THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

BBC
A Christmas Carol

Story No. 232 There's a shark in my bedroom!
Production Code 2.X
Dates December 25, 2010

With Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill
Written by Steven Moffat Directed by Toby Haynes
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Piers Wenger, Beth Willis.

Synopsis: With a space liner carrying Amy and Rory in danger of crashing, the Doctor must alter a man's past to make him kinder.


Reviews

A Review by Jamie Beckwith 13/2/12

Before I get in to the review of this story proper, I would like to note how amazing it is that I actually watched this episode on Christmas Day. A UK resident, I was in Florida to spend Christmas with family and, as any true Doctor Who fan worth his salt would've done, I immediately flicked through their channels to see if they had BBC America as part of their cable package! The show has always had a global following (hopefully one day fans in Zambia will stop hoarding those missing Troughton episodes!) but it's amazing to think that the broadcast of episodes is also now going global. As a further side note, as a result of my finding BBC America at a point when they were playing The Unquiet Dead, my 15 year old cousin is now a convert to the show within a few episodes and seemed quite unfazed that Eccleston became Tennant and then Smith over the course of a few days!

Okay, so my review. I like Steven Moffat's writing, not just on Doctor Who, I still maintain that Press Gang is the greatest children's drama of all time, and I can happily re-watch Blink or The Eleventh Hour over and over again, but some of his episodes I find strange because every time I re-watch it my whole opinion of it changes. Finding something new is always great, but I'm talking about loving it one time, hating it the next, then liking it, then being ambivalent, then bored, then loving it again. The Girl in the Fireplace did this to me (I'm currently on disliking it) and so does A Christmas Carol.

I accept I was still under the influence of jetlag when I first watched it and so, whilst I liked it, I knew full well the numbness in my brain meant I hadn't really taken much of it in. The second time I watched it, I really loved it and thought it was the most Christmassy Christmas episode Doctor Who has ever attempted (Take that The Feast of Steven!). The third time however, I really took against it. I've not watched it a fourth time yet so goodness knows what I'll think then.

The things I loved about it first time round include the unashamed grabbing of Dicken's text and being Doctor Who going for it full throttle and not pretending otherwise. It's not the first adaptation of A Christmas Carol which openly references the text upon which it's riffing (the Bill Murray film Scrooged does it too for example), but surprisingly it almost felt something of a cheat for the TARDIS to keep whizzing back and forth through Kazran's timeline.

Still, focusing on the positives, Matt Smith continues to dominate the screen with his irresistible performance as the Doctor. Many draw parallels between Smith and Troughton or Smith and T. Baker and they are not unwarranted for all three have perfected the unpredictable blend of humour and steel. All three can play the clown and yet beneath all that bluster can save the day. He can fall out of a chimney and rattle off gags, but then when squaring off to Kazran, the menace is beautifully understated but there nonetheless.

Michael Gambon brings his usual gravitas to the role of Kazran Sardick, though from the off he is still somewhat more of a softer character than the mean-spirited Scrooge and it's the glimpses of his humanity that convince the Doctor he is a man capable of saving. It is a great irony therefore that in enriching Kazran's life the stack of consequences are still one in which he refuses to help save the out-of-control spaceship crashing through the atmosphere.

Herein though lies my problem with the episode and why I disliked it on my third viewing. Having now been satiated on flying sharks, Marilyn Monroe and a million Christmas Eves throughout history, I was able to get at the meat of the story rather than the trappings. In Dicken's A Christmas Carol Ebenezer Scrooge does at least have a real connection with Jacob Marley and the visitations upon him are given meaning because of that. By contrast, in Moffat's A Christmas Carol, the Doctor has never met Kazran Sardick before in his life and, whilst it is true that his actions are motivated by a desire to save the life of his two travelling companions and their fellow passengers on the endangered spaceship, he takes it upon himself to go beyond simply showing Kazran the "errors of his ways" and actively meddles in his personal timestream and utterly changes him as a person.

It is a hallmark of the revived series that people around the Doctor find themselves changed by his company, they are able to stretch beyond their confines and perform great tasks. Rose Tyler is held up as the most obvious example, the drifting shop girl who saves the universe from the Daleks. That's all well and good being a source of inspiration, but when the changes are unsought doesn't this bring the Doctor in to very dangerous territory. What right does he have to interfere with Kazran's childhood? Do the ends really justify the means? I'm hoping that there will be repercussions to this later in the series (and knowing Moffat I suspect there will), but viewed in isolation this is worse than the Tenth Doctor straying in to Time Lord Victorious territory by fighting time on Mars. The Doctor disdains that in all his 900 years of travelling he has never met somebody who wasn't important and yet as Kazran in the universal scheme of things is not somebody around whom time is fixed, the Doctor feels free to fundamentally change everything about him.

