Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

For a story that has been so openly lifted from elsewhere, I found this refreshingly original.

There's a spaceship about to crash on an alien planet, a disaster which the local Scrooge character refuses to avert because... well, because he's the local Scrooge character. Making the connection between the current festive season and the famous book by Charles Dickens, the Doctor has one hour in which to literally confront Kazran Sardick with his past, present and future in order to change his mind.

But not by simply whisking the old moaner around in the TARDIS. That would be too easy.

Instead the Doctor himself flits back and forth throughout the guy's whole life, tweaking events all over the place in order to nurture, or maybe manipulate, the man who he will ultimately become.

This is reflected throughout by our constant cutting back to Kazran in his updating present, as he watches past events re-unfold not just in his videos, photos and paintings, but also apparently his own memory.

The ease with which the Doctor keeps popping back to the old man for information, sometimes for just one sentence, reflects just how prolific the Doctor has at last become at travelling in time. Forget rules about non-interference, changing ones' own history, or even meeting oneself - the eleventh Doctor has a time-machine and he's going to use it, so there. That we never even see him making these journeys, but rather just cut to him already in each new location and time, just makes the whole thing fly along.

Throw in really excellent performances from everyone (especially Laurence Belcher as young Kazran), the beautiful singing of Katherine Jenkins, and no end of funny dialogue, and we have the greatest Doctor Who story in years. This is what I've been saying these guys are capable of!

Perhaps the aspect that most impressed me here was, paradoxically, that this misty steampunk world was nothing like Doctor Who, old or new. Although there's a Disney-esque sequence in the middle with the Doctor, young Kazran and Abigail soaring through the clouds Santa-style in a cart pulled by a giant flying fish (shark, dolphin, whatever), for the most part this felt much more like an indie movie. Specifically, like The City Of Lost Children, which as I said in my review I found far less comprehensible.

So, after all that praise, here's where I segue into what for me were the 2010 Christmas special's shortcomings:

1. The picture quality is possibly the worst in the show's 31-series history. Black-and-white telerecordings from the 1960s look clearer than this, and on occasion contain more colour. Made in 'high definition'? You must be joking.

2. The dialogue needs recording clearer to stand any chance against the almighty incidental music. The booms are dying out there.

3. The almighty incidental music. Please turn this off for at least two-thirds of the programme, so that we can hear what the characters are saying to each other and develop some empathy with them. Sorry Murray Gold, you're a good musician and all, but the show would actually be better off if you were let go and not replaced. That's no reflection on you, you work hard, far too hard in fact. They should give you breaks. Like, whenever someone speaks. Alternatively, bearing in mind points one and two, how about keeping the great music and getting rid of the picture and dialogue?

4. Amy and Rory both wear costumes which, according to the preceding episode, they cannot possibly have with them.

5. In this story, while an hour passes for Amy and Rory, about a week passes for the Doctor and Abigail, and a lifetime passes for Kazran. Thanks to the TARDIS, this is all well and good, except that old Kazran seems to witness the Doctor's changes unfolding in his memory in real time.

For example, as we see young Kazran enter the TARDIS, we also see old Kazran wondering out loud the same question about its size, apparently unable to recall the Doctor's answer until 'after' he has spoken it in the past and created that memory. Well, that's the way it looks to me. So on that basis, as maybe a week passes for the Doctor and cumulatively for Kazran's many younger incarnations, so a week of remembering ought to pass for old Kazran too.

It is also hinted however that old Kazran has his memory updated in chunks. The total changes of each journey that the Doctor makes could be recalled by Kazran in a separate instant. For example, old Kazran seems aware of the Doctor's imminent attack by the giant fish, before the narrative has shown us this, but this isn't made explicit either.

Basically the script could have been clearer regarding which dynamic the laws of time were following this episode.

6. Just while we're here, obviously old Kazran shouldn't continue to remember any version of his life which the Doctor has overwritten, including his many subsequent meetings with the Time Lord in the present.

For example, by the end of the episode, the Doctor's first chronological meeting with old Kazran would have changed to one of being recognised by him, and assisted immediately. The Doctor would also have changed his own history and memories, and not had any reason to go back and change any of Kazran's life. They should at least each recall different versions of this 'first' encounter.

But hey, it's science FICTION, and I'd love to see this state of limbo flux explored by this author more. Go on, Steven Moffat, make this idea work. We all know you can.

7. When, towards the story's end, the Doctor realises that he has changed history so much that Kazran's machine no longer recognises him, it should actually have updated along with the rest of history. Kazran's dad would have programmed it for the man who Kazran was now to become.

8. Big problem this - when the Doctor moots releasing Abigail from cryo to spend the final day of her life singing, he also suddenly forgets that he has a time-machine. Doh! Even with young Kazran there, it still never occurs to him to borrow her from an earlier point in her life, or even to go back in time and just record her voice. I don't mind the programme makers wanting to give the story an emotional punch at the end, but I do mind them breaking the rules of the very same episode to do it. They could easily have had the exhausted TARDIS overheat or something to remove that option.

9. He doesn't take the dying Abigail to the hospital in New Earth to get better either. Yes, I know that if he did then he would have to also do so for every character who dies in every story ever, but given the freedom with which he wields the TARDIS in this one, I thought it noticed.

Overall though, wonderful. It was even set on an alien planet!

I may have missed watching this on Christmas Day, but for me this made a fantastic 40th birthday special instead.

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