Time can be rewritten. So can 19th-century morality tales! Tonight's Doctor Who Christmas special—a time-honored (honoured?) British tradition—was the best re-imagining of a Dickens classic not involving the Muppets. Let's take another look at it!
So we all know the story of "A Christmas Carol," right? Ebenezer Scrooge is a scary and lonely old man who hates Christmas and makes everyone around him as miserable as he possibly can. But then on one magical Christmas Eve he's visited by three spirits who show him Christmases past, present and future in order to make him a better man. With the fear of God put in him by the realization that his actions have real world implications and the fear of dying sad and alone he changes his ways and brings Christmas cheer wherever he goes! So inspiring.
In the Who-niverse, though, the story is a little bit different. On a planet far, far away and in what I'm assuming is a distant future despite a penchant of the population for Victorian-era clothing, humanity has created civilization on a planet surrounded by an atmosphere teeming with fish that can swim in a layer of impenetrable clouds.
How exactly? Some combination of electrical energy and ice crystallization, which means these fish can only survive in cold air and that that air can be manipulated by sound waves or some such thing. To be honest, like most things on Doctor Who the science sounds more than a bit dodgy but that's never really been this show's strong suit anyway. Oh, and you should know that both the fish and the layer of clouds can be calmed with singing, but more on that later.
First, let's take this episode from the very beginning. A star-liner carrying 4,000 passengers from Earth is about to crash but get trapped inside this dense layer of cloud cover. However will they get out of it? If only a young honeymooning couple with a friend who happens to be a time-traveling alien were on board!
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They've got an hour before they slip through the ice-crystal/fish-infested cloud cover before they die and it's up to the Doctor to convince a man called Kazran with control over the sky to relinquish it long enough to let the ship land safely. But he hates people! And he especially hates them on Christmas! So the Doctor decides to take matters into his own hands by traveling back in time and manipulating Kazran's time-line thus turning him into a better man. In another example of the many ways in which Steven Moffat's tenure at the helm of Doctor Who plays more like a fairy tale than a sci-fi drama, we see the Doctor manipulate Kazran's time-line as Kazran watches. His memories change as the episode goes on and we can see on his face the effects of the Doctor's meddling. Unfortunately, it's all for naught. Instead of just making him more compassionate, the Doctor creates a severely bitter and broken-hearted one. While showing Kazran the joys of the universe in the TARDIS the Doctor introduces him to a young woman named Abigail who they bring out of a cryogenic freeze every Christmas Eve to join them. Her's is the B story line involving a sadistic method of collateral whereby people put themselves up so their relatives can take loans. Abigails's sister had taken a loan out decades ago and she volunteered to have herself frozen. Not only that but we soon learn that she's dying, has only 9 days to live, and spends 8 of them on Christmas Eves spent with Kazran and the Doctor. Once Kazran finds out, though, it's too late. He's fallen in love and becomes cold and unfeeling when he freezes her again for the last time knowing that opening her door again would doom her to her last day ever. SAD! Even sadder because Kazran gets pretty hunky in his early twenties and how attractive would these two kids' offspring have been?
It's always a shame when pretty people can't be together, isn't it?
And now it's time for the ghost of Christmas Present to show Kazran a thing or two. She appears in the guise of an Amy Pond hologram, bringing with her 4,000 other holograms. Each one is a passenger on board her ship who is about to die, all singing in unison in an attempt to manipulate the clouds using sound vibrations in order to land their ship safely. Unfortunately the singing doesn't work and neither does Amy's intervention. Apparently the sight of 4,000 ghost-like spirits singing Christmas hymns in his basement wasn't enough to make Kazran less of a prick. So what next? Well, it's all up to the ghost of Christmas Future.
For Scrooge, the Ghost of Christmas Future is a menacing creature shrouded like death who shows Ebenezer where he ends up when he's long gone from this world: dead and alone and a joke to the townsfolk. The Doctor, however, decides that death isn't nearly as frightening as life. Rather than take present-day Kazran into the future in the TARDIS, he brings his childhood self to the present to meet himself as a bitter old man. And he's right! Aging is scary! He's so jarred by the experience that his heart grows three sizes and the old and bitter Kazran instantly becomes someone who decides that 4,000 people dying isn't a good thing. He rushes to the ship's aid with only a couple of minutes left to spare by deciding to defrost Abigail one last time so she can tame the sky with her singing even though it would mean sealing her fate.
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And so, like any and every Doctor Who special before it, our story ended with a happy ending and some snow. Did we learn much of anything new about the Doctor? No. But we did learn a little about Amy and Rory's bedroom habits, and that's something worth noting. All in all, the Doctor's first big push into the American market by airing the Christmas special on Christmas day for the first time in America, I'd say, was a smashing success. Here's to looking forward to season 6's premiere in the Spring.