Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The Christmas Invasion

doctor who the christmas invasion review russell t davies james hawes david tennant billie piper noel clarke camille coduri penelope

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

doctor who the christmas invasion killer christmas tree baubles santa orchestra pilot fish david tennant tenth doctor james hawes rtd

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.

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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.

9/10

Related:

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor Reviews

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TV Review: The Flash – Running to Stand Still (2×09)

the flash christmas special dc running to stand still the cw grant gustin lightning

Holidays can be a time for gentle reflection on the year past. Our ups and downs, our triumphs, our heartaches. But don’t forget, it can also be a time for disemboweling our enemies.

‘Tis the season, now, for the winter finale of The Flash. If you take a moment to think back to last year, with The Man in the Yellow Suit, we had some pretty seismic revelations and plot developments: Barry confronted the Reverse Flash for the first time, and we learned that Dr. Wells was in fact the man who killed Barry’s mother. The Flash was in a fundamentally different place when we returned in January.

Running to Stand Still opens in such a way that would make us think we’re in for something similar to the previous year; Zoom is seen chasing Harry through STAR Labs, with a cliffhanger before cutting to the title card. It’s a clever bit of misdirect, actually – this sequence harkens back to previous episode Enter Zoom, which opened with an in media res style flashforward. We’re lead to expect something similar here, with a speedster showdown much like last Christmas, but it’s a deliberate ruse; the Zoom plot takes something of a back seat from here, relegated to the episode’s closing scenes – it’s indicative of what’s to come, but not a concern for the present.

Right now, it’s about the Rogues – specifically the Weather Wizard, Captain Cold, and the Trickster, as played by Liam McIntyre, Wentworth Miller, and Mark Hamill. (You may have heard of Hamill; he was in a small, indie movie that came out recently, which you can read my review of here.) The plot deliberately offers something smaller scale, and more intimate, than the spectacle of last Christmas – and that works particularly well here. You don’t always need to see the man who murdered Barry’s mother for a good story – Mark Hamill chewing the scenery is often just as effective.

Weather Wizard and Trickster are, I think, uniquely suited to the Christmas special, in a way most of the Rogues aren’t, necessarily – Weather Wizard’s powers immediately present you with the possibility of a “white Christmas”, and the Trickster allows a level of seasonal whimsy you wouldn’t get elsewhere. After all, which of the other Rogues would dress up as Santa, and hide bombs in Christmas presents? Not Leonard Snart, that’s for sure; for his short appearances, Snart was a welcome source of humour, puncturing the atmosphere with more than a few sarcastic comments and eye rolls. That’s one of the great things about keeping a recurring cast of villains – The Flash has been able to develop Weather Wizard, Trickster, and Captain Cold across the past few seasons, and the show really benefits from having a group of villains that we, the audience, have come to know.

the flash review mark hamill trickster santa christmas running to stand still season 2 rogues dc arrowverse

Of course, the emotional stakes this year were significant nonetheless – we got further traction on the Wally West plot arc which was introduced a few weeks ago. Iris finally decides here that she can’t keep this secret anymore, and ultimately tells her dad the truth – the fact that he has a son he didn’t know about.

Candice Patton and Grant Gustin both do great work with their scenes here; Iris confiding in Barry, Barry being supportive, and so on and so forth. It’s nice to see the two of them being able to interact with one another free of the love triangle from last season; Iris, as a character, has really come into her own over the course of this season, which has been great to see. I’m looking forward to seeing her develop further when we return to the show in January.

Real plaudits, however, deserve to go to Jesse L Martin, who gave a really astounding performance as Joe finds out he has a son. It’s a really nuanced, emotive performance – his initial reaction conveys a lot, even where the dialogue is more closed off, and he develops it further as Joe opens up to Barry later in the episode. Andrew Kreisberg did a great job writing this episode, giving Jesse L Martin (who’s one of the best actors on the program) a lot of interesting material to work with; there’s real depth to his performance, giving us a very successful installment in this storyline.

A moment I particularly liked, actually, came towards the end, where Joe gave Barry his watch – something he’d previously discussed with Iris – and said he’d “always planned to give this watch to my son”. It was a really nice, poignant exchange, with a great performance from both the actors: it reinforces the bond between Joe and Barry, and the fact that, even though Joe now knows he has a biological son, it doesn’t diminish his relationship with Barry. That was something I really liked, in any case.

the flash review joe west running to stand still wally west dc arrowverse crying upset jesse l martin hd

Another impressive emotional sequence – immediately following the watch exchange, actually – was Barry talking to E2 Harrison Wells, to forgive the Harrison Wells who killed his mother. It builds on a more subtle arc they’ve been developing throughout the past few weeks; the idea that Barry might, in fact, be dealing with depression, and his fears that he wouldn’t ever be happy. But here Barry lets go – he’s not going to carry the weight of his mother’s death anymore.

It’s a really significant character moment, which was paralleled in a very clever way through the character of Patty, who was shown to be dealing with similar problems; she felt responsible for the death of her father at the hands of Weather Wizard, and was dealing with similar depression type feelings. It’s really impressive to me that The Flash, primarily an action-adventure programme, is putting so much thought and care into more subtle character development moments like this, because it is really, genuinely very effective.

The sad thing is, though, that it just makes the aspects that don’t work stand out more. They finally brought Jay and Caitlin together as a couple in this episode, with kisses under the mistletoe and a few jokes about different traditions on Earth 1 and Earth 2. A few good jokes came from Cisco mocking the pair of them and puncturing the romantic atmosphere, but the fact remains – this relationship has been quite poorly handled, and you get the impression that they were only brought together because the writers didn’t know what to do with Caitlin as a character. It’s a bit of a shame, but hopefully they’ll be able to make something of it soon.

In any case, though, this was a really excellent episode – one of the strongest of the season so far. Even though it didn’t have a dramatic showdown between Barry and the series villain, akin to last year, we got something with just as much significance, just as much depth of emotion, and we have just as much to look forward to next season.

9/10

This review was recently published on the Yahoo TV website.

Related:

The Flash reviews

Supergirl reviews

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