Once upon a time, Doctor Who was a science fiction show. Oh, it was never a dryly accurate thesis on the mechanics of time travel, but nowadays (and particularly around Christmas), Doctor Who becomes little more than fairytale magic. With A Christmas Carol, any semblance of scientific plausibility went out of the window the moment a flying shark came in through it.
I recall enjoying this episode when it was first shown, and even thinking it was the best Christmas special they’d yet done. Well, it’s certainly the most Christmassy, but it hasn’t held up very well on a second viewing. In fact, I was distinctly bored for much of the second half. Around the time when the Doctor visits Scroo-… er… Kazran as a boy, the plot loses any sense of urgency and lumbers along for twenty minutes or so, while the young lad develops a relationship with Abigail, the least-developed character ever, who does little more than come out of a box every so often and sing to some fish.
On the plus side, the story is occasionally rather clever and, frankly, makes me wonder why it took five years before A Christmas Carol was adapted for Doctor Who. The moment when the Doctor appears in the video that Kazran made as a boy is sheer genius, as is later using his present (old) self as the boy’s “Christmas future”. Michael Gambon is naturally rather good as Kazran (and his bearded father), and a pleasure to watch even though the character is thinly-written. The love story doesn’t have much substance but it’s nevertheless heartwarming.
The Doctor’s plan is as contrived as the situation itself, but his goal is as noble as ever and he shows how he can see the good in everybody, even seemingly ‘evil’ people. But, my goodness, he doesn’t half ramble on, blurting out technobabble, talking to himself and spewing out as many words per minute as somebody hearing pips on a payphone. I’ve never really had a problem with Matt Smith before but he starts to grate here. Gillan and Darvill, meanwhile, are practically guest stars for all the screen time they get.
This may be a retelling of Dickens classic, but it doesn’t have half as good pacing or structure. I was probably more forgiving of its shortcomings at Christmas, but it’s far too early for that right now. Bah, humbug!