The Christmas Invasion
|Production Code||Christmas 2005 special|
|Dates||December 26, 2005|
With David Tennant, Billie Piper,
Camile Coduri, Noel Clarke
Written by Russell T. Davies Directed by James Hawes
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.
|Synopsis: It's Christmas and something alien is heading to Earth.|
Santa Finally Cracks Under The Strain by Adrian Loder 12/1/06
Last year, I was really happy with the opener, Rose, however in retrospect I think it was largely because of how enthusiastic to see Doctor Who again. This time, with the Tenth Doctor's first story, that original glee has faded somewhat, and yet I'm absolutely grinning ear-to-ear following my viewing of The Christmas Invasion. Do you know why? Because it was thoroughly awesome. This kicked the pants off last season's opener and as fine an actor as Chris Eccleston is, David Tennant is definitely the superior Doctor. He's got the zany/weird aspect down much better than Eccleston did and best of all, once he wakes up it is he who is in charge in this episode, no relying on Rose or someone else to save the day for him. The Doctor is a hero again!
You can tell Russell Davies had Castrovalva on the brain watching this - I won't say how, as it might spoil things for some people, but this episode exemplifies just what the new show should be - it hearkens back to the past but isn't simply an old story with new actors and better effects - it is a fresh take and a new story, with new things to say (witness the addition to the Doctor's regenerative abilities) but draws its impetus and inspiration from what has come before.
That said, the first ten minutes were lousy, with their soap opera nonsense but after that it really picks up. I complained that the new series was more character-driven than story-driven but this was a smashing example of the latter, once the opening whale blubber bits were done. Everyone, including and especially the Doctor, is defined by how they react - Rose's feelings for the Doctor not coming out through exposition but rather through crying on her mother's shoulder and the Doctor shows his new personality through how he deals with the alien threat. He only comments on his new attitudes after we've seen them demonstrated. This may be accident, or maybe Russell is making some changes; either way, if this style continues I will take back every critical thing I ever said. The dialogue is also wonderful, nothing feels like filler, and no deus ex machina ending, yay! This is easily Davies' best script so far.
The acting was tremendous, even from some of the more derided participants, as, apart from the beginning they are called on to act, move, do things, rather than stand around and talk. Tennant is just magnificent, he makes the role his from the very start and the moment when he first takes the reins of the show are near-epiphanic (at least for an utter fanboy like me). You know who Tennant's Doctor reminds me of? A sterner 2nd Doc - and like with Troughton's time, I think this is going to be a great era for the show.
The humor surrounding Harriet Jones was welcome, and the show kept some slight humor running throughout, which made for a nice, multifaceted aspect. This time around, however, it was kept subtle and non-childish, and it works all the better for it. The ending also reminds me of another past story, but I won't say which as that will give it entirely away. Also worth mention is the re-emergence of the "dooooo, do-do-do, do-do-doooo...dooo-do-do-do-do, do-do-do-do-do,.dooo...dooo...dooo" in the ending theme, for which I give Murray Gold a big thumbs up. And the way tension is maintained waiting for the Doctor to finally emerge, to step in and save the day... wonderful suspense.
I give this 9/10 and want more please!
Seeing the world end with a cup of tea. Very British. by Steve Cassidy 18/1/06
During the run up to Christmas I struggled in with a armful of shopping, made a cup of tea, and stuck on Nightmare of Eden.
What has this to do with The Christmas Invasion I hear you ask?
Well, there is a scene in episode four, and as much as I love Nightmare of Eden, I couldn't help but bust a gut laughing. You know the one? Where someone shoots Della in the head and she clutches her belly. I fell off the sofa in mirth.
Of course in old Who you tuned your brain to bad production design and SFX - the tinfoil Vardans in The Invasion of Time, the Tractators in Frontios, the rubber dinosaurs of Pertwee's Invasion. Something switched off in your head, you convinced yourself to follow the story rather than the handpuppets against the CSO. Disbelieving bad SFX was part and parcel of being a fan. But no longer...
The saving graces of The Christmas Invasion are the special effects which look as if they have come straight from Hollywood. A public-run organisation near Shepherds Bush Green can now do the same mindblowing special effects as the Star Wars films or other big budget blockbusters. And there was a feel of the multiplex spectacular to The Christmas Invasion. I love Who on a vast scale, I love Who which is ambitious and covers big canvases. One of my favourites from the first season (not a popular choice I know) is the Aliens of London/WWIII big platter combo. I loved the ideas on show - alien spaceship crashing through Big Ben, London on red alert, media going into frenzy with its coverage. The Christmas Invasion is that adventure with an even bigger budget and even bigger scale. The spaceship over London now is the size of the borough of Tower Hamlets, and the sound of it entering the Earth's atmosphere is enough to shatter every piece of glass in the capital. And isn't the destruction of the "Gherkin" the best special effect ever seen on Who?
There were a couple of "woah" moments. I personally like the mesmerised crowds CGI'd onto the great monuments of the world ready to jump - but I'm a sucker for that kind of globally shared peril. And they even got to film on the roof of the Tower of London. Without doubt one of my favourite buildings in the world. Is the clout of Who nowadays so strong that national institutions automatically open their doors to them? And there was a theme of patriotism running through this one - Union Jacks dotted UNIT's HQ, the Prime Minister's well deserved retort to the American president when he tries to muscle in, and London looking epic, grand and squalid all at the same time. And as many of us who live and love this city know - that is the real essence of London.
The budget of what is becoming the BBC's flagship series was definitely well spent. For a start Murray Gold is given a full orchestra which enhances the epic feel of the entire piece. His sweeping score is absolutely beautiful. And the production design is just in a different league to anything we have seen before. Russell T Davies has assembled a set of craftspeople and technicians who can really do justice to what he has written on the page. The "money shots" such as the great island of an alien spaceship floating over London and the igneous arena aboard the said ship with hoards of Sycorax letting out warlike cries are truly exceptional. And as for the Sycorax, well, I think I will go out on a limb and say they are the best monster of the new series. The production team loved the Slitheen but the script sucked (or blew) any menace out of them. The Sycorax are just simple menacing monsters. No hidden emotional sides to them, no weeping in town hall toilets - they just want you and me as slaves. It's their culture, it's their way of life. And if that doesn't happen then a third of the world's populace dies. Simple as that. And they have bite. You truly believe their intention which is the mark of a good set of villains.
