Short Out The Time Differential (A Christmas Carol)

(62 comments)

In this scene, Clara is cleverly disguised as a carrot.
It’s December 25th, 2010. This year it’s The X-Factor setting the Christmas #1 again with “When We Collide,” with Take That, The Black Eyed Peas, and Rihanna also charting, the latter twice. In news, since we said goodbye to Sarah Jane Smith researchers at CERN captured antimatter for a sixth of a second, the Eurozone bailed Ireland out, Wikileaks released a quarter-million American diplomatic cables, and a street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Tunisia, setting off a wave of protests that would eventually jump to several other countries and become known as the Arab Spring. 

While on television, Steven Moffat has his first Christmas special. In some ways, at least, A Christmas Carol seems designed to confound expectations. In hindsight this seems like Moffat starting the 2011 run of Doctor Who as he meant to go on, although at the time it just seemed surprising. Russell T Davies had often made Christmas specials slightly offset from their seasons, typically through the use of guest companions, but the stories tended to be about the larger emotional arc of Doctor Who. The Christmas Invasion, of course, wasn’t offset at all, instead being in every sense the first episode of Season Two. The Runaway Bride is largely about dealing with Rose’s departure. Voyage of the Damned is less enmeshed in its immediate context, but then, it doesn’t really have any context beyond “Kylie.” And The Next Doctor is firmly about the denouement of the Tennant years.

A Christmas Carol, on the other hand, has nothing whatsoever to do with anything going on around it save for its trick for moving Amy and Rory to supporting roles. Actually, that’s not quite true. Little details flit about and haunt the narrative - the emphasis on the word “silence” in the story’s bespoke pop song, for instance, and the way in which the ending reads in light of the whole “Doctor’s death” plotline. But these details don’t even connect to anything - they just add a slightly unsettling pall to the entire affair for the sorts of obsessives who might notice them. For the most part, this is what it appears to be: an almost entirely bespoke Christmas special that unabashedly and unsubtly pulls its entire structure from the single most recognizable Christmas story in all of literature and, for that matter, television/film.

This gets at the other significant shift since the Davies era. Davies did Christmas specials in which Christmas was essentially a bit of decoration. The extent to which Christmas matters to a given story varies a bit, but the truth is that any of the Davies-era Christmas specials could have been done as non-Christmas episodes with only a minimum of changes. This story, however, is inconceivable in any context other than Christmas. It’s not just a story set at Christmas, it’s a story that’s very much about Christmas, and, more broadly, about Christmas stories. 

In terms of the overall health of the show, it’s a masterstroke. Season Five, for reasons having essentially nothing to do with its own qualities or, for that matter, popularity steadily declined in the ratings, going out with a slightly unnerving whimper. It was, in other words, a very sane time to use the enlarged audience that comes with a Christmas special to do what Vampires of Venice aimed to do: provide a straightforward entry point that put the show’s best foot forward and announced “here’s what we’re doing these days” to an audience that could be assumed to be broadly interested in Doctor Who but for whatever reason a bit apathetic about actually watching it. 

But in all of this it’s easy to understate the bravado involved. In tackling A Christmas Carol straight on in this manner. It does, after all, set Doctor Who up to directly compare itself to both the Disney and Looney Tunes casts, Sesame Street, the Muppets, and a host of more serious adaptations. This is very, very well-worn ground, on which it would seem near impossible for Doctor Who to distinguish itself. It would be like Doctor Who taking on Star Trek, which, notably, it does here more or less for a sight gag. Which more or less sums up this story: it’s thoroughly, imperiously confident that it can deliver what it wants to.

Part of it is that the story is quietly set up to play to all of the show’s strengths. Matt Smith’s Doctor is foregrounded with the first bit of writing to be planned out entirely after everyone had seen his performance, and so he gets loads of content that’s carefully tailored to him. Suddenly the awkward “the Doctor has zero understanding of girls” stuff skyrockets, because Smith plays that in a way Tennant never could. The Doctor is suddenly tumbling out of fireplaces, and the episode luxuriates in the sequence, giving Smith several minutes of pure showboating. 

But beyond that, the writing is there to back it all up. It’s one of those things that is screamingly obvious once you’ve seen it done, but the iconography of a Christmas episode plays to Moffat’s strengths, giving him a platform where his instincts towards the “fairy tale” are perfectly justified. The appropriation of a structure from Dickens lets the more textual, literary tone that the show has developed over 2010 express itself comfortably. And, perhaps most importantly, the tone of a Christmas special means that Moffat gets to be funny. Moffat is, as ever, very good at being funny. And he absolutely packs it in here - jokes are piled high, but more to the point, piled deep, crammed into little nooks and crannies of scenes such that the story rewards rewatching because it’s almost certain that something new will jump out at you. 

And, of course, there’s the casting. Katherine Jenkins is not an enormously strong actress, but her role is clearly written so that she doesn’t have to be in order to get it work, and what it does require - charm and beauty - she has in spades. But of course the real star is Michael Gambon. The series’ capacity for stunt casting is by 2010 quite solid, so it can’t really be called a surprise anymore that it can get an actor of Gambon’s quality and reputation, but this is one of the most magnificently well-honed bits of stunt casting the show has done. Gambon has two very obvious qualities that he brings. First, he’s an obviously good fit for the Ebeneezer Scrooge role. Second, he’s, somewhat astonishingly, never actually played it (although he did voice the Ghost of Christmas Present in an execrable 2001 version). 

