Monday, December 26, 2005

Doctor Who - The Christmas Invasion

Christmas Days will never be the same again! For the first time since 1965 we have an episode of Doctor Who transmitted on Christmas Day, but more than this ... it was on the front cover of the Radio Times, the same with several other listings magazines and it was the pick of the day for just about everyone. But was it any good? Back in 1965, the production team chose to make that week's episode a bit of a jokey runaround, nothing too stressful for people to follow and with a few references to other shows thrown in for good measure. This time around though, things were a little different, although there were some that were the same. For a start, this was the first 'proper' episode to feature David Tennant as the new Doctor. I am convinced though that the brief sequence for Children in Need was planned all along - there's no way that the production team could seriously have considered leaping from the end of The Parting of the Ways to the start of The Christmas Invasion ... there's an obvious gaping hole there that needed to be filled. So we kick off with Jackie Tyler (who I am disliking as a character the more I see of her) and Mickey hearing the TARDIS arrive - and it must make one heck of a noise. Strange how no-one else seemed to hear it. The TARDIS appears and, in an impressive tour de force of effects, bashes around a few buildings and rubbish bins as it lands. And then there's our new Doctor. Breathless and confused he promptly collapses and is taken back to Jackie's to spend most of the episode in bed. Meanwhile the plot (what there is of it) starts to kick in and we learn about the Guinivere Space Programme and the probe which is approaching Mars. However it bumps into a huge rock-like spacecraft and is captured. It's a little strange to think that the folks on Earth who were tracking the probe didn't notice a pigging great spacecraft out in the vicinity of Mars ... and why was it there in the first place? No explanations are coming, making this episode a little light on logic. Back on Earth, Rose, Mickey and Jackie are menaced by apparently robot Santas armed with deadly musical instruments and then by a remote controlled spinning Christmas tree! Very eerie scenes, and the tree in particular is quite scary. I can see many kids frightened by their own household trees now ... but what was all this about? These Santas, they came from the spaceship, so how long had the Sycorax been monitoring Earth to be able to replicate the robots (if that's what they were) and to understand the customs of Christmastime and musical instruments (I can't see the Sycorax leader playing trumpet himself). And why were Rose and Mickey targetted? The Doctor suggests it's because he's leaking energy (why?) but it would have taken the Sycorax weeks if not months to arrive on Earth after the Doctor got there and they appeared to be there already. Oh well ... maybe we're not meant to think too hard about this after a heavy dinner. With the large spacecraft on its way to Earth, Prime Minister Harriet Jones (former MP for Flydale East) is in attendance at a UNIT operations centre apparently sited at the Tower of London. It's a shame that, when a ton of continuity references have already been dropped (for example that Martians look different, the UNIT logos, regeneration, the TARDIS translating languages) they didn't go the whole hog and have a Brigadier there as well ... But they can see the spaceship and so can Mickey with his super-laptop and ability to tap into secure government websites - wouldn't they have changed their passwords from when the Doctor told Mickey how to get on in Aliens of London? And then we get Torchwood crowbarred into the plot ... what? Another top secret organisation ... what's wrong with UNIT all of a sudden? Oh well ... The big ship arrives and I liked the touch of the Big Ben clock tower being repaired. The invaders seem to have some mystery power and cause loads of people to get hypnotically drawn to stand on high places. These scenes were very effective. I especially liked the woman trying to stop her kids - reminiscent of the scenes in The Lord of the Rings where the children are made to fight. But all these people have 'A+' type blood and the plot strands start to come together - there was some 'A+' blood on the Martian probe ... what? Actual blood? I thought in space travel every ounce was critical and so to include a tub of blood for no apparent reason seems a little strange. Why not give the chemical composition or have a picture of the DNA complex instead? Anyway, as the Sycorax have the blood, they can somehow control a third of the Earth's population. I guess we can be thankful that it wasn't a sample of type 'O' blood. So Harriet and her goons are teleported up to the ship where the alien leader has no trouble understanding them, but they need translation software to understand him. Two of the aides are killed with a funky electric lasso (neat death effects here), and the Aliens transmit messages that no-one can understand to the Earth. But then Rose and Mickey get the Doctor into the TARDIS and, thankfully leaving the annoying Jackie behind, conveniently get themselves teleported to the spaceship as the creatures detect the TARDIS' alien technology. So why did they bother with Harriet at all then? When Rose arrives she tries to get the Sycorax to leave, but they laugh at her cobbled together continuity-fest of a speech ... but then the humans realise that they can understand the Sycoraxic language and we all cheer as the Doctor appears, a hero in