Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

It's Showtime

There's something uncomfortable about Matt Smith's appearance as the Doctor in trailers for BBC1's Christmas Day strand It's Showtime.

If he's mid-way through production on the upcoming seasonal special, then he must be actor Matt Smith. However Rob Brydon addresses him as "Doctor". This ambiguity is exacerbated by his wearing his new costume from the episode, as he gets chased across the studio in it by Miranda Hart with mistletoe (and doing her falling over thing). Well, they're both at a (very cramped and unusually shared) TV studio anyway, where there may in fact be only other shows getting made, such as Mrs Brown's, who at one point gets a trip in the TARDIS. A few of the Call The Midwife cast are about too.

Well, let's ignore all this and just hope it goes away then.

The Great Detective

This is a Children In Need prequel, which despite appearing more canonical, is introduced by actors Matt Smith and Jenna Louise-Coleman as themselves on camera. Really, they're not even trying to suspend disbelief now.

The minisode features Vastra, Jenny and Strax in Victorian London attempting to enlist the retired Doctor's help with solving a case, and apparently failing. The three's, well four's, presence inevitably make this scene reminiscent of A Good Man Goes To War, which played out as such a tangle that reminders of it are probably not a good thing. All the same, I'd like to offer the trio (or quartet) a fresh start, but another brief darkly-lit cameo is not going to be much different. The script is light rather than funny, but even this potential is malletted into submission by the music. Sorry I said EVEN THIS POTENTIAL IS MALLETTED INTO SUBMISSION BY THE MUSIC. NO, THE MUSIC. MEW-ZIC. MUSIC. YES. NO MY MOOSE HASN'T BEEN SICK. I SAIDoh forget it. There's got to be a way of filtering that out, the fiftieth anniversary can't happen in the distance like this.

Well, that's that out of the way now. Let's hope there aren't any more Who-lite sketches like that one to go.

Vastra Investigates

Felt like I was watching K9, only it was even worse.

Still, at least they've stopped getting the actors to introduce these things.

Mind you, when it gets to the point when Dr Smith's trailing the main hour-long episode in the continuity junction immediately before it, I guess I shouldn't complain. The tenth Doctor kind of set a precedent for that with the premiere of The End Of Time. Long year? Some might say this one keeps getting longer…

The Snowmen

Doctor: "Meanwhile your previous governess is now a living ice sculpture impersonating Mister Punch."

Just as a Christmas stocking may contain lots of wonderful things plus a few that make your heart sink (eg. fruit), so it is with last year's Doctor Who Christmas special.

Among the goodies that are really worth unwrapping here would have to be the spectacular new opening credits. (I suppose that would more accurately be the equivalent of the wrapping-paper)

I mean I've long-since made my peace with the last lot of credits of the TARDIS getting hit by lightning slowly, but this set was just stunning, taking in so many different concepts. Space travel, time-travel, DNA, the classic 'time-tunnel' credits, and of course the ingenious use of the TARDIS doors to open up onto the new adventure at the end.

Best of all though would have to be the simple reinstatement of the current Doctor's face. I have never been able to fathom why they ever dropped that. Not so the name of the lead actor(s) though, that still breaks the illusion before we've even begun. After just one viewing I found I was muttering to myself "Greatest opening credits ever." :) !

(shame I can't same the same for most of these episodes' actual titles - The Great Detective, Vastra Investigates and The Snowmen - which are by contrast uninspired and dull)

One of the things that has always drawn me to the series has been its awareness of its own bigger picture, which again this story embraces by foreshadowing The Abominable Snowmen and The Web Of Fear.

Another would be its diversity, and as such it's great to witness the series going through yet another rebirth in this special. The new-look TARDIS interior was intriguing, although unlike in The Eleventh Hour we didn't really get to see it. I didn't mind the preceding set (anything is better than the cave before that), but I did like its split levels. I trust they will leave this room in The Doctor Who Experience unchanged, or alternatively work in the actual set there if it is indeed no longer needed for filming. (the events of The Pandorica Opens suggest there's more to come)

Then there's the TARDIS ex-terior. I'm sure it's only for one episode, but realising the Doctor as a man who lives in the clouds and can only be got to via an invisible spiral staircase leads to the sort of wonder that the series is so good at at the moment. That recurring guest-character Amy makes it all the way up to the TARDIS' doors but then chickens out of actually going in, was likewise a great moment of quitting before going too far.

The Doctor too has a great overall look here. Though there are terrific moments of comedy, the eleventh Doctor is really starting to look a bit old and world-weary, although his glasses unusually have the effect of making him appear younger. It reflects very well his decision to give up on saving the universe and to at last make good on his resolve in The Twin Dilemma to become a hermit.

Except that he's not really a hermit here, is he? I mean out of all of time and space, just why would he pick late nineteenth-century England to hole himself up in? Maybe it's because he seems to keep getting drawn back to this era, most recently in The Gunpowder Plot, The Eternity Clock and the IDW comicbook Prisoners Of Time. But it's most likely that he's simply going to visit his in-laws the Ponds the long way round.