It's been suggested that great trials lay ahead for the Doctor and perhaps in context he himself may have to face his past, present and future. A Christmas Carol may mark a point on his journey where he went too far, where his actions need reviewing. The Doctor has always struck the moral high ground (even if his morality is a Time Lord's rather than a humans) and taking it upon himself to act as personal god to mould the life of one 44th century man - even if he does as a result introduce him to love and happiness - seems an imposition too far.

And besides, as anyone who has seen The Creature from the Pit knows, the TARDIS has a tractor beam!


A Review by Richard Conway 9/9/12

A Christmas special on Christmas Day is difficult enough for many a television show at the best of times. How to make it different enough that it feels a bit special and yet somehow still the same? How to keep your audience entertained throughout and also leave them with a warm feeling inside on that perceived special of special days? Even more so for a program like Who that, by definition, is different every time it starts a new story anyway and many a time defines entertainment and excitement by death and destruction on a massive scale, which isn't your usual Christmas fare. The solution is to go the other way. Instead of the usual "let's give them something different to what they've seen before", let's give them a story they know oh so well. Instead of the usual mayhem and monsters, let's scale it down to just one person and that story. Having decided that, Moffatt goes one step further. Deciding to not only wear his influences on his sleeve but, what the hell, to put on the whole suit of clothes.

This can work a treat if you can write a strong enough character and get a stong enough actor to play the role. Solution to this, let's pinch a strong character from literature, E Scrooge and try and get the strongest character actor working in this country to play him, Michael Gambon - result! - and it works to a tee. Like it's blueprint, Charles Dickens' original, there's not really any plot here for the story to get bogged down in or have to work through. It's a redemption story and one man's redemption at that. For the most part, it's a flight of fancy and can go anywhere. One minute the main character's back in his childhood, the next flying through the skies with a magical spirit. The story can go and be anything at any time, very Who.

In the original, the space this story structure allowed was filled by moral lecturing and social commentary, but this is a television program on Christmas Day in the 21st century and that's never going to fly. So Moffatt looks to his leading man to fill the gaps instead and what a leading man he's got. It's been often commented on that a certain T Baker not only made a great leading man and a great Doctor in the 70s, but, more than that, he was born to play the role. I would humbly submit that Matt Smith is the 21st century equivalant of said Baker. He doesn't just fill the screen when he's on it, he owns it and it's very difficult for the other actors, even of the calibre of Gambon to hold their own with him.

This broad and empty canvas Moffatt has constructed for himself, of a story all the audience knows already and with just two main strong characters to fill it, could have daunted a lesser writer, but Moffatt is anything but a lesser writer and, by looking at his track record on the series, is never daunted by anything. So he ties up his two main leads with everything from flying sharks to singing hand-maidens! Indeed, the scene of Kathryn Jenkins singing a lullaby to what looks like a drunk bull shark has got to be one of the most ridiculous scenes ever thought up for the program, but Moffatt's depth of imagination and deft of touch somehow sell it to us.

To bring Moffatt's imagination to life, we have some of the most stunning design work possible and all on a (if good) TV budget and all ably filmed by possibly the most cinematic of the current crop of directors working on the show in Toby Haynes. He seems to understand the power of the performance and the look of the program in equal measure and it would be no surprise if he went on to great things.

We should feel cheated by this story; it's not really Who fare at all, if you look closely enough. We know the story already, perhaps too well, and how it will work its way through. We know all the characters as soon as they appear on screen and what place they take in the narrative, but through all this Moffatt somehow doesn't make any of this matter. This isn't about watching a story unfold on screen, this about having fun. That's why he's given us a story we know already. He's saying "relax and delight in the fun and the ridiculous of it all" and if you drop off after all that turkey and pudding and miss 20 mins, well you know the story already and after all isn't that what we all do on Christmas Day? 4/5


A Review by Yeaton Clifton 24/9/12

Viewing two stories on DVD made me a fan: A Christmas Carol and The Aztecs. DVDs can erase boundaries of time and context bring to the forefront basic questions about changing time and people:

From the Aztecs:

The Doctor to Barbra: "You didn't change history but you did change one man."

