It doesn’t need to be said that The Christmas Invasion was not about the Sycorax. This episode was about the Doctor. As imperfect as this episode was in the plotting department, I’m willing to forgive it that as it did a fairly good job of introducing the new Doctor in David Tennant. The episode pulled a clever trick of saving, substantially, the appearance of the Tenth Doctor until the end of the episode. The episode perhaps engaged with the audience’s scepticism about this new actor who was replacing the stellar Christopher Eccleston through Rose’s insecurities about the Doctor’s change. And the episode bode addressing these insecurities until near the end, making it all the sweeter when, his presence having been noticeably lacking and missed for the majority of the episode, the Doctor swaggers out of the TARDIS and effortlessly takes control of the increasingly desperate situation. “Did you miss me?” the Doctor asked nonchalantly. We certainly did. The use of that device was something of a masterstroke on the part of Russell T Davies, and, indeed, I remember, when I first saw this episode, thinking it was awesome when the Doctor stepped out in his pyjamas and began lecturing the entire Sycorax parliament.
That said, the whole “what kind of man am I?” thing was a bit of rubbish writing: of course, in a new Doctor introduction episode, it must be shown what kind of man the Doctor’s new incarnation is, but, this, I think, should be a instance of show not tell. This was done very well subsequently with Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi in their respective introductory episodes. What The Christmas Invasion did by having the Doctor repeatedly ponder what kind of man he is was very much tell not show. The result is that we were left more confused than we ought to have been about what this new Doctor was like. We would come to understand the Tenth Doctor more as we saw more of him over the following series, but The Christmas Invasion did not, fundamentally, accomplish what it set out to do, except at a very basic level. We gathered that the Tenth Doctor was a genial, easygoing, charismatic and reckless bloke, but little more.
None of this was necessarily David Tennant’s fault—he was a victim of poor writing. I thought Tennant generally gave a strong first performance. The “Did you miss me?” sequence—a critical segment of the episode—was carried out admirably by Tennant, and the Doctor’s characterisation, at least at the surface level, was skilfully deployed by Tennant. That said, I think he overacted in parts: for example, the girning and panting on the floor outside Rose’s apartment was a bit OTT, as was the “I DON’T KNOW!” in response to the Sycorax. The line about mistakenly quoting the Lion King was also cringe-inducing, as was “It’s a fighting hand!”, although these missteps were due to poor writing, not Tennant, who I’m sure did the best with what he had to work with.
To say a bit about the plot, it was fairly unimaginative and derivative, and played out quite predictably. Nevertheless, as I said, as the Doctor, not the plot, was the main focus of this episode, I’m willing to overlook its shortcomings in this department this time. That spinning Christmas tree was also ridiculous. The Sycorax were okay, but they were obviously conceived in order to fit the “generic belligerent advanced alien species” trope, and, for this episode, that’s okay. Harriet Jones was badass in this episode (no better way to describe it). I wouldn’t exactly say she was well played by Penelope Wilton, except in a self-consciously comical sort of way, but she’s certainly come on since her salad days as MP for Flydale North. It’s questionable whether Jones’ decision to take out the Sycorax ship was right—unless I’m misinterpreting, it was left open to question. I personally think that, although hardly morally scrupulous, she made the right decision. The Doctor was being a naive idealist (and a hypocrite, given he committed double genocide to save the universe from the Time War). In any case, I’ll agree that “Don’t you think she looks tired?” was awesome.