Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol
(Christmas Special, 2010)
Three spirits, a Christmas miracle, and a sonic shark.
A passenger liner is plummeting toward the surface of an unknown turbulent planet. The captain cancels Christmas as she attempts to save the ship, and as she detects a distress signal from the honeymoon suite, Amy and Rory race in wearing their fun costumes of a kiss-o-gram cop and a centurion.
The distress signal they sent summons the Doctor who signals the ship with a simple text: “Come along, Pond.”
On the surface is a village in the throes of a Christmas Eve celebration. The planet and the artificial storm when the cruiseliner is trapped are owned by Karzan Sardick, a wealthy and heartless man who acts as a loanshark through a business he inherited. To secure the the loans, he cryogenically freezes family members of the borrowers as collateral.
As one family begs for their family to be thawed for a day, the Doctor arrives via chimney. Sardick has denied the cruiseliner permission to be rescued, and the Doctor’s attention bounces from the poor family to the storm machine and the frozen girl. Sardick says that the girl is not important, but the Doctor replies that he has never met anyone who wasn’t important.
The machine’s controls are isomorphic and coded to Sardick alone. The Doctor tries to appeal to his better nature, but Sardick ejects the family and the Doctor with a bout of violence. When Sardick refrains from striking the young boy as the family leaves, the Doctor sees a crack in Sardick’s façade.
The Doctor touches base with the Ponds before being warned to seek cover for the night. After all, the fish that swim through the clouds are particularly fervent tonight. The Doctor is inspired by a Christmas carol playing on the loudspeakers and launches a plan to save the cruiseliner.
Sardick awakens to find his dream projected on the wall of his study. When he was twelve, he wanted to film one of the sky fish, but his father punished him by striking the boy and sealing his window. The Doctor plumbs the depths of this memory, then boards the TARDIS and travels back in time to Sardick’s boyhood, right into the film being projected.
Acting as young Sardick’s babysitter, the Doctor decides to make the boy’s dream come true. Using the sonic screwdriver, the Doctor lures a sky fish in through the window while he and Sardick hide in the wardrobe. The boy is interested in seeing the fish because he missed his chance by being sick at school on the day his class got to see them. When the sky fish nibbles on the line, the Doctor leaves the wardrobe to investigate. He surmises that the fish travels on electrical currents generated in the atmosphere’s high water content. His investigation is cut short by a large shark that eats the little fish and chases the Doctor back into the wardrobe.
On the one hand, the Doctor is pleased because he has a better understanding of the clouds and can analyze the readings (once he retrieves his sonic screwdriver from the shark). On the other hand, the shark rams the wardrobe and pins its occupants against the wall. The Doctor bravely dives into the shark and retrieves half the sonic, but he and young Sardick lament the fact that the shark is dying after being out of the clouds for so long.
As a life support measure, the boy takes the Doctor to the vault where all of the collateral is kept. He travels forward briefly to get the code to the door from the older Sardick, then enters the vault with the boy in the past. The shark has followed them, lured by the fog emanating from the open vault. After a brief chase, the shark is lulled to sleep by the song of Abigail Pettigrew, one of the frozen who has been freed.
The Doctor realizes that singing induces a sympathetic harmonic that the fish like, which is the same principle that drives the cloud machine in the future. The Doctor puts the shark in Abigail’s box and takes his new companions on a ride in the TARDIS. Meanwhile, in the future, Abigail’s portrait has appeared on the elder Sardick’s wall. The shark is set free and Abigail is returned to her box with a promise that they will return every Christmas.
Sure enough, the Doctor and Sardick awaken Abigail one year later, unaware of the countdown on her box. They call the shark with the sonic and take a sleigh ride. The tradition continues as Sardick ages and his future self marvels over the new memories, ranging from New York to the Pyramids.
One year, Abigail asks to see her family again. She weeps as she watches her family have the life she can never have, and Sardick consoles her. The Doctor arranges a small celebration with Abigail’s family. Abigail explains her situation and vouches for Sardick’s character, and the group shares a holiday dinner before Abigail returns to her box with a kiss for Sardick.
