Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Christmas Invasion written by Russell T. Davies and directed by James Hawes

This story in a nutshell: Bring forth the Doctor! 

Mockney Dude: 'This new a fightin' hand!' Russell T. Davies was addicted to breaking new ground in the first series. He introduced a massive shift in emphasis in the series off screen (the Time War), he gave the companion unusual dominance, he played about with the idea of the Doctor kidnapping a companion, allowed their family to play a vital role in the series and for the first time ever made the regeneration a radiantly positive event (Logopolis doesn't quite count for all it's wistful optimism since half the universe has just been destroyed and the Doctor has had every bone in his body shattered). Topping off a fresh and original revival for the series we have an opening gambit for the new kid on the block and he barely features in the story whatsoever. You might think that Davies has gone insane but by removing the Doctor from the main action he goes to prove just how badly we need him and when he steps forth at the climax to save the day he ensures a rapturous reception given the world has gone to shit. It's a genius approach, the sort thing that might have done Colin Baker the world of good (if anything he was over exposed in his debut story). Whilst regeneration is something that we take for granted, we have to remember Davies was introducing the idea to a whole new generation of kids who have already fallen in love with Christopher Eccleston. In many ways this is just as important as the Hartnell/Troughton crossover because had the audience not taken to David Tennant it could have spelt the end for the show. Just like an entire generation fell head over heels for Troughton, Tennant is now revered by a huge section the general public as the ultimate Doctor. And The Christmas Invasion is responsible for that transition being as seamless as possible. Is he a different person or is it just another face? My husband thinks tea is the cure for everything so he was applauding at the notion of a cuppa pushing the regenerative process along. So what can we take away from this new Doctor? He's strong, snatching a cracked whip and breaking a staff in half. He can talk ten to the dozen, he even admits as much himself. He's funny, quoting the Lion King at a hugely inappropriate moment. He's not ginger, much to his disappointment. Sexy, looking hot even in a middle aged mans dressing gown. Intelligent, figuring out the plot in about two minutes thanks to keen observational skills. He's a hero, grabbing a broadsword and standing as the worlds champion. When Rose tosses him a new sword she is perfectly convinced that he is the Doctor...and so are we. Shiny and new and delightful. A man who kills with a Satsuma to save the world. Not perfect mind, there might be some who think he is a little too harsh in his indictment of Harriet Jones (who was, after all, just trying to protect the planet) but the shocking final sequence between them shows that this Doctor has teeth. Cuddly he might be but piss him off and he'll have you. I was chomping at the bit to see more.

Chavvy Chick: You could make an argument that some of the damage was done in The Christmas Invasion with Rose's character. Gone is the sexy, savvy, adventurous teen of series one and in steps a teary eyed emotional wreck who falls to pieces without the Doctor. Halfway through the story when the world has gone mad you want Rose to step up to the plate and do something spectacular but instead she blubs and whimpers. It might be a realistic reaction to the circumstances but it is hardly a heroic one. For once some of that Clara Oswald determination is needed. Rose's hugely embarrassing, continuity laden speech to the Sycorax to leave the Earth in peace shows her at least trying to do something. Isn't it wonderful how the Sycorax Leader laughs at her pathetic attempts to intimidate him and then orders her execution.

Jackie & Mickey: Thank goodness that Rose has the support of her family and friends, that's all I can say. At this point Mickey and Jackie are at the core of what the series is about. They bring humanity and humour to the programme in the way that shows off Davies' dialogue at its best. I love how excited they both get at the sound of the TARDIS - just as you should. Mickey has grown to the point where he can subtly take the mickey (hoho) out of Rose and her hero worship of the Doctor. You can already see the seeds sown of his ultimate decision to leave her and make a life of his own. Jackie babbling in panic trying to help out the Doctor is very funny, Coduri sharing instant chemistry with Tennant. Rose has come to see Mickey as a brave man, fighting against his natural instinct to run when the shit hits the fan. The Christmas dinner shared by all is about as joyful as the new series comes, like it has wrapped its arms around you and given you a big hug. The future seems very bright indeed.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Anything else he's got two of?'
'I'm going to get killed by a Christmas tree!'
'We're having a picnic while the world comes to an end. Very British.'
'You're getting noticed...'
'Run and hide because the monsters are coming. The human race.'
'Don't you think she looks tired.'

