We’re so lucky to have The Moff.
The first Steven Moffat written Doctor Who Christmas Special is showrunner Steven Moffat’s take on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and what a breathtaking morality play it is, wrapped up in sly humour, unbelievably strong performances and a script which made all of the RTD specials instantly redundant. Rory and Amy begin on a honeymoon cruiser that’s about to crash on a planet covered in a mysterious fog. Local baron Michael Gambon has the power to control the fog, and save the Doctor’s assistants’ lives, as well as the other 4000 passengers, but he doesn’t want to; there’s nothing in it for him. To save the ship the Doctor has to teach an alien Scrooge morality and discover why he has Katherine Jenkins flash frozen in his basement. Can he do it in just one hour?
Of course he can, and Moffat indulges his propensity to play crazy backward and forward games with time, managing to take a wholly new perspective on a very old story. Ghost of Christmas Past Eleven fits a lifetime into one hour, trying to get into the heart of a bitter old man through making friends with his younger self. It’s a wonderful, rich drama with towering performances – ‘Dumbledore’ Gambon always careful though not to overshadow the leads, as the comfortably quirky yet demonstrably noble Doctor played by Matt Smith holds the show together. It’s not like anything we were given during the Tennant era – this isn’t superheroics by any means. It’s a nuanced look at love and loss under the cover of sci fi, whilst giving us a wonderful, leisurely look at what makes Eleven tick too. Marilyn Monroe? OMG!
Gone is the regular Christmas campery of Russell T Davies, in is seasonal fantasy and steampunk chic – the production crew pulls off a Dickensian yet futuristic cityscape brilliantly. The shark too was a suitably weird touch, and wonderfully deployed – lost your sense of wonder at Christmas stories? Get it back right now (I should add Moffat adeptly bleeds any hint of religious undertones out in the very first act). And rather than taking a Kylie-esque role, Katherine Jenkins doesn’t just act brilliantly (who knew?), but is an essential element the Doctor needs to understand – singing and all – in order to make Gambon’s character care about other people. There was more than one occasion where the acting and writing came together to make me more than a little bit tearful, which couldn’t have made me happier. But as I said earlier, Moffat’s story is nuanced – for every dramatic turning point there are chillier scenes, like the holograms of the condemned 4000 passengers, and Gambon’s determination to ignore them.
It’s all blissfully continuity-free, which may have helped Karen Gillan seem to feel comfortable as Amy Pond for a change and act with authority. I should add it was pretty cute to have hers & Rory’s sexual roleplay clearly signposted, despite the seasonal tone of the story. Continuity though, as the trailer for series 6 shows, is about to take centre stage; this special is the calm before the storm. The Doctor was manipulated into rebooting the universe, we don’t know who was responsible for the cracks in space, and are no nearer to finding out whose voice it was who said ‘silence will fall’. With River Song’s imminent reappearance in what looks to be a deeply dark first half of the series, we may be about to get answers. I for one can’t wait.