Did you miss me?
So I’m not really sure if anyone noticed, but today is the tenth anniversary of The Christmas Invasion; the first Doctor Who Christmas special, as well as the first introduction of the Tenth Doctor, as played by David Tennant.
Early last year, for the ninth anniversary of series one, I reviewed each of the Christopher Eccleston episodes, as part of a Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor series, celebrating and commemorating this incarnation of our favourite hero. Naturally, then, it seems appropriate to do the same with the Tenth Doctor – my Doctor. The 2006 series was the first that I really, properly engaged with as a fan, so it’s naturally pretty close to my heart. (Realising it was ten years ago is making me feel more than a little old. Doctor Who has, at this stage, been a part of my life for longer than it hasn’t. That’s weird to think about.)
We’ll get to the introduction of the Doctor in a moment though; this episode is also important for kicking off the new series tradition of Christmas specials! The closest thing to a Christmas special in the classic series was, I believe, The Feast of Stephen (missing from the archives, but home to the famous “Incidentally, a very Merry Christmas to all of you at home” line), so this was somewhat unprecedented – but Jane Tranter had been so impressed by series one that a Christmas special was commissioned.
And it works – of course it works. There’s nothing about this that doesn’t make sense really, when you think about it. You’ve got Russell T Davies writing, who’s always had a firm grasp on the emotional core of stories, particularly when it comes to themes of family, which is something well suited to Christmas. More to the point, though, you’ve got the very nature of Doctor Who itself – the classic juxtaposition of the alien and the mundane, the frightening and the normal, is perfectly poised to give us a properly scary Doctor Who Christmas. And that’s what we get! Murderous brass band Santas and Killer Christmas trees. It’s exactly the sort of thing that’ll resonate with the kids over Christmas
And, just like any Christmas, we spend time with family – in this case, the characters we grew to know and become familiar with across the last season. Rose, Mickey, Jackie, and even Harriet Jones (former MP for Flydale North, currently Prime Minister, in case you didn’t know who she was!) have central roles in this episode, while we wait for the Doctor to appear.
It’s a clever thing to focus on these characters, particularly given that the Doctor has just regenerated. For one thing, it emphasises the fact that, despite the lead actor being recast, we’re still watching the same program – all these characters we’ve got to know and love are here, they exist, and they continue to play an important role. Frankly, it’s also just a lot of fun to see these characters here; I know that’s not quite how it would have been viewed ten years ago, but honestly, watching this I got really nostalgic remembering these characters. Going into the episode, part of me was expecting it to be a little hokey, and a little crap, but it wasn’t – The Christmas Invasion is a genuinely good piece of television. That’s in part because of how strongly drawn the characters are – Jackie Tyler is a gift, I tell you, a gift.
More than that, though, by focusing on these other characters we see the Doctor’s regeneration framed as a loss; it’s a concept that I don’t think was ever explored in such depth before. Billie Piper does a great job of selling how emotional Rose is at the Doctor’s regeneration, essentially treating it like she’s been abandoned, and in many ways, she has been. The Doctor – her Doctor – has left her. Christopher Eccleston isn’t there anymore. Rose, just like the audience, is having to get used to a new Doctor. It’s through her that we are able to process the change, and, indeed, are eventually able to accept it.
The Christmas present, though, is the Doctor. Anticipation has been building for nearly forty minutes when he finally appears – yes, we’ve had teases here and there, but never a proper look. And when he does finally appear, it’s immediately a moment of triumph; the Doctor’s arrival is signified as we begin to understand the Sycorax, breaking down a boundary that the rest of our heroes had faced so far.
Right from the off, the Doctor is charming. It’s a lot of fun to see him on screen, whether it’s casually dismissing the Sycorax so he can catch up with Rose, Mickey and Harriet Jones, or destabilising everything the Sycorax had achieved so far with just the push of a button. The simple fact of the matter is that David Tennant as the Doctor is a genuinely charismatic and entertaining character – where Chris Eccleston last year was more withdrawn, making the audience approach him, David Tennant’s Doctor has been designed to be loved right from the off. (A personal favourite moment of mine is his quoting of the Lion King, actually.) It follows through all the way to the end, as the Tenth Doctor sits down for Christmas Dinner with Jackie, Rose and Mickey – something the Ninth Doctor never would have done. He doesn’t “do domestic”, as he said in Aliens of London/World War Three.
Despite this, though, there’s a ruthlessness and a steel to the Doctor; he kills the Sycorax leader (”No second chances. I’m that sort of a man.”) and deposes Harriet Jones with a mere 6 words. It’s one of the earliest hints of this Doctor’s arrogance and hubris that will ultimately prove to be his undoing – but that’s a matter for another Christmas, really, a few years from now. For now, though, it’s an interesting character trait in an incarnation of the Doctor we’re still only just getting to know; as fun and charming as he is, there’s something distinctly alien lying beneath the surface. And that’s something we shouldn’t ever forget.
In the end, then, The Christmas Invasion is a perfect introduction to the new Doctor. We’re shown him gradually, with short scenes here and there, before he eventually steps up to save the day in the final act. The Tenth Doctor proves himself to Rose, Mickey, and Harriet Jones – but more to the point, he proves himself to us.
On top of that, we’ve got an imposing threat in the Sycorax, a compelling plot with the Guinevere One Probe, strongly drawn characters with our returning cast, and, of course, a truly Doctor Who juxtaposition of the alien and the mundane to create the scariest Christmas ever.