From A Christmas Carol:

Amy: Time can be rewritten.
Kazran: Tell the Doctor, people can't.

Of course, the Doctor did rewrite a person, but it was interesting study of what makes a personality constant. It also had flying sharks. Like The Aztecs (and The Caves of Androzani), it is not an overly dramatic story with a planet about to be destroyed. It is a simple adventure where the Doctor works to save his companions. The exploration of how knowing the future can be used to change a person's past makes it in the spirit of real SF (stories about how people react to ideas that are not possible within present technology or the known laws of the universe). The Aztecs is also science fiction in this sense, not withstanding that is often called a pure historical.

A previous reviewer objected to the willingness of the Doctor to act as someone's personal god for the sake of saving his companions, and this is a reasonable question about his actions, but it is not out of character for him. For example, he literally encouraged Barbra to take on the role of god, to save himself and his other companions, in the serial that I have now mentioned several times. It is exactly this moral ambiguity that makes the Doctor more interesting than any number of space heroes who solve most of their problems by blasting villains with ray guns.

I believe it is the best Moffat-era story so far (I do not mean the best story by Moffat), and if it helped make me a fan, I hope it will do so for many other people.

9.5/10. Major classic.


"And that's how I found out there was no Santa Claus" by Thomas Cookson 17/4/18

For me, Series 5 felt like finally getting the Doctor Who revival I wanted. It impressed me enough to draw me out of my apathy and overcome my diminished expectations from having endured RTD's run and being cowed by the Cult of Russell's insistence that we surrender critical faculties and enjoy the show from a philistine perspective. Part of me would always be grateful to Moffat for that.

Whilst RTD's era had an overriding energetic excitement to it, with hyper-stimulating adventures and moments no other show could produce, Series 5 provided the best of both worlds. The old excitement, but better crafted plot-wise than RTD's fast and loose style. At this point, nearly all seemed right with Moffat's era, and despite my niggles with Series 5's resolution, I was still excited for where the show would go from here.

I do remember being somewhat disappointed by the trailer for this, which revealed the title. I'd been looking forward to that promised interstellar Orient Express escapade. The worst case scenario seemed that Moffat was knocking The Unquiet Dead out of canon and treating the fictional Scrooge like a real part of the Whoniverse, with the Doctor needing to step into the ghosts' role and ensure his story 'happens'. This sounded like playing down to kids who wanted this canon merge between Doctor Who and Dickens. I wasn't behind this at all. I wanted Doctor Who to remain Doctor Who.

Obviously this didn't happen, but something about the trailer made me lose enough faith in Moffat to believe he'd do it. Maybe because he'd already erased Journey's End from canon. Maybe because this was his first Christmas special and I worried he'd treat it like a comic relief special. Maybe as a pastiche of A Christmas Carol that didn't even change the title, it was too on the nose. Clearly pandering to undemanding children who didn't know any better, for whom our 'apocryphal' is their mega-squee. That worryingly familiar feeling of the makers' enthusiasm going the wrong way.

Ultimately, I didn't enjoy this story. At least not enough to recommend. But I know many fans found this their favourite Christmas special, and I don't want to impugn their taste or take away their love of this.

I feel it should've been great. It mostly ticks the boxes, but in the end I wasn't happy. Maybe not as unhappy as after watching Terminus, but I can only go over this and try identifying where it lost me. Maybe it's the ending. I still don't understand why Abigail had to die. Maybe it was the holiday snaps montage where young Kazran and the Doctor have holidays together, but we only get to see the postcards. Maybe I realised then that I wanted to escape this story's gloomy setting I'd endured for too long.

Maybe it's when the Ponds first appeared, apparently having been in the middle of cosplay sex. I couldn't help wonder why Amy would enjoy being intimate with Rory whilst he's dressed as the Auton who'd killed her in cold blood? Does she have a murder fetish or long for the excitement of reliving her betrayal and death? Something about this just felt uncomfortably misjudged. It's difficult to believe in Amy's character when she'll happily treat her own death this way.

Incidentally, Rory shouldn't remember being an Auton doppelganger any more than Hartnell's Doctor should remember being a Dalek duplicate. Perhaps it'd be better if Amy and the Doctor alone knew Rory was Amy's fiercely loyal protector in another life, thus deepening their affection for him for reasons Rory couldn't remember. Conveying a nice ironic undertone of ordinary Rory not knowing his full potential.

