Saturday, December 25, 2010

Holiday "Classic" Recap: Doctor Who "The Christmas Invasion"

“Oh that’s rude. Is that the sort of man I am now? Am I rude? Rude and not ginger?”
-The Doctor

This year, I’ve chosen “The Christmas Invasion” for the Holiday recap. It’s my favorite Doctor Who Christmas special to date for a variety of reasons. It’s David Tennant’s first Christmas special, and he is, by far, my favorite Doctor. There is an abundance of sharp, dark humor- the kind of British humor I love. So much of it, in fact, that when I subjected my mom to watching this the other day, it kind of freaked her out (I’ll get to the bit that especially freaked her out soon). There are also many wonderful heroic moments for the Doctor. He has so many classic lines in this episode that I had quite a difficult time choosing a Quote of the Episode. No Christmas special since has quite topped this one. While “The Runaway Bride” introduced Donna, it was a much more abrasive version of Donna than the one we later got to know, and it reused many of the same gags from this episode. While “Voyage of the Damned” and “The Next Doctor” were both worth watching in their own right, they just don’t have the warm, Christmas-y vibe that this episode does. Well, warm other than Rose being devastated that her original Doctor is gone and aliens trying to enslave Earth, that is.

The episode opens with Jackie decorating pretty much the tackiest Christmas tree ever. She’s a bit wistful because it looks like Rose won’t be home for Christmas. We then see Mickey working at an auto mechanic garage. Mickey hears the signature TARDIS screech and goes running out into the street, eager to greet Rose. Jackie has heard the sound too, and she and Mickey meet up just in time to almost be decapitated by the out-of-control TARDIS trying to land on a small London street. They happily greet a rather downtrodden-looking Rose, and then they’re stunned when the Doctor comes stumbling out. He has regenerated since the last time they saw him, so they don’t recognize him. They don’t even quite understand what’s going on when Rose explains that this strange-looking person is actually the Doctor.

The Doctor collapses almost immediately after wishing Jackie and Mickey a Merry Christmas, and when we next see him, he’s unconscious in bed at the Powell Estate. He’s breathing out some sort of shimmery gas, and we see the shimmer go out into outer space. While hanging around her mom’s apartment, Rose is pleased to see Harriet Jones, who is now Prime Minister (instead of a backbencher Member of Parliament), on television. Harriet is talking about Guinevere 1, a British-made unmanned space probe that is nearing Mars. The first pictures from Mars are expected to be broadcast in time for Christmas.

Rose and Mickey get away from the craziness of Powell Estate for a little while to do some Christmas shopping near what looks like Rose’s former workplace (where the Auton damage from the pilot seems to have been repaired). Rose can’t stop talking about the TARDIS, and Mickey is getting quite irritated about it. He just wants to spend time with Rose, and she just wants to talk about the Doctor. They don’t have much time to be irritated with each other, though. Soon they’re being attacked with flamethrowers by a brass band in creepy masks. Rose and Mickey get back to Powell Estate as quickly as they can, but it’s not quickly enough. Rose notices in horror that her mother is decorating a new Christmas tree. Rose asks Jackie where she got it, and Jackie says it was randomly delivered to the door. Since Rose had been out shopping, Jackie assumed Rose bought it.

As soon as they all realize that the Christmas tree shouldn’t be there, it begins to light on it’s own, then it starts spitting at crazy speeds. Basically, it starts trying to decapitate all of them. This is the part that freaked out my mom, by the way. I thought it was delightfully dark humor myself. Then I noticed last night that the smaller artificial Christmas tree in my parents’ dining room looks similar in size and shape to the killer tree. Anyway, the group valiantly keeps the tree from killing them, and they find themselves pinned inside the bedroom where the Doctor is sleeping. The tree is getting closer, and Rose frantically finds the sonic screwdriver. She places it in the Doctor’s hand and whispers “help me.” It’s cheesy as hell, but it works. The Doctor bolts up in bed, points the sonic at the tree, and blasts it to oblivion. There’s a nice tree sized hole in the wall still left, though, which cracks me up.

The Doctor moves towards the window and threatens the “brass band” creatures by pointing his sonic screwdriver at them. Out on the apartment balcony, the gang watches them disappear. That effort has taken its toll on the Doctor, though. He’s not doing well at all. He does manage to explain that the “brass band” was actually a bunch of what he calls “pilot fish.” They were attracted by the regeneration energy he’s been spewing out into space. There’s an awesome scene where Jackie starts asking him what he needs, rattling off a list of cures, food, and vitamins. The Doctor tells her he just needs her to shut up. He says something’s coming, then he collapses back into a coma.

Mickey gets on the computer and starts researching pilot fish. He and Rose don’t like what they see. They learn that pilot fish generally tag along with bigger fish. Like sharks. Just as Mickey makes this discovery, the first pictures from Guinevere 1 are broadcast. Instead of the surface of Mars, they see a scary alien creature. I guess they’ve found their shark. Harriet and some of her staffers have a bit of a confab with UNIT to figure out what to do. They’ve sent out a story that the alien image was a hoax, but meanwhile, they need to figure out what to do about the very real alien vessel approaching Earth. They watch a broadcast message from the aliens, and Mickey and Rose are able to watch too, thanks to Mickey’s mad computer hacking skills. One of Harriet’s staffers rushes off to get a translation program to figure out what the alien is saying. Rose, meanwhile, is extremely upset because the TARDIS isn’t translating for her. She (rightly) figures this means the Doctor is in dire straits.