And, of course, the script gives him material that he can get his teeth into, letting him flit from drama to melodrama with aplomb. One minute he’s being an over the top Iain Duncan Smith parody, the next he’s selling “a man who’s having his memories changed,” then he gets to be the viewer behind the sofa shouting at the Doctor to be careful, and after that he’s wordlessly communicating all the consequences of the Doctor’s changes to his life as he weeps over old photographs. When the script requires him to be over the top he rises to it, but equally important, if not moreso, is the way that he can handle things like the “how do I choose what day” material, where going over the top even a little bit would kill the entire episode stone dead. 

The result marks a significant shift in the goals of the show. The Davies era was full of emotional storytelling, but in almost every case it was about taking ordinary emotions and setting them in an epic, sci-fi context. This story, however, asks something very different: the audience is expected to learn to empathize with Kazran as he experiences fundamentally bizarre things that are outside the realm of human experience. The question of when you choose to spend your last day with the woman you love is one that barely has a reference point in human experience. More even than “what is it like to be the last of your kind,” which is really just a special case of loneliness, the bizarre and isolating power that Kazran has is something that is genuinely uncanny. This reflects a fundamental shift in the series. Davies elevated common emotion and drama to the epic. Moffat, on the other hand, takes austere and unfathomable circumstances and makes them human. And with Gambon he has an actor who can sell that impeccably.

Underneath this is a structure Moffat is well suited to. More than a few people have noted that the underlying premise of this story is recycled from his Virgin-era short story “Continuity Errors,” but this ignores the way in which Moffat layers the script with carefully planted setups and revelations. The fact that the isomorphic controls are one giant feint is clever enough, but it’s one of several things that are slyly flagged and built to. Most notable is the use of Laurence Belcher’s child Kazran for the payoff of the Ghost of Christmas Future section, having Kazran shoot down the traditional depiction of that as insufficient only to have the concept reinterpreted brilliantly. 

Which brings us inevitably to all the timey-wimey stuff. This is, of course, a structure Moffat is already skilled at, having done non-linear narratives in practically every show he’d written prior to Doctor Who. The step from that to larking about with time paradoxes is ultimately tiny. It’s not quite one of Moffat’s puzzleboxes, but the underlying skills are the same. With the structure of the story inherited from Dickens, the story largely stops being about “how will the Doctor save Amy and Rory” and rather becomes “how will the Doctor redeem Kazran.” And the usual trick at the heart of a nonlinear story - building everything around an unrevealed central moment such that the climax clicks everything around it into place - gets to work with a new spin, letting its narrative strands come together in a more unexpected way (and, notably, one free from having to be excessively telegraphed, since it is ultimately a rewriting of time). 

As with The Eleventh Hour, this is a story that has a job that it has to do perfectly, and as with The Eleventh Hour it strides out with considerable confidence and finesse and does exactly that. It has to show that this version of Doctor Who has new tricks that it can play, and it does just that. Where The Eleventh Hour was all about superficially changing nothing while quietly shifting some fundamental aspects of the show, this is about showing that Doctor Who has received a more or less complete overhaul. Put it side by side with The End of Time Part One and it looks like a completely different show. 

But one consequence of following Davies, and in particular of picking up just after the show’s all-time peak in popularity is that the Moffat era never really has an imperial phase. No matter what he does, Moffat cannot possibly hit any higher than “the show is still very good.” It was never going to have a period where everything it touched turned to gold and it felt like the future of television. Except, perhaps, right here. This quintet of episodes directed by Toby Haynes that we are now at the midpoint of are particularly strong, and, spread out as they are, offer a few months in which the show seemed to buzz with potential. The nature of any imperial phase is, of course, to end. But right here, right now, Doctor Who truly seemed like an absolutely extraordinary show. Certainly it had an impact on me - this is pretty much the moment I decided to pull the trigger and embark on the self-evidently ludicrous plan of adding a Doctor Who blog to a writing schedule that was already full to bursting with The Nintendo Project


And it’s easy to see why. A Christmas Carol combines a determination to do new things with a confidence that it can make them all work, and for sixty-one minutes it does exactly that. It’s not quite right to call it another imperial phase, because that’s clearly not the point at this juncture. This is something more interesting: a show that has the potential and ability to, on its day, be absolutely extraordinary. The good faith that the Moffat era accrues here will see it through no shortage of dodgy moments over the next two seasons. By this point it’s clear that the Moffat era can and will have moments where it turns up and is unabashedly the best damn thing on television. Yes, it’s going to falter - the sheer quality of this run of five episodes couldn’t possibly be sustained anyway. But failing at something hard and brave is an altogether tolerable sort of failure. Especially when you succeed just as often as you land on your face. 

Comments

Jarl 2 years, 9 months ago

Ah, so this is where the Pop Between Realities on the Tardis Eruditorium comes in :D

Or, failing that, Marble Hornets :D

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Ombund 2 years, 9 months ago

I have to say that this is possibly my favourite Matt Smith episode, possibly Moffat's best script and basically a perfect episode. I've watched it at least once every Christmas since it's aired and I can't see myself stopping that tradition anytime soon. Smith and Gambon are magnificent, the art design is some of the best the show has ever had and this was where I properly fell in love with Doctor Who. I'd watched all the previous RTD series as they aired but had never really considered buying them on DVD or anything like that; but after A Christmas Carol came along, following on from the superb series 5, that was the moment I decided to get all the DVDs, start watching classic Who and basically become a full-on fanboy.