And of course there is the coda. Rumours had abounded that there was to be a Silurians ending. The destruction of an alien race much against the wishes of the Doctor (this isn't a spoiler, 99% of the Doctors adventures end with him winning). This once again gives the programme weight and by pencilling it in, RTD has gone down a rather risky avenue. Those of us who lived through the eighties are ineveitably burned by it. There are parts of that decade I can't recall mentally without getting angry and several episodes continue to haunt twenty/thirty years after the event. Those of us who remember the Falklands war can't help link the coda with the sinking of the 'General Belgrano' battleship in 1982. A female Prime Minister gave the order to fire on an enemy warship as it was sailing away from excluded waters. Whether she was right or wrong is still being debated and she was rightly criticised at the time. Russell has cleverly joined the analogy to new PM Harriet Jones. And he took it one step further: what if she didn't get away with it? What if someone brought her down over it? The clever use of the "politics of war" and "moral ethics" gives the last five minutes bite. But it can be argued that Russell brought his own politics into the show - something the Tory press picked up on during the Christmas run-up. And knowing them, they have probably squirreled the information away to be brought out at a future date.
But its other selling point is the introduction of David Tennant. Some have claimed this one is his Ark in Space but I still see it as his Robot. I think we will have to wait until the first few adventures to really have an idea of the identity of the tenth Doctor. All the old regeneration tricks are pulled in this one - Doctor incapacited for majority of episode, companion disputes he is the "real" Doctor, lots of incoherent babbing and continuity, and a visit to the TARDIS wardrobe to find his new "look" (incidently nice set for that, I loved the spiral staircase). But it is the new actor's persona and performance which dictate whether he will work or not. Tennant gives his all, it's a very physical performance where eccentricities are exaggerated - and the key to the Doctor, that his brain is working on a higher level, seems to be grasped by Tennant. The main worry for many was would he, being 34, have the gravitas of a Pertwee or a Hartnell (and especially relevant as RTD states that it is unlikely we will have a Doctor over 45 again) but the production team gave him a hard edge to round off his 60 minutes introduction story. They certainly wanted their Doctor to be taken seriously. As for Billie Piper? For PR purposes they stressed that the 19 year old Rose Tyler was the "equal" of the Doctor. This story when she tries to step into his shoes and bluff the Sycorax proves that she clearly isn't. But it keeps in character, and Billie is once again rock solid in the role.
So... The Christmas Invasion won me over on sheer spectacle and scale. But as it is an RTD script so there are still niggles.
Niggle number one has to be the killer Christmas tree. Wasn't this the most gratuitous bit of embarassing padding? And those Santas just looked silly. I realise to justify the title they had to have something Chrismasy in there. But, what was this? The Santas came from the spaceship? They were pilot fish before the big shark arrived?. And they automatically know the how to play Earth musical instruments? And know the customs of Christmastime? Ummm... And why were Rose and Mickey targetted? The Doctor suggests it's because he's leaking energy (why?) but it would have taken the Sycorax weeks if not months to arrive on Earth after the Doctor got there and they appeared to be there already. Oh well ... maybe we're not meant to think too hard about logic about this after a heavy Christmas dinner.
It's a Russell T Davies romp and some say that he is more interested in "the moments" and domestics than watertight plots. He always has a reliance on set pieces rather than a coherent plot, and this one had way too many continuity references and logic holes to be entirely successful. One really stood out. I'm sorry but I simply don't believe that the Sycorax leader would have politely stood by while the Doctor began to conjecture about his new personality, in the same way that I didn't believe the Autons would stand idly by while Rose worked out whether or not she was going to be a heroine, or that the Gelth would stand by doing little while the Doctor and Rose shared a tender moment in the sluice, etc, etc. Not only does it weaken the tension but I can't care about what's being said when I don't believe that there's time to say it.
And for goodness sake, can we please have a break from the Powell Estate? The Sycorax ship breaking all the windows wasn't good enough. Can we please have total destruction so the place is razed to the ground and Jackie is forced to go to live with relatives (a worrying trait of this episode seems to be their mention; please god not any more Tylers!). And if asked nicely I can come around and sow the place with salt so that it never rises again. It has gone past the point of "grounding the show in reality", it has become a chore. Jackie's flat and cosiness is starting to become very claustraphobic. For those who bemoan the cosiness of the Pertwee UNIT family, nothing ever reached the levels of tweeness that the Christmas dinner scene and group hug reach. Regarding the Tylers and the Powell Estate whenever they appear on screen I am always reminded of Pauline Kael's reaction to Roger Moore continuing as James Bond: "Well, I'm kinda resigned to him now..."
So The Christmas Invasion gets a thumbs up from me. To be frank, I thought series 1/27 ended on some stinkers with Boom Town, Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways. And that season really ended for me with The Doctor Dances. Why does this one work and those others fail? Well the others tended to use hokey plot devices, self indulgences, emotional strangleholds or ridiculous deux ex machina endings to carry the tale. This one seems to flow and come to a conclusion naturally. It also has massive scale and spectacle and surprising rewatchability.
The Christmas Invasion is guff but it is guff of the highest quality. And what else do you want from Santa at Christmas?
A Review by Jo Eadie 5/2/06
Oh but it must be hard writing a children's fantasy series scrutinised by an audience of fans in their thirties and forties! As a twelve year old, how much I would have loved an alien with a whip that reduces his enemies to skeletons, a deadly christmas tree, a mysterious top secret organisation being hinted at, a surprise return from Harriet Jones. But watching it now... well, when the PM says "Doctor, if you're out here, we need you - the situation has never been more desperate" I'm wondering, can even the Doctor save us all from this? After all, there's an interminable rerun of the last series' alien invasion with the same shots of cars pulling up outside government headquarters and BBC news footage (but this time without the jokes - where is the Blue Peter cake?); there are endless shots of London monuments again; there's a plot device straight out of The Tomorrow People, where everyone with A-positive blood is standing on the edge of high buildings; there's an alien with a Star Trek voice speaking in Klingon. Who's going to rescue us? Not Jackie, she just has a script which once more reads "be on the phone at the wrong time". Not Mickey, who's reprising his jealous-boyfriend-with-an-internet-connection schtick. Not even Rose, who seems to have lost her wit, her complexity, and her charm. Can it be this man that they're all talking about but who we've barely seen, that we don't know or love or care about? And then David Tennant bursts through the TARDIS door. ZAP! He's debunked the Star Trek rejects by simply being immune to their weapons and unimpressed by their technology. BAM! He's joking about the big button. BIFF! He just killed someone with a satsuma. POW! He wanted to be ginger - he's flirting outrageously with Rose - an Arthur Dent joke - the Lion King - I can't keep up!
Russell T. Davies plays such a risky game this time around. He puts off the Doctor's arrival to the point where you're just starting to feel that you might as well be watching Stargate, and drags out the unwieldy plot device where everything the Sycorax say has to be translated for us until it's starting to really grate - when it turns out to be a set-up to allow it to dawn on us all, at just the same time as Rose, that the Doctor is back. In the last series the Doctor brought out the best in everyone he met; this time, he's bringing out the best in Russell and Billie. Suddenly everyone has their spark back.
