DOCTOR WHO: Season 2; The Christmas Invasion
Friday, August 22, 2014 at 12:50PM
WatchingPreacher in Commentary, doctor who, doctor who, doctor who season 2, tv recap

THE CHRISTMAS INVASION. Season 2, episode 0.

Regeneration stories are tricky. The Doctor must regenerate, yes, but what does that mean, exactly? Must he rest? Sleep for a long while, and then he'll be fine? Or can he run around doing Doctor-like things, just being a bit silly and all over the place as he gets to know himself and the others get to know him?

Doctor Who, with its switching of companions and regenerating Doctor, has found a way of changing, of staying relevant, of shaking things up while not really changing them all that much. The Doctor is still a Time Lord, he'll still be a little silly and funny and all that, but he'll have some differences. He might be a bit more serious, a bit darker, or he might be sillier than ever - though that may just be to hide all the darkness inside.

Matt Smith's regeneration episode (which we'll come back to in a few seasons or so) is a blank slate, and Moffat does his best to fill in all the gaps. There needs to be a new companion and an alien threat, in addition to both the audience and the characters - including The Doctor himself - learning who he is. While the episode's a bit of a romp, it features classic Moffat-tricks (things that hide in the corner of your eye) and it cements the fact that there's a new Doctor in town, different from all the old ones - yet the same. That episode's scale is miniscule; there's one alien in a hospital, we're in a small town and yet, the stakes are high. The Christmas Invasion, however, isn't that episode.

RTD decides to sideline The Doctor for more than half the episode, instead focusing on Harriet Jones (who's now prime minister, and yes, that awful running gag is still going on), Rose, Jackie and Mickey as they all struggle with an invasion without their dear Doctor. Instead of a regeneration episode, this one's more of a "humanity meets aliens after putting themselves on the map"-episodes that RTD loves to do. The only problem is that... we didn't really put ourselves on the map here. The only reason the Sycorax arrive at this planet is because they're following The Doctor's regeneration energy. So really, this is a threat humanity didn't cause, and couldn't solve. What's even more annoying is that the whole thing could've been solved in two easy minutes, if Jackie had kept her mouth shut when The Doctor said "I need..." and let him finish instead of just suggesting all the remedies in the modern world. Then again, Jackie will be Jackie, and it's certainly true to the character.

So the Sycorax spaceship appears over London, after some embarrasingly silly Christmas-themed villains (a santa brass band firing bullets out of their instruments and an attacking Christmas tree...), and it doesn't take long before our whole cast of characters (sans Jackie) is teleported up there. The humans get into trouble, Mickey spills some tea and The Doctor fights the leader of the Sycorax with a sword, after losing his hand. It's a completely alright plot that suffers from most of what early Doctor Who suffers from; it could've been twenty minutes shorter. The pacing is so slow and there's so little that happens; the episode doesn't even bother setting up some inventive, threatening stakes. It's just "the Earth is in danger". It's sloppy, is what I'm saying, essentially.

By sidelining The Doctor, the episode almost turns into a comedy of errors, with the humans continuously making mistakes to worsen the situation. They make decisions without knowing all the info, they try to talk the aliens into leaving, they say "This is a day of peace on Earth, but we have tons of weapons so fuck off before we shoot you" TO THE ALIENS. In short, the humans are just stupid this episode. Harriet Jones, you shame us all.

Sidelining The Doctor also makes him into a deus ex machina, when he comes in ten minutes before the episode ends and just solves everything. It makes the humans look even more idiotic and ridiculous, and it turns the episode into one that could be a pilot for a UNIT-spinoff (which gets introduced here) instead of a Doctor Who-episode. But the most annoying thing about sidelining The Doctor in this one is the poignancy. RTD is so very good at writing the emotional beats on this show, the hopeful and the gut-wrenching, that it's sad to see an episode so full of potential being so silly and childish - truly a step back after The Parting of the Ways.

When this episode starts, we already know Rose. We know Mickey, Jackie and Harriet Jones. But they don't know The Doctor. And neither do we. This should be an episode centered around that; around these characters getting to know someone they thought they already knew. Seeing a new side of someone, a surprising side. A scarier side, maybe? When we already know the companions, or The Doctor's friends, regeneration episodes should be emotional and scary, they should make you nervous - not because of an alien threat, but because of a new Doctor. One you're not sure how is going to react to all this. You should put him in familiar situations and then show us who he is now through him making different choices than the last Doctor. Or that he thinks more about the choice; is this who I am now? The person who makes choice A or choice B in this situation?

If RTD had done that, this would've been a great regeneration episode. Instead he chooses to up the silliness, sideline The Doctor and give us the bare necessities of a plot against Earth and the human race. It's a long way from the show's best hour, but that just means there's no way to go but up from this point. I hope you join me when we visit New Earth, among other destinations, in a little while.

CONCLUSION: It's a bad episode. That's pretty much it. There is fun to be had here, and the Sycorax-design is pretty cool (at least until they take off their helmest... why did they have to do that?), but it wastes a lot of emotion and goes for an easy, dull plot instead. Plus, it's not very Christmass-y. This could've been a random episode in any season.

RATING: 2 out of 5 stars, 4/10 and C-.

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