I mentioned this before on the post for The Lodger but I think that in many ways A Christmas Carol is the perfect bellwether episode of the Moffat/Smith Who. I think that if you don't get this episode you're never going to get what they were trying to achieve in this era and I'm afraid the show as it currently is just isn't for you. The timey-wimey plot, fairy-tale aesthetic, jokes and as Phil says, its ability to take "austere and unfathomable circumstances and makes them human", are what sets this era apart for me and they're all present in their purest, most accomplished form in A Christmas Carol.

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Steven 2 years, 9 months ago

I quite genuinely think this is the best episode of Doctor Who. Ever.

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elvwood 2 years, 9 months ago

This is my favourite Christmas special by far, and until now I hadn't pinpointed why (though I had figured that it was something to do with it actually being a Christmas story rather than just set at Christmas). Your analysis helped me understand in more detail, so thanks!

Oh, and it now gets bonus points for prompting the creation of the TARDIS Eruditorum...

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Aylwin 2 years, 9 months ago

Yes indeed.

Nothing to add except that when on the one hand you have the writer who has made the first serious attempt to introduce the concept of time-travel into Doctor Who, and who has a brief to write a Christmas story, and on the other you have an immensely famous Christmas story about a man being shown his past, present and future and responding to that by changing his destiny...well, you would have had trouble finding a bookie who would accept a bet on this happening.

Oh, and perhaps to ask what DO you call it when you don't have legs but you're taking a run-up?

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John Callaghan 2 years, 9 months ago

Agreed. For me, this is the high tide-mark of all Who. Nice analysis.

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Richard Pugree 2 years, 9 months ago

I love this episode, it's tremendous fun and brilliantly made and I agree with most of what is said here. But I'm surprised that there was no mention in this otherwise great essay, Philip, about the worrying ethics behind the Doctor's forcible violation of this Kazran's past, memories and character, against his express wishes.
Is forcibly redeeming the villain by changing his past better than beating the villain in a more conventional way (albeit one which might often result in his death)?

There seems to be a stark difference between the Doctor warning the villain and giving them a choice, the villain ignoring this warning and making their choice and the Doctor then defeating them somehow, when compared to the Doctor warning them and giving them a choice, the villain ignoring the warning and making their choice, and then the Doctor changing their past and thus their current character, against their wishes, to ensure that they choose the other option.

There's a very uncomfortable removal of 'giving the baddy one last chance to do the right thing' here. The Doctor strips Kazran of that ability to make his own decision. This would have been fine if there was at least some suggestion in the episode that what the Doctor did was morally dubious, but if there was I don't remember it.

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 9 months ago

I have issues with this, but it does tie into A Good Man Goes to War, where he gets pulled up for basically being a dick, "falling so very low", being a warrior, etc etc.

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 9 months ago

I don't get the love for this story, to be honest. None of the Moff Christmas specials have been particularly memorable or rewatchable for me.

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David Anderson 2 years, 9 months ago

I suppose there are two plausible defences of the Doctor's actions. The first is that you can't point to any one specific action of the Doctor that is taking away Kazran's choices or forcing Kazran to make a choice. The Doctor doesn't do anything to the younger Kazran without the younger Kazran's consent. The second thing is that, as with Phil's arguments over the moral dilemmas of altering history, altering somebody's past to change their future character isn't actually possible so the ethical issues arising from it are unclear.

If you want a story that really takes the Doctor to task for this kind of thing, you're looking for The Girl Who Waited.

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David Anderson 2 years, 9 months ago

The other question not raised in the essay is that Jenkins' character is somewhat of a manic pixie dream girl in a bad way (where bad way means that her character is subordinate to the effects she has on the male characters). The obvious response to 'how do you decide when to spend your last day with the woman you love' is 'you let her decide' - Chaucer in the Middle Ages has got that. Having said that, when I rewatched it a couple of weeks ago I found that Jenkins' character does have somewhat more agency than I remembered. Still not the first story you'd point to if defending Moffat from the sexism charge.

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EclecticDave 2 years, 9 months ago

Another way to read it is that it was Kazran's abusive father that originally took his choices away and all the Doctor is doing is restoring them.

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Richard Pugree 2 years, 9 months ago

When I was a child I asked my dad if I was allowed a yoghurt; he said no. I then went and asked my mum who said yes. When my dad saw me eating the yoghurt and began to tell me off countered that mum had said it was ok. He, quite rightly, said that since he had already said no, I shouldn't have then asked my mum.

The fact that young Kazran consents doesn't alter the fact that older Kazran said no first, so the Doctor shouldn't have even been asking young Kazran if he was allowed a yoghurt.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 9 months ago

Why would the Doctor ask for yogurt? He doesn't even like yogurt. It's just stuff with bits in it.

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 9 months ago

I agree with you Richard. As soon as the Doctor even so much as thought of going back on Kazran's timeline, he was flat out wrong. I would've liked to see some immediate consequence to this, with older Kazran at the very least railing against the Doc, or even Amy/Rory shouting him down. Yes, desperation, maybe there was no other way, but don't just let the Doctor get away with it. Mind you, that's the least worst thing the Eleventh Doctor does. From now on, he'll be making stupid erection jokes, hiding in women's skirts/dresses, leering over Clara...

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David Ainsworth 2 years, 9 months ago

The mom/dad logic might work if you asked your mom if you could save the lives of a planeload of people after your father said you couldn't. Under those circumstances, playing authority games doesn't seem so bad.

The time-traveller question here is the degree to which an older version of a person ought to have authority over the choices made by a younger version. Whatever one might think in the abstract, this series has pretty reliably endorsed the younger version's authority, though that's largely driven by the paradoxical "First Doctor is the oldest" phenomenon.

