Monday 23 December 2019

Story 214 - A Christmas Carol

In which the honeymoon of Amy and Rory is turning into a bit of a disaster. They are trapped on a space liner which is about to crash onto an alien planet. This world's atmosphere is permanently storm-lashed. The Doctor travels to the surface, arriving in the city of Sardicktown. The Sardicks are a powerful family who virtually run the planet. Kazran Sardick's father built a device which can control the skies, calming the storms. He is an embittered old man who is cruel to everyone. His father had made his fortune from money-lending, the borrowers providing members of their own family as collateral. They are held in suspended animation in caskets resting on an ice lake beneath his mansion. The Doctor witnesses a family seeking to have their relative released for a forthcoming mid-winter holiday - a young woman named Abigail. Kazran refuses to allow their request. He also refuses to heed the President's call to use his machine to allow the space liner to land safely. The Doctor is thrown out of the house, and has to think of a way to make Kazran change his mind. On hearing a Christmas carol playing over a tannoy, he has an idea. He will go back in time and try to make Kazran a less sociopathic man. Alone in his rooms, Kazran suddenly starts to experience different memories. He watches an old video diary he made as a boy - and sees the Doctor appear in it, addressing him in his present.

Young Kazran is bullied by his father. He longs to see one of the flying fish which sometimes descend from the ice clouds into the city, but his father never allows this. The Doctor decides to arrange for a fish to descend, using his sonic screwdriver to lure it to the house. It proves to be bigger and more fierce than he expected - a full size shark. It bites the end off the screwdriver, but then falls ill. The Doctor and Kazran must get it back into the clouds, and so they descend to the ice lake to use one of the people containers. The one they select is Abigail's. The shark recovers and attacks them, but Abigail's singing calms the creature. They place it in the the container and take it to the TARDIS, returning it to the skies. The older Kazran has fond memories of Abigail. The Doctor and his younger self decide to release Abigail every Christmas Eve, to spend the day travelling in the TARDIS. The Doctor has not noticed that there is a counter on her container, which is counting down towards zero after each trip. Kazran grows into a young man, and he falls in love with Abigail. They visit man places on Earth, including attending a party at Frank Sinatra's house where the Doctor gets himself engaged to Marilyn Monroe. Kazran knows the significance of the counter, and when the next Christmas Eve arrives, he shuns the Doctor - preferring to help his father perfect the cloud calming machine. He tells the Doctor that Abigail w as dying when she was put into hibernation. The counter indicates how many days she has left to live - just the one. The Doctor has tried the ghost of Christmas Past, and seemingly failed, so he next tries the Ghost of Christmas Present.

Kazran is visited by a hologram of Amy Pond, and is then projected on to the stricken space liner, where he sees the passengers and crew who he is going to let die. This fails to stir his conscience.
The Doctor then turns to the Ghost of Christmas Future - as he lets the young Kazran see what kind of man he will become. This finally does the trick. Kazran agrees to use the machine to clam the skies and allow the space liner to make a safe landing. However, the controls were isomorphic - responding only to Kazran - and he has been changed so much that they don't recognise him. The Doctor must find an alternative, and remembers how Abigail's singing had calmed the shark. Kazran knows that this will be Abigail's final day, but the Doctor points out that today - Christmas Day - is as good a day as any other. Abigail is released and sings to the sharks and fish, and the skies are becalmed. The space liner is able to land, and the Doctor is reunited with Amy and Rory. He must take young Kazran back to his own time, but the older Kazran intends to make this a Christmas Day to remember with Abigail...

A Christmas Carol was written by Steven Moffat, and was first broadcast on 25th December, 2010. It was his first Christmas Special - and the first for Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor. After his first one, Russell T Davies had inclined towards using guest artists as temporary companions for his Specials - Catherine Tate, Kylie Minogue, David Morrissey, and Bernard Cribbins. Amy and Rory do feature in this story, but only in limited fashion as they are trapped on the crashing spaceship. The Doctor instead teams up with various versions of Kazran Sardick, and Abigail. She is played by Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins. She hadn't acted before. The older Kazran is the main guest artist, Michael Gambon - best known these days as the second incarnation of Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies, when he took over the role following the death of Richard Harris for the third instalment. Playing Kazran as a young man is another newcomer to acting - Danny Horn. He had only just graduated from stage school when he landed the role. The youngest iteration of Kazran was played by Laurence Belcher (who has played the young Charles Xavier in two of the X-Men prequels). He also played Prince William in a biopic of Princess Diana.

It goes without saying that the inspiration for this story is there in the title and the Doctor even acknowledges it in the dialogue - Charles Dickens' festive tale of the redemption of the miser Ebeneezer Scrooge. The Doctor arranges for "ghosts" from past, present and future to make Kazran change his ways and become a better person. (The Doctor plays the ghost from the past, Amy the one from the present, and Kazran himself becomes the ghost of the future). He's from a family of money-lenders, and even uses some of Scrooge's language - talking about the problems of "the surplus population".
Not sure where the shark comes from. Is Moffat thinking that Jaws is regularly shown at Christmas time on UK television? It may simply be that RTD had used up all the obvious Christmas icons to subvert.
Music plays a big part in the story, hence Jenkins' casting. Murray Gold had written songs for previous Christmas Specials, but here he writes a song - Silence Is All You Know - which is crucial to the resolution of the plot.

Overall, hard to go wrong when you follow Dickens' classic tale so closely. It was one of the highest rated Christmas Special in DWM's 50th Anniversary poll (No.97), beating the likes of The Next Doctor, The Runaway Bride, Voyage of the Damned.
Things you might like to know:
  • This is the first Christmas Special in which no-one is killed (though Abigail's days are quite literally numbered).
  • Despite hardly being in it, this is the first time that Arthur Darvill gets his name into the opening credits.
  • Amy and Rory were on honeymoon when the Doctor had his recent reunion with Sarah Jane Smith and Jo Grant. He is dressed as a Centurion, and she a WPC - costumes we have seen them in during Series 5.
  • Places which the Doctor takes Kazran and Abigail to include New York, Paris, Australia, Egypt and Hollywood in 1952 (Frank Sinatra's Christmas party) - according to Kazran's photographs.
  • Moffat had previously written a short story in which the Doctor travelled back in time to change someone's behaviour and make them more likeable in his "present".
  • And Paul Cornell had written a story in which the Doctor visited someone every Christmas Day.
  • The Doctor gets rid of Kazran's servants by having them win the lottery. He had previously gotten the school teacher job in School Reunion this way, and would buy Donna a winning lottery ticket as a wedding present. In this instance, as Kazran points out, his city doesn't even have a lottery.
  • Young Mr Belcher clearly recognises that the acting profession isn't a very secure one. He recently graduated from Oxford with a degree in classical archaeology. (Though I'm not very sure how many jobs there are in that field either...).
  • And finally - this is my last post this side of Christmas Day unless some big news breaks, so I'll take this opportunity of wishing you all A Very Merry Christmas!!!

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