And to cap it all, there's the unexpected present at the bottom of the stocking: not a dud this time, but the Doctor's outraged undoing of Harriet Jones. In one sense, her militaristic betrayal of his loyalty is an obvious reprise of the defining moment of series seven, when the Brigadier wipes out the now-harmless Silurians. But part of the beauty of the new format is that it can revisit various iconic moments and shamelessly replay them for a new audience, along with the appropriate twist. And what a twist it is this time around: a shrewd - and slightly sinister - retributive move straight out of the seventh doctor's New Adventures phase. At the drop of a hat David Tennant moves so smoothly between whimsy and menace, charm and vulnerability, cockiness and coyness. First he's mocking the format with that gloriously ludicrous roar at the Sycorax (why wouldn't you do that every time you met a new alien with a silly voice?) and then turning it into high drama in his final confrontation with the PM. So a shamelessly enthusiastic thank you to Russell T. Davies for blessing the new Doctor's first appearance with such a cornucopia of memorable moments: he's insulting the aliens in their own language; he's hugging Jackie; he's produced some glasses out of his pocket without skipping a beat; and now he's wiggling his fingers in such a sexy way at Rose to get her into the TARDIS. Every move he makes is so effortlessly natural. "Did you miss me?" Do we need to answer?
Oh: and then there was a trailer for the next series. I'll admit it: I woke up on Boxing Day having dreamed about K9. I couldn't be happier.
"Very Arthur Dent!" by Joe Ford 14/3/06
Picture this, stuffed full of naughty Christmas foods, mum and boyfriend either side of me on the sofa, tree lights twinkling in the corner and a glass of mulled wine in my hand.... and Doctor Who is on the telly in two minutes time. It could have been one of the best feelings in my entire life. Mum was not impressed with the Eccleston era, saying he was far too intense and funless as the Doctor and Simon took the opposite angle, loving every second of the new series and eagerly anticipating further adventures. I've listened to Dalek Empire II, I've watched Casanova and Blackpool, and I know David Tennant is a bloody good actor so now its time to see how he fares as the Doctor...
First off I want to comment on how confident Russell's writing seems here. Season One was a good learning curve for the writer, a way of finding out works and what doesn't (not to be mistaken for what people want and what they don't which has been the failing of many a producer). Gone are the embarrassing fart jokes and silly pigs, the baby-faced monsters and the overdone angst... this feels like it is being written by a writer at his peak, a carefully crafted story which leads to a deliberate, stunning conclusion. Much of the dialogue sizzles throughout, from Russell's occasional soapboxing (criticizing Bush and telling us the Prime Minister can be brought down with six little words), to his lovely character moments (who didn't smile along with Mickey when Rose told him he was brave?), to his wonderfully characterised new Doctor ("I DON'T KNOW!" he mocks the monster when asked who he is), I never actually cringed at one point during this episode which I did at least once during each of his episodes last year, even the top-notch ones.
What I found most delightful though was that RTD seems to have found that little Doctor Who fan inside him again and his written what is without a doubt the most astonishingly traditional Doctor Who story since Eater of Wasps was published (or if you're talking about Doctor Who on the telly, probably since The Visitation). Last year there was so much envelope pushing going on it was rare that the show actually felt like it could actually fit into "old school" Doctor Who which is all fine and dandy because it had an astonishing amount to achieve. Attracting a whole new audience, bringing the show up to date, returning old monsters with panache, etc, etc. But let's face it: after winning awards, ratings battles and critical acclaim they really don't need to prove anything anymore. We know the show is good so let's get on and prove to people why it had been such a winning formula for so long.
I mean come on; this is a "best of Doctor Who hits" Christmas Special! A dangerously out of control Doctor regeneration story. Aliens invading Earth. Everyday objects coming to life and attempting to kill people. UNIT back in action. Good grief,it reads like Spearhead from Space! Yet it pleases me to report that Russell gets all these things spot on. The Doctor was kept out of the action just long enough for me to be hungry for his return and bouncing up and down with excitement when he did. The scene with the Christmas tree coming to life and hacking through the Tyler household was so outrageously fantastic I didn't think the episode could possibly get any better. The aliens are beautifully made up to convince and scare the shit out of little kids. And have UNIT ever seemed so professional and well equipped? The Christmas Invasion is Doctor Who epitomised, executed to perfection and engaging as hell. Who cares if there aren't any real surprises? Not when there's a ruddy great spaceship casting a long shadow over London!
The only aspects that didn't seem to gel quite as well were the traditionally new elements. Whereas Jackie, Mickey and Rose made for fascinating new characters in the first season they were the only things that felt out of joint here. In the midst of a scary invasion why should we care about Rose blubbing? When people are threatening to jump off rooftops do you really give a damn about Jackie Tyler whinging about bringing bags of food to the TARDIS? And at the end of the day, besides putting the Doctor to bed what do any of them contribute to the story in any way whatsoever? Not a whole bunch I have to admit and in amongst so much confident trad <Doctor Who the human angst of their domestic situation felt far too small-scale and uninteresting. I love all three characters, honestly I do, but they need to be given something worthwhile to contribute and cut off from the Doctor and the important stuff going on in UNIT they really are just hanging around until the climax and that is an unforgivable waste of three promising characters.
The Sycorax actually made quite an impression despite being pretty much cod aliens. This has something to do with their impressive visual impact; thanks to some great spaceship sets, dazzling CGI (which convinces you are in a room with hundreds of them) and wonderfully scary masks with glowing red eyes that no doubt left some kids scared to go bed Christmas night. I loved their blood control and the conceit of getting a third of the world's population on the edge of buildings, threatening to make them jump unless the world accedes to their demands. A very clever scheme, I thought. And the leader was played with such relish it was hard not to be engrossed, especially his dazzling duel with the Doctor on the exterior of the spaceship. There was an emphasis on blood and honour that reminded me of Klingons but then one cut off the Doctor's hand and I forgot all about it.
What really made me sit up and take notice were the Earth scenes that didn't involve the Doctor. Penelope Wilton makes a stunning return as Harriet Jones and for much of the story reigns as a Prime Minister you can cheer for. This struck me as an important moment for Doctor Who, the one invasion UNIT couldn't cover up because the alien threat was broadcast around the world for everyone to see. It made everyone sit up and take notice, the threat feeling very real to normal people on the street as their families were brainwashed into attempted suicide.
Not being able to communicate with the Sycorax was another lovely touch, with Harriet having to navigate through some tough negotiations on her wits. But none of these moments match up to the ominous mention of Torchwood, the (apparently) linking theme for season two. This mysterious organisation even those in highest levels of power aren't supposed to know about... We finally get to see Harriet's strength of character when she orders the ships destruction at the climax, a shocking moment for the Doctor as well as the viewer. All their affection is wiped away and she slaps him down with the fact that while he was sleeping off his regeneration people were dying and that they need to be able to protect the Earth when he isn't around. The Doctor turns on her and spits "I gave them the wrong warning, I should have told them to run, run and hide from the monsters, the human race!" a condemnation harsher than anything the ninth Doctor ever offered up and a fantastic twist conclusion, RTD refusing to end his snug invasion tale comfortably.
