A Christmas Carol

DVD Box Set
NTSC Region 1
box set

DVD Box Set
PAL Region 2
box set

1-episode volume
See below for Blu-Ray options
(Doctor Who Story No. 218, starring Matt Smith)
  • written by Steven Moffat
  • directed by Toby Haynes
  • produced by Sanne Wohlenberg
  • music by Murray Gold
  • 1 episode @ 61 minutes
Story: It's the Christmas Solstice on a fog-shrouded colony planet, and Amy and Rory and 4000 other people on a cruise ship have lost control in the turbulence and are about to crash. The Doctor decides the best way to help the ship land safely is to reform the wealthy Scrooge-like owner/operator of the planet's cloud control system. What is the secret of the beautiful woman in the cryogenic casket? And what special properties does the fog have that allow this world's fish to fly in it?

DVD Extras include:

  • Doctor Who Confidential documentary (56 min.) with Matt Smith (The Doctor), Michael Gambon (Kazran Sardick / Elliot Sardick),
    Katherine Jenkins (Abigail Pettigrew), Laurence Belcher (Young Kazran), Danny Horn (Adult Kazran), writer Steven Moffat,
    director Toby Haynes, producer Sanne Wohlenberg, introducing new production designer Michael Pickwoad, composer Murray Gold,
    conductor Ben Foster, executive producers Beth Willis & Piers Wenger, set decorator Julian Luxton, and VFX supervisor Tim Barter.

    plus, only in the box sets:

  • Comic Relief Sketch: "Space" by Steven Moffat (4 min.)
  • Comic Relief Sketch: "Time" by Steven Moffat (3 min.)

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

Well, this is a pleasant way for sci-fi / fantasy buffs to spend a holiday afternoon or evening. Of course, you may have to turn the scientific part of your brain off, and just wish upon a star for an hour instead.

Of course, any average member of the public can guess most of what's going to happen in this one. It's right there in the title. This is largely a most comfortable and nostalgic pinch from Charles Dickens, which provides a great emotional backbone for the adventure - after all, Dickens' version couldn't have become one of the most famous stories in the world without some pretty strong appeal.

The other half of the story is Moffat's usual song and dance, most of which has also been tried and tested in previous episodes, and it continues to intrigue controversially and satisfy emotionally.

The Orbit of the Crystal Feast

Well, thank goodness we get to go to an alien planet. Regular readers of my reviews will recall how strongly I advocate for that, particularly to reward our travels with discoveries of other cultures and ways of looking at life. In a Christmas Special, perhaps we could look at the holiday traditions of an alien culture.

The trouble with today's unnamed planet, however, is that it isn't all that alien, and borrows all its imagery from very Earthly sources, cutting and pasting it into only a slightly different collage. Why Dickens' own industrial era is reproduced so faithfully on a futuristic colony in space is a scientific hilarity, but of course it's nostalgic, isn't it?

Much of the most poetic dialogue betrays very Earthly and British thinking as well. Winter solstice is fundamentally an astronomical marker, based on things like a decent tilt of the Earth's rotational axis, the fact that this rotation is independent of our orbit around the sun, and the fact that our rotation is not "tidally locked" to the sun's surface like the planet Mercury (or Svartos), which has no day/night cycles. In fact, just go to the other end of our own planet, like Australia or New Zealand, where Christmas Solstice marks the brightest day of the year, and you get an idea of how non-universal some of these concepts are, and how much variation exists to be explored. The planet Uranus and its large moons get a winter solstice with an entire hemisphere in the dark all day and all night, and 42 Earth-years later comes the summer solstice where that same hemisphere gets sunshine (albeit faint) all day and all night.

On a completely new planet, it's all up for grabs, limited only by imagination. How long is a year on Sardicktown's planet? If Christmas solstice came every 3 Earth-months or so, I wouldn't blame old Kazran for getting sick of it. I'd love more details on this planet's orbit and climate and winter solstice cycle, and more on "The Crystal Feast" that was originally celebrated here. One odd cast-off mention doesn't really satisfy. However, if Moffat wants to save the real fruits of his imagination for season 32 proper, and just do Christmas Specials as blatant pinches from other sources, I don't mind so much either. I'm not a particular fan of mandatory Christmas episodes every year. My favourite is still the "Sliders" season three episode "Season's Greedings".

Memory Time

Time travel is not this story's