From the Doctor's perspective, any person he meets (who isn't about to die) has a future self who will be changed by any intervention, including a simple conversation. Requiring the older versions to consent before changing current circumstances would seem a ridiculously high burden. Are we upset that the Doctor gets involved in The Invasion because doing so changes the Brig's future self without his consent?

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Richard Pugree 2 years, 9 months ago

True, but in this case it's not about requiring consent from an older version before interacting with the younger version. It's about interacting with the younger version after expressly being told not to by the older version. The Doctor can interact with people however he like - but when he's already met someone who tells him not to do something, to then deliberately go back in time to do it to that persons younger self is troubling. My issue isn't with a young/old hierarchy, it's that one version has already said no. It doesn't so much matter whether its the older or younger version. It's not about the Doctor requiring consent of the older, so much as it is about that consent having already been withdrawn.

That this may have been the only way to save the planeload of people is fine, I just would have liked to have seen a little acknowledgement that it's pretty dodgy ground, is all.

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Daru 2 years, 9 months ago

I adore this story, not just in the sense of the plot but as you point out Phil, how it is used to set up the proper nature of Moffat's vision of Who and really takes on tackling the plot as coming directly from time travel.

The Christmas after my partner and I re-watched this one prior to seeing The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe. A Christmas Carol hit us deeply with real emotional clout and we felt very moved, but TDtWatW sadly felt rather empty and emotionally flat in comparison.

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David Anderson 2 years, 9 months ago

I feel that there are disanalogies with going behind one parent's back to appeal to the other parent.
Leaving some of the disanalogies out of the way: I think it would take the analogy closer if the child tells the second parent what the first parent said; and also the second parent then decides that the first person wasn't entitled to make the decision alone.
The decisive element of the Doctor's manipulations is when the Doctor shows younger Kazran older Kazran and asks, do you want to become this person?

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TheSmilingStallionInn 2 years, 9 months ago

True, she has more agency in the sense that she refrained from sharing information with the Doctor and Kazan about her circumstances, i.e. she was slowly dying and only had a few days left. So in a sense, she chose to share her last days with the Doctor and Kazan every Christmas, traveling and eventually seeing her family again. If she had shared that information with them sooner, they might have been a little more hesitant about waking her up every Christmas and spending time with her. But she chose not to tell them, apparently preferring it this way.

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Bennett 2 years, 9 months ago

Put me down as another one absolutely smitten with this episode. I've watched it every midwinter since, and it just gets deeper and richer and more hilarious and more heart-rending every time. It could very well be my favourite ever episode, if the last four years of regularly dispersed brilliance hadn't made ranking them impossible.

Most of the reasons I adore it are explicated with typical finesse in the essay. So I'll just note a few more that weren't mentioned or were brushed past, because I never tire of talking about how damn good this episode is.

It might just be me but I think the casting and performance of Kazran at all three ages was amazing. It isn't easy being put alongside an actor like Gambon, but both Belcher and Horn* stand and deliver. Chalk up another excellent child role for the Moffat era.

Toby Haynes also deserves a lot of praise. A script this dense could have easily been muddled by the wrong hands, but Haynes is such a deft storyteller in his own right that his direction is both sympathetic to it, and also enhances it - enthusing its edges with additional moments of lyrical beauty and pathos.

And then there's the moment where the episode went from beautiful and witty to suprising and spellbinding - when the "appropriation of a structure from Dickens" was delegated to the Doctor himself and made diegetic. The scene where the Doctor realises he can take the well-known Christmas story and weaponise it defied every expectation I had coming into the story. In one masterstroke it sets the story apart from the million other versions of the story (including the definitive 1992 film), it navigates the fact that A Christmas Carol has been confirmed to exist in the Whoniverse, and it makes all the obligatory knowing winks to the original story work better than they ever have - because the characters know they are making knowing winks. That 'trick' could have been enough to fill the whole story, but Moffat doesn't stop there. He doesn't even pause.

As Phil noted, the timing of this story was essential. To modern eyes, Doctor Who is a show six years in. It is difficult for a modern show to run that long without its audience becoming jaded due to the second law of tele-dynamics (apathy increases). That's why so many shows that reach this stage feel the need to 'jump the shark' just to sustain interest.

But here we discover, to our inexpressible joy, that Doctor Who isn't the type of show that jumps the shark. Instead, it hitches it with reins and takes it for a sleigh-ride.

I couldn't have asked Jeff himself for a better gift. Best. Christmas. Ever.

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Adam Riggio 2 years, 9 months ago

I understand the central concept of this whole debate over whether the Doctor has the right to change someone's personality through timeline manipulation as he does here as something like this. Does my right to the autonomy to be a bastard trump the immensely destructive effects of my bastardly behaviour? The Doctor here answers, No.

The ethical question here doesn't revolve around one's freedom of choice. The Doctor could have treated Kazran as a straight villain and come up with some more directly violent way to commandeer the atmospheric controls, either ruining or killing him in the process. Looking at the other examples of characters we meet who are rather like Kazran in the history of Doctor Who, that would be the normal course of events. But instead, the Doctor tries a more convoluted, more difficult, much stranger new experiment: He tries to make Kazran a better person, changing particular pivotal events in his life so that his character is better disposed to doing the right thing on his own.

In this sense, A Christmas Carol takes an old Davies adage about the Doctor to its most serious extent. It's the most extreme statement yet of Davies' idea that "the Doctor makes people better." Not just a shopgirl or a nurse, but the figure who has already been clearly identified as THE VILLAIN OF THE STORY.

