Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The New Doctor Sleeps Through Most Of “The Christmas Invasion!”

The Good: Good character development for Rose, Decent explanation of the universe, Good moments of humor/creepiness
The Bad: Largely predictable plot, A few strange continuity issues
The Basics: Earth faces annihilation when the new Doctor crashes to Earth in “The Christmas Invasion!”

There are few shows that have been, by necessity, forced to reinvent themselves like Doctor Who. Perhaps the most surprising change of direction came after only one season of the revived Doctor Who. Apparently, Christopher Eccleston had a negative experience in the first season of Doctor Who (reviewed here!), so before the season’s end, he was ready to be replaced and the BBC obliged. After a few seconds on screen in “The Parting Of The Ways” (reviewed here!), David Tennant took over as the Tenth Doctor fulltime in “The Christmas Invasion.”

“The Christmas Invasion” is the first time in the “modern” Doctor Who where the producers had to deal with explaining to viewers the mechanics of The Doctor’s regeneration. For that, they actually had a pretty easy and sensible technique; Rose Tyler’s mundane friends and family know little to nothing about Time Lords, so explaining The Doctor’s new face and body gives her the chance to answer questions. In fact, the questions that Jackie Tyler and Mickey Smith have for Rose are pretty much the questions that viewers have of the show and The Doctor.

Mickey Smith and Jackie Tyler are going about their days when they hear the TARDIS returning. Running out into the street, they witness the TARDIS crash in London and they are shocked when a man stumbles out, wishes them a Merry Christmas and then collapses. Rose reveals to them that this strange looking man is The Doctor and Jackie wonders if he has changed only his face or if he is an entirely different person. Rose is frustrated by the questions, just as Mickey is frustrated by Rose going on about the TARDIS and The Doctor. When Rose and Mickey are attacked in the street by mechanized Santas, they return to Jackie’s apartment (where The Doctor is laying unconscious) and are attacked by an artificial Christmas tree that arrived while Rose was out.

As Great Britain, now under the leadership of Prime Minister Harriet Jones, loses contact with its Guinevere I space probe, The Doctor believes that his regeneration energy is attracting aliens. He surmises that they are dangerous aliens and when the first images from Mars come via the Guinevere I probe, Rose and the world are shocked that there is a snarling alien there. After Harriet Jones stands up to the aliens, who the government has determined to be the Sycorax, the aliens send a signal to Earth and approximately one-third of the world’s population suddenly falls into a trance and moves to high points (like roofs). The mission specialist for the Guinevere I project realizes that all humans who have A positive blood are under the control of the Sycorax because of a blood sample he put on the space probe that the Sycorax abducted. With the Earth being held hostage by the Sycorax and their threat to execute a third of the world’s population should Jones resist, Rose works to save The Doctor and hopes he has what it takes to save the Earth!

“The Christmas Invasion” is notable in that is manages to focus more on Rose Tyler, the Doctor’s companion, than on the new Doctor. The Doctor’s absence frustrates Harriet Jones and leaves Rose feeling abandoned. While Rose comes home remarkably empowered, as the situation becomes more dire, she starts to lose her cool. While her reaction is to freak out and reunite the Doctor with the TARDIS, she never seems stupid or ignorant in “The Christmas Invasion.” Her final major scene is a tour de force of allusions to Season 1’s events and characters, but it also serves to provide a decent moment for Rose to assert herself and illustrate the spine she had at the beginning of the episode.

“The Christmas Invasion” is very plot-heavy and the plot is mostly mundane and obvious. Invasion stories are pretty standard and “The Christmas Invasion” has few surprises in the way it is plotted. The blood control that the Sycorax use is an interesting twist that otherwise complicates the straightforward and simple plot. When The Doctor finally wakes up for the final act, he is goofy and powerful and curious.

On its own, “The Christmas Invasion” explains itself very well. The episode features Harriet Jones, who was first introduced in “Aliens Of London” (reviewed here!) and the return of her character allows for much of the episode’s comedy. The rest of the humor comes from The Doctor when he faces off against the Sycorax leader. The episode also does a good job of asserting that the new Doctor means a new direction for the show. There are menacing allusions to Torchwood and Harriet Jones, who was hailed as one of Britain’s great leaders by the Ninth Doctor comes to be derided and dismissed by the Tenth Doctor. The future, it appears, is malleable in the Doctor Who universe and “The Christmas Invasion” realizes that in smart and subtle ways.

David Tennant has an auspicious first outing as the Tenth Doctor . . . once he finally gets into the show as a character who has lines. Tennant distinguishes himself as the new Doctor by consciously asking the question of who he is now and then starting to come up with some answers. Tennant has an authoritative bearing, which allows him to sell goofy lines (like a reference to The Lion King) with equal measure to his character’s rage. In his first outing, Tennant is not given enough chance to become a fully realized Doctor, but he makes an instant impression when he starts speaking as an energetic new incarnation of the Doctor.

Billie Piper and David Tennant do a decent job of working to establish a chemistry between their characters and fortunately, Rose and The Doctor do not rush it. The final scene has a huge amount of charm to it, but it does not realize the potential of the relationship, which is the way a start should be.

In the larger context of Doctor Who, “The Christmas Invasion” is billed in the episode as the first empirical proof of alien life, which is strange considering “Aliens Of London” saw an alien invasion of modern Earth in the prior season. Beyond that, “The Christmas Invasion” is a decent start, but it’s largely the result of having to come back from a peak point in the prior season, which makes it feel like more of a stumble than it is objectively.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of the Tenth Doctor here!

For other works with Penelope Wilton, please visit my reviews of:
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Pride & Prejudice
“World War Three” - Doctor Who


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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