which day should be her last. The sequence of Christmas montages and their developing once-annual relationship is extremely touching and provides the strong emotional core that the frosty elder Sardick still has deep inside. With Amy and Rory absent for most of the episode, Gambon and Jenkins prove easily adept at providing a strong and shifting foundation for the events.

This is a much slower and more character-driven Christmas episodes than previous ones and, while there are still some action sequences throughout, it’s the more low-key scenes that prove to be the most fascinating as the central relationship and its effects through time take centre stage. Even the fish that fill the monster’s role here, though perfectly in keeping in the calmer tone of the episode and serving an important purpose in the end, take a backstage to the core characters.

Matt Smith gives another very strong performance as the Eleventh Doctor as well, this time allowed to explore his comedic side which, aside from some brief scenes in ‘The Eleventh Hour’ and ‘The Lodger,’ has remained a rarity given the weightiness of his scripts. His relationship advice, in particular, is superb. Ultimately, though, it’s touching to see how much he quickly begins to care for Kazran, helping to provide a mountain of good memories and happy times. While events take some unexpected turns thanks to the Doctor’s inventory and gadgets, the friendship at the core is testament to the Time Lord’s character. And the payoff with the ghost of Christmas future is a jaw-dropper, absolutely fulfilling everything that the episode set out to do.

Though ‘A Christmas Carol’ is the very definition of a character piece with Sardick right in the middle, its story provides a fantastic coda to what has already been an extremely strong series of Doctor Who. The action and monsters may have taken a sidelined role along with Amy and Rory, but the story of Kazran and Abigail is one that will live on through the ages.

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