When Amy contacts Kazran to plead for their lives, Rory, in sheer pettiness, decides the most imperative issue is that Kazran might've been momentarily looking at Amy's grainy hologramatic legs.

I think the problem's Kazran. This story depends on the Doctor meeting someone on an alien world who happens to be identical to the fictional Scrooge. It's hard to believe in the fiction when it's supposed to be set in our universe where Dickens' book exists as a work of fiction, yet we know said book informs Kazran's entire existence as an artificial replica of Scrooge. It'd be different if Scrooge were a real historical figure, making Kazran an example of history repeating itself, and the Doctor having to ensure their historical downfall or redemption repeats itself. But Scrooge wasn't real, which exposes the glaring fact that Kazran isn't real.

Doctor Who's always done pastiche, featuring plenty of characters modelled from other famous fictions. Both Dr Frankenstein and Professor Solon work in their respective stories as scientists obeying their natural talents. And it isn't entirely implausible that a young Grendel maybe read Prisoner of Zenda and decided he wanted to emulate its central villain. But who'd aspire to be Scrooge? He's a miserable sad act who's blatantly wasted his life.

The implication is that Kazran aspired to be his own father, who was also like Scrooge or that it was just inevitable. That like John Hughes' movies, it's about that anxiety some have that one day we'll inevitably become just like our curmudgeonly, inflexible parents. But that's the problem. This is explicitly a character study and examination of what makes Kazran who he is, and we already know the answer. It's because he's based on Scrooge, and it's difficult to summon any interest in the fictional reasons Moffat's forced to contrive and fabricate in place of that.

Emotionalism in New Who is a much grumbled over thing, as is its absence in Classic Who, ever since RTD's sycophants convinced fandom that only his era acknowledged the companions' family life within the show (seemingly Evil of the Daleks and The Keeper of Traken never happened).

Essentially, Classic Who's frequent rush to get scripts ready often left little time for attention on character or emotional ramifications. New Who suffers the same problem, but with an insistence on crowbarring in emotional scenes anyway, no matter how sloppy, gratuitous or maudlin.

Consider the grief-stricken Fourth Doctor numbly telling Bettan how his friends 'died' in the Kaled city. It's sobering stuff. His gentle quietness challenges us to imagine what he's thinking and how he'll ever heal from this. It's about the internal of what's going on in his head, without it being demonstratively overstated. Tennant's Doctor would've snapped and roared at her to make his emotions more 'revealing', which would've been too on the nose and spoilt this binary opposition between the compassionate Doctor and his egomaniacal, ranting lunatic foe.

But the internal life of Kazran doesn't seem to bear more thought than the trite 'I'm a mean bastard because my father was', which is exhausting. We have huge, mawkish emotional displays and a tear-jerker ending, but, try as Moffat might, these characters just don't bear any real interesting insight. Which is frustrating because Dickens' Scrooge absolutely did. Scrooge wasn't an aspirational character, but he was a cathartic one who'd sometimes verbalize what nearly all of us have been guilty of occasionally thinking.

Often, we were put in his shoes of just wanting to enjoy his solitude and losing patience with people who keep intruding and forcing Christmas cheer down his throat. And there's moments where the ghosts make him relive past heartaches and we wonder are they just being cruel and hitting him where it hurts for the sake of it?

It's possible to empathise or even identify with Scrooge. Perhaps Moffat can't entertain that, which is the problem with this set up. For Scrooge, it'd make sense to donate nothing to charity. To him, starving masses will always be 'death-prone', regardless if he makes any short-term contributions or not. His money's such a part of him that parting with it's like asking him to cut off an arm or leg.

I'm just not convinced Scrooge wouldn't be horrified by 9/11 (though having said that, I've met a few anti-war protestors who weren't). Certainly, not to the point he'd have stood back and let it happen if he'd the technology to prevent it, which would cost him only a few seconds' time.

What bothers me is Moffat's treating us like we should assume any issues with Kazran's motives can be explained away by the original Dickensian source. That's the problem with plagiarising a better story. At some point in the writing process, you can't tell where your version ends and the original source begins, but what's on paper resembles enough quality stuff that scrapping it seems unthinkable, even when it's actually imperative.

Scrooge's redemption was possible because compassion was already within him beneath it all. For Kazran to allow hundreds of innocent deaths, he'd have to be a complete irredeemable monster or sadist. Scrooge was never any of those things. This is a comic strip supervillain level of callousness.

