I thought this was the strongest Christmas special yet. A Doctor Who “adaptation” of Charles Dickens’ beloved Christmas tale could easily have been very embarrassing, but Steven Moffat pulled it off wonderfully here. This was easily the most “Christmassy” of Doctor Who’s Christmas specials; apart from The End of Time, previous years’ tended to be fairly light, mindless throwaway fluff without much substance, paying only cosmetic lip-service to seasonal themes. This Christmas special was fairly light on substance, as well, but unlike in previous years, it totally indulged itself in the Yuletide spirit. That’s the kind of story premise that tends to make me sceptical, but this Christmas special was an absorbing, magical standalone story. It’s filled with enchanting moments. It oozes wonder. It’ll make you, as it did me, laugh and cry and not even be ashamed to admit it. It’s just the perfect Christmas special.
Moffat has put an ingenious Doctor Who twist upon the original A Christmas Carol as the Doctor finds himself in a situation remarkably similar to that in Charles Dickens’ story and seizes the opportunity to employ his time machine to recreate Ebenzer Scrooge’s life-changing visitations in the life of Kazran Sardick. I thought this was a brilliant use, once again, of time travel as a plot device by Moffat. This show is about a time traveller, after all, and it’s surprising, to say the least, that the full potential and the possibilities of this show’s central conceit only begun to be fully exploited under Moffat. I can’t believe that there’s someone who wouldn’t grin indulgently at seeing the Doctor announce that he’ll “be back… way back” and then reappear a second later in a film recording made decades ago. The idea of Kazran watching the Doctor invading and changing his own memories in real (relative) time was just brilliant. The Doctor, the Ghost of Christmas Past. I love it.
And it was magical viewing watching the Doctor on his adventures with younger versions of Kazran. The Doctor makes a delightfully mad “babysitter”, the babysitter of every child’s dreams. Kind of like Mary Poppins, but more completely bonkers. It was touching to see that Kazran was really quite a kind, sympathetic person inside, as the Doctor knew he’d see when he visited Kazran as a boy. Compare the boy who seemed anguished over a dying shark to the hardened old man who callously insisted he didn’t care if 4003 people died. Or young Kazran, who seemed romantically enamoured with the idea that the fish liked Abigail’s beautiful singing (vehemently protesting the Doctor’s assertions to the contrary), to old Kazran, who seemed too cold-hearted to let Abigail’s family have her back for just one Christmas. More than anything, Kazran and Abigail’s love story showed what a kind and loving person Kazran is inside. Their love story was beautiful, even if it ended on quite a sad note.
The performances in this episode were all fantastic. Michael Gambon was a triumph of a choice as Kazran the Elder, giving at times both a provoking and sympathetic performance. His best moment was when the Doctor conscripted the elder Kazran into the role of the ghost of Christmas future, and Kazran breaks down when he realises that, in becoming what he was, he had betrayed himself. I felt myself welling up at that moment, so moving it was. Laurence Belcher as young Kazran and Danny Horn as also-young-but-not-quite-as-young Kazran were both excellent as well. Katherine Jenkins was luminous as Abigail. Her singing alone was entrancing, but she also played a sweet and lovesome Abigail. Matt Smith was electric. He’s as strong as he’s ever been in the role, treading masterfully, as Peter Capaldi remarked of him in a recent interview with Doctor Who: The Fan Show, that fine, careful line between comic and dramatic.
I felt that this Christmas special in general was an excellent story. It’s not just good Doctor Who, it also makes for wonderful television in general. It stands by itself as a perfect, heartwarming Christmas story. Top marks.