The Good:
* They would go on to better the TARDIS being used as an actual spaceship, bouncing off cars and hovering along a motorway in The Runaway Bride but we had never seen quite a landing as the one in The Christmas Invasion before. Crashing into walls and sending a post office van flying, the out of control Ship is a good metaphor for the wild, unpredictable Doctor. He won't softly materialise in your neighbourhood, he'll crash land and turn it into something of a wreck.
* You can't really go wrong with a good, old fashioned alien invasion story and this time Davies has neglected to include the farting aliens that seemed to drive the fans nuts. The central plot to The Christmas Invasion is extremely robust and full of exciting incident. In tone and content it reminds a little of the Virgin novel The Dying Days (except it is better) and the movie Independence Day (except it is better than that too). I like how the events of this story marry with those of Aliens of London/World War Three and kick start a new thread in the series - a world that is aware of alien life because the spectacle of invasion has been so public. I like the idea of the pilot fish as a portent of the imminent disaster (there's a blink and you'll miss it explanation as to why they are trying to kidnap the Doctor...but it is there). More firsts; an alien race seen by the masses, UNIT taking up residence in the Tower of London, Harriet Jones as a kick ass Prime Minister ('there's an act of Parliament banning my autobiography'). Somehow Davies had a away of presenting an alien invasion as a worldwide event in a way that Moffat has failed to do (even in The Power of Three and Death in Heaven). Perhaps it is his ability to so perfectly capture the media reaction or because we can see the impact on the public as people are dragged from their homes or maybe it is just because the scale of the show is so impressive. The sight of the enormous spaceship sliding into orbit above London accompanied by an awesome soundtrack truly sells the idea that the is the end of the world is nigh (the windows erupting as a portent of its arrival is phenomenal too). Sometimes spectacle is needed and The Christmas Invasion has it in spades but it also has a great deal of intimacy too (the reaction of the mother who is trying to convince her child to resist Sycorax control is genuinely upsetting).
* When Doctor Who Christmas specials were first mooted the internet went into meltdown thinking that we were due a pantomime of Nimon proportions every year. Were all the sets going to be made of tinsel? Would Santa make an appearance? Instead of falling into the trap of providing all style and no substance (that would come later in The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe) Davies instead provides one of the most thrilling storylines yet and laces it with Christmas elements that remind you of the time of year without getting in the way. The yuletide touches are handled particularly well; the destructive Christmas band that open fire on an unsuspecting market (I love Rose's silently observing them before the chaos ensues and the mask that falls dramatically to the floor), the glorious, glorious scene featuring the Christmas tree coming to life and attacking Rose, Mickey and Jackie (not only is the Christmas tree shaped hole it saws in the wall a visual gag of epic proportions but this scenes is responsible for one my favourite ever lines in any TV programme - see above) and the Christmas dinner at the climax that reveals just how different from his predecessor this new Doctor is. Closing on festive cheer might not be everybody's idea of how a Doctor Who story should but I think it has been more than earned after the defeatist tone of the majority of this story.
* New alien races are tenapenny in Doctor Who and few of them make the impact that the Sycorax did, which is why I am glad they have only made one appearance in Doctor Who. They are the Zygons on the New least until Day of the Doctor. Lawrence Miles might feel a little hard done by (he created a race that used blood to control and had a real hardon for bone masks) there is no denying that both conceptually and visually the Sycorax make quite an impact. Not being able to contact verbally with an alien race (proving the existence of the TARDIS translator) is another intriguing idea, mis-communication at the negotiation stage could lead to the death of everybody on the planet. How twisted to take something as optimistic as the probe with all the feats of human endeavour and turn it into a weapon to bring the human race to its knees, taking a slice of the population and bringing them to a (literal) precipice. The Sycorax are a warrior race, negotiation through intimidation is their method of choice. Murdering two representatives (characters we are well acquainted with at this point) upon arrival in their ship shows that they mean business (and those whips are just cool).  Sean Gilder deserves a lot of credit for imbuing the Sycorax Leader with an identity of his own and stressing the hostile, unfamiliar qualities of the character. It always helps when an alien race has a mouthpiece and like Davros and Broton and the Gravis before him, the Sycorax Leader allows for an intimate dynamic between the monsters and the Doctor.
* I'd forgotten what an impact Torchwood made on this story without ever appearing. At this point the organisation is an ominous threat to alien life, equipped with some serious technology. No wonder I was desperate to find out more. It could have been so easy to have had the Doctor triumph and leave that as the climax but Davies pulls one of his best surprises out of the bag when the Sycorax spaceship is destroyed under Harriet Jones' instruction. What has she become since gaining power? Was she right to do so? The Doctor's condemnation of her character and that of the human race is a startlingly dark moment in what should be a triumphant culmination of the story. Her downfall is essential in order for he series three story arc to play out (was Davies thinking that far ahead?) and her decision would be re-visited (and vindicated) in The Stolen Earth. For now, bask in the drama and the surprise of the new Doctor mercilessly dragging his old friend from power. It's a powerfully acted scene.

