RUSSELL T. DAVIES
'THE COMPLETE SECOND SERIES' DVD BOX SET (BBCDVD2122) RELEASED IN NOVEMBER 2006.
It's Christmas Eve and high above London, the alien Sycorax are holding the Earth to ransom. The Doctor must recover from his regeneration in time to save the human race from slavery.
25TH DECEMBER 2005
(60-MINUTE CHRISTMAS SPECIAL)
Well that was good, don’t you reckon? Such sentiments certainly appear to be rife amongst devoted Doctor Who fans and casual telly watchers alike; even old Nannan Wolverson was waxing eloquent about the merits of The Christmas Invasion at our Boxing Day brunch. Indeed, Christmas in our little flat was firmly structured around the broadcast of Doctor Who’s first bona fide Christmas special - and after seeing it, justifiably so!
After Christopher Eccleston bowed out in one the greatest and most epic episodes that the series has ever produced, the pressure was really on for Russell T Davies and company to deliver with this much-hyped sixty-minuter. As soon as the episode began it reminded me of just how fast Doctor Who is these days; not just when compared to its small screen rivals but also to feature films, which I find increase in length and slow in pace every year.
The opening sequence is glorious to behold. After some brief but nonetheless beautiful CG shots of the planet (a strange fusion of the opening shots of Rose and the EastEnders title sequence!) Jackie and Mickey find themselves putting their lives on hold once again as the TARDIS materialises in mid-air and then crashes down spectacularly on the Powell Estate!
The special’s early scenes - where David Tennant’s new Doctor lies in bed as Rose and Jackie dote on him - have so much in them. Without realising it, the viewer assimilates a huge amount of information (Jackie has a new bloke; Harriett Jones, now Prime Minister as the Doctor predicted, has sent a probe to Mars; Rose accepts that this man lying in bed is the Doctor, yet she still grieves for Eccleston’s Doctor) yet it is all written with such heart and humour that it is completely credible. Moreover, not a word is wasted – everything said is vital to either the ‘A’ plot of the impending Sycorax Invasion or the ‘B’ plot of the Doctor’s regeneration and his adopted family’s reaction to it. You really have to admire Davies’ skill.
“There’s no-one to save us. Not anymore.”
I was pleased to find that the special’s overtly Christmassy scenes were over with in the first quarter of an hour or so. No matter how wonderfully executed, a full hour of ‘Invasion of the Killer Santas’ didn’t really appeal to me. The brevity of these scenes, however, certainly did not lessen their impact; if anything, the opposite is true. The scenes featuring Rose (who, it has to be said, is looking stunning in this episode) and Mickey being attacked by the brass band of Santas were explosive in every sense, particularly as I was not expecting so much action so early on in the story. Seven minutes in, and already a bunch of Santas were firing flamethrowers (disguised as musical instruments) at our heroes!
I know what you’re thinking: heroes – plural? Mickey? You bet.
I have been a fan of Noel Clarke’s character ever since his coming of age in the Aliens of London two-parter, and I am tremendously impressed with how he is being developed as the series progresses. Unlike Rose, aliens and monsters really bother poor Mickey. Even in this special, as the Santa’s attack it’s clear that he’s visibly shaken. However, unlike the quivering wreck that Rose left behind in a dark 2005 alleyway, Mickey is now learning to conquer his fears and show that he can be just as brave as his former girlfriend if he really has to. Just look at the way in which he grabs a chair and tries to fend off that murderous Christmas Tree in the Tylers’ flat!
That said, it was Camille Coduri that very nearly stole the show for me; she certainly had the lion’s share of the script’s more comic moments, more so even than usual. “Is there anything else he’s got two of?” and the whole “…he hasn’t changed that much” / “he gets hungry in his sleep?” sequence both stand out as being particularly memorable.
“I’m gonna get killed by a Christmas Tree!”
Now as it happens, the ‘killer Christmas Tree’ scene was one of the highlights of the special for me, Davies taking the familiar and turning it into the stuff of mistletoe-strewn nightmares. In what other show would you have a hysterical Jackie Tyler screeching “I’m gonna get killed by a Christmas Tree” as a very fast, very creepy version of Jingle Bells plays and a razor-sharp, rotating Nordmann fir tries to slice her up? Just as I’m sure the writer intended, ‘the one with the Christmas Tree’ will no doubt endure in viewers’ memories for just as long as ‘the one with the green maggots’ and the like; perhaps even longer.
And of course, it was at this point in The Christmas Invasion that we first became properly acquainted with the tenth Doctor. Despite having starred in November’s Children in Need mini-episode, so far as most of the audience was concerned this was David Tennant’s big hello, and so I’m pleased to say that he acquitted himself admirably – all business. Leaping into action at Rose’s request, he quickly sorts out the rampant evergreen with his sonic screwdriver before turning on the Santas who were controlling it from just outside. But then, with his companions safe for the time being, the new Doctor takes another turn for the worse and is out like a light again.
