We’re back, with our new Doctor Who rewatch! Last week we finished up Series One, with the Ninth Doctor. Today we begin the Tenth Doctor’s tenure, with the 2006 Christmas special, The Christmas Invasion! We’ll also take a look at the brief Children In Need charity special which bridged the gap between Series One and the Christmas special. Let’s get started!
As a reminder, each series in the new show tends to have considerably more stories than the classic seasons; therefore we’re splitting each series into parts of approximately three episodes each for the sake of length. Today is an exception, as we’ll look at the Christmas special by itself.
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has never seen this episode!
The Children in Need special opens with a recap of the regeneration scene from The Parting of the Ways. The Tenth Doctor arrives—marveling at his new teeth—and tries to pick up right where the Ninth Doctor left off, setting course for the planet Barcelona. Rose isn’t having any of it, though; regeneration is a brand new concept to her, and she doesn’t believe that this is still the Doctor. She suggests he was switched out, or transmatted away, or even that the new Doctor is a Slitheen in a skin suit. He explains quickly, and to back up his claims, he reminds her of mutual memories of their first meeting. (This is a little unusual; typically regenerations have left him with at least a minor amount of memory loss, if only temporarily.) While this sets her mind at ease, she is still in shock, and wants to go home. He sets course for December 24, 2006, and heads for the Powell Estate (Rose’s apartment building). However, he suddenly starts to act erratically; regeneration energy wisps out of his mouth, and he seems to be in some pain and mania. Rose suggests finding Jack Harkness to help, but the Doctor brushes it off, saying Jack is busy rebuilding Earth after the Dalek attack. He throws the TARDIS into high speed, and warns her it is crashing. The cloister bell sounds, giving weight to his assertion.
The Christmas Invasion picks up immediately, on Earth. Mickey and Jackie each here the TARDIS arriving and come running; it does crash, though not catastrophically. The Doctor stumbles out and greets them, then passes out; they don’t recognize him until Rose explains, and even then they find it just as hard to believe as she did. They set him up in bed in Jackie’s apartment to recover.
Meanwhile, Britain is making history. Its Guinevere One space probe is on approach to Mars. Harriet Jones, now Prime Minister by a landslide victory, is making a speech about it—but is interrupted when the video feed cuts off. The probe has been intercepted by an unknown alien race. Harriet goes to UNIT—the agency’s first appearance in the new series, though it was mentioned in World War Three–and begins to oversee efforts to deal with the crisis. She summons help from an agency called Torchwood, of which she is not supposed to be aware. The feed is re-established, and they get their first glimpse of the aliens, who call themselves the Sycorax—and declare humanity their property.
While the Doctor recuperates, Mickey and Rose go out for some last-minute Christmas shopping, and discuss—or rather, dance around—their future and relationship. They are interrupted by an attack by androids dressed as Santa Claus; they flee back to the apartment in the chaos. As they explain to Jackie, Rose notices a Christmas tree that wasn’t there before. Jackie tells them it was anonymously delivered—and suddenly it comes to life and goes on the attack. Rose manages to awaken the Doctor just in time for him to destroy it with his sonic screwdriver. Outside, he sees the Santa robots watching, then disappearing in a transmat beam. He explains that they are like pilot fish, accompanying a larger threat; they have come for him, because he is brimming with regeneration energy, which they could use to power their technology. However, Rose has awakened him too soon, and he is still sick from regeneration; he passes out again.
Harriet confronts the Sycorax, via a rough translation program worked out by UNIT. She warns them that Earth is armed and will not surrender. In retaliation, the Sycorax take control of a third of the population, sending them to the tops of buildings and other structures and preparing them to jump off. UNIT works out that it is done via blood control, and only affects type A+ blood, of which a sample was included among other items on the Guinevere probe. Harriet makes a public broadcast about the situation, and implores the Doctor to come to Earth’s aid. Watching it on television, Rose realizes that the TARDIS is not translating the Sycorax footage, because the Doctor is unconscious and therefore out of the circuit. Harriet and her associates are then transmatted aboard the Sycorax ship to discuss surrender.
Rose, Mickey, and Jackie get the Doctor aboard the TARDIS, but are unable to pilot it. The Sycorax have discovered the TARDIS, however, and transmat it to their ship, leaving Jackie behind. Rose steps out—unaware of the transmat—and is captured, as is Mickey, who spills a container of tea onto the machinery by the Doctor’s unconscious form. The Sycorax take her for the owner of the TARDIS, and decide that she will speak for Earth. She tries to bluff, making them ridicule her—but suddenly, the TARDIS begins translating again, and Rose realizes the Doctor is awake. He throws open the doors of the TARDIS and joins them.The Doctor takes charge of the situation, and explains that nutrients from the vaporized tea aided his recovery. He quickly figures out the blood control situation, and shuts it down, freeing the hostages on Earth. He then orders the Sycorax to leave; and when the leader refuses, he grabs a sword from one of the guards, and challenges the leader to formal combat.
The Doctor is no slouch with a sword. He forces a change in venue, taking the combat onto the outer deck of the ship, overlooking the city. It appears he will lose; the leader cuts off his hand. However, he is still close to his regeneration, and the residual energy causes a new hand to grow. Stunned, the leader is taken aback, and the Doctor presses the attack, and defeats him. He offers the leader a chance to live, and again tells him to leave the Earth and never return. The leader agrees; however, as the Doctor walks away, the leader tries to stab him in the back. The Doctor forces him off the edge of the ship, and he falls to his death. There will be no second chances.