The central moment comes when the bitter, jaded Kazran meets his younger self, and faces just how ethically horrifying he has become in the fear and repugnance of his own younger self. If a child could see the villain he would become, he would want to change his life so that he did not become so irredeemable. The Doctor provides that shot at retroactive redemption.

Given Kazran's profound ethical transformation, I don't think it's appropriate to discuss how immoral the Doctor was in supposedly taking away Kazran's choice to be a villain. The Doctor actually gave Kazran an opportunity to become a better person than he ever was before. That was the only choice that really matters.

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Spacewarp 2 years, 9 months ago

I think one has to remember that this is first and foremost a television programme designed to entertain. If there's room in there for a moral message then by all means. But when the moral message could flat out damage the entertainment value of the programme, I don't think so. The whole tone of this special is, as Phil has pointed out, Fun. Yes the Doctor is messing with Kazran's time-line, but he's doing it in a funny way, with lots of slapstick, gurning, arm-waving and cheeky one-liners. If you even for a moment acknowledge the questionable morality of this you have to either have the Doctor treating the process with a lot more gravitas (completely wasting Smith's comic ability and making the programme a lot more duller), or you have him nodding sagely at the moral message and then choosing to ignore it. In the first case things get a lot less fun. In the second case the Doctor looks like an arrogant insensitive goon.

I'm sure Moffat also realised this while writing it. This Doctor is very much his creation and much of his success is down to the writers (particularly in Series 6 and 7) playing to Smith's strengths.

As to the issue of going against Kazran's wishes to save lives, that isn't very actively acknowledged either, but the moral ambiguity there is so vanishingly small that the audience accepts it as a given.

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UrsulaL 2 years, 9 months ago

You let her decide.

Plus, if you're the most powerful man on the planet, you use your resources to see if there is medical care available for her condition - better resources than her impoverished family could afford.

And once you have control of your father's business, you forgive her family's debt, and in her honor, work to make right the injustice your father perpetrated against countless families and people in the deep-freeze.

That's what makes it hard to see Kazran as eventually redeemed. He never actually makes right the horrible wrongs he's perpetrated.

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Spoilers Below 2 years, 9 months ago

In order to save the crashing space plane, the Doctor, instead of killing his way through corridor after corridor of henchmen to confront the villain and kill him as well, then hack the computer, rewire the weather control system, and land the plane on the roof of a building to great applause like your usual action hero, the Doctor goes back in time, becomes the villain's only friend, introduces the villain to the love of his life, and convinces him to let the plane land by showing him as a child what a monster he'd grow up to be, that'd he become just like the father who beat him, if he let the people on the plane die simply because he was a selfish bastard. The villain learns. He lets the plane land.

If that's not Doctor Who, then I don't know what is.

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Nyq Only 2 years, 9 months ago

I think it is fair to regard the Doctor's actions as an ethical risk. The consent aspect doesn't quite work because it isn't truly informed consent because 1. it starts when Kazran is a child (and that does have a creepy aspect when you think about it) and 2. the Doctor doesn't really let Kazran know what he is up to.
However we know that the Doctor is at least partly consequentialist in his morality and as people have pointed out worse actions (violence, killing) are justified in sci-fi/action plots for less stakes. Secondly looked at narrowly in each time period the Doctor acts largely ethically it is only the broader purpose of his scheme that raises the ethical problems.

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Triturus 2 years, 9 months ago

UrsulaL
That's what makes it hard to see Kazran as eventually redeemed. He never actually makes right the horrible wrongs he's perpetrated.

To be fair to Kazran, who's to say he didn't do all that after his last shark-ride with Abigail?

Although I agree it would have been preferable to make that obvious in the show itself. Just a line of dialogue would have done. I like this episode a great deal, but the unresolved fate of the folks in the deep freeze does bother me a bit.

The doctor has such a great line earlier: "Nobody important? Blimey, that's amazing. You know that in nine hundred years of time and space and I've never met anybody who wasn't important before." I'd have liked it if they had followed that up with something at the end acknowledging that the other frozen people would be rescued too.

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Triturus 2 years, 9 months ago

But here we discover, to our inexpressible joy, that Doctor Who isn't the type of show that jumps the shark. Instead, it hitches it with reins and takes it for a sleigh-ride.

Heh. Wonderful! *doffs cap*

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Triturus 2 years, 9 months ago

Spoilers Below

Very well put.

Although there's always the Saward version of this story to consider. The doctor walks slowly from the Tardis to Kazran's house while a load of mercenaries massacre each other. He arrives just in time to say "there should have been another way", sighs, and goes fishing.

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mengu 2 years, 9 months ago

AMY: You know the Doctor.
SARDICK: How do I? I never met him before tonight. Now I seem to have known him all my life. How? Why?
AMY: You're the only person who can let that ship land. He was trying to turn you into a nicer person. And he was trying to do it nicely.
SARDICK: He's changed my past, my whole life.
AMY: Time can be rewritten.
SARDICK: You tell the Doctor. Tell him from me, people can't.
(Sardick walks through the holograms, which vanish, to a particular cryochamber.)
AMY: That's Abigail?
SARDICK: I would never have known her if the Doctor hadn't changed the course of my whole life to suit himself.

I think the most interesting aspect of the morality debate of the Doctor changing someone's past to rewrite is that actually, the Doctor *can't*. Ultimately the only person who can change Kazran as a person is Kazran himself. Someone else trying isn't merely unethical, it's impossible. (which is stronger because it's fiction so the rules are constructed etc etc) The Doctor lets Kazran see, lets him choose what kind of person he wants to be.

