Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion [Episode 1S]

The Christmas Invasion is Doctor Who’s first Christmas special, written by Russell T. Davies, and is the first full episode to feature David Tennant in the starring roll.

Previous Episode:  Boom Town • Next Episode: The Girl in the Fireplace
(I know these are not consecutive – more will be filled in as I have the opportunity.)

Story:  Following the events of The Parting of the Ways, the Tardis brings the recently regenerated and semi-comatose Doctor and Rose back to her home, just as the earth is threatened by the Sycorax, a warlike race that has been attracted to the earth by a recent space probe.  Rose, Mickey and Jackie come under attack by “pilot fish”, smaller alien creatures that travel with the Syrorax, and take the form of brass band playing Santas – but the Doctor recovers enough to defeat them.   The Sycorax take control of everyone on earth with A positive blood type and threaten to cause them to commit suicide.  Then they bring Prime Minister Harriet Jones Harriet Jones (from Aliens of London / World War III) and some of her staff to their ship, demanding control of the earth.  The Sycorax teleport the Tardis to their ship as well, along with Rose, Mickey and the unconscious Doctor.  The Doctor recovers and confronts the Sycorax leader by first releasing all the controlled people (with the threat of their death turning out to be an empty threat), and then confronting the leader to hand-to-hand combat, with the earth as a prize.  The Doctor loses his right hand in the battle, but because he’s still early in his regeneration cycle he is able to grow another one.  He defeats the Sycorax leader, but lets him live in exchange for leaving the earth and never returning.  The leader agrees but then is killed when he tries to betray the Doctor and attack him anyway.  The Doctor, the Tardis, and the rest of the party return to earth and the Sycorax ship begins to leave, but Harriet Jones orders a mysterious “Torchwood” entity to fire upon the ship and destroy it anyway, fearing the repercussions should it tell other words of the earth.  Enraged, the Doctor engineers Harriet’s fall from power in the English government.  He and Rose continue to travel together.

CommentsThe Christmas Invasion is a mostly strong standalone special episode, and a good debut for David Tennant.  It doesn’t quite hold up as strongly as some others under repeated viewings, mostly because the last third where the Doctor is back on form is so strong that it’s a bit tiring to have to wade through everything else to get to it.  The opening act is especially ridiculous, where the series celebrates Christmas by having aliens disguised as brass-band Santas attacking the heroes with machine guns that fire out of tubas and remote control Christmas trees that spin their ways through walls.  (You’d think that a sentence like that would have to be worse than the scenes themselves, but it’s not, mostly because it’s shorter).

Following that we get a lengthy but watchable set up of the arrival and threat of the Sycorax.  The image of one third marching to the nearest tall building in threat of hurtling themselves to their doom is effectively nerve wracking.  Penelope Wilton as Harriet Jones is a welcome return in these scenes, and I would have enjoyed keeping her around as semi-regular figure.  The advantage of this section is that it does give the story a broad, global scope and makes the stakes feel quite high (something that the preceding story, The Parting of the Ways, completely failed to do because it kept the danger to the earth largely off-screen).  The slow build means we also get the absolutely awesome reveal of the recovered Doctor as the Sycorax languages suddenly gets decoded – that makes it almost worth it.

Indeed, the highlight here is absolutely David Tennant as the new Doctor.  He’s got a couple of shorter scenes earlier in the story that are also fun, but his real starring turn is in the last act, with all of his questions about what sort of man he will be, his concerns about his appearance (including his desire to be “ginger”), his inadvertent quoting of Lion King, and so on.  He debuts here in particular with his two major trademarks of his style of fighting monsters.

First, he walks around for an extended period of time right in front of the villain/monster prattling like a lunatic, while his enemy stares at him dumbfoundedly, waiting until the Doctor finally does something to stop them.  In this episode this occurs when he presses the big red button, setting all the “blood controlled” humans free and revealing the Sycorax’s deception. This won’t be the last time we him employ this particular M.O.

Second, he has bursts of incredible arrogance in his dealings with people and creatures, in this case with Harriet Jones.  It’s understandable to a degree:  her decision to destroy the Sycorax ship is born out of fear, but his decision to topple her government seems to come out of spite more than anything, and a complete failure to appreciate her point of view.

The annoying thing about this particular situation is the fact that he is able to do it so easily.  Harriet’s right hand man Alex is apparently instantly persuaded by the Doctor (in spite of standing right there and overhearing their argument) and Harriet Jones herself suddenly turns into a bit of a flustered semi-lunatic.  There’s something about Tennant’s “awesomely powerful” Doctor that feels a bit unjustified and which I find a bit tiring at times.  A least, though, it does turn into a bit of a theme for the character over his whole era.

