Wait, what’s this? A Christmas special where Christmas is a major thematic element and not just a somewhat normal episode that has some occasional mentions of the holiday? How did that happen?
This really is a different kind of Doctor…
OK, so, sometime in the future, a space-traveling cruise ship is going down onto some planet with a human population, but there are these clouds that will prevent the ship from landing safely. Fortunately, Amy and Rory were in the honeymoon suite (and their choice of attire is…interesting to say the least), and that means they can call the Doctor for help. He’s in the TARDIS, and he can just zip down to the planet’s surface and fix the cloud problem.
Cut to the gloomy mansion of one Karzan Sardick, played by Michael Gambon, who really puts the DICK in Sardick. Some family is begging him to let a relative out of frozen suspended animation for a day, and then the Doctor falls down the chimney. Turns out he also knows Father Christmas.
Small problem: the clouds can only be controlled by the miserly Karzan. The machinery is synced to his biometrics. Not even the sonic screwdriver can change things. And since this Scrooge-like guy is living up to the last part of his last name, the Doctor figures there’s only one way to save the cruiseship before it crashes: do a little time travel and play Ghost of Christmas Past. Young Karzan was abused by his miserly father (also Gambon), but the Doctor is a friend to everyone and becomes, like, the ultimate childhood pal to this troubled kid to try to keep him from growing up to become the miserly asshole who will gladly let 4,000 people die because he might lose money otherwise.
Also, there are fish in the sky on this planet. A shark swims out of the sky and eats the sonic screwdriver, but the Doctor does get half of it back. There’s some more stuff involving letting the previously-seen frozen woman out (it seems Old Man Sardick locks people up frozen as “security” for individuals who borrow money), letting her reveal a lovely singing voice…and then making it an annual tradition where the Doctor comes back on Christmas Eve every year to show the woman Abigail and young Karzan a wonderful, magical time anywhere or anywhen for Christmas Eve. Karzan grows up, he and Abigail fall for each other, and then…um, she lets out she’s only got one day to live, so Karzan asks the Doctor to stop coming by and all because he has to grow up and join his father’s company.
No one thinks to tell the Doctor this woman is dying.
OK, so, in the present, is Old Karzan better? Nope! He’s bitter now. And if we’re doing a Christmas Carol riff, we need two more ghosts. Amy can be the Ghost of Christmas Present, using a hologram to show Karzan all the people who will die if he does nothing. That old dick don’t care.
And no, Rory is not the Ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Come. That wouldn’t make sense. The Doctor does that too…by showing young Karzan what old Karzan would turn into, and when the old man threatens to slap himself…well, casting Gambon in both the father and son roles now makes sense as something more than a gimmick, so that was rather clever.
Try not to think about the old rule that said you can’t come in physical contact with yourself or else bad things will happen. This isn’t that sort of episode. I mean, if it was, I’d ask how the biometrics on old Karzan changed so even he can’t control the clouds anymore. Sure, he’s a better person and all, but his DNA and stuff didn’t change.
The only thing left to do is let Abigail out for one last day because her singing voice can do stuff to the clouds.
Again, don’t think about it too much.
Anyway, that works, and Abigail stays with Old Karzan to have her last day be a nice Christmas with the old man. Amy and Rory and a whole lot of other people are saved, and it’s a Happy Christmas as long as you don’t remember Abigail will be dead not long after the closing credits roll unless someone found a cure for whatever is wrong with her.
All things being equal, this felt like the sort of Christmas special only the Eleventh Doctor (and maybe the Second) could have pulled off. It works with this Doctor being clueless on all kinds of things–young adult Karzan asks the Doctor about kissing and the Doctor has no idea how it works–and it’s rather whimsical and lighthearted (you know, except for Abigail dying after the closing credits), with the Doctor just doing these sorts of childlike, weird things like somehow becoming engaged to Marilyn Monroe during a Hollywood Christmas party or just the idea of a flying shark being used to pull a flying cart. Should we think too much about it? Not really. Eleven is one of the weirder Doctors, and he’s weird in an endearing sort of way. He can’t sit still, so why not have a Christmas adventure where sitting still isn’t really an option?
Works for me. However, I think it’s time to check back in with Sarah Jane for a while.