Channel: BBC One
Recurring Cast: David Tennant, Billie Piper, Noel Clarke, Camille Coduri, Penelope Wilton
Despite already losing its lead star, the reboot of Doctor Who was a roaring success. It was suddenly cool to like the Doctor once again and Russell T. Davies wanted to immediately capitalise on his new crowd-pleaser with a Christmas special. This could be described as a risky manoeuvre; there is something a little arrogant about putting yourself down as Christmas Day television, especially on the main British broadcasting station. You are putting your own show on a pedestal and that could mean a dip in quality feels more prominent than it actually is. Thankfully, this particular episode of Doctor Who is one of the better ones from the modern era.
We could accuse the plot of this one as being a little simplistic, but it helps keep the Christmas Day audience focused on what is going on. It is Christmas Day on Earth and everything is as festive and cheerful as one would expect it to be. Under the surface however, a space exploration team have had their satellite abducted by an alien spacecraft. The aliens on board demand that humanity allow them to enter their atmosphere and invade. The humans are hilariously outmatched, new to the concept that aliens even exist. Meanwhile, the TARDIS shows up and Rose Tyler returns to her family. With her is an unconscious Doctor, still reeling from his brutal regeneration ritual. With the Doctor helpless and the alien race, the Sycorax, planning on sending in waves of intruders at any given moment, it is up to Rose Tyler, her mum and ex-boyfriend to try and save the day.
The big risk here is having the Doctor out of play for the majority of this episode’s running time. We are given this brand new Doctor to explore (David Tennant, who laughably seemed like an odd choice at the time), and he spends the first half of the episode in a coma. Admittedly, this does rack up the tension a few crucial knots, but it does begin the questioning of who we are watching this show for. As a result, it falls to the supporting cast to hold up the show and they perform admirably. While Tennant’s absence is felt, Billie Piper is a dependable character to spend time with. This was before T. Davies lost control over the character, so we never get frustrated with her actions. Noel Clarke and Camilla Coduri also get time to step up to the plate and they come off very well for it. Noel Clarke has always been a fan favourite, so he is an easy character to get on board with, but Camilla hadn’t really been accepted with open arms. She still features predominantly as the comedy character in the group, but she is given more time to develop. This was the episode, for me, where she began to feel like a more vital component to Doctor Who. The three of them also do something very important with this Christmas special: they stop the boat from rocking. When a new Doctor emerges, the show dramatically changes. Matt Smith made Doctor Who a more energetic experience, while Capaldi looks like he will make his Doctor a lot darker. Sometimes the change can be sudden and distancing, but with the old faces holding the first half of the episode together, we never feel out of our depth. Any change for the worse is put out of our minds, because this episode feels, for want of a better phrase, just as good as the ones that came before it.
And then David Tennant finally does arrive. And god, is that a glorious moment? Usually a Doctor needs to grow into a role, or any actor with a major character, before we end up with their Greatest Hits montage. They need to try different writing styles, new techniques, until they are truly comfortable enough to knock the ball out of the park. David Tennant manages to amaze us in the first minute of his awakening. Every doubt anyone ever had is swept away in the blink of an eye. The man is amazing. The monologue he is given here is perfectly delivered, Tennant throwing in little quirks and winks to make the moment his own. Christopher Ecclestone is immediately forgotten. The terrifying Sycorax are instantly reduced to simpletons, in the face of this mighty Time Lord. We could argue that this takes away from the action and thriller nature of the show; there is no such fear factor as we got with the Daleks closing in on the Doctor. However, there is a different kind of fun in watching the Doctor being the most magnificent man in the room and that performance rekindles everything you love about the Doctor. It is one of my favourite David Tennant moments and he hasn’t even gotten around to showing us the good stuff yet.
Final Verdict: A little routine, but it does a good job of handling Christmas Day excitement. David Tennant is phenomenal.