I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.
I’VE always been struck by the depth of the relationship between the worlds of Doctor Who and Charles Dickens.
And I don’t just mean sharing an adventure, as they did in The Unquiet Dead back in 2005.
I mean the way in which Dickens and the Doctor see the world.
Take a Christmas Carol, which Steven Moffat did to form the basis of this year’s Christmas Special.
Dickens was already a campaigner against poverty and injustice when he released A Christmas Carol in 1843, as a thinly veiled morality tale and call to arms to the rich in London to help the poor around them.
London back then was a dark and despairing world and Dickens had seen it at its worst, when his family lived in debtors’ prison and he worked in a boot-blacking factory as a child.
Scrooge is the personification of this despair, so Dickens introduced the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future to reveal the horror around him and encourage Scrooge to rediscover his humanity. A reformed Scrooge can then act to change the world, with the reader challenged to do the same.
I’m not suggesting last night’s show was created out of the same reforming zeal – I’d say it was a 7/10 Who, but one of the better Christmas specials despite featuring a shark that was even less realistic than the roaring one in Jaws 4: The Revenge.
But in following the same template, Moffat reinforced the bonds between Dickens and the Doctor.
For Scrooge, Moffat had the brilliant Sir Michael Gambon as Kazran Sardick, who dismisses people who celebrate Christmas as those who want something for nothing, while keeping the poor – the ‘surplus population’ – frozen in vaults below his house because they don’t matter.
It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child.
If that gets on the Doctor’s nerves, it is nothing compared to Sardick’s indifference to 4003 people, including Rory and Amy, who are plunging to their deaths on a spaceship trapped in the fog Sardick controls. He could save them, he just won’t because he does not care.
Inspired by a nearby choir – and, no doubt, by meeting Dickens in the past – the Doctor rewrites history and reforms Sardick, so he can not just save the ship, but want to save the ship.
Just like the ghosts, the Doctor (Matt Smith, mesmeric again) becomes the motivating force to encourage Sardick to reform his character, through some clever work by Moffat and the production team.
The scenes where he went into Sardick’s recording of his earlier life to give him ‘new’ memories were brilliant, and I enjoyed the Christmas Eve nights out too (echoes there of Scrooge’s nephew Fred asking him to Christmas dinner again and again).
The mix of light and shade also ensured the special flew along – Smith has a gift for switching from comedy to drama in an instant, which is one of his major strengths in the role.
But ultimately it comes down to this.
Like Dickens and his creations, the Doctor has seen the worst of all worlds in more than 900 years of crossing all of time and space, but strives to replace that reality with his own utopian vision of what could be.
For the Doctor, that vision is always based on the people he meets rising to the occasion and realising their potential – just as Dickens wanted his fellow citizens to follow Scrooge’s example.
Look at these people, these human beings. Consider their potential! From the day they arrive on the planet, blinking, step into the sun, there is more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than— no, hold on. Sorry, that’s The Lion King. But the point still stands: Leave them alone!
Tenth Doctor, The Christmas Invasion
Like Dickens who chose to write A Christmas Carol instead of a pamphlet to try to change the world, so the Doctor will always believe in people’s ability to change for the better and will always give them the chance to do so.
Not everyone will, but at least they have the opportunity to follow Scrooge or Sardick or Rose or Martha or especially Donna and strip away the darkness to reach the light.
Oh, and one more thing.
This may just be me reading too much into things, but in the middle of an ongoing mysterious story arc which says silence will fall, wasn’t it interesting to see the role sound played in saving the day through the sonic screwdriver and Katherine Jenkins’ carol at the end?
If I was the Doctor, I’d have Jenkins’ voice on heavy repeat in the TARDIS‘s ipod, just in case. (And I’d also have her picture in that room in the TARDIS he doesn’t let Amy go in to, but that’s another story).
- Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol – Christmas special 2010 (guardian.co.uk)
- ‘Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol’ Review (The Spoiler-Free Early Edition!) (splashpage.mtv.com)