Doctor Who seriously pulls out all the stops for Saturday's Christmas special, with a tale that manages to come up with a new twist on both Scrooge and time travel. We've seen it, and here are our spoiler-free first impressions.
"A Christmas Carol" is billed as being the most Christmassy Doctor Who Christmas special we've seen in a while, and it doesn't disappoint. As the title reflects, this is a full-on Dickensian romp. Steven Moffat pulls out all the stops, and in the process creates something more personal, and possibly more satisfying, than any of his other stories in 2011. Be prepared to get something in your eye, and to feel your eyes popping out of your head at the audacity of what Moffat's mostly pulling off here. I think this is the farthest Moffat has ever pushed the show's concept, and he reaches the very edge of ludicrousness without quite falling over.
But also, guest star Michael Gambon takes the rich material Moffat has given him and creates one of the more memorable characters of NuWho — we've been referring to him as Dumbledore because of his famous role in the Harry Potter movies. But his turn in "A Christmas Carol" will actually remind you just as much of his sickeningly awesome performance in Peter Greenaway's dystopian classic The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. Not to mention The Singing Detective. Michael Gambon does nastiness very, very well, and he gets lots of chances to be nasty in this episode.
The other performer who really carries the hour is Matt Smith, who's at his absolute silliest and most intoxicating as the Doctor. A whole generation of schoolchildren are already growing up thinking of the Eleventh Doctor as their imaginary friend who takes them on adventures, but wait until they see "A Christmas Carol." This is the Doctor as wise friend, bad influence, trouble-maker... he's sort of like a nobler version of the Cat in the Hat, except that as he points out, he doesn't have a hat any more.
Like I said, this episode is very recognizably a Steven Moffat joint, with all of his hallmarks in full effect. The good news is, the episode doesn't feel like quite as much a retread of "The Girl In The Fireplace" or "Blink" or "Silence in the Library" as a lot of his other episodes this year. And he's telling a character-focused story here, in which Michael Gambon's character is the central figure, and this constraint seems to be good for Moffat. It actually feels like he took a few notes from the year's best episode, the Van Gogh one, although the stories are very different.
All in all, this is what you expect from a Christmas story — large, ridiculous, splashy, sentimental and packed with guest stars. It might actually be a good one for people who've been unconvinced thus far by the Matt Smith era to check out.