Now although I don’t really have any major bones to pick with The Christmas Invasion, one minor quibble that I do have is to do with the nature of these ‘pilot fish’ Santas. They appear to have very little to do with the Sycorax invasion. In fact, if I were a cynic I’d say that Davies just shoehorned them into his script so that he could explain away a killer Christmas Tree!
Fortunately though, the Sycorax invasion itself is well worth the wait. As the face of an alien (and not just any alien, but a roaring, raging monster) is inadvertently broadcast live on BBC One, The Christmas Invasion suddenly kicks into top gear. Harriett Jones is marched into UNIT Headquarters where she learns that these ‘Sycorax’ have approximately a third of the world’s population under their voodoo ‘blood control’ and that, unless the planet accedes to their demands, they will cast themselves from the worlds of the rooftops like lemmings.
Davies evidently had a great deal of fun writing these UNIT scenes. Some of the dialogue is very playful indeed - we have lines about an act of Parliament preventing publication of Harriett’s autobiography, the beautifully matter-of-fact Major Blake dismissing Llewellyn’s ‘Martian’ speculation with “Martians look completely different”, and even the running “yes, I know who you are gag” as the ever-humble Harriett introduces herself to all and sundry. I also like how the modern UNIT soldiers revere the Doctor as “the stuff of legend”, and how this mysterious ‘Torchwood’ organisation is frequently mentioned, yet not so much as for it to stand out. Because of all the fuss over Harriett asking for the Doctor’s help, you don’t really give much thought to Torchwood or what it might bring to the table.
“Surrender or they will die…”
However, the humour of the story is dwarfed by the enormity of the events portrayed, which director James Hawes has done an outstanding job of capturing. Images of the hypnotised Londoners marching slowly but resolutely towards the tops of the highest buildings would have been powerful enough in themselves, but the epic scope that shots of cities like Paris and Rome add to the sequence put the The Christmas Invasion right up there with anything that you could see in the cinema.
Similarly, the spectacular sonic boom that accompanies the Sycorax ship entering orbit is cinematic in its splendour. And though my fiancée was adamant that the ship looked like ‘a big turd’, I was very impressed with it – a very natural design, incredibly well realised on a television budget. And as it came over London, I wonder how many of you noticed Big Ben surrounded by scaffolding, being rebuilt after the Slitheen crash? The thought and the detail put into each and every shot really is mind-boggling.
Many people have likened The Christmas Invasion to the movie Independence Day, and there are indeed clear parallels… only this is much, much better of course. Depending on what you class as ‘an episode’, this is at least the fourteenth episode of the revived series, and as such as an audience we are now well and truly invested in the regular characters, giving the whole production an emotional weight that a one-off movie like Independence Day could never hope to have.
For instance, amidst all the panic of the alien invasion, the episode has a moment to focus on Rose as she realises that she can’t understand the Sycorax language, and that as such the TARDIS can’t be working, and so it follows that the Doctor is is not working. Mickey very poignantly asks, “you love him, don’t you?”, to which Rose responds simply by resting her head on his shoulder – a really touching little moment. The shots of Rose finally breaking down in tears and crying on her Mother’s shoulder are equally affecting – “He’s gone! The Doctor’s gone! He’s left me Mum!” It’s as if the Doctor has actually died.
“He’s left me Mum...”
Of course, regeneration isn’t death; in fact, it’s the Time Lord way of cheating death. But to a human being, never seeing somebody again is a massive thing, and even though the ninth Doctor tried to make light of his regeneration in an attempt to save Rose this heartache and these feelings of loss, he could never have succeed entirely. The ninth Doctor is dead and Rose, much like the audience, is in mourning for Eccleston’s Doctor and unsure about his replacement – his replacement who is lying in bed as the world ends, which doesn’t help matters.
It wasn’t until round about the forty-minute mark that Tennant made his full-blown debut, but it was certainly worth waiting for. With Mickey the idiot having haplessly managed to get the TARDIS transmatted on board the Sycorax ship, he then goes for gold by spilling his flask of tea on the TARDIS’ floor where the Doctor’s prone body lay. And so as Rose desperately tries to bluff the Sycorax leader with talk of the Shadow Proclamation, the Slitheen, and even the Daleks, suddenly the Sycorax Leader’s words start to sound English. And if the TARDIS’ translation circuits are working again, then just maybe....
“Did you miss me?”
Sean Gilder, better known for his portrayal of hardman Paddy McGuire in the Channel 4 hit Shameless, has obviously taken great pleasure in portraying the leader of the Sycorax as a very stiff and proud, almost Klingon warrior which makes him the perfect inaugural foil for the tenth Doctor. Their initial banter is downright farcical - “Who are you?” ‘Paddy’ roars, to which Doctor number ten amusingly apes “I DON’T KNOW”, gorilla-style!
“Am I sexy? It seems I’ve certainly got a gob on me… Rude and not ginger… Oh look!