So did David Tennant match up to expectations? Of course he did! Christopher who? Nah, that's a bit harsh but here in full demonstration is a man clearly in love with his part and wanting to offer more than a chance to prove he can surprise in his career. Talk about attacking a role with gusto, he is funny and charming and violent and angry and silly and confident... everything Peter Davison was in Four to Doomsday (except the last one), except well acted. It's an explosive brew of reborn vitality and hidden anger that I think will make compulsive viewing no matter which way the scripts take him. Tennant is a treasure to watch, leaping about, cracking jokes, grinning like a loon and duelling like a hero. He lights up the episode the second he wakes up. Not to take anything away from Eccleston (whose intense Doctor is well worth a revisit in books and audios) but this is exactly the impression that McGann made in The TV Movie, instantly and recognisably the Doctor from his first line.
It looks like a feature film in most scenes with some jaw-dropping special effects (with my favourites being a toss up between that horrid gherkin tower exploding and the people lined up on the Coliseum), with a sense of scale that is helped by scenes set in space, around the world and yet on a London estate also. The stylish camerawork is adeptly handled once again by the very talented James Hawes, making sure that the important moments are given dramatic close-ups and showing the money exactly where needed. Saying that I still think the spinning Christmas tree was brilliant, a fab mixture of live action and CGI that never fails to convince for a second. Top locations are chosen to give the story its importance and the shot of Big Ben being renovated is inspired. And who couldn't fail to be impressed by the innovative TARDIS landing? 40 years and still finding new ways of introducing that blue box!
Lots of lovely touches add so much. The anguished realism from the two actresses begging their families to stop walking absolutely sells the Sycorax mind control. The mention of Martians looking nothing like the Sycorax. The thought of the Royals being out on the roof. Finally getting monsters who wear a mask and someone has to go and make the daft observation, "They could be like us!" ... "or not." The same reporter back from Aliens of London. The tea (how British). The Doctor quoting The Lion King. What could have been a godawful twee ending with the snow turning the whole thing around into a poignant reminder of the earlier violence when we realise it is ash. Lovely little moments that mean nothing on their own but add to the overall magic.
Mum thought it was wonderful, she fancies the pants off of David Tennant and thought the storyline was better than anything she saw in season one. She has signed up for series two. Simon loved the FX and all the Torchwood stuff (he loves arcs!) and squealed with delight when he saw K9 in the teaser for series two. He's on board too. As for me, well of course I liked it! As I said, it wasn't the most imaginative story every written but it was certainly hugely entertaining and left me with a warm, fanboy glow once I had finished. To share it with my family was my best present of the day.
Oh and the wardrobe room was great.
Happy New Year!
Wake up Doctor, it's no fun without you by Thomas Cookson 26/4/06
First of all I think this was actually a rather unwise idea to do a Christmas standalone. I was on a high at the end of last season, eager to see more and had an insatiable curiosity about what would happen next; it's only natural, of course, since a good number of the 13 episodes had been outstanding and their serial nature made it all linger.
The problem with The Christmas Invasion is that it satisfied my desire for more Doctor Who and to see the new Doctor, but because it was mediocre and stood alone, it didn't encourage my enthusiasm, it just gave me all the answers I wanted and it didn't exactly suggest greater things to come. The result is that it killed my eagerness for more episodes and I literally feel as though Season 2 is something I could take or leave right now. Had it actually been side by side with a season of stories it might have been a different story.
At the time, I remember thinking that it showed a distinct maturity from Russell T. Davis's usual high-farce stories. The Doctor seemed to have grown out of teasing Mickey inanely, and I liked the idea of making Harriet Jones's character dimensional and contrary. One moment she rejects President Bush's attempts to bring his war nut influence to bear on her administration, only for strong suggestions to crop up that she is little better than Dubya. Jackie somehow came across as positively charming for once. Another aspect that I thought was well done was the Doctor's illness: somehow it really conveyed that sense of physical weakness, starvation and paralysis; maybe it was how they made Tennant look so pale, maybe because it was happening in concert with the references to blood samples and scenes of zombiefied masses in a rigid trance. The moments where he awakes are of course generally the most fun moments and somehow the use of tea as a rejuvenation works - the heat and sugar reinvigorating a near corpse - it feels right somehow.
However most of the rest of the highlight scenes are drowned out by far too much focus on Rose moping about and feeling sorry for herself. I do think perhaps I have spent too long around the cynical crowd of reviewers who express repulsion at emotional moments in TV and cinema, and are always ready to knock such material as crassly manipulative. I was actually watching this with my flatmate who shares a similar cynicism and I remember how I was consciously trying to ignore his vocal criticisms, particularly in the opening moments where he declared 'I'm getting a bad feeling about this' when he saw Russell T. Davis' name on the writing credits and then pointed to the noisy TARDIS crash-landing as going unnoticed by the local tennants in an implausible way. I wondered if maybe their attitude had started to rub off on me in a bad way, but I find that I still have fond memories of Father's Day, and I still relish getting choked up when watching the conclusion of The War Games, or hearing Edward Waterfield's dying words in the Evil of the Daleks audio, or watching Chow Yun Fat blinded by gunshots, crawling the ground in search of his love Jenny in John Woo's 'The Killer'.
But still the overbearing repetition of Rose blubbing every other scene comes across to me as excessive and off-putting, and really tips the balance of the drama into the wrong direction. And I think I must be the only one who did not warm to Mickey during this episode; in fact, I found myself dreading his coming recruitment to the TARDIS team even more, as he spent most of the story being petty and jealous over the Doctor getting nursed by Rose, even while the Time Lord is dying and the aliens are looming over their rooftops and their neighbours are about to jump to their deaths; the guy's sense of proportion is wildly off, even by his standards and makes it really hard to warm to him.
To tell the truth, I have a sinking feeling that this jealous tension between the Doctor, Rose and Mickey is going to become more prevailent in coming episodes end up marking every interaction they have with each other and every other man or woman who they meet and end up seeing as a potential threat to their bond, including the much awaited reunion with Sarah Jane Smith.
But those mopey moments, dominating an hour-long episode are unfortunately what I'm left remembering the most about this story. It just overshadows everything else that should have been the standout moments: the scenes of the masses being manipulated to stand at the edge of every high tower and mountain, ready to jump really was edge of the seat material (or at least it was until the aliens started vibrating the buildings and yet still no-one was falling off with the shockwaves; like so many RTD suspense moments it breaks the reailty somewhere and the suspense falls and the viewing becomes atypically hollow), and the moment where Harriet Jones was trying to articulate a plea for peace amidst being reduced to a bag of nerves when her aides are spontaneously slaughtered right before her, got one better on that.