Some question why the Doctor didn't just simply go back a few hours and prevent the doomed starship taking off? Is the starship's predicament a fixed event, whilst Kazran's childhood is fair game to alter? But the moment we see young Kazran getting belted by his cruel father, this question ceases to matter. We want the Doctor to improve Kazran's life badly enough to go with that. But Moffat needs Kazran to remain mechanically stubborn, so that his redemption goes wrong. But it's hard not wondering by now why Kazran doesn't give in and say "All right, I'll save the ship if you'll bugger off and stop rewriting my life!"

Like Warriors of the Deep there's an unbearable, exhausting stubbornness about this story inorganically forcing its continued premise and moronic, false motivations. It depends on having an infantile worldview whereby it just makes sense only 'bad' people disagree with the Doctor.

But my main problem is Abigail's sacrifice. Having spent the whole story refusing to save the starship when he easily could've at no cost to himself, Kazran's redemption realistically should've ended, with him adamantly refusing again the very moment he realizes he now must sacrifice Abigail's life to save them. I mean, do the math.

I also don't understand why it must be Abigail? Weren't we told her gift of harmonising the ice crystals came from her period on ice? Isn't that why it wasn't just a coincidence that of all the frozen prisoners in the vault, she happened to be the one they accidentally released who also had the gift to calm their immediately pursuing shark? Basically, why are they treating her as the only one with the calming gift of song when all the prisoners should have this gift? Many of them having a longer lifespan than her.

Abigail seems so fine and seraphic with her fate that I just can't believe in her as a real person who's about to die. On one level, that we see her enjoy her last night alive but her death is allowed to be a private one off-screen is tastefully done. On the other hand, it ends us on an ambiguous emotional note where I don't know what to feel. The story offers no catharsis in the end. Which, for the length of time it indulged Kazran's frustrating character, is almost unforgivable.

The flying sharks were a ghastly, vapid overindulgence too, demonstrating that Moffat's writing really benefits from having more conservative budgetary limitations. Girl in the Fireplace, Blink and The Time of Angels demonstrate Moffat's natural talent for weaving plots like strands of thought into something silky, unpredictable and magical. Here he decided to weave them around an already set tale that he couldn't really budge or tamper with without committing outright vandalism. In the course of which, he often resorted to forced twists to make it artificially unpredictable.

I could only hope Moffat didn't try doing this again. After a successful first season as showrunner, it would've been petulant of me to lose hope over just this one misstep. Unfortunately this misstep felt like an eternity in itself.


When you are here, music is all around by Evan Weston 1/5/18

In my previous Christmas special reviews (excepting The End of Time, which is a story about many other things that happened to air its first half on Christmas), I've discussed the evolution of the Russell T Davies Christmas special formula and how it went from messy-but-entertaining to perfectly-refined-but-cold and then to just messy and cold. The Steven Moffat Christmas special, evidently, needed no time to evolve at all. For A Christmas Carol is perhaps the most heartfelt and astonishing episode of Doctor Who that Moffat has ever written, at once a brilliant time travel story, a faithful and innovative adaptation and an emotional spectacle not seen from his pen since The Girl in the Fireplace.

In order to see A Christmas Carol for what it really is, you need to forget that it's a "Christmas special" at all, and simply view it as a standalone. Not that it doesn't deliver the Christmas goods - the Doctor and his companions make many winking mentions to the eggnog crowd, and the holiday is actively referenced more frequently than in any of Davies' specials - but it's so much more than just "let's get the drunken parents through the night with their children." In this fashion, A Christmas Carol is a masterpiece, and a minor miracle at that.

It features perhaps the greatest guest performance the show has ever seen from Michael Gambon, who plays our Scrooge, a weathered, nasty old coot menacingly named Kazran Sardick. We know Gambon can do mean, and he's particularly good at it in the early going, but once the Doctor begins to fiddle with Kazran's memory, he delivers us a perfect emotional wreck, violated by the Doctor's presence, invigorated by true feelings of love and friendship and devastated at the loss of his newly found Abigail, whom he's only truly met in memories. It's a soul-crushing and beautiful performance, and Gambon walks us step by step through Kazran's existence with a steady hand and a teary eye. He even doubles up as the episode's villain-by-default, Kazran's father Elliot, whose presence is felt less in the two times he's on screen but more in his son's abject fear of him. In both parts, Gambon is stone-cold brilliant and possibly the best thing in an episode brimming with delights.