Harriet asks the UNIT representative about “Torchwood” and acknowledges that Torchwood isn’t something she should really know about. Nevertheless, she tells UNIT to get Torchwood ready to fight the aliens. Soon after that, the translation program is ready, and Harriet is able to understand the message of the aliens, called Sycorax. The message basically is the Sycorax engaging in trash talk. They want Earth to surrender. Harriet makes a very Doctor-like move in response. She first offers the Sycorax a way out of the situation peacefully, telling them that Christmas is a day of peace on Earth. But she also says that Earth can defend itself and will not surrender. The Sycorax are not happy with this response. Their leader comes on the screen again and emits a blue energy. People all over the world, including some of Harriet’s staffers, start glowing blue and moving towards high ledges. David, the chief scientist overseeing Guinevere 1, figures out what all the people on ledges have in common. They all have A+ blood. David included a few items to teach about Earth on Guinevere 1, including a vial of A+ blood.

Harriet’s not sure what to do at this point, so she goes on television to make an appeal for the Doctor to step in and intervene. Rose is devastated all over again when she sees this announcement, because “her” Doctor is gone, and this new imposter is useless and fading fast. Her mourning is interrupted, however, when all the glass in the apartment blows out. The Sycorax vessel has arrived in Earth’s atmosphere. Rose, feeling just as helpless as Harriet, tells Jackie and Mickey to get the Doctor and some food. They are all going to hide in the TARDIS and try to wait this out.

The Sycorax start bringing humans directly on board their vessel. First it’s Harriet, some of her staffers, and the UNIT representative. Daniel asks to negotiate with the Sycorax. It’s his mess, and he wants to try to clean it up. All he gets is killed by some sort of electric-looking whip for his trouble. The UNIT rep gets killed too when he protests that the Sycorax must have some sort of laws of war. Rose, Mickey, and the Doctor also end up on the Sycorax vessel. While Jackie is in the apartment getting more food, Rose and Mickey are tuning a TV-looking device on the TARDIS, hoping to get a news report. This alerts the Sycorax, who accuse Harriet of hiding sophisticated technology on Earth. Rose, not realizing the TARDIS has moved, opens the door and steps outside, only to be captured by the waiting Sycorax. Mickey, startled, drops a thermos of tea, which starts to drip down into the bowels of the TARDIS.

Rose decides to try to negotiate with the Sycorax, stringing together every alien-sounding term she learned during her time traveling with the Ninth Doctor. The Sycorax just laugh at her “stolen words.” The Sycorax leader is ranting about how she has insulted him when his words start to turn into English. The TARDIS translation circuits are working again. The TARDIS door opens, and we see the Doctor is back to fighting form again, too. He’s going to take on the Sycorax in pajamas and a dressing gown. As he himself later mentions, it’s very Arthur Dent. Which is only appropriate, considering Douglas Adams, author of the “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” “trilogy,” was head writer for Doctor Who back in the day.

David Tennant goes on a rather epic monologue at this point, effortlessly switching back and forth between threatening the Sycorax and the Doctor trying to figure out just who he is in this new incarnation. The Doctor asks Rose what he looks like, for instance. Then he notices a “great big threatening button” on the Sycorax vessel and discovers the blood control magic the Sycorax have been using to keep 1/3 of Earth’s population standing on ledges. The Doctor presses the big button, and the A+’s are released from the blood control. If that wasn’t enough, the Doctor then challenges the Sycorax leader to a sword fight. In the middle of the fight, the Sycorax cuts off one of the Doctor’s hands. Because he’s still in his regeneration cycle, the Doctor is able to grow a new one, and he proudly proclaims it “a fightin’ hand.”

The Doctor eventually bests the Sycorax, pinning him down on a ledge with a new sword, but in true Doctor form, he spares the Sycorax leader’s life if the Sycorax promises to leave earth without any trouble. The Doctor walks away from the Sycorax, happily chattering to Rose about the satsuma he found in the pocket of his dressing gown. The Sycorax, despite his promise, jumps up and goes to attack the Doctor again. The Doctor, proclaiming “no second chances,” throws the satsuma in a way that leads the Sycorax leader to plunge to his death. The Doctor gives a big speech about how the Sycorax ought to tell other alien species that Earth is defended, and then the gang all heads back to London.

As they are getting ready to part, the Doctor warns Harriet that Earth is getting noticed, and humans had better get used to it. This clearly worries Harriet. When the Doctor distracted talking with the Tylers and Mickey, Harriet calls in the Torchwood strike. The Sycorax vessel is shot by lasers and explodes. The Doctor is furious at what Harriet has done (which is repurpose some alien technology Torchwood found a few years back). He tells her that he can bring down her government in six words. He makes good on the threat, too, asking Harriet’s personal aide “Doesn’t she look tired?”

After taking his leave of Harriet, the Doctor happily looks through his wardrobe on the TARDIS, trying to pick out his own signature outfit. I love this scene because you can see the outfits of many of the previous Doctors. At one point, David Tennant even has Tom Baker’s iconic scarf on. I think this is especially appropriate, because before Tennant, I think the image of the Tom Baker Doctor was the most iconic. Anyway, after getting dressed in his signature long coat and spiffy brown suit with blue pinstripes, the Doctor joins the Tylers and Mickey for a jolly Christmas dinner. I love this scene because it shows just how different the Tenth Doctor is from the Ninth, who didn’t do family period.

The group is watching a news report of Harriet’s government being in trouble already when Jackie gets a call from a friend saying she should go outside. Jackie shoos everybody outside, and they see that it appears to be snowing. According to the Doctor, it’s actually ash from the exploded Sycorax vessel, but they all enjoy it anyway. Then it’s time for the Doctor to go. Rose is happy to learn that the Doctor still would like for her to travel with him. Mickey’s not so happy, naturally, but that’s okay by me. The episode ends with the Doctor and Rose happily looking up at the stars, trying to figure out where they’ll go on their next adventure.

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