As near as I can make out, “Christmas Specials” are essentially an extra long, extra episode of various British shows with stories set around Christmas but that may be about it. They don’t play quite so much like an American Christmas episode where the ideals of the holiday are used with all the subtly of a sledgehammer. You’ll just see some Christmas stuff going on with British TV, and the adventure may or may not have much to do with the holiday.
That said, this was the first full episode to feature David Tennant’s fan-favorite Tenth Doctor. So, how does he do in this, his first real adventure?
He actually doesn’t do much as this is a regeneration story, so he spends most of it unconscious, recovering from the stress of having his entire cellular structure transform in a big flash of energy.
OK, that’s maybe to be expected, and it sure is better than the old Doctor Who regeneration stories where the Doctor would wander around out of it for a few episodes until he got his head and new personality on straight. But this was probably Tennant’s dream job. He wasn’t the first actor to grow up a fan of the old show, but as far as I know, he’s the only one who says Doctor Who is what made him want to be an actor in the first place. Factor in as well that by now the show was also being run by fans of the old series, and you could have some seriously fun stories as the lead actor, the producers, and the writers could all be working on the show they all loved and wanted to shape more than anything. It probably showed the most with Tennant.
Tennant, it should be noted, is a fantastic actor in his own right, and during my trip to Austin, also around Christmas, I stopped at a local toy store to get some gifts for my niece and nephew and had a minor bit of shock when I saw a cardboard cutout of Tennant in the store. Of course, this was Tennant-as-the-Doctor, but at the time, the most recent thing I’d seen him in was his equally fantastic turn as the mind controlling villain Kilgrave over on Jessica Jones. There probably couldn’t be two more different characters, and Tennant seems to have nailed both of them based on what I saw on the aforementioned Marvel Netflix show and my admittedly limited exposure to his Doctor Who run.
And yet, he spends most of this episode unconscious. Britain launched a satellite to Mars, but other aliens, the Sycorax, intercepted it and managed to use it to control anyone on Earth with an A-positive blood type, convincing them to climb a tall building and then jump if the Earth, led by newest Prime Minister Harriet Jones, doesn’t surrender half the population to be sold into slavery.
Half for slavery or a third dead? What a horrible choice, and the Doctor, aside from a quick blast of the sonic screwdriver to disable a killer Christmas tree, isn’t even awake to do anything about it, leaving it up to Rose and Mickey in the TARDIS to, well, try.
I did appreciate that Harriet Jones’s continual use of her full title is getting old for a lot of people, that she name-drops “Torchwood” a couple times, and how her own, presumably UNIT-affiliated military aide tells her the Sycorax aren’t Martians because, well, they know what Martians look like (Ice Warriors, I suspect), and the Sycorax look different.
Naturally, it doesn’t work, but then the Doctor wakes up, engages in some verbal jousting, a sword fight during which he regrows a hand that he can only do that close to regeneration, and finally manages to save the day without really killing anyone, all while making it look easy.
And then Harriet Jones, Prime Minister, orders Torchwood to blow the alien ship out of the sky as it’s leaving. On the one hand, I can’t disagree when she says the Doctor is a bit unreliable and they need to defend themselves. On the other hand, the Doctor had already won, so he’s not happy. He’ll even go so far as to ruin the career of a woman he had in an earlier episode and incarnation declared would have a good long run as PM by using a simple question whispered in an aide’s ear: “Don’t you think she looks tired?”
Oh yes, the Doctor is back, convincing Rose, Mickey, Jackie, and the rueful Harriet Jones, probably no longer Prime Minister that he is, in fact, the real Doctor. And that means a nice Christmas dinner with his friends and more adventures on the horizon.
And after the “next time” flash, it should be a fun time with a new Doctor.