As we wait for the new season of "Doctor Who" to hit in approximately two months, BBC America has released a new standalone DVD of last year’s Christmas special. I reviewed "Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol" when it originally aired and I loved it. The question at hand is whether its worth picking it up now or waiting for its inclusion on the eventual "Doctor Who" season six DVD set.
Watching the episode again for this review, I’m still amazed by the story crafted by Steven Moffat, who I believe may be genetically incapable of writing a bad script. Sure, it wears Charles Dickens’ original "Christmas Carol" on its sleeve (and title), but there are more than enough touches of "Who" that make it work on its own. In the special, the Doctor (Matt Smith) travels to a strangely steampunk-like world that resembles Victorian London to save the lives of his companions Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) along with a space train of innocent people crashing towards their doom.
Of course, it’s never quite so straight forward and the Doctor discovers that he can’t rescue his friends without the help of a miserly old man, Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon), who has no intention of doing anything for anyone but himself. As a result, the Doctor decides to play the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past (and eventually the Ghost of Christmas Future) to befriend Kazran as a young boy and make him a better man in the present. Along the way, they encounter a shark that can fly through the air and the beautiful Abigail (Katherine Jenkins), whom Kazran loses his heart to. Also, the Doctor may have accidentally married Marylin Monroe during one of the side trips. But he swears it wasn’t really in a chapel!
More than anyone else, this episode belongs to Gambon, who brilliantly plays Kazran as a bitter old man who slowly rediscovers his childlike wonder before retreating due to his broken heart. He spends most of the episode removed from the Doctor while watching the events play out in the past through recordings and photographs, but he remains the central figure throughout. Jenkins is also a showstopper here. She’s a professional Opera singer and it shows. Her singing voice is amazing and it adds to the timeless sensation that the episode creates.
If you know how Dickens’ "Christmas Carol" ends, you’ll be surprised by how darkly this one turns out. The Doctor can’t save everyone and the tone is definitely bittersweet and yet hopeful at the same time.
The special features essentially test your "Doctor Who" fandom. If you love the series, you’ll like the extras. The "Doctor Who Confidential" is a diverting enough look behind the scenes of the special. But the real treat is the "Doctor Who At The Proms" special. It’s basically the recording of a full live concert of "Doctor Who" music hosted by Smith, Gillan, Darvill and even the Doctor himself. Murray Gold’s music is one of my favorite aspects of the series and the best of his season 5 arrangements are all here along with the unforgettable Vale Decem theme that accompanied the death of the tenth Doctor. I would have bought this DVD just for that, but I am a big "Doctor Who" geek. Your mileage may vary.
But as to the earlier question of whether this DVD is worth buying now, my answer is yes, absolutely. This was an instant classic episode of "Doctor Who" and it deserves a place in every fan’s collection. I’d even recommend it for casual fans just in case the Proms concert doesn’t end up on the next season set.
Bring on season six!