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David Anderson 2 years, 9 months ago

I think the best defence that could be mounted for this question is that when Kazran asks the Doctor, 'how do I decide?' we don't get the Doctor's answer. Instead, we get a scene cut to Abigail saying something along the lines of 'it's no use storing life up instead of living it'. So that you could argue that the answer, 'you let Abigail decide?' is implicitly given by the script rather than by any one character.

What's good about the 'I've never met anybody who wasn't important before,' line is that it would be tremendously corny if not for Smith's delivery, which makes it clear that the Doctor's real meaning is, 'I am beginning not to like you and that is not a good place for you to be.'

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encyclops 2 years, 9 months ago

Put it side by side with The End of Time Part One and it looks like a completely different show.

Too right. My review of this one after it aired began "Proper Who is dead."

This was one of two points where what I could expect from New Who finally clicked and I simultaneously became resigned to lower expectations and acclimated to higher ones, swapping out one way of viewing the show for another. (The other point was a more recent rewatch of "The Runaway Bride," in which I realized why I didn't have many favorite episodes of the new show -- it's not about plots, it's about character moments.)

So ultimately I liked this story, despite a few objections (the discussion above about all the people still locked in freezers being the biggest), even though in order to like it I had to change my idea of what I was watching and look for different things than I'd wanted from the show previously.

Of course, it gets followed up with a season that's actually not very much like it at all, but we'll come to that.

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Galadriel 2 years, 9 months ago

This episode tends to end up fairly high on Christmas episode polls, especially if the regeneration stories are put on other polls (fair enough, in my open). And it is absolutely beautiful and gorgeous.

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TheSmilingStallionInn 2 years, 9 months ago

Psst...my Doctor Who Magazine with the 50 Years poll results just came in the mail. Not to spoil things, but does anyone want me to share the results? Will you be discussing those, Dr. Sandifer?

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David Anderson 2 years, 8 months ago

I'd be interested in the top thirty or forty or so, and perhaps any other notable shifts in fan opinion. (Where is Enemy of the World these days, for instance?)

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dirkmalcolm.com 2 years, 8 months ago

@David Ainsworth "The mom/dad logic might work if you asked your mom if you could save the lives of a planeload of people after your father said you couldn't."

I think this was the original pitch for Man Of Steel...

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UrsulaL 2 years, 8 months ago

Triturus:
To be fair to Kazran, who's to say he didn't do all that after his last shark-ride with Abigail?

Except that Kazran was supposedly, in the end, reformed from childhood, when seeing his future self as an angry old man led the child to resolve to do better.

And he was supposedly so different that his father refused to give him control of the weather machine.

So he ought to have reformed and done better earlier in his life - rewriting his actions over decades, not just suddenly being different at the end of his life.

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David Anderson 2 years, 8 months ago

Two points: do we see anyone in suspended animation other than Abigail in the reformed timeline? Abigail's there because she'll die if she isn't.
Secondly, the reformed timeline is pretty inconsistent anyway (we may suppose the resulting inconsistencies are why the Doctor doesn't mess about with timelines often) e.g. Kazran thinks his father did hand over the controls to him; it's possible that anybody still in suspended animation is a leftover from the previous timeline.

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Alan 2 years, 8 months ago

Yeah, all the talk about "ethical implications" kind of fall by the wayside when the plot contrives to put the Doctor into a situation in which the only way to save thousands of people is to get the villain to do so voluntarily.

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Alan 2 years, 8 months ago

The best bit was the "ghost of Christmas future" twist which just left me speechless. There have been so many homages to A Christmas Carol, and the vast majority of them fall apart during that sequence. Because if you're as bitter and cynical and misanthropic as Scrooge was at that point, why would it possibly disturb you to learn that you're going to die alone and unloved? (The worst was Scrooged, in which the plot at the end depends on a guy who is producing a Scrooge TV special not knowing how the story ends.) So much better to bring Scrooge's younger self forward and let Scrooge see personally how much of a disappointment he is to his own more innocent self.

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Froborr 2 years, 8 months ago

This is the only Doctor Who Christmas special I'll willingly watch. It's on the *very* short list of Christmas specials of any kind I'll willingly watch (this, Invader Zim, Earthworm Jim, Hogfather). I just don't care for Christmas specials as a genre--though admittedly, they're slightly less grating and inescapable than the cesspool of annoyance that is Christmas music.

Anyway, for me this mostly comes down to the twist on the "ghost of Christmas future." As Alan notes above me, Scrooge is living alone and unloved and apparently okay with it, so why would dying that way bother him? I also disagree with the people who have ethical issues with it; old Kazran cannot give consent for his younger self as they are different people (this is why it's possible to change your mind about consenting--the consent you give in one time period is not binding in another), and anyway all the Doctor does to young Kazran is show him his future, which doesn't particularly seem like something that requires consent.

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 8 months ago

(Where is Enemy of the World these days, for instance?)

On my shelf :D

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TheSmilingStallionInn 2 years, 8 months ago

For your entertainment pleasure...the first forty of the First Fifty Years Doctor Who Magazine Poll.