It's strange because I had actually used the basic idea behind this pathos myself in my own fan fiction; the idea that when the Doctor is absent or incompetent in violent times, the world becomes a much more hopeless and humourless place. But somehow the focus remained domestic and off the mark: the story should have been trying to match that epic sense of worldwide terror (a few brilliant SFX shots augmenting the spacecraft above all the world's landmarks impresses but it can't make the story alone), but instead it was restricted to the self-centred feelings of Rose and Mickey and bludgeoned their emotional weight to death.
As usual Billie Piper and Noel Clarke at least perform the sickening mush on the right emotional notes. There is one moment where the hopelessness is well done: namely where Rose nervously tries to intimidate the Sycorax into leaving the Earth in peace by misquoting one of the Doctor's articles of the Shadow Proclamation, only for it to fall on deaf ears. That was what was largely missing from the episode: a sense of hope being built up and knocked down, a sense of struggle and conflict, but instead we got buried in a ridiculous and therefore bland dose of defeatism and self-pity.
It's strange how I'd always frowned on Russell T. Davis' brand of humour, when this is a story that actually cries out for some comic relief to the heavy-handed misery of it all.
The end result is that I've been left with the same effect I got from watching Arc of Infinity. At the time, after watching it I thought it was okay, but as time went by I found myself with absolutely no inclination to watch it again and gradually became aware as I mulled the episode over in my head, just how dull and mediocre it all was and how wasted was my viewing.
I remember there being moments when I thought my inner fanboy was on the verge of creaming his pants, such as when Harriet's military aide dismisses the suggestion that the Sycorax are from Mars because they already know what Martians look like, I was just dying for him to say those two magic words ('Ice Warriors'); he never did though, the git! Or where the Doctor gives that speech reminiscent of Spearhead from Space about how Earth is attracting unwanted attention, with "This planet is getting so noisy" as a nice little modernisation.
I did actually quite like what was said in the scene where the Doctor gives his speech on his post-regeneration identity crisis and trying to define himself. In and of itself it reassured me that this was Doctor Who regeneration done the classic way. But the more I try to justify its jackhammered and unchallenged presence in the middle of a threatening and gravitas-laden confrontation, the more ridiculous it seems. The sword fight seemed fun and exciting at the time, but now it feels rather too bloodless; quite literally so.
I thought David Tennant's performace was adequate: his quirkiness seemed to come off naturally and at the time that was enough for me. I had found Christopher Eccleston's performance strangely forced in places and uneven overall. In many ways I'd come to think that perhaps David Thewlis (who starred in Mike Leigh's 'Naked') would have been perfect at the 'damaged goods' type of Doctor since he'd already proved exceptional at playing that kind of naked desperation and rage. But now that Christopher Eccleston has gone I've come to appreciate Eccleston's performance for what it was rather than bemoan what it wasn't; it was an awkward, transitional portrayal of being between the Doctor's old jolliness and his newfound fury and insecurity and desperately wanting to hold onto the former... and maybe it wasn't supposed to be easy to digest, and I found myself seriously missing his character and feeling there was something terribly misunderstood about him that we never had a chance to appreciate.
But, in retrospect, David Tennant's performance just seems by the numbers in comparison to Eccles, and there are moments where he should be innovating with his lines but allows them to come across as scripted, i.e. he doesn't help to cover for Russell's artificial dialogue. The moment where he declares "No second chances" just reads as Russell's typical dumbing down characterisation, when it should be a moment of learning where the Doctor is having a moment of clarity, coming to terms with his new personality and to violent events that he is repelled by.
Speaking of the moral circle of the episode, I must say that amidst this moral debate, it is fortunate that we had the performances of David Tennant and Penelope Wilton (who's performance here is so wonderfully dignified and straight-laced, the contrast finally allows me to admit to myself just how annoying she was in World War III) at the centre of the ethical drama, because their conviction was enough for me to remain, for a time, largely unconscious of the fact that the dialogue they have to handle here is atrocious.
The thing is, there is a rather shocking display of cavalier violence here which provokes this moment of moral outrage, and the moment speaks alone as one that is challenging and harrowing, and like the best examples of carnage and violence in the series, made me feel a thousand different things on issues of war and defence. Unfortunately the dialogue from then on kills the moments because it only shows the drama up to be scripted and artificial. Dialogue like "Run, because the monsters are coming!", and suggestions of the Doctor's duplicity that comes close to competently voicing some strongly-passioned betrayal if it weren't for such a clunker line that belongs in the worst category of fanfiction "That makes you just another alien threat!" And all of a sudden the deaths, and the polarised moral stances of sympathetic characters meant absolutely nothing because the script reminds us just how fake it all is. I don't know whatever happened to stories like The War Games, The Silurians and Genesis of the Daleks that could follow up impressive, gut-churning violence with scenes of moral and political debates that could still match up to that grandeur, but this episode makes me feel as though those days of quality dialogue are gone forever.
Overall it's far from the most intriguing of post-regeneration stories, and as Russell T. Davis' standard material goes, it's mediocre and somehow it's not even goofy enough to be easy to rewatch in the same way that the Slitheen episodes might be. And this is where my interest and hope in the coming season fizzled out with nothing at hand to reinvigorate it. Something good better come soon.
A Review by Finn Clark 20/7/06
The Christmas Invasion's problem is that it was broadcast at Christmas. No, seriously. I'm not kidding. Really it's the opening episode of David Tennant's first season and it's much more effective in that context than as a one-off special. Ripping it from its proper place for the sake of broadcasting it a few months earlier during the holidays did serious damage to both the episode itself and the season as a whole. Particularly fascinating is the precision of the parallels between this year and last, but only if the former includes The Christmas Invasion.
Returning this to its proper place at the start of the 2006 season lets me think much better of both The Christmas Invasion and the year as a whole. Frankly it's a pretty mindless adventure that stinks of bad action hero SF and doesn't really offer much beyond "kill the shouty monsters". However as a lead-in to the rest of the season I don't mind that. It's certainly a better first episode than New Earth, which is an interesting but awkward agglomeration of Red Dwarf body-swap comedy, rampaging zombies, serious themes and a villain's emotional journey.