Sadly, it’s not a very good story for Rose.  She’s meant to be the emotional anchor, representing the viewer in their uncertainty over this sudden change that her hero has undergone.  But this means that she just ends up looking depressed and helpless most of the time, to a point where it gets a little annoying.

• Almost all of the best lines of this story are the Doctor’s, but Mickey has a good one at the start.

Mickey:  You can rely on me.  I don’t go changing my face.

• Though her actions are motivated by fear and she seems to fall apart at the end, part of Harriet Jones’ reasonings for destroying the Sycorax at the end is quite compelling:

Harriet Jones:  I’m sorry Doctor but you’re not here all the time.  You come and go.  It happened today.  Mr. Llewellyn and the Major, they were murdered, they died right in front of me while you were sleeping.

The Doctor, of course, is annoying unphased.

• When the Doctor first emerges and everyone is taking stock, we get this fun exchange…

Doctor:  Now, first things first.  Be honest.  How do I look?
Rose:  Um, different.
Doctor:  Good different, or bad different?
Rose:  Just…different.
Doctor:  Am I…ginger?
Rose:  No, you’re just sort of…brown.
Doctor:  Oh I wanted to be ginger.  I’ve never been ginger.  And you, Rose Tyler!  Fat lot of good you were!  You gave up on me!  Oh, that’s rude.  Is that the sort of man I am now, am I rude?  Rude and not ginger.

• Later, after defeating the Sycorax leader, the Doctor speaks to the entire fleet with…

Doctor:  By the ancient rites of combat, I forbid you to scavenge here for the rest end of time.  And when you go back to the stars and tell others of this planet, when you tell them of its riches, its people, its potential; when you talk of the earth, then make sure you tell them this:  it is defended.

• The defining line for the new Doctor’s character is also one of the most memorable, showing the contrast between the different sides of his personality.  After he prattles on about a satsuma that he finds in the robe he’s wearing, he then abruptly uses the fruit to destroy the treacherous Sycorax leader, and says

Doctor:  No second chances.  I’m that sort of a man.

• Perhaps the episode’s best line comes when he and the Doctor and the Sycorax leader prepare to fight for the sake of the earth

Sycorax Leader:  You stand as this world’s champion?
Doctor:  Thank you.  I have no idea who I am but you’ve just summed me up.

• The episode ends with a very nice reference to the past, as well as a promise for the future.

Doctor:  Trouble’s just the bits in between!  It’s all waiting out there, Jackie!  And it’s brand new to me!  All those planets, creatures and horizons, I haven’t seen them yet!  Not with these eyes.  And it is gonna be…fantastic.

Things to watch out for: 

• David Tennant is credited as “The Doctor” rather than “Doctor Who” – the first time this has been the case since the end of the original series.  Apparently, this was a request of Tennant’s himself.

• Rose references lots of different races and concepts she has encountered in the first season in her attempt to talk down the Sycorax:  the Shadow Proclamation, the Jagrafess, the Gelth, the Slitheen, and the Daleks.

• There is a scene showing the Doctor picking his new clothing from a giant wardrobe in the Tardis.  Apparently, clothes from all the previous Doctors are represented there someplace.  But the scene is notable in that it is one of the only sights of any part of the Tardis other than the console room in the revival series.  I’m not sure, but it might be the only time we see any of the ship at all aside from the console room until Season Six’s The Doctor’s Wife.

Making sense of it all (Warning:  blatant spoilers for the rest of the series):  There are two major plot elements that are introduced in this episode.  First, and most obviously, there is the first ever mention of “Torchwood”, which becomes a theme for the rest of the season.  Two episodes from now, in Tooth and Claw, we will see how the Torchwood Institute was founded, and in season two’s concluding two-parter, Army of Ghosts / Doomsday, we will Torchwood up close.  And of course that will set the stage for the spin-off series of the same name.

The other element is the Doctor’s hand, which was lost during the battle with the Sycorax.  This will be found by Torchwood during their series, and eventually be returned to him and become extremely important in the fourth season finale, Journey’s End, when it will be used to siphon off the Doctor’s unwanted regeneration energy, get touched by Donna Noble, and grow into a full, but half human, duplicate of the Doctor who eventually be romantically paired off with Rose Tyler.  Really.

Last Word:  The beginning of a new era for the program, with a new Doctor with a markedly different way of relating to his human companions and friends (note the way he enjoys his Christmas dinner with Rose and the others).  1 part silliness plus 2 parts delightful adventure cooked over a very slow heat makes for a satisfying meal.

Previous Episode:  Boom Town • Next Episode: The Girl in the Fireplace
(I know these are not consecutive – more will be filled in as I have the opportunity.)

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