The next year brings a Hollywood party for the trio. Abigail nearly reveals the truth about her life to Sardick, but they are forced to leave early since the Doctor has inadvertently become engaged to Marilyn Monroe. Abigail knows that there is nothing to be done, and as Sardick returns Abigail to her box, he tells the Doctor that he’d like to break the tradition in favor of working on the cloud machine.
The Doctor is sad that Sardick hasn’t evolved from his future attitudes, but gives the man his broken sonic screwdriver as he leaves. In the future, the portrait reverts from Abigail’s to Sardick’s father. One year later, the Sardicks complete work on the machine, and while the younger man considers calling the Doctor and resuming the tradition, he turns away.
The future Sardick digs the abandoned sonic out of his drawer, rejects another plea from the cruiseliner, and then meets the Ghost of Christmas Present… or rather, Amy’s hologram. She projects the crew and passengers into the vault, singing Silent Night as a further plea for their lives. The Doctor has told Amy about Abigail and Sardick tells her about Abigail’s terminal illness. The countdown has been tracking the number of days Abigail has to leave.
Amy and Rory reverse the transmission to bring Sardick’s hologram to the ship’s bridge. When Sardick is not swayed, he’s returned to the vault to face the Doctor. The Time Lord apologizes, but then brings the cruel man face to face with his twelve-year-old self. The elder’s heart is broken and he apologizes to his younger self.
The elder Sardick attempts to save the ship but the machine no longer recognizes him since he’s changed so much. Sardick flashes the sonic screwdriver and the Doctor realizes that the other half is still in the shark. Unfortunately, to lure the shark, they need Abigail’s song. The Sardicks release her, knowing that her death is imminent, but Abigail is overjoyed to spend one last Christmas with the man she loves.
Abigail’s song is broadcast into the clouds through the sonic screwdriver, drawing the two halves together. The resonance induces a Christmas snow to fall. High above, the cruiseliner stabilizes and everyone aboard celebrates. As the Christmas mood spreads through the village, the Doctor takes the younger Sardick home.
Some time later, the Ponds reunite with the Doctor. The Time Lord rejects a phone call from Marilyn Monroe, absolutely convinced that it wasn’t a real chapel after all. As the travelers depart for their next adventure, Sardick and Abigail sail the skies in a shark-drawn sleigh.
Steven Moffat promised that this holiday story would be the most “Christmassy Christmas special ever” and “all your favourite Christmas movies at once, in an hour, with monsters and the Doctor and a honeymoon.”
There have been countless adaptations of Charles Dickens’s famous novel, and this one adds a Doctor Who flair to the timeless tale. Karzan Sardick takes the Scrooge journey courtesy of the Christmas Ghosts: The Doctor takes the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past, Amy is the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Sardick himself becomes the Ghost of Christmas Future (or Christmas Yet to Come). In a sense, Abigail fills the roles of Jacob Marley and “Tiny Tim” Cratchit.
The redemption story is touching and drew me in because of the unique take. We get to watch Scrooge evolve and grow as the Doctor brings the trademark love and compassion to bear. The tragedy of the love affair is heartbreaking, played so well by both Michael Gambon and Danny Horn as both versions of Sardick live through the memories. Katherine Jenkins absolutely sells the empathetic Abigail.
I love the nods throughout this celebration. We’ve heard about the Doctor’s friendship with Albert Einstein before (Time and the Rani), the sonic screwdriver gets destroyed (The Visitation, Smith and Jones, The Eleventh Hour), the psychic paper once again proves not to be infallible (Army of Ghosts, The Shakespeare Code, The Vampires of Venice), and the Fourth Doctor gets a beautiful yet subtle tribute with long scarves as Abigail’s clock ticks to 004.
I could have sworn that Silent Night had been in Doctor Who before now, but research says that I was wrong.
Finally, I’d be remiss not to note Dumbledore. Okay, okay, not quite the wizard, but definitely Michael Gambon, who was far more sinister here than in his five appearances in the Harry Potter films. I love seeing actors I know in productions and roles that are so different than what I’ve seen from them before, and this was no exception.
Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.