The Christmas InvasionBookmark and Share

Monday, 26 December 2005 - Reviewed by Alan McDonald

Long six months, wasn't it?

It's a testament to RTD and his team that the time which has elapsed since The Parting of the Ways has seemed almost interminable. From the moment we heard 'Barcelona' we've been waiting to see this, hoping desperately that the change of Doctor wouldn't spoil the formula. So, was it worth the wait?

Oh my, yes.

That said, the first fifteen minutes of 'The Christmas Invasion' are a bit of a mixed bag. The regenerated Doctor is suitably exciting, mysterious and loopy. Billie Piper's Rose is, as ever, superb (can you imagine the shambles if she'd left the show?). A couple of things ring a bit naff, though. With the main body of the Sycorax plot being so much fun, you do cringe a little at the (poorly realised) robot Santas and killer Christmas tree. If 'Rose' taught us anything, it was that things which worked in the seventies for the show (the Autons etc) really don't now. It all feels a bit shoehorned in. We couldn't have had a single Sycorax warrior (maybe even disguised as Santa to begin with) as a scout who tries to kidnap the Doctor?

Still, the Doctor's 'pilot fish' explanation works, just, and we are propelled on to far firmer ground as the show does Independence Day, UK-style. It's nice to see Harriet Jones return to face a threat greater than farting aliens (it still guts me watching the box set that the Slitheen two-parter is ruined by that ridiculous 'gas exchange' business). The UNIT bunker is superb, as well. Very CTU.

Then things get really, unexpectedly, dark. Having millions - billions - of innocent people wandering to the tops of buildings, preapred to jump off, was far more affecting than death rays or bomb threats. Real people, watched by their loved ones, about to commit suicide. It's a deeply unsettling thought, and RTD at his best, when all the camp is put aside.

Things go from bad to worse and Rose, quite understandably, decides to run and hide. She's done the honourable thing in the past, but without the Doctor at her side she feels lost and helpless.

It's worth mentioning here that the Rose sub-plot, although it may well be ignored in the final analysis of many, was the strongest aspect of the episode for those of us who watched the last season so avidly. This was the most 'new-Who' aspect of 'The Christmas Invasion'. Rose has seen the man who changed her life forever, who she was willing to die for, change into a stranger, a helpless stranger who can do nothing for her any more. And she's devastated. It's like the worst break-up anyone could experience because it's so inexplicable, so alien. Her tears when she tells Jackie that the Doctor is gone and her little turn and hug when Mickey notes how much she loves the Doctor are up there with anything from 'Dalek', 'Father's Day' or 'Parting' in terms of quality writing and acting.

So, the Doctor is useless or worse, the Sycorax are poised to massacre a third of the population, Harriet and Rose have tried their best but have failed. It's the end.

And then the Sycorax leader startes to speak English.

Once again, RTD's keen eye for spine-tingling moments comes into play as our heroes realise what is happening, the camera pulls in to the TARDIS and ... the Tenth Doctor calmly opens the doors and delivers a line clearly nicked from Buffy. Possibly better-used, though. And who cares when we are all cheering anyway? A beautiful moment, and from here David Tennant OWNS the screen. So many highlights come flying that it takes multiple viewings to really appreciate them - 'Am I ginger?', 'Oh, that was rude', 'No, wait, that's the Lion King'. Five minutes into this sequence and you are in no doubt (and I'm sure this counts for the new generation of kids raised on Chris Ecclestone, too) that this is the Doctor, and he is absolutely 'a whole new man'.

Another shaky moment now, as RTD's ambition maybe outstrips the show's capabilities a little as the fight is taken outside to what is clearly a beach with an AWFUL matte painting in the background ('The Long Game' is no longer the worst offender on this front now). Keeping the fight indoors with a hole in the floor leading out of the ship might have been a better call. Still, Tennant's energy carries us along all the same.

Another little complaint - if, as the commentary and extras on the BBC website suggest - the fight was painstakingly rehearsed for 5 days, WHY does the director insist on filming the whole thing from the chest up, thus missing most of the swipes and parries?! Is it purely to maintain the already shaky illusion that this is taking place on the outside of the ship? Bit of a misstep.

So, the Doctor wins after some nifty hand-growing that would make Luke Skywalker go green with envy and the BEST lines of any new episode - 'Witchcraft!', 'Timelord.' - and the earth is saved in time for a quick rant about the uselessness of satsumas. and just before we get our happy ending, we see a flash of the old, darker Doctor, still very much alive behind Tennant's grin. No second chances, indeed.

And we're still not done, yet. Harriet Jones' decision to fire upon a retreating foe is both shocking and understandable, a lovely moment of moral ambiguity that helps unleash a little more of the Doctor's darkness. Tennant plays this scene as well as CE played any of his key scenes in season 1, again boding well for what is to come.

And, since it's Christmas, we get the family dinner and the fanboy-pleasing 'Doctor dressing' scene. His wardrobe is every bit as extensive as you'd expect!

But by far the most pleasing aspect of this episode comes at the very end, and it comes from Rose. Watch as she and the Doctor gently reestablish their friendship, and gaze at each other with a suggestion of even more. She leans in with an excited, relieved smile and looks happier than ever at the prospect of being with him. Whether this was picked up in the writing, Piper's acting, the directing, or all three, it is a moment of brilliance, because Rose takes the audience with her. This new Doctor is complete, strong and just as much the man we love as before, but with suggestions of something new, less-damaged. It's an exciting new start.

A final word on David Tennant. While casting Chris Ecclestone was impressive and turned out to be a great piece of thinking, it may actually be Tennant's casting which really guarantees Doctor Who's long-term future and audience. He has enough of the new, darker essence introduced by Davies and Ecclestone to stand comfortably in the new format, but long-term fans will be delighted by just how noticeably 'Doctor-y' he is, from mannerisms to costume. Let's just hope the depth that the writers gave Ecclestone's Doctor is maintained.

Can't wait to visit New Earth is spring - it's going to be a long three months.