So tonight we had the first Doctor Who Christmas episode since the sixties (the last one was The Feast of Steven, episode seven of the Dalek Master Plan if you’re curious), and also the first full outing for Doctor number ten, David Tennant.
As in previous new Doctor stories, the Doctor himself is not in the centre of the action for the first part of the story, this time being in bed suffering the effects of his regeneration, whilst the alien invasion takes place. The invasion starts off with robotic Santa’s with flame throwers, and remote control killer Christmas trees. Also rolled up in the plot is a British backed mission to Mars, that gets hijacked by the invading Sycorax. By midway through the episode the main characters are on the Sycorax spaceship, and the Doctor is on the floor of the TARDIS unable to help. However, just in the nick of time, he is brought round by a cup of tea, and saves the Earth in his pyjamas, dueling with the alien leader. That leaves just enough time for the traditional new Doctor costume choosing scene, and a bit of Christmas cheer, before we get a tantalising sequence of clips from the upcoming series, including the return of Sarah Jane Smith, K-9, and a glimpse of the new Cybermen.
All in all we thought the story was a great episode, although there was a Christmas theme, it was still a decent Doctor Who episode. It gave the impression of having had some more money spent on it too, with a fully orchestrated soundtrack this time around. There is also a new version of the theme, again more orchestral, which restored the middle section of the theme that the Murray Gold theme left out (although enthusiastic fans have remixed the Gold version to include the missing section too) although the continuity announcer talked over the relevant bit in our region. The bigger budget also extended to showing us another part of the TARDIS – the vast wardrobe that has been mentioned in the past, but never shown. Here it is seen in a similar style to the console room, but with a sweeping spiral staircase in the centre. We also get some new surprises, with the Doctor, whilst still close to his regeneration being able to regrow his hand at one point, and who can forget the spectacular opening scene with the TARDIS crash landing.
As the upcoming clips showed, aside from the bigger budget, there are still elements from the old series. Tonight, UNIT reappeared as the nerve centre from where the British Government were operating as the invasion began. There were also references to other well known BBC sci-fi, with the Doctor saying that he felt like Arthur Dent, saving the world in his dressing gown.
Following on from the episode on TV, there was even a special interactive episode on the digital TV services, which although being pretty simple from a plot point of view, again seemed to have had some time spent putting it together, and had more of the new Doctor. It also had a great last line, when the Doctor warns that the residual effect of the sonic screwdriver on your TV remote may cause the universe to implode if you switch to ITV!
As is usual, the way David Tennant plays the role compared to Chris Eccleston, although there are still all the elements of the character, going from humour and fun, through to some serious and intense moments, particularly when the Prime Minister orders the retreating alien spaceship shot down, and the Doctor says he can bring her government down with a few simple words. Currently one of the lasting impressions, particularly from the interactive episode is quite what energy Tennant has in the role, possibly contrasting the new, more youthful Doctor to Doctor number nine. To some extent it is as if the events of Parting of the Ways have brought closure to the events that haunted the Doctor during the previous season. Certainly it will be interesting to see how the new series unfolds, with a different character for the Doctor, and with the strong characterisation we have come to expect from the new series, I’m sure we will see the dynamic between the main characters change and grow.
If you missed the episode first time around, both the episode, and the interactive stuff on digital are being repeated at New Years – and I’m sure I’ll be taking a second look then too! You can read some more opinions on the episode over at Behind the Sofa Again too.
Update: The overnight ratings for Christmas Day have been released (and Behind the Sofa Again have published these under the quote from the interactive episode “If you switch to ITV tonight, the galaxy may implode…”), showing that Doctor Who came second to Eastenders in the Christmas Day ratings, with 9.4 million viewers. The only ITV show that is close is Coronation Street, and with only three out of the top ten programmes being on ITV it looks like the BBC have won the Christmas ratings once again.