pyjamas. Tennant is brilliant here. His 'Hello big fellah' is superb as his is totally taking control of the situation and running rings around everyone else. He presses the big glowy button which will send the controlled humans to their doom but it doesn't work - it's like voodoo he explains and people's survival instincts are too strong ... but voodoo only works because the subjects know about it and fear it and believe it will work. You can't control masses of people you've never met at a distance in the same way. Oh well - it was nice and dramatic anyway. But then the Doctor (aka Luke Skywalker) challenges the Sycorax leader (aka Darth Vader) to a duel and they're off with swords flashing (and while we're here, why didn't the electric whip work on the Doctor?) The problem now is that the Doctor doesn't seem to have any plan past fighting the alien. He heads out onto the surface of the asteriod/spaceship thing and they fight some more. Then Darth (sorry, the Sycorax leader) cuts the Doctor's hand off ... but surprise ... the Doctor can grow a new one. I groaned at this. Cop out and silly I thought. What was the point of it? It seemed to serve no real part to the plot. And of course it had been done in Star Wars. The Doctor wins the fight and spares the alien's life. But then kills him with no emotion when he rushes at him. No. Not a very Doctory thing to do. Far better that the Doctor bends over to pick up something, or to straighten his shoe or something, and the alien trips over him and falls, but to have the Doctor actually kill him - I don't know. It reminded me of the conclusion to The End of the World where the Doctor kills Cassandra. I still feel that the Doctor needs to be a hero to all people, and that should include not taking the life of anyone who pisses him off. So the Doctor wins the day and the aliens leave Earth. I liked the comment about the Doctor being very 'Arthur Dent' - a reference to Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. However the plot is not yet over. The mysterious Torchwood let Harriet know they're ready, and she authorises them to fire. Immense bolts of power converge and blast the fleeing ship into oblivion. And the Doctor is well upset. In scenes harkening back to Doctor Who and the Silurians, the Doctor realises that maybe Harriet Jones is the real monster here and so chooses to set the wheels of change in motion with six words ('Don't you think she looks tired?'). I can't fully recall the end of World War III, but I thought that Jones' tenure as Prime Minister was hailed as a triumph for peace and prosperity. Maybe that squares with this, but maybe not. As the story plays out, the Doctor chooses his new clothes from an impressive TARDIS wardrobe. I liked seeing this - new parts of the TARDIS are always welcome even though we don't have much understanding of the layout of the inside of the TARDIS at the moment. But again, given the huge number of continuity references which have gone before, and given that it is now almost traditional, why were there no previous Doctor's costumes on display here? A shame. Still, I liked the Doctor's glasses - rather ugly black-rimmed affairs which make him look even more like gangly singer Jarvis Cocker. Overall I liked The Christmas Invasion. It showed a lot of the weaknesses in Russell T Davies' own writing though - a reliance on set pieces rather than a coherent plot, and way too many continuity references to be entirely self contained. Even the review in The Times picked up on the continuity, and so if it's apparent to general viewers then in my mind that's not a good thing. The story was fun, the aliens suitably nasty (even if we had little idea what they wanted or why they had come to Earth - this seemed to be to put half the population into slavery ... but doing what? And why only half? Or was it the Doctor they wanted? And where did those robot Santas come from?), and the Doctor totally brilliant (except when he was wasted lying in bed for ages). I think the future for David Tennant is very bright indeed. And Doctor Who would seem to be on a roll - the trailer for next season looked very promising indeed. But I hope they see the light and reduce the appearances of Jackie, and try and keep all that soap opera-ey kitchen sink drama in the background. Oh, and cut back on the continuity as well (fat chance with K9, Sarah Jane Smith and the Cybermen reappearing next year). I'd give this probably a 7 or 8 out of ten. Not as superlative as episodes like The Unquiet Dead, Dalek or The Empty Child, but not as disappointing as Aliens of London or The Long Game. EDITED 29/12/05 TO ADD: A friend has just pointed out that there are apparently old costumes in the Doctor's wardrobe. Here's his email:
Hi David, great review! But you'll want to watch the wardrobe scene again, because you missed some stuff. Not only are there definitely old Doctor outfits visible in the room, but the Mill have confirmed there's at least one thing there from every previous Doctor. Some stuff we've caught on screen grabs include Sylv's umbrella, the First Doctor's gold column thing from his console room, Davison's hat and standing mirror from 'Castrovalva', C. Baker's coat (very hard to see), and perhaps most amazingly, an exact - and I mean exact down to the colors of the stripes - replica of Steven's pullover from 'The Celestial Toymaker'! Lots of people went nuts when they caught that one.
I never spotted these as I was looking for Doctors costumes (ie long scarf, cricketting outfit and so on) rather than anything else. Still, good on the production team for making the effort.


