So the Doctor is back for Christmas and unlike the last two Christmas stories, this one is actually a genuinely Christmas rooted story. Last Christmas was more about the beginning of the departure of dear David rather than any big deal about Crimbo. I could make the argument that the Christmas link in The Next Doctor is fairly tenuous and that story could play at any time.
This one is definitely a story for the season – it is about Christmas, but still being about the Doctor it is about a bit more than that. They even give us some glimpses of what we can expect in the next series within this very episode. Lets get the lowdown on what’s going on.
The pre-title sequence sees a space ship careening to its doom. It is a space ship with passengers on and among them are the newly wed Mr and Mrs Williams aka Rory and Amy formerly Pond (Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan). They send a distress signal to the Doctor (Matt Smith) who gives a message back stating he will sort things out for them. His efforts to do so leads him to the residence of Mr. Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon) who among other things is a very powerful and influential man who has the controls to clear the space and provide the way for the space ship to land safely.
Kazran is in the middle of dealing with a family who wish to to see the matriarch’s sister, Abigail (Katherine Jenkins) who is frozen in a chamber. They wish to free her, but Kazran will have none of it. The Doctor’s unconventional entry – down the chimney, would you believe in Christmas time, what are the chances – is the prelude to his effort to get Kazran to assist in the rescue effort. Maintaining his mean and curmudgeonly approach, Kazran has no intention of clearing the sky and even if that means 4003 people die, that is not his problem.
At the height of the heated dialogue Kazran shows a chink in his cold front when he refuses to slap a child in the family refused of the chance of freeing Abigail. This gives the Doctor hope that he can somehow appeal to him to make a change. Time, as ever is not on his side, as they only have an hour to find a solution before the ship crashes. In a conversation with Amy, the Doctor comes across the idea of taking Kazran through the similar ordeal that one Ebenezer Scrooge undertook in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
This starts with the ghost of Christmas Past as played by the Doctor himself. He delves into why Kazran is the way he is and presents to the Scrooge character a film of his past where as a little boy, without the bitter attitude, he was excited to get the chance to look at fish. To make matters more interesting, the Doctor goes back to see the boy and whilst engaging with him finds out more of his interests in the fish. The boy Kazran and the Doctor strike up a friendship and goes about solving this fish riddle as to why fish are swimming in the air.
Setting up a little experiment with his sonic screwdriver, the Doctor gets boy Kazran to wait outside his room whilst the Doctor entices a little fishy to the room. Just when he thinks it’s safe to introduce boy Kazran to the fish a shark comes in and swallows the fish and half the sonic screwdriver. In the ensuing dash away from the shark having recovered half the screwdriver, the Doctor and boy Kazran go to the cellar freezer where Abigail resides. Opening up the door to her freezer the shark makes an appearance and is about to strike, when Abigail starts singing and it is the song that calms all the fishes in the area including the shark.
With the situation resolved, the Doctor takes Abigail and Kazran in the TARDIS to get the shark in and release him and they go off enjoying ‘the best Christmas Eve ever’. Thus is set up a scenario where every Christmas Eve the Doctor turns up and he and boy Kazran take Abigail out of the freezer to enjoy some time out, as it were.
Unbeknownst to the two, every time Abigail comes out, she is a step closer to her death for mysterious reasons. This does not become an issue until it is now the Doctor and young man Kazran. In the meantime the Doctor allows Abigail to visit her family on one Christmas Eve and that also highlights how different the young Sardick is to his father.
Being much closer in age and acknowledging how much Kazran has grown, the interest between the young man and Abigail becomes somewhat more intimate. This is even highlighted when they are treated to a trip to 1950’s America where the poor Doctor is hounded by Marilyn Monroe, but the lovestruck pair are too enamoured with each other.
On revealing her issue to Kazran, and thus stating that it must be the last time they enjoy Christmas Eve together or else … the young man immediately begins to clam up knowing there is nothing he can do for his beloved Abigail. this is what also leads to his belief that as his dream must die, so all must die and he doesn’t really care about it. Maintaining the Scrooge like attitude of the older Kazran who rebuffs the efforts of this Christmas Past effort.
This brings in the appearance of Christmas Present as played by Amy who materialises as a hologram before Kazran and appeals to him on behalf of those about to die to have mercy. Despite showing other holograms of some of those about to die, this does not melt his heart. Indeed the connection between the fate of Abigail and anyone else only hardens his resolve in this matter.
So having gone through the past and the present, it is left up to the Doctor to show Kazran what the Christmas future will look like. He does this with a subtle twist, by actually bringing young Kazran to see how the old guy is sorting things out. When the old man sees how he could become like his old man and considers the new memories he stops himself and recognises how much he cares after all.
There is a problem, due to the changes that have happened to Kazran he is no longer the Kazran that can control the cloud machine. The resolution requires Abigail to sing again even if it means it will be the last Christmas Eve Kazran will ever spend with her. Making this sacrifice, Kazran releases Abigail who is not reluctant to give up all to be with the one she loves again even if it has been a while.
As planned for the song of Abigail saves the day and the spaceship with the newly-weds is able to land safely. They catch up with the Doctor and although all things must end, it must be so or there would be no beginning. This of course leads to the new beginnings that await the TARDIS crew as they leave Kazran to enjoy his one Christmas with his beloved Abigail.
This is a good episode because it’s not fussed about technicalities – it is based on people taking a hold of the story and enjoying it just like a story. I think I heard somewhere that Moffat was keen to introduce the element of Doctor Who being a bit like a fairy tale. This story in particular succeeds in that.
I was chuffed to see the return of the Fez and as for that scarf, I wonder where on earth he could have got that from, almost as if he could have worn that before in another life. The reference to Marilyn Monroe was fun and a good laugh even in the most delicate of times. The acting was good all round. The role of Abigail was hardly a demanding one, but still a good performance put in by the debutant singer Miss Jenkins. Gambon as well didn’t hog the screen but did alright.
So it was left to Smith again to see if he would continue to revel in his own depiction of the iconic figure and I think he did well. Love his sense of whimsy and ability to be like a child which is something all of the characterisations of the Doctor has shown to some extent, but Smith’s genuine child-like quality whilst in his responsible position brings out the class in this tale which is meant to hit children as well as the grown-ups.
Behind the scenes I’ve often grumbled about how the modern Doctor has tended to be about everything other than the Doctor. In this story he is actually a pivotal part in the story which is highlighted near the end where Rory complains to Amy that the Doctor is taking all the credit only to realise on this occasion he deserves all the credit. This is a story of how the Doctor bumbles and bustles about to get some solution to the story. I enjoyed how that played out in the story.
With the nature of the season as well, and the Dickensian inspiration, it would funnily enough be almost Scrooge like to pick holes in the story. That is not to give it a free pass and say it was the best Doctor story ever – it was not by any means. Yet it typified the best elements of the whole programme. There is a problem, here is the Doctor to do what it takes to solve the problem.
Whereas series 5 has been as much about who is Amy, as anything else. This story is more centred around Kazran and the love story (both love not there and love introduced) with the tragic Abigail. In a real way, this story could have been done without the companions. Yet what I also found heart-warming from the credits was further recognition of Rory’s status as part of the opening credits.
For our purpose, however the role of the companions allows continuity both from the series just finished and the series to come. The trailer for it after the episode was quite intriguing and as all good trailers should, it leaves this viewer desirous of what on earth is in store in the series to come!