Random Musings: Dickens and the Doctor

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Annotated Christmas Carol

On Dec. 19, 1843, Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol. The story has seen many adaptations, but a recent one of note is the 2010 Doctor Who Christmas special, “A Christmas Carol.”

The story, written by series producer Steven Moffat, finds the Doctor (Matt Smith) trying to save hundreds of people, including his newly-wed companions Amy and Rory (Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill), who are on board a space liner in distress. The liner is caught in the cloud layer of a particular planet and unable to safely land because of those clouds.

An embittered old man named Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon) controls the cloud layer, but refuses to save the ship. His attitude is that “everyone has to die sometime.”

The Doctor is inspired to take a page from Dickens when he’s talking with Amy over a communicator and a carol is playing over a loudspeaker near where he’s standing. Amy asks what the noise is and he shouts, “a Christmas carol!”

Christmas Carol Doctor Who

The Doctor returns to Sardick, who’d been watching a recording he’d made as a boy, and tells the old man he’s the Ghost of Christmas Past. The Doctor then heads off into the past in the TARDIS. Even as Sardick watches the recording, the recorded events change. He sees his younger self greeted by the Doctor; and the Doctor, speaking into the recording device from decades ago, tells the older Sardick that his memories are going to change, but not to worry.

On this world, fish fly through the air (the nature of the cloud cover permits this) and the Doctor and the young Kazran (Laurence Belcher) encounter wonders and dangers. They also meet Abigail (opera singer Katherine Jenkins), whose singing doth soothe the savage shark; and as part of his plan to make Kazran Sardick a better man, the Doctor takes Kazran (played by Danny Horn as a young adult) and Abigail to various points in time and space every Christmas for several consecutive years.

In the present, we see subtle examples that the Doctor has changed the past. A painting of Sardick’s domineering father (also Gambon) is gone, replaced by one of Abigail. And where there once was no Christmas tree, now there is one.

Yet, Kazran Sardick hasn’t changed enough to disperse the cloud cover and save all those innocent people. You see, there’s something about Abigail the Doctor doesn’t know. Something that could still lead Sardick to becoming a bitter old man.

Amy appears to Sardick in holographic form (and later reverses the settings, so he’s the holographic projection on board the ship). She tells him she’s the Ghost of Christmas Present. He remains unmoved, even when he hears passengers singing hymns. Literally for their lives.

The Doctor’s last chance for success lies in the Ghost Yet to Come. Who is that? I’m not going to spoil the surprise. Watch the DVD and find out. I will say it’s not who Kazran Sardick would have imagined.

Copyright 2014 Patrick Keating.

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