On first broadcast I was ambivalent. It's okay. I didn't hate it, but I wasn't thrilled either. Unlike seemingly the rest of the world, my favourite part is the first fifteen minutes with killer Santas, spinning trees and all that other stuff that's completely irrelevant to the real plot. That was a laugh. 'Twas different, at least. Unfortunately everything got predictable when the alien mothership arrived. "Doctor Who does Independence Day" was probably doomed to happen at some point, but hopefully the new series has now got that out of its system and can return to telling interesting stories instead. The scale is so huge that it's hard to hold focus on anything worth talking about, except in the most perfunctory way. "Aliens Invade The World, Dude!" At least Spielberg's War of the Worlds sustained the necessary tone, although I didn't particularly like that film either. Unfortunately Doctor Who pretty much by definition can't help undercutting the epic panorama. That's what Doctor Who does. It's about self-depreciating wit and character drama, not fifteen-minute special effects sequences. Admittedly The Christmas Invasion ends up subverting the formula with dialogue instead of space battles, but even so it all felt too straightforward for me. There aren't any twists. No one's the Sycorax leader's old school friend, the aliens don't have a back-up plan, the Doctor doesn't learn that he's allergic to Sycorax semen, Harriet Jones doesn't fall madly in love with Rose and elope with her to Bognor Regis, or... well, no one did anything to surprise me. There are some action hero twists, but I expected them. They look cool. That's all they're designed for, really.
The Doctor kills the bad guy and delivers an Arnie one-liner. I wouldn't watch a series like that, but it's a good opening episode. "Simplistic" was its job description.
In fairness the cool bits are genuinely cool. It has some good jokes ("Martians look completely different") and some stuff that's perhaps not so new for books fans but was still fun. The all-action TARDIS materialisation reminded me of The Suns of Caresh, while a certain later surprise had never actually been seen in the novels but had certainly been hinted at in throwaway lines. Nevertheless all that's tacked on to a story so familiar that I've seen it compared with Hollywood blockbusters, The Dying Days, Faction Paradox (bone fetishes, blood control) and even stuff like Godzilla: Final Wars. That's a symptom. People have been drawing so many parallels because it's so unoriginal.
Admittedly Doctor Who had never done these kind of spectacular visuals, which is a more significant observation than it looks. The classic series had lots of alien invasions, but we only saw the attempted infiltration beforehand or occasionally the aftermath ruled by Daleks. 'Twas always the night before or the morning after. We never saw the invasion itself. Admittedly my first thought on seeing that gigantic spaceship looming overhead was: "Cool, Doctor Who does Independence Day!" However it didn't take me long to modify this to: "Bloody hell, it's Doctor Who doing Independence Day."
Incidentally the Sycorax look good. New Who loves its playfully clunky monsters like the Slitheen or the new Cybermen, whose goofiness is almost the point. Doctor Who's monsters aren't like those of Star Trek. We're operating in a different tradition, one that isn't afraid to have a sense of humour about itself. We owe more to Douglas Adams's sensibility than we do to George Lucas or H.R. Giger. Nevertheless for once The Christmas Invasion is borrowing from Hollywood and and so its monster designs are playing safe.
Footnote (several months later): time has made me less enamoured of the Sycorax, to the point where I'm almost of the opinion that they're the worst monster design to date in New Who. I was looking at my DVD boxed set of Tennant's first season and I saw a full-length picture of a Sycorax. "What the hell is that?" I wondered, then several hours later realised. Whatever one might say about the Slitheen, no one who's seen one will ever forget what they look like or confuse them with anything else.
Oh, and I don't like broadsword combat. It's too slow and ponderous. It looks unimpressive, certainly when compared with fencing.
The interesting things about this episode arise from the tensions inherent in its dual nature: Doctor Who doing a big-budget blockbuster. How often do you see the hero kill the bad guy with a satsuma? I don't like David Tennant's reading of the next line ("that's the kind of man I am"), but the niggles I had about Eccleston's performance early last year turned out to be fundamental to the season's character arc. This particular line is so straight-ahead action hero that I can't believe it's not deliberate. After the doubting hesitant 9th Doctor comes an overconfident 10th? This seemed so obvious to me on first viewing that I'm now wondering if it's a double bluff!
Then there's Harriet Jones and the story's conclusion. I love what Penelope Wilton's doing. Throughout she's holding herself stiffly, too awkward and conscious of herself. Harriet's trying too hard. She's not letting herself just be herself, but instead she's trying to live up to the demands of a job with which she's clearly still uncomfortable. The Doctor's final ploy shouldn't have worked. A self-confident politician would have laughed it off. However Harriet Jones doesn't merely let herself be thrown; she practically challenges the Doctor to do it in the first place. I don't think it's deliberate political suicide, although one could construct arguments for Harriet Jones secretly wanting that to happen. I don't think Penelope Wilton is playing it that way. Nevertheless this side of the story is full of facets and subtleties. For me she's the story's saving grace. Certainly the climax is what makes the episode more interesting than "we beat the bad guys, hurrah!" and has provoked hilarious right-wing reactions such as: "The Doctor would rather think of humanity as a relatively helpless species under his protection than as actors in their own right". Admittedly New Who has hardly been subtle so far in its sideswipes on international politics, but the whole point of the ending is that it makes things more nuanced than just another flag-waving shoot-out.
"Yes, we know who you are." That's such a clever line. It's not simply a running gag that never stops getting funnier, but an important clue to how uncomfortable and forced Harriet is in her new role. What's more, the Doctor's right. She does look tired. She looked tired at the beginning. Arguably The Christmas Invasion is about victories coming at a price in terms of who our heroes really are. Harriet Jones and the Doctor both could be said to lose an important part of themselves. I only hope that at some point Harriet gets a chance to redeem herself again, although it's not a good sign that she wasn't in Rise of the Cybermen. If nothing else, one can never have too much Penelope Wilton.
At the end of the day, it's hard to get too upset about The Christmas Invasion. It's an extra episode! It's fun, with good jokes and a genuinely chilling bit when all those people head for the roof. It has bombastic music, including mutant Christmas carols, and lots of Arthurian imagery for those who like spotting that kind of thing. What's more, the Doctor gets to be a hero in a way that he never quite got to do throughout Eccleston's time in the role. It's a great showcase for David Tennant and not quite the cheerfully dumb adventure it's pretending to be. Just remember: it's not a Christmas special.
A Review by Ron Mallett 9/8/06
Australian audiences have had their first taste of David Tennant (which with respect to the long dead classic show I will refer to in this article as the Second "Doctor") and to be honest one can only hope that he gets evicted as quickly as possible. Your honours, I will now present a devastating case as to why Russell T. Davies should never be allowed to write another Doctor Who story again and Billie Piper should just not ever be allowed to just be again, anywhere, full stop. This should take five minutes if I dawdle My Lords and Ladies. The show has clearly not improved at all since the first instalment of Mister Davies' vision of a dumbed-down, over-budgeted, sex-romp through space. There is so much wrong with the program it's difficult to know where to start but I'll try to make some fairly general points and I can expand each gruelling week.
