The Christmas Invasion

Written by Russell T. Davies.

Review and Commetary by Andrew Panero

Oh dear; having spent most of the last season arguing against the nay-sayers I find myself confronted with this pile of derivative horse-shit as a yuletide gift. Apparently this is the firstDoctor Whoin forty years to be transmitted on Christmas Day itself and whilst we don’t have slapstick comedy or David Tennant turning towards the fourth wall and wishing everyone a happy Christmas, what we do have is scarcely any better.

After the high drama and excitement of the last season’s finale we are served up a pretty standard Earth-Invasion scenario as the 10th Doctor’s premiere. We were already aware that David Tennant’s Doctor was experiencing the traditional regeneration crisis from the Children in Need special in November. That was a short 15 minute set leading directly on from The Parting of the Ways in which Rose is confronted with the new Doctor for the first time and goes through the plethora of emotional responses to the death of her own Doctor. Having been convinced at last that this was the same man she knew, but in a different body, she is then confronted with how fragile he still is, both mentally and physically. Given that he has inhaled the entire space-time vortex into his body, this shouldn’t come as any surprise really.

The Christmas Invasion begins in a fairly promising way with the TARDIS crashing into Rose’s housing estate and the Doctor staggering out to wish an astonished Jackie and Mickey a Happy Christmas. Rose explains that he is the same Doctor to them both and they carry his unconscious body to rest up in Jackie’s flat.

There he sleeps for most of the rest of the episode, waking briefly to despatch a homicidal Christmas tree with his sonic screwdriver before collapsing in a heap of gibberish. David Tennant actually comes across rather well considering the paucity of the colour by numbers script. All power to him for doing so, but given that he has so little to actually do it is just as well.

With the Doctor reduced to the status of wee-willie-winkie it falls to the rest of the cast to try and carry it off. Unfortunately it seems that all they can do for the most part is fret about the fact that the Doctor isn’t there to save them. There is very little development with Mickey and Jackie, and Rose at least tries, but just doesn’t convince.

There are the obligatory comedy moments that we expect from RTD – hostile robots in the form of Santa Claus, the aforementioned Christmas tree and a Prime Minister who tells the American President he’s not her boss and ‘not to make a war out of it.’

There are the standard Warrior-Race aliens with the Predatoresque masks in the shape of the Sycorax. There is officialdom in the shape of Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North in The Aliens of London, now promoted to Prime Minister. There is the threat to large portions of the population in the form of ‘blood-control.’ There are numerous scientific bloomers (a ‘live transmission from Mars’ indeed!) Then there is the ironic resurrection of the Doctor through the inhalation of vaporised tea before the biggest cop-out of all- the duel for the Earth sword fight with the Sycorax leader. (Ably played by Sean Gilder).

There are the embarrassing references to classic sci-fi scenes- the Doctor has his hand chopped off in a sword fight only to grow it back again, in a Luke Skywalker sort of way. He then name-drops Arthur Dent, in reference to the fact that he spends most of the episode in his dressing gown.

There is new continuity generated- a time lord can apparently grow back chopped off parts of themselves within 15 hours of regeneration and blood control cannot make someone kill themselves in the same way that you can’t hypnotise some one to death.

There is the self-conscious allusion to Torchwood – Russell T. Davies Doctor Who spin-off project, due for release sometime next year. This comes in the shape of references by the Prime Minister to secret goings on and a project that utilises alien technology in defence of the realm. (In this case a death ray that annihilates the Sycorax ship just as they are making a get away).

Fortunately this last bit enables David Tennant to start acting more like the Doctor, in that he is confronted with the customary bugbears of human cupidity and the arrogance of power. Unfortunately RTD turns it into a non-too subtle allusion to contemporary Britain: ‘Don’t you think she looks tired?’ he asks Harriet Jones’ right-hand man, sowing the seeds of her downfall in a direct echo of the tabloid press and Tony Blair early this year.

With all these gripes I ought to mention the good points; visually the episode worked very well on both a design level and in the area of special effects. Generally the performances were good, with David Tennant coming across as a promising 10th Doctor and Penelope Wilton convincingly reprising her role as Harriet Jones. But as a whole The Christmas Invasion seemed like pretty poor fare coming as it did after the epic Parting of the Ways and in many ways resembled an inferior DWM Special strip. Surely with the whole of time and space to play with we could have been spared yet another Invasion of Earth scenario? Even if the action is confined to Earth, couldn’t we at least be somewhere else apart from Jackie’s flat for a change?

In summary the whole thing strikes me as a massively wasted opportunity. I think I would have been happier with a longer story with more drama and tension, even if this meant a trade off in terms of effects sequences.  Compared to this The Five Doctors seems like a great lost classic.