Anonymous said...

Don't mean to be picky, but your criticisms of Blood Control being like Voodoo are actually false. While he compared it to voodoo in terms of apparant effect (I think that was him pointing out that to humans blood control would seem like magic), he actually compared it to hypnosis with reguards to how it works. And hypnosis will work on anyone who allows it to work, and most people both neither actively resisting hypnosis and not doing things they percieve as dangerous via it can be effected via hypnosys, weather they have preconceptions of it or not.

I also felt the Arther Dent reference wasn't simply a random Hitchhiker's reference but rather RTD giving us a nod that yes, he does know he's been writing in his version of full-on Adams style writing. Basically making it known that this was deliberately an enjoyable romp that probably doesn't add-up if you apply over-zelous sci-fi fan analysis to it.

As for Hariet Jones... Well, "This is Britain's Golden Age?" 'At a price.' sums it up. I actually felt the way he played that was very seventh doctor. Make her parranoid enough to potentially take herself down. The no-second-chances thing, I'm not convinced it was as undocteresque as Cassandra. The Doctor has killed in self defence and the defence of others, deliberately, before now. And not just his sixth incarnation though his attitude to doing so was somewhat sixth doctor-esque.

Aside from those points, the review was very good and almost sums up my view on the episode. Though I'd give it a 9/10 myself.

Found my way here from Outpost Gallifrey, incidently.

David said...

Hi Gizensha

Thanks for the thoughts. I take what you say about the voodoo thing: but voodoo/hypnotism ... aren't they similar things in effect? Can you hypnotise someone at a distance and not have them even know you're doing it? I just don't know enough about how it works really.

I'm not sure that any earlier Doctor has cold bloodedly killed another creature ... and where it's happened he hasn't been happy about it. The self defence thing is true, but I believe the Doctor should find a third way where possible and *not* have to kill. The business with Cassandra and now the Sycorax leader seem too dismissive of the fact that a death has occurred, and this trivialises it. Just my view of course, and maybe these later incarnations of the Doctor are annulled to death to the extent that it causes no reaction from the Doctor at all. This would be a shame as in my mind it's not 'alien', it's just callous.

Anonymous said...

"Thanks for the thoughts. I take what you say about the voodoo thing: but voodoo/hypnotism ... aren't they similar things in effect? Can you hypnotise someone at a distance and not have them even know you're doing it? I just don't know enough about how it works really."

You can hypnotise someone with a subliminal mp3, I know that much. Some people find it easier to go under with subliminals than regular ones, when audio files is the medium being used, in fact. Never tried a subliminal myself. The effects of hypnotism aren't difficult to fight, actually, and if you percieve your life to be in danger you snap out of the state like a firecracker, weather the fear is from a representation in your mind of something in your subconscious (turns out during two attempts at past life regression... My mind is full of mental blockades), or something external, such as fire, or indeed, jumping off of a building (presuming you notice it in both cases).

From personal experience with entering trance, I would actually suggest that hypnotism, and if as implied Blood Control works along similar principles, not knowing about hypnotism/Blood Control might make it harder to resist. Because entering trance is one of the most relaxing things you can do, and the more relaxed you are, the easier the trance is to enter...

"I'm not sure that any earlier Doctor has cold bloodedly killed another creature ... and where it's happened he hasn't been happy about it. The self defence thing is true, but I believe the Doctor should find a third way where possible and *not* have to kill. The business with Cassandra and now the Sycorax leader seem too dismissive of the fact that a death has occurred, and this trivialises it."

Cassandra I'd agree with, but probably suggest the same response as appropriate to most of Colin Baker's violent tendencies, that that particular doctor is 'damaged goods.' He had no choice with the Sycorax Leader, however, as far as I can see. And it's nothing that the Sixth Doctor wouldn't have done with the same attitude. In fact, if anything, The tenth is more sensative than the Sixth since his comment acknowledged what he'd done rather than just being flippant and dismissive.

GORdon said...

on the wardrobe --

can't believe i missed it: in the shot where Tennant holds up his new suit and coat, just before running out of frame -- the camera pulls back to reveal the Baker's first scarf drapped across something in the foreground on the right edge of the frame!