As is the recent tradition, there was a Christmas special of Doctor Who broadcast on the BBC on Christmas Day. Now, Doctor Who is singularly British and something I heartily approve of being broadcast at Christmas and having special episodes of commissioned. Particularly, as it currently is, when it is being overseen by Stephen Moffat. Moffat, especially when he writes the episodes himself, has a great ear for dialogue, handles moments of humanity and crazy ideas equally deftly and manages to have good ideas he can carry through in implementation. He knows just how sentimental he can get away with being and how to construct a story with moments of drama and humour without it being silly or overly scary. He also did very well on the BBC’s recent Sherlock series (although not all the series writers did, sadly).
Now this Christmas we were treated to a retelling of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol on a planet that clearly isn’t Earth but with moments from Earth’s history. We weren’t shown at what period the planet was meant to be analogous to as the technology is both archaic and impossible. Fish swam in the crystalline sky and people used loved ones as collateral for lending. And then saw them placed in cryogenic suspension when they were unable to make payments against the debt. But the world had its own consistent logic and feel and nothing felt jarringly out of place. This was another reality that hung together and worked, partially because all the details were but backdrop to the main story unfolding.
Michael Gambon had centre stage and his voice does sound wonderful. None of the actors put in a bad shift and the details and direction were good. It worked on a few levels, from being simplistic fun to the children, to having a sense of wonder and imagination on closer inspection to actually asking some questions about the relative morality of changing someone’s past to effect the outcome you want. The doctor may be a clown, but he is not as clear cut a hero as in more simplistic tales: he is morally flexible in achieving his aims and clearly has a sense of the greater good and a degree or pragmatism in achieving his desired outcome. Personally I loved the program and feel it finally shows the Doctor as someone with an alien morality and a degree of intelligence and as somewhat of a shemer.