The Day of the Doctor
Blink
Genesis of the Daleks
The Caves of Androzani
City of Death
The Talons of Weng Chiang
The Empty Child/Doctor Dances
Pyramids of Mars
Human Nature/Family of Blood
Remembrance of the Daleks
Robots of Death
The War Games
Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways
Terror of the Zygons
Dalek
The Web of Fear
The Eleventh Hour
Inferno
The Power of the Daleks
The Seeds of Doom
The Deadly Assassin
The Ark in Space
The Tomb of the Cybermen
Earthshock
The Five Doctors
The Curse of Fenric
Vincent and the Doctor
Spearhead From Space
The Girl in the Fireplace
The Green Death
Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead
Horror of Fang Rock
The Invasion
The Evil of the Daleks
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End
School Reunion
The Doctor’s Wife
The Daemons
Turn Left
The Name of the Doctor

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TheSmilingStallionInn 2 years, 8 months ago

The Magazine had this whole set up--first, they would showcase the best 10 episodes of each era, 60s-2010s, in order, then they had the full results page with The Day of the Doctor right at the top with 92.06% approval rating. They also showed what position stories were at in 2009 poll. About 6,417 people voted and they also had some statistics--Enemy of the World rose by 14.42% from 63.66% to 78.08%. I'll share more later.

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encyclops 2 years, 8 months ago

Definitely not the same as my list, but not bad overall. I think Remembrance is overrated and Terror of the Zygons is MASSIVELY overrated, but I wouldn't kick them out of the party. The only full-on mistake here is Stolen Earth/Journey's End. It's probably here for the same reason that The Five Doctors and School Reunion are -- average-at-best episodes that traffic in sentiment.

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TheSmilingStallionInn 2 years, 8 months ago

Yeah. And here's bottom 40 for comparison.

Journey to the Center of the TARDIS
The Gunfighters
Nightmare In Silver
The Armageddon Factor
The Long Game
Silver Nemesis
The Krotons
Daleks in Manhattan
Terminus
Galaxy 4
The Creature from the Pit
The Power of Kroll
The Mutants
Planet of Giants
Dragonfire
The Monster of Peladon
Delta and the Bannermen
Four to Doomsday
The Web Planet
Love and Monsters
Arc of Infinity
The Time Monster
The Horns of Nimon
The Underwater Menace
The Sensorities
Warriors of the Deep
The Curse of the Black Spot
The King’s Demons
The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe
Paradise Towers
Meglos
The Space Museum
The Rings of Akhaten
The Dominators
The Space Pirates
Underworld
Time-Flight
Timelash
Time and the Rani
Fear Her
The Twin Dilemma

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encyclops 2 years, 8 months ago

I'm quite fond of Nightmare in Silver, The Mutants, Four to Doomsday, Love and Monsters, and The Horns of Nimon, but yeah, fair enough.

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TheSmilingStallionInn 2 years, 8 months ago

The magazine noted that some scores, while they still ranked low compared to others, had risen in percentage points--more people giving more stories a higher rating, probably because of 50th nostalgia factors. For example, Underwater Menace had risen 8% from 47.4 to 55.3, Happiness Patrol up 7.1 to 63.77, Paradise Towers up 6.4 to 54.38, Dragonfire up 4.74 to 57.6. (Others that had gotten around a 4% rise in approval were Invasion of the Dinosaurs, War Games, Nightmare of Eden, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, The Horns of Nimon, The Three Doctors, Battlefield, Snakedance, The Gunfighters, The Claws of Axos and The Creature from the Pit.)

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TheSmilingStallionInn 2 years, 8 months ago

About 17% of voters under 18, with their faves as The Day of the Doctor, City of Death, Remembrance of the Daleks, Genesis of the Daleks, Caves of Androzani, Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways, The Deadly Assassin, War Games, Blink, Empty Child. (They ranked Name, Three Doctors, Rise of Cybermen higher than average.)

32% were 18-35, again Day was top, followed by Blink, Caves, Genesis, City, Empty Child, Remembrance, War Games, Talons, Human Nature (They ranked Doctor's Wife, Vengeance, and Happiness Patrol better than average)

48.75% were 36 and over with Blink, Talons, Genesis, Caves, Day, Pyramids, City, Empty Child, Human Nature, and Robots of Death as their faves, ranking Unquiet Dead and Image of the Fendahl higher than average.

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TheSmilingStallionInn 2 years, 8 months ago

I'm still going. They had write in ballots for Favorite Doctor, Favorite Companion, and Special Contributor to Doctor Who. Tom Baker was the top Doc, 22%, followed by Matt Smith at 15.6, then David, Pat, John Pertwee, Peter Davison, Sylvester, Christopher, William, Paul and...You know what's funny? Colin is no longer at the bottom--it's John Hurt with less than a percent. And Peter Capaldi and Cushing got a handful of votes.

Favorite companion? Sarah Jane Smith at 22%, followed by Donna with 10.6, then Rose, Jamie, Amy, Ace, Clara, Jo, Leela, Romana 2, Ian, Brigadier, Barbara, Rory and Tegan. Special contributor--Verity at 18.9%, followed by Russell at 16.4, then Robert Holmes, William Hartnell, Tom Baker, Terrace Dicks, Steven Moffat, Sydney Newman, Barry Letts, Nicholas Courtney, Philip Hinchcliffe, Elisabeth Sladen, Terry Nation, David Tenant and Patrick Troughton.

I'm done here!

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Daibhid C 2 years, 8 months ago

"I also disagree with the people who have ethical issues with it; old Kazran cannot give consent for his younger self as they are different people (this is why it's possible to change your mind about consenting--the consent you give in one time period is not binding in another)"

I don't agree with it either, but I think Old Kazran and Young Kazran being different people is the point: the Doctor doesn't need consent from Old Kazran for what he's doing for Young Kazran - which is just showing him some stuff - he needs consent from Old Kazran for what he's doing to Old Kazran, which is replacing him with a different Old Kazran.

