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Thursday, December 29, 2005
TV Round-Up
Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion
2005 will go down in Doctor Who history for a couple of reasons. First, it was the year that Doctor Who made its triumphant return to TV screens across most of the world (it has yet to find a network to show it here in America, which is nothing short of a tragedy). And secondly, it's the first time that we've been introduced to not one but two Doctors in a calendar year. When the year began, we met Christopher Eccleston as the 9th Doctor. Now, as the year comes to a close, we're introduced to the 10th Doctor, played by David Tennant.

We're also given a first in Doctor Who history--a holiday-themed special event. It's not the first time the series has acknowledged Christmas--William Hartnell broke the 4th wall in the midst of the epic "The Dalek Masterplan" back in the 60s to wish the viewing audience at home a merry Christmas, but it is the first time the series has had a story that specifically takes place within the holiday season.

The story follows right on after the six minute Children in Need special, where we met the new Doctor and he convinced Rose that he was the Doctor. Now, had I not seen the six minute one-off special, I'd've been a bit confused as the story started.

The TARDIS rematerializes in London. Actually, more likes comes crashing down like a pinball off buildings in London. Unfortunately, Jackie and Mickey are within a 50 mile radius and come running to see if Rose is there. The new Doctor pops out, wishes them Merry Christmas and collapses. Rose comes out and confirms this is now the Doctor.

Meanwhile, the UK space program has sent up a probe to Mars. It's scheduled to send back pictures near Christmas day but instead encounters a large space ship. Harriet Jones is now fully installed as prime minister of the UK and heads down to consult UNIT on this problem.

Rose and Mickey go Christmas shopping where they are attacked by creatures dressed up like Santa. Rose and Mickey run home only to find Jackie has accepted a different Christmas tree into the apartment. Turns out this is some kind of spinning tree of death that proceeds to tear up the entire apartment. You know, I've got to say something here--after last year's World War III and now the lethal tree gone mad, Jackie's security deposit is pretty much gone. Rose gets the Doctor to wake up long enough to disarm the tree using the sonic screwdriver. He then sees the homicidal Santas, notes they are just the first wave and promptly passes out again.

Back with Harriet Jones, we find out that UNIT has better facilities but are still as inept as ever at actually preventing an alien invasion. They have no clue what to do when the aliens contact us, saying they've found the Earth and all humanity is now their cattle. Now, this is intriguing but its promptly not explored so we can have 17 more scenes of Rose staring at the unconsious Doctor and crying--becuase don't forget, it's her show. The new aliens, called the Sycrorax are able to possess one third of the population who have A positive blood--seems that some genius over at the UK space institute sent up a vial of blood with A postive in it, thus helping the Sycroax take these people over. The Sycroax send the people all up to high places to jump (in one of the really chiling scenes, we see people lined up all across the globe, ready to jump) and demand Earth's surrender.

Harriet Jones decides to speak for Earth and refuses. She asks if anyone's seen the Doctor, heard for the Doctor or could call the Doctor. Apparently UNIT has moth-balled the signalling device the Doctor gave the Brigadier back in the day and no one can. She then asks about Torchwood, which sets up hints about this future spin-off to come this summer. Seems Torchwood is unprepared but can get ready quickly, should they be needed. Apparently the huge alien ship and people possessed by aliens weren't clues they might be needed. Jones goes on TV, begging for the Doctor to come and save Earth.

But, he's still asleep. He mutters at one point he needs something but can't get out what it is. Seeing the ships over London, Rose gets the Doctor into the TARDIS. Jackie brings along a picnic lunch. (This will be important later).

So, Harriet Jones gets beamed up to the Sycorax ship where two of her advisors are killed. Meanwhile, in the TARDIS, Rose uses some system that alerts the Sycroax to the TARDIS. Its' beamed on board and Rose steps out...as she is now the representative for Earth (again, it's all about Rose). Before she leaves, she spills some tea on the floor, which seeps through and starts to vaporize. The vapor swirls around the Doctor. (This is one of many little homages to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, including the Doctor wandering about in a robe and jammies, saying it's perfectly "Arthur Dent" of him)

Outside, Rose is throwing in every alien name she knows to try and get the Sycroax to back down and leave. They laugh, mocking her. But slowly, she begins to understand them....and realizes the Doctor is back on his feet. (Before this, they had to translate everything.) The Doctor emerges from the TARDIS. He reveals that the blood control device is pretty ineffective and overrides it. He takes on the Sycorax leader in a sword fight, losing a hand but it grows back since it's only been 15 hours since his regeneration. He defeats the leader, tells the Sycorax to pack up and go home, telling everyone that Earth has a defender and he will not allow an invasion. They do but as they head out, Harriet Jones orders Torchwood to fire on the Sycorax ship, destroying it. The Doctor is furious and says six words to her advisor to bring down her regime--Don't you think she looks tired?

Confidence erodes in Jones, who as the episode concludes we hear reports of facing harsh criticism and looking tired. The Doctor chooses a new outfit, they all celebrate Christmas and the Doctor and Rose head back out for more adventures.

Now, despite my snarky review, I have to admit I liked the episode. It wasn't as great as last year's Dalek, but it was fun episode. I'm glad we got a longer than usual story, though the first half does drag a bit. We spend an awful lot of time with the Doctor on the sidelines and, as usual, any scene with Mickey and Jackie in it just drags. I will give Russell T. Davies credit--Mickey is actually tolerable at points in the story, though the whole concept that he's still pining for Rose and comes running the second she comes home is getting a bit old.

In fact, the scenes with Harriet Jones at UNIT HQ and her pleas for help are great. Her call for the Doctor's help echoes the scene in Superman II where the president begs Superman to come and help defeat Zod. It's a stark contrast to the Rose and her family scenes that really do seem to bog down quickly.

The episode picks up once the Doctor fully recovers. David Tennant steps up and owns the role quickly. The final fifteen or so minutes fly by as the Doctor trades barbs with various people, tries to figure out who he is now and defeats the aliens. It's almost Tom Baker like in the fact that Tennant approaches the aliens with no sign of fear. he shows respect, but he is clearly the one in control of the situation. We see a bit of the dark tinges to the Doctor that we say in McCoy and Eccelston, which is nice. But there's a child-like delight and wonder to the new Doctor that was missing from the last one. You get the feeling having defeated the Daleks and maybe having that burden lifted that the Doctor might have a new lease on life. It will be interesting to see how and where the character goes and what other stamps Tennant puts on the role. But you can tell the man is having a ball in the role and that he's living his dream of playing the Doctor.

For what it is, "The Christmas Invasion" is a lot of fun. It's a fun holiday treat and while I've heard some proclaim it's the best hour of TV this year, I wouldn't quite go that far. It's good and it may be one of Russell T. Davies finest hours as a writer on Doctor Who but it's not on the same level as "Empty Child" or "Dalek". As with other Davies stories, it suffers from having a lot of good ideas that are brought up and then summarily dropped four scenes later. Also, it's interesting that we have references back to the previous series but not to the overall history of the show. For example, in the 70s, the UK sent probes to Mars in the Pertwee era, though this is never addressed (one line could easily take care of this). We do get UNIT, so it's almost as if Davies gets the big picture but misses the details that make the tapestry of Doctor Who so rich and vibrant.

It's not the best TV I've seen all year, but it's an enjoyable, fun adventure. It's exactly what it set out to be--a nice diversion for the Christmas season.

And it's also made me eager for the new series to start up again in March.

Though, let me say this--please, let's give David Tennant his own opening credits seuqence and not just recycle the previous one...

posted by Michael Hickerson at 12/29/2005 01:21:00 PM | |
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