The show was so badly written with such a convoluted plot that only Davies (who is being worshipped as a sort of saviour by the desperate) could really be responsible for it. Why were the assassins dressed in disguise as Santas? Yet when the aliens arrive they do so as if they are re-enacting the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (which they were). Because some Santas firing beams fits the Xmas time slot and it looks good in a promo. The fact that it makes no sense hasn't even occurred to anyone I'm certain. The killer Xmas tree almost made me vomit and every word that issued from Piper's mouth, such dribble as "The Doctor's broken. Mum I miss him" actually did make me dry-reach.
Now my wife really enjoys watching me when I watch new Who. She tells me the expressions are the only entertaining thing going on at the time. The script was just so badly written (a rip off in parts of Parkin's The Dying Days yes, I am well-read, better than you could imagine, even in Who) that I almost felt like suing the ABC for wasting 50 minutes of my life, which I can never get back again. I honestly have never actually ever watched an episode of Doctor Who where I have never recognised at least one original idea. There were none. The real problem was of course it was about nothing. Absolutely nothing at all.
Now for the real griping. If Rose's menopausal and cheap Mother and her socially retarded ex-boyfriend aren't annoying enough as characters - not to mention Rose herself - we now seem to have a Doctor who looks like a private school prefect with the charisma of a dog. With Eccleston, we had a pale imitation of Tom Baker. Now what we have is Tennant doing Eccleston doing Baker. Davies is known to be a Baker zombie and the temptation to have Tennant try on a scarf... it just had to happen didn't it. We are after all looking into Davies' little mind, his little vision. "Right now he must be a happy little maniac!"
The really tragic thing is of course, the production technically is flawless. All that talent and money is just going to waste. I sometimes wonder what might happen if they put someone in charge who would employ somebody who can and is allowed to, write real science fiction and they televised it. No, the ratings wouldn't be as good to start with... all the morons would go back to Big Brother and Neighbours. But to be honest, I actually think there are more people out there that would watch something thoughtful and challenging if it was offered up than all the mental bimbos who will very soon get bored. In fact, you'll need to regenerate the Doctor at the end of every season and put him in a pair of board-shorts to keep them watching eventually.
What's truly shameful is the fan praise for this nonsense. Some have the smarts to just be quiet but others... really! I think what some need to do it to go back to the video cabinet and watch some real Doctor Who and then think about what is being served up. It is, quite simply, desecration. I can forgive kids who were not even born when the old series was taken out the back like ol' yella, but some of the guff I read from people my own age, who have been to University and lived a bit... I think the word deluded is an understatement. I've known what was coming since I first read Billie Piper was cast. I knew the BBC could never take it seriously, it's just a money-making exercise. The bubble will fall in on itself and when the cancellation comes as soon as the ratings start to fall, many of these people will crawl back to their Big Finish Audios and thumb through the odd New Adventure and then the recriminations will come. It ain't gonna be pretty.
Still, you know what? At least my eight year old enjoyed it. He started jumping around pretending to sword fight and had to be sent out of the room before he impaled somebody. That's quite a demographic, eight year olds and teenage girls... what an achievement. To purge myself of the shame of having watched it I immediately went and reviewed a selection of classic Who over the space of a couple of days. Y'know, good old fashioned television, made in the days when it was assumed you had a greater attention span than a goldfish and more brains than a paramecium.
Oh and here comes the trailer for next week. Do we have any indication if there might be a plot? No: "the new Doctor's sexy, a lady killer". SHOT: Piper snogging Tennant. The case for the prosecution rests.
A Review by Donna Bratley 21/9/06
I watched Series One of the new Doctor Who. Week in, week out. Quite enjoyed a lot of it But one thing really bothered me.
I couldn't warm to the Doctor. The whole Mickey/Ricky thing was petulant, not funny; from the first reference to "stupid apes" right back in Rose, I wondered where humanity's friend had gone. It seemed like the warmth, the natural eccentricity I used to love was forgotten.
And when, really, was he anything more than a time-travelling chauffeur, taking Rose to a place/time where her superior common sense and interpersonal skills could be displayed?
So, I came to The Christmas Invasion with expectations lowered. And finished grinning from ear to ear.
OK, so there was too much of Rose panicking; too much whining on Mum's shoulder. But am I the only one who enjoyed seeing her "equal" status debunked? This is a teenage shop assistant. She can't match the Doctor, and, aboard the Sycorax ship, she knows it. Mind you, that she even managed to speak in that intimidating bowl of a spaceship impressed me. Rose has got guts, beneath the blather, and Billie Piper excels when she's allowed to display them.
I adored the immediate lead-up to the Doctor's reappearance. The translation suddenly superfluous, Rose turns, and BANG! The Doctor is back, taking charge, taking the mick with a lovely line in self-deprecating humour, ambling around, assessing the situation while keeping the enemy off guard, turning on a penny when he needs to get tough. I decided I was going to like David Tennant's Doctor from his very first scene (getting names right helps), and that gleeful monologue settled it. Russell T Davies gets some criticism, mostly deserved in my opinion, for plots full of holes, but he can certainly write character. The Tenth Doctor fizzes with it from his unfortunately delayed entrance, and he carries the rest of the story along on it.
The confrontation between former allies at the end is interesting. I can't imagine any political leader of any nation who wouldn't have followed the Harriet Jones route; I probably would myself, but that doesn't make it right. And who'll give the Doctor's guarantee to the Earth to the rest of the universe?
The Sycorax were a distinct improvement on previous Russell T Davies monsters (Slitheen, anyone?) and I especially liked their mediaeval-warrior type robes. Giving them a straightforward motivation helped, and their ship was genuinely impressive, inside and out. That its shadow should be cast across the statues of two famous British fighting men in Churchill and Nelson made me smile. What would they have done in Harriet's shoes?
On top of all that script held together pretty well. I only cringed once, at a very old so-called joke in the pre-credits sequence, and the repetition of one person's greeting at least had a clever pay-off. I refuse to pick over an episode's bones, and I don't need half an hour of background exposition on every new alien we meet; it spoils the fun. Still, where there's a gaping lack of sense, it ruins all the good (I'm thinking Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways, which still makes me tug out hair in handfuls). The Christmas Invasion fits as well together as science fiction drama needs to.
Overall, it's good value, with enough "Oh, no!" moments, humour and storyline to compensate for the Tyler domestics at the start, and an ending that made me cheer. David Tennant is brilliant, dispelling all my doubts about his being too young and too good-looking to carry off the part. Billie Piper - I'm ashamed to remember how my heart sank at the news of her casting! Solid support, especially from the superb Penelope Wilton, and clear, intelligent direction from James Hawes. 8.5 out of 10, and 10 for the "Coming soon" trailer.
