And so, we arrive at the most recent Doctor Who Christmas episode, and by far my favorite of all of the Who one-offs to date. What is it that makes “A Christmas Carol” quite so special? Is it the callback to Dickens, the wonderful performance by Michael Gambon, or the fact that, unlike all the earlier Christmas episodes, this one is actually about Christmas…?
Of course, “A Christmas Carol” isn’t only about Christmas – Like the Dickens story that inspires it (in both the literal and meta senses), it’s also about the how the choices we make can insulate us from the world around us without our even knowing, about it never being too late to change, and about forgiveness and kindness and all of those magical everyday things that are at the heart of the holiday – but it’s unique (so far; there is, after all, a new Christmas special airing tomorrow, and who knows what that will bring) in that it’s an episode that fully embraces Christmas, instead of winking at it, or using it as window dressing while telling an entirely generic story for its core plot. Without Christmas, this episode wouldn’t really exist, and there’s something wonderful about that.
Actually, there’s a lot wonderful about this episode. There’s a sense of both mystery and melancholy about the whole thing that fits the world-weary Sardick, pre-Doctor intervention (It also fits the season, in some way; the conversation about Christmas marking the period where we’re “halfway” into/out of winter feels appropriate), and against which the Doctor stands out appropriately, as the beacon of optimism and an alternative view of life, and the flying sharks and fish in the air add a sense of wonder and alienness that’s very welcome – this is science fiction, after all – but in a strangely familiar, non-threatening way – this is Doctor Who, after all.
In terms of acting, both Matt Smith and Michael Gambon are great in their roles, and play off really well against each other, with Laurence Belcher surprisingly impressive as the young Sardick (Katherine Jenkins as Abigail was more than a little disappointing, I’ll admit, but I suspect it was an underwritten role more than a weak performance; she seems very plot device-y, rather than a character in her own right). I could’ve done without the Christmas song at the end – No offense to anyone involved, but it seemed a little unnecessary after everything else that we’d seen by that point. It’s a rare off-note, though, for an episode that isn’t just the best Christmas special in Who history, but one of the more complete and enjoyable of all the Who episodes since the show was revived in 2005. Just a triumph all around.