Not that he ultimately needs to. For this place and time features a clone of the Amy clone from Asylum Of The Daleks. This Amy is accordingly the series' usual carbon-copy maneater, and instead of being a kissogram is hinted at being one stage further along...

Alice: "Captain Latimer wants to see you."
Amy: "Of course. Every day?"
Alice: "Twice on Saturdays."
Amy: "That's better."

I wouldn't normally expect a cross-species lesbian marriage in a family show at teatime on Christmas Day either, particularly after Vastra and Jenny's only other (brief) appearance in A Good Man Goes To War. When I watched that in 2011, I just saw an employer and employee. Then afterwards I was told by someone who hadn't watched it that they had been supposed to be lesbians. I watched the whole of the episode again with this in mind… nope, still nothing. I mean hints have to be trumped by facts, and I think anyone - male or female - will tell you that a relationship in which one party has to be perpetually subservient to the other is just never going to work out happily in the long run. It's Jack and Ianto all over again. Or are Vastra and Jenny just joking about their friendship throughout this? That would have to be more credible…

(Strax on the other hand is the best companion in decades)

Yes, we've segued into those presents from the stocking that somehow just perplex you. (eg. a handkerchief) You don't send them back to Santa, or complain about them, you just politely put them to one side and forget all about them forever, without any need for a memory worm.

Oh I haven't mentioned the story. Well, despite a lot of good ingredients, I didn't follow it. It had the usual zombies, although they fortunately never got as far as turning everyone on Earth into snowmen. (the ice zombie who the snow makes and then needs back again to copy rather than making another really confused me) It had the Doctor still pretending to be dead, and as usual being quite rashly brazen about his aliveness. It had the Doctor hilariously getting kissed as though this sort of thing doesn't happen to him very often, which it does. Four minutes in the middle of this episode include him kissing Amy, Strax the Sontaran, and Mr Punch. Who is the last companion that the Doctor hasn't kissed?

Jenny: "Madame Vastra will ask you questions. You will confine yourself to single word responses. One word only, do you understand?"
Amy: "Why?"
Vastra: "Truth is singular. Lies are words, words, words."

Wrong, truth is complex, so the fewer words you use, the less precise you can be. Hence Vastra's double-minded verbosity in this scene makes her look like such an airhead. The ambiguity of a single word is also a golden opportunity for comedic misunderstanding, surprisingly not mined here.

Oh, and Amy died again. Twice. Which is only once more than Strax. Was there an explanation in there for why he was alive again, other than because he was? Scratch that, was there an explanation for why he was there at all? He's a clone fer goodness' sake, he doesn't need to be resurrected to return! I'm pulling my own befuddled expression here…

Why the Doctor didn't save Amy from falling in a similar manner to how he saved River from falling in Day Of The Moon is anyone's guess.

Amy's death was good though, specifically that she did stay dead, eventually. I mean like the Jenny in The Doctor's Daughter she was doomed from the moment when the Doctor fatally invited her to become a companion. "Please stay dead…!" I found myself groaning throughout the final twenty minutes, as Strax brought her back, possibly in a similar way to how he himself had been.

I'm really interested to see where they go with the whole Doctor's deal with the universe thing, and how Amy fits into it, even though the last few years have taught me that author Steven Moffat will probably change his mind before he gets there, but all the same. At least some of what he writes ties-in which, sorry to say, is more than can be said for the previous fellow's scripts.

There's also a scene in which the Doctor pretends to be Sherlock Holmes, so there may well have been in-jokes in here that I missed, given how I've never seen that series.

And Richard E Grant finally appears in a real episode of Doctor Who. He's had an odd relationship with the series ever since it went off-air in 1989. He's played the Doctor multiple times in spin-offs, and apparently solely because they couldn't get his Withnail And I co-star Paul McGann. It makes much more sense to see him playing a guest role here.

I don't get how the snowman at the start had an adult's voice, when it could only reflect the child to whom it was speaking.

Lastly, this is an episode with extras, even before its release on DVD. The two minisode 'prequels' mentioned above both put me off the episode, which is the opposite of what they're supposed to do.

Well, thank goodness that's all over.

Except that it wasn't. In his most metaphysical moment yet, earlier in the day the Doctor popped up outside my window, somewhere in the vicinity of the shrubbery. I mean I didn't actually see him, but I reckon he must have been there briefly while I was engrossed in doing the Daily Mail crossword. You see, we watched this Christmas special last Saturday because we were celebrating my birthday. (in the best traditions of time-travel, these things never happen on the right day in our house)

I think the fact that I didn't spot him was why he later (from his perspective) told me about it…

So, is it all canon? Well, it's Christmas, and my birthday, or at least it was, so why not. This week everything's in.

Yes, even my crossword.

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