A great big threatening button that should not be pressed under any circumstances…”
Davies must have had a ball writing this stuff, and Tennant must have had even more fun delivering it. The threat of the blood control is thwarted by the Doctor easily (too easily, I’m sure some will argue. It’s the old sonic screwdriver / anti-plastic / Time Goddess get-out-again) and so, after quoting The Lion King (and forever endearing himself to old Nannan Wolverson), he accepts the mantle of ‘World’s Champion’ and challenges the Sycorax Leader – or the “big feller”, if you will – to a swordfight... for the planet.
Now I can stretch my disbelief to the point where I can swallow that
Davies might not have had Douglas Adams’ Restaurant at the End of the
Universe consciously in mind when he wrote The End of the World,
but I will never believe that when he wrote the Doctor having a swordfight
up amongst the clouds with a tall, masked, caped villain that he did not
have The Empire Strikes Back in the forefront of his thoughts. The
Doctor’s hand being cut off in the
midst of battle absolutely
clenched it. A lovely bit of
I must say though, the traumatic removal of the Doctor’s hand was definitely a ‘what the f***!’ moment, if you’ll pardon my French. Even in the anything-anywhere-anywhen-goes world of Doctor Who there are rules, and I’m sure that the Doctor not sporting a Skywalkeresque prosthesis is one of them. There was a get-out of course - and an utterly cheesy one at that - but it was brilliant all the same, emphasising once again the Doctor’s unique physiology and also, it seems, tagging Tennant as the luckiest of Doctors. As he was within fifteen hours of his regeneration when the appendage was severed, he had enough residual energy to grow himself a new hand. And guess what? “It’s a fightin’ hand!” What can you do watching that, other than applaud?
For all his rash exuberance though, the tenth Doctor is still the Doctor. He has retained the sensibilities of earlier incarnations, taking the Sycorax leader’s word that his race would leave Earth and never return, rather than taking his life in the first instance. I’m pleased that the ninth Doctor’s ruthlessness has been carried forward though - though Ten may have given the Sycorax Leader a chance, as soon as that chance had been squandered he did not hesitate to send him to his death, courtesy of Jackie’s boyfriend’s Satsuma. There is something scary and yet utterly beguiling about a man who can flit from the nonchalance of “cheers for that, big feller” to deadly earnestness. One of my favourite shots of the whole special is the Doctor, still wearing his ‘Arthur Dent’ dressing down, marching with steely determination towards the camera. It is that burning intensity that we first saw a fleeting glimpse of back in November’s Children In Need special; magnificent.
“No second chances. That’s the kind of man I am.”
But the story of The Christmas Invasion doesn’t end there. In a fascinating last-minute twist, Harriett Jones gives the order for this mysterious Torchwood organisation to shoot down the retreating Sycorax ship. The parallel to Maggie Thatcher’s infamous sinking of the Belgrano in the Falklands war is patent, and says a lot about the writer’s attitude towards past (and indeed present) conflicts, but what I find more intriguing is the way that the Doctor reacts to this unexpected turn of events. I expected him to be enraged; livid, even. But to completely turn against Harriett seemed disproportionately harsh, particularly given the tolerance and forgiveness that he has shown to characters like the Brigadier in the past, who has been known to bomb species into virtual extinction for far less than mounting a full-scale invasion of Earth. It seems that the new Doctor’s “no second chances” maxim is going to be much more than just a nice quote for the soundbite gluttons...
However, I sincerely hope that Harriett is given a chance to redeem herself in the Doctor’s eyes; after all, she is demonstrably a good woman who was clearly out of depth and with an impossible decision to make. The bringing down of her government with six simple words - “don’t you think she looks tired?” – is surely penance enough for her as, by the end of The Christmas Invasion, she really did look tired. And sorry.
The closing moments of the special have a delightful sense of renaissance about them; a tangible sense of hope and anticipation. And equally they look to the series’ past, as the Doctor rummages around in the TARDIS wardrobe, wearing his fourth incarnation’s latter-day scarf whilst hunting for his new getup. He first pulls out Casanova’s outfit before settling on some very trendy threads indeed - geek chic, they’re calling it. And so to the sound of Murray Gold’s seasonally apposite Song For Ten, the Doctor sits down with his adopted family for a good old-fashioned Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. Who said he didn’t do domestics...
And the final scene is breathtaking; the fallout from the Sycorax ship lending the scene a sombre undertone, whilst the sparkling dialogue again looks to the future. I especially love the Doctor’s “not with these eyes” line; very redolent.
On balance then, Tennant’s debut story has shown more promise than any other Doctor’s to date, Eccleston included. Stuffed to bursting with action, pathos and a whole bucket load of humour, The Christmas Invasion was quite rightly the centrepiece of BBC One’s Christmas Day schedule; an honour that I suspect it will enjoy for many years to come. And if the trailer at the end of the episode is anything to go by - Cybermen! Sarah Jane! K-9! - then for me, spring couldn’t come soon enough.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
When is now? This episode must take place on Christmas Day 2006, one year ahead of its transmission. This is because it is set between The Parting of the Ways (late 2006) and School Reunion (January 2007).
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