As others have said, though, Old Kazran's the villain, albeit a more sympathetic one as the story progresses, and the Doctor is doing what he needs to in order to save lives. (And if people are going to use that sympathy as evidence he's not "really" a villian, then what they're basically saying is that the fact Kazran is redeemable is why the Doctor shouldn't attempt to redeem him!)

So I don't agree with the ethical issues, but I understand them.

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Aylwin 2 years, 8 months ago

Wow, people really hate Rings of Akhaten, don't they? Surprising, even allowing for recency bias. And they have (for me) a remarkably high esteem for RTD season finales.

I'd also put money on Day dropping sharply once people get a bit of distance on it, though the same sentimental reasons that put The Five Doctors so high on the list should still buoy it up.

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Aylwin 2 years, 8 months ago

The question of Kazran's entitlement to remain unchanged is surely determined by the real-world moral dictum that "Your right to swing your fist stops at the end of my nose". People who behave as Kazran is doing here (wilfully negligent homicide of how many people?) forfeit their normal claims to liberty to a significant degree. In real life the process is vastly and fundamentally more coercive and a lot less comfortable.

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David Anderson 2 years, 8 months ago

In many ethical systems there are things you shouldn't do, even to save lives. (Torturing an innocent child to make a terrorist talk, for instance.) I don't think that what the Doctor does to Kazran is wrong, but I could agree that if what the Doctor does to Kazran were wrong it would be wrong in that kind of way.

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William Silvia 2 years, 8 months ago

You indicate that the Doctor redeems Kazran. I disagree. The Doctor has it within his power to show Kazran his past, present and possible future and lead Kazran to redemption. Instead, he rapes him. Not in a physical/sexual sense, though he does use this situation to his own sexual benefit by marrying a woman and then running off, but in the sense that he takes away Kazran's agency, causes irreparable damage to his identity and trauma that will forever change who he is as a person, acts as though it is his right and Kazran was asking for it, and leaves as though he's done nothing wrong. If that doesn't make this rape, I don't know what would.

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Triturus 2 years, 8 months ago

Are you being serious? I'm sorry, but that's ridiculous, and it trivialises rape to compare it to the doctor gadding about in a christmas Dr Who episode.

Seriously, think about what the doctor actually does here. The doctor is basically just kind to a child, which results in the child growing up to be a nicer adult than he would have become otherwise. You cannot compare that to rape.

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Chris 2 years, 8 months ago

In the book, Scrooge sees the error of his ways during his visit from Christmas Past, and promises to be a better person. But the ghosts are jerks, and make him go through the whole series of visions. Because there's no point in being dead if you can't be sadistic sometimes.

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mengu 2 years, 8 months ago

He takes a kid to a bunch of parties, then shows him his future self. The parties are fun but make no overall change in his psyche; it is his active choice to not become a horrible person that leads to his redemption.

If that isn't agency, I don't know what is.

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Leslie Lozada 2 years, 8 months ago

I find this interesting, that this is the last time that The Christmas specials are on offs. The Doctor, The witch and the wardrove was close, but it was Amy's and Rory's cameo that made it the beginging of the end of Eleven's family.

The Snowman was important in estabishing the story arc of Clara's clones.

And of course, The Time of the Doctor was the final episode and hopefully our dear writer will make that post the best final post ever.

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LC 2 years, 7 months ago

My review of this one after it aired began "Proper Who is dead."

This was a similar turning point for me, but not as dramatic. The way my friend and I put it at the time was, "I am not the audience this show is made for."

Which is fine. As has been pointed out repeatedly, Doctor Who is protean, and everyone has eras they like more and those they like less.

At the time I wrote that, I shrugged it off since it is a frothy Xmas special with not much weight to it. But as our host points out, you can see the elements of what Moffatt wants the show to focus on here, and in retrospect this is the point I knew the Moffatt era was not going to be for me. (Which was a shame, since I had been really hopeful about Moffatt and happy to see RTD move on.)

I don't mind it being about character moments so much as the balance has shifted where the plot is considered an inconvenience to those character moments.

(And yes, I know this is magnificently late, but I got pointed to Erudatorum fairly recently and have been catching up. I figured one month out is acceptable to join the comments.)

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encyclops 2 years, 7 months ago

Welcome to the comments section! If you're just now catching up and you're only a month behind, that's pretty impressive. Some of us still are following a bunch of old posts, so you're not talking into the void, not entirely. :)

Somewhere I got the impression a while back that RTD and Moffat were co-writing "Day of the Doctor." I would have loved to see that, because in my wishful thinking their strengths would have been combined. I'm ready for a new showrunner -- the problem is I have no idea who the right person should be. There's no obvious successor, as there was with Moffat.

Also, it just occurred to me that Katherine Jenkins is literally playing a Woman in a Refrigerator (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_Refrigerators).

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LC 2 years, 7 months ago

My comment seems to have been eaten. :(

Thanks for the invite.

I did like Moffatt under RTD's eye, so that combo may have worked for Day of the Doctor. (Which I didn't mind that much once I accepted that it was like The Five Doctors - an event piece for nostalgia and casual fans.)

I have no idea who should be showrunner next. There's no obvious writer who is the golden child, and Moffatt showed that doesn't mean much anyway. I do think a hand-over mid-Doctor would be good for the long term health of the series, though. I wouldn't want to have to regenerate Doctors every time the show gets handed over.

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