Of course, he gets to play a brilliant character, who is as much his own man as he is formed by the script. Kazran is three-dimensional because of the performances (both from Gambon and fantastic younger actors Laurence Belcher and Danny Horn), but he's solid as written, a miserly old man dominated by his father and then liberated from him not by the Doctor, but by his own choices. Moffat takes pains to show us that the Doctor was in the wrong for messing with Kazran's life, but he also allows the Doctor to make up for his sin and simply present Kazran with a choice - would he want to grow up to be who he is today? From the answer hope springs eternal, and that's where A Christmas Carol's emotional resonance lies.

It's also found in loads of other places, within a script that twists and turns quite quickly but, unlike the episode just before it, doesn't allow the pace and exposition to overwhelm the audience. It's a complicated story, to be sure, but A Christmas Carol stays light on its feet and gentle the whole way, even while the Doctor and young Kazran are being chased by a hungry shark. The time-bending plot is right there with The Girl in the Fireplace and Blink as one of the best Moffat has ever constructed. Watching Kazran develop new memories as he himself watches his childhood radically altered is an uncomfortable yet mesmerizing sight, and the jaw-dropping revelation of Kazran himself as the Ghost of Christmas Future set every piece, from the many Christmas Eves to Amy and Rory trapped in the sky, all into place in a beautifully complex and elegant television puzzle.

Speaking of that final moment, this is Doctor Who's first attempt to adapt source material that isn't its own (Dalek, Human Nature/The Family of Blood and The Lodger were all brought over from other Doctor Who media), and Dickens' classic tale is told with brilliant spin while staying faithful to the original text. Kazran is a wonderful Scrooge, the Doctor and Amy are perfectly presented as Past and Present, and the lingering question throughout - what is Future? - is answered in perfect step with the story's emotional climax. Moffat manages to tell a very Doctor Who version of A Christmas Carol - time travel, technobabble and all - while keeping the heart and soul of Dickens intact.

A Christmas Carol simply feels warm and inviting, even in its coldest moments. It is, for my money, one the best-shot episodes of Doctor Who ever. Long-running director/cinematographer duo Toby Haynes and Stephan Pehrsson drape the episode in a gorgeous blue hue, soft lines all over the place, every movement delicate and sweeping. The ride through the sky is, for lack of a better word, utterly breathtaking, and emotion and touch drips from the sides of the screen in every shot. It has a quality about it that clearly comes purely from the production, and that's television magic, in my book. The fish look phenomenal in general, due to the tremendous work of the visual effects team. It also features what I believe to be Murray Gold's best score in his time on the show, with lovely, grandiose numbers layered throughout the piece.

However, the real reason I lend such high praise to Gold is the inclusion of maybe the most beautiful song he ever wrote for Doctor Who (contested only by The End of Time's Vale Decem and The Rings of Akhaten's song for the Queen of Years), "Abigail's Song", sung by the unassailable Katherine Jenkins. The famous mezzo-soprano lends her incredible voice to this haunting, fragile masterpiece, wafting the words through the screen with grace. Credit must also go to Moffat for making Jenkins' singing voice central to the plot and to Haynes for directing her so wonderfully, cloaking her in soft, faded focus nearly every time. Jenkins proves herself a fine actress, though her singing voice and stunning looks are correctly put right at the forefront. If all there was to commend about A Christmas Carol was "Abigail's Song" and the effort placed around it, the story would still come highly recommended.

But there's so much more! Matt Smith cedes the spotlight to Gambon here, but Smith is enjoyable as ever as the Doctor, who learns a valuable lesson about changing the past while doing all he can to save his newlywed companions. His best moments happen to be comedic, though, and his interplay with young Belcher is often gut-bustingly hilarious. That young actor acquits himself wonderfully, and he gets a larger role than you'd expect. Karen Gillan and especially Arthur Darvill (in the main credits for the first time) don't get to do much, but Gillan is just the right amount of tender in her featured Ghost of Christmas Present scene.

The acting, though, is just one part of a big Christmas machine, one that Russell T Davies never quite got down but Steven Moffat nailed on the first try. A Christmas Carol is an emotional roller coaster, at times deeply despondent and at others terrifically joyous. It ends somewhere in the middle, and the effect is akin to taking that last sip of eggnog on Christmas night. Maybe that's why this story is so great - though I write this in mid-April, it feels like December all over again.

GRADE: A