A Review by David Rosenthal 14/2/07
The Christmas Invasion opens with the TARDIS crash landing on Earth. Mickey and Jackie see it crash land, the new Doctor David Tennant comes out, along with Rose, and he collapes. For much of the episode Tennant is in a bed. This was done in Spearhead in Space as well. This happens to great effect. Sycorax aliens who look like they came out of Lord of the Rings threaten the Prime Minister and threaten to conquer the whole world. Luckily, the Doctor comes out of the TARDIS and threatens the Sycorax leader to a fight.
David Tennant is truly a great fantastic, and amazing Doctor. When he comes out of the TARDIS you know he is just not a Doctor but the Doctor. He convinces me much more then Eccleston. He is cheery and friendly and serious when he needs to be. The Doctor throws an apple at the Sycorax and he says "No Second Chances; that's the kind of man I am." He says to the aliens this planet is defended. They leave but the Prime Minister orders the destruction of the spaceship. The Doctor says he can bring her down with one single word. And he does. After they celebrate and have christmas dinner the people believe she is unfit to be Prime Minister. Mickey, Jackie, Rose and the Doctor all go outside. The Doctor shows her a star. He says the new adventures will be fantastic.
This was a fantastic adventure. Believable-looking spaceship, excellent acting, especially from Tennant. 9.5/10
Yes, I know who you are by Evan Weston 15/10/13
This episode was the first genuine surprise in my Doctor Who retrospective. Aliens of London/World War Three was slightly better than I'd remembered, and The Long Game was a little bit worse, but there hasn't been a story yet that's been significantly better or worse on a second viewing. That is, until now. I was expecting to give The Christmas Invasion somewhere around a C+, but upon seeing it a second time, I remembered how effective this story really is. It's not going to blow you away with complexity or brilliant storytelling or weighty themes, and it's certainly not a great story in that sense, but The Christmas Invasion is a lot like that mild Series 1 surprise Aliens of London/World War Three in that it's an effective Earth-bound blockbuster.
The story's success hinges on an extremely interesting choice that, I think, helps more than hurts the story. This, of course, is the decision to sideline David Tennant for most of the episode's first 40 minutes. Everyone tuned in to see the new Tenth Doctor in action, but Tennant is on screen for a grand total of four of the first 40 minutes. He spends most of the episode out of commission, sleeping away in the Tylers' guest bedroom, leaving the heavy lifting up to the other characters. This choice ends up doing two things: the first 40 minutes amount to a somewhat successful but very slow build-up that feels jerky and way too measured, but the final 20 minutes are a smashing, satisfying climax that leave the viewer hungry for more.
Let's discuss the build-up first. Rose and the Tenth Doctor land back at the Powell Estate just in time for the Time Lord to collapse onto the pavement. Then everybody gets back together and... wow, I don't even remember what happens. I think there were some nice character moments, and more hemming and hawing from Mickey about him being there and the Doctor being unreliable. We also get some plot set-up in the form of Penelope Wilton's now-Prime Minister Harriet Jones and her Guinevere One space probe, which gets swallowed up by a big rock-thing. The first 15 minutes are really, really slow. This isn't to say they aren't entertaining; they just don't really have a point. Even once Rose and Mickey get attacked by "pilot fish", which seem to exist just so that something happens in the first half hour and it's Christmas-related, you never feel like the episode is going anywhere. A lot of that has to do with Tennant being removed from the plot, but Billie Piper, Noel Clarke and Camille Coduri are capable actors. It's really the script that lets us down. Even Tennant's first sequence requires him to both save the other principals' lives and then give us necessary plot exposition before he falls back asleep, unneeded.
Of course, things pick up from here. Once Guinevere One goes missing, we spend most of the next 15 minutes with Harriet Jones are her friends at UNIT headquarters. Penelope Wilton is wonderful, as usual. Her prime minister (with the always-hilarious "yes, I know who you are" joke following swiftly behind) is a strong-willed woman who is just fun to watch on screen. She's clearly meant to be Margaret Thatcher, no more so than at the end of the story, a moment which we'll get to later. The other members of UNIT are solid, but uninteresting, though I will briefly applaud Daniel Evans' restrained and dignified performance as Dr. Llewellyn. It feels a lot like an episode of 24 at this stage, with all the running around HQ and the alien translator software and such. The villainous Sycorax also make their first appearance in this sequence, and they are intriguing, if not particularly frightening.
The kicker, and when I realized the episode was better than I remembered, was the scene in which all the A-positives stand out on ledges. Davies and the production crew were given a much larger budget for the Christmas special than they were for a regular Series 1 episode, and the funds are on full display here, making the crisis really seem worldwide for once. It's nice to see Davies have the means to pull off his always-massive scale, and while at times later in the series he would go way overboard, it works nicely here. You genuinely believe what's going on, and the horrified reactions of the loved ones, especially Rose's neighbor, raise the stakes even higher. Soon enough, we're off to the spaceship itself, and Llewellyn and Major Blake are dead. The TARDIS ends up on the ship too (conveniently without Jackie), and then we get our big moment.
"Did you miss me?"
David Tennant's first full scene as the Doctor is an absolute showstopper. He rips the script to shreds, chewing and salivating over every line as he gums over "big threatening button" and the like. He's totally, completely captivating, and a scene like this was the only way anyone was going to get over Christopher Eccleston's fabulous Ninth Doctor. Then of course comes the big sword fight, and the resolution seems a little hard to believe - if the Sycorax would break the law in order to take over the Earth, why would they leave after the Doctor dropped one of them off the side of the spaceship? Further in that vein, the Sycorax are exceedingly weak bad guys, blood control notwithstanding. They serve no purpose other than to be evil and red and nasty, and their weakness makes the episode feel like a total throwaway in terms of plot significance. Still, the sequence is excellent, and Tennant's performance blows you away like a cannon.
Of course, there are some figuring-out-the-character moments. The Tenth Doctor is almost never as brutal again as he is here, heartlessly killing the Sycorax leader without a thought. He also brings down the Jones government in a way that both seems out of character and not really necessary. The scene reminded me again of Aliens of London/World War Three, but not in a good way. That story attempted some sort of social commentary about jingoism and the Iraq War, but I decided not to go into it because it didn't detract from the plot. Here, it does, by turning Jones into an antagonist in the final five minutes. I understand that we're setting up Torchwood and all that, and maybe this is Davies trying to inject some meaning into a fun but ultimately very light story, but Harriet Jones' character deserved better. Of course, Wilton still pulls it off, with her emotional and desperate "What did he say?!" ringing through the screen.
Still, the episode leaves you feeling great about David Tennant's future with Doctor Who, and it's an effective blockbuster on its own. Davies' stand-alone Christmas specials were never great, but this one is damn entertaining, and while it starts slow and there's nothing in it that makes you feel like anything of significance really happened, The Christmas Invasion accomplishes its goals in an interesting and exciting way.