The Bad: Harriet Jones giving a public announcement to request help from the Doctor is a bit much (although I love her guilty admission that the Royal Family are on the roof).

The Shallow Bit: Adam Garcia could be my right hand man any day of the week.

Result: The Christmas Invasion is a Doctor Who story that keeps on giving. I love how this story defies your expectations to churn out a Christmas pantomime and instead delivers one of the finest alien invasions the show has ever attempted. It starts off as an intimate affair about Rose trying to deal with the loss of her Doctor but continually gets more ambitious; revealing a UNIT base inside the Tower of London, the heart in the mouth sequence of the human race about to jump from a great height, the epic sight of the spaceship sliding across the sky over London, the transportation to the cavernous Sycorax spaceship and finally the glorious sight of the Doctor stepping from the TARDIS in his pyjamas and engaging in swordplay over the rights to the planet. It's expertly crafted to offer maximum enjoyment, deliver a spanking new Doctor to the masses, dish out laughs and scares and even manages to turn in a number of glorious Christmassy set pieces. The Christmas Invasion puts the other specials at a disadvantage by getting it so right the first time around. I can't think of anything else you might want for Christmas; a terrific new alien species that kills first and asks questions later, a charismatic Doctor who has a surprisingly dark side to him, a psychotic Christmas tree raging through Jackie Tyler's flat, Adam Garcia looking practically edible...even the first scandalous act of Torchwood. It's the final standoff with Harriet Jones that always thrills me the most, a shocking coda to events that refuses to let things get too festive. David Tennant couldn't have asked for to be introduced in a more flattering light and the overwhelming feeling that radiates from the first special is one of absolute optimism for the future. To be watched once a year on Christmas Eve with a big smile on my face: 10/10


Adam Graham said...

Good review. One thing I've thought about this episode is really is whether 10 set the stage for Harold Saxson. The 9th Doctor had seen that Harriet Jones would be a great leader of Britain. The 10th shortcircuited that and changed the future because he was miffed at her.

What I think the Christmas Invasion did so well in just a few minutes was to previous nearly every aspect of the Doctor's character we'd see over the next three series. The "you get one chance" idea became one of 10's defining rules. The only thing we didn't get fully is just how severe could be if you blew your one chance.

David Pirtle said...

Poor Harriet Jones. Imagine what Tennant's Doctor would have done to the Brigadier if he'd been around at the end of the first silurian story.