With the humans and the TARDIS transmatted back to London, the Sycorax ship departs. However, Harriet orders Torchwood to destroy it; they carry out the sentence with a large superlaser. Enraged, the Doctor turns on Harriet, and after castigating her—much as he once did the Brigadier, when UNIT destroyed the Silurians—he tells her he will destroy her career with just six words. He walks away, but whispers into her aide’s ear, “Don’t you think she looks tired?” This sets off a storm of controversy that soon—within days—results in her downfall via a vote of no confidence regarding her health.
The Doctor celebrates Christmas with Rose, Jackie, and Mickey; but then he must leave. It looks as though Rose will stay behind; and then, having fully accepted that this truly is the Doctor, she chooses to go with him.
Although there are some minor plot weaknesses—the Santa droids, for one, could just as easily have been eliminated with no change to the overall plot—I always felt that this story constituted a good, strong introduction for the Tenth Doctor. David Tennant is an excellent choice for the role, and indeed, for many fans, has become the definitive version of the Doctor. Like many of his predecessors (and also Matt Smith after him), he needed no adjustment period; there was no series of shaky early episodes leading up to him owning the role. He simply WAS the Doctor, from the very first moment. The story also establishes an excellent tradition: the annual Christmas special. It’s been argued that the First Doctor had the true first Christmas special, with The Feast of Steven, episode seven of The Daleks’ Master Plan (now unfortunately lost to history, although reconstructions exist); I can agree with that, but this is where it became an annual tradition, as the classic series had no other such episodes. A second tradition began here as well: that of Doctor Who’s involvement with the Children in Need fundraising efforts. The brief interlude that precedes the Christmas special adds only a little to the story, but adds much to the social impact of Doctor Who. Also, beginning with this episode, David Tennant is credited as “The Doctor” rather than “Doctor Who”; this change was at his request, and mirrors a similar change in the classic series under Peter Davison.
Several running jokes occur in this story. Jackie makes the classic “Doctor who?” joke upon seeing the Doctor’s new face, although she says it in earnest. The TARDIS crashing has become a bit of a running joke, occurring in connection with every new series regeneration with the exception of the War Doctor’s regeneration into the Ninth Doctor (as far as we know anyway; we don’t see the immediate aftermath of that regeneration. However, the TARDIS even crashed with Eight’s regeneration into War, though admittedly not under its own power). The Doctor for the first time (of many) expresses his desire to be ginger. Most conspicuously, there’s the running joke regarding Harriet Jones; every time she introduces herself, the listener responds with “Yes, I know who you are.” This includes the Sycorax leader, albeit via the translation software. This will continue through her final appearance and death in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End.
Rose’s reaction to the regeneration is perfectly understandable, given that the Doctor only told her about it seconds before it happened. In this moment, the companion is truly an audience surrogate, as many fans who had not seen the classic series would not have known what was going on. Her eventual acceptance of the new Doctor is not assured until the end; unfortunately, her choice of the Doctor again, here where it seemed like she should give him up, only serves to drive a bigger wedge between herself and Mickey, who is not as over her as he previously led us to believe.
There are a number of connections to other episodes here; some of them are connections to future stories which had not yet been written. “Sycorax” is the name of the witch in The Tempest; the Doctor will later unwittingly give Shakespeare the idea by name-dropping the Sycorax. He can analyze blood by taste; he has previously demonstrated the ability to analyze substances in this way, although the blood is a first. He is a skilled swordsman, as were the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Doctors before him; we last saw this in The King’s Demons, against the Master. Harriet makes a meta reference; she says the video signal may have been hijacked by kids, which is an allusion to the Max Headroom Signal Intrusion incident in Chicago in the 1980s. During that incident, a showing of Horror of Fang Rock was interrupted and hijacked. UNIT is re-introduced, after being referenced in Aliens of London/World War Three; it was last seen in Battlefield, and seems to have had a budget increase since then. The TARDIS’s translation ability was introduced via the Fourth Doctor long ago, but is expanded on here. The Santa droids will be used again by the Racnoss Empress in The Runaway Bride. Torchwood gets a very direct reference, which will lead into its introduction onscreen later in the series, and its spinoff as well. The Doctor’s severed hand will be seen again on Torchwood, as well as in Utopia and Journey’s End. The Doctor mentions a “great big threatening red button” which he is compelled to push; this will eventually resurface as a reference to the Moment in The Day of the Doctor, adding some depth to his offhanded comment. There are parallels between the Sycorax and Faction Paradox, especially with regard to blood control and the wearing of bone; however my knowledge of Faction Paradox is too limited to comment further. As well, a recently-released short story, The Christmas Inversion, takes place in the midst of this story, in which Jackie Tyler meets the Third Doctor.
Most interestingly, this story sets up a chain of terrible events which will continue all the way through the Tenth Doctor’s life. The severing of his hand, and his deposing of Harriet, will eventually lead to the rise of the Master as Harold Saxon, and to the eventual death of the Tenth Doctor at the end of the Master’s plans. For more information, check the continuity section of the TARDIS wiki’s entry for this story.
Overall, I liked this story. I felt it has something for everyone—plenty of classic references, the beginning of a new story arc, a good follow-up to Series One, and a hopeful introduction to Series Two, as well as a fair bit of setup for Torchwood. While there have been more popular specials, this one still holds its own.
Next time: We launch into Series Two with New Earth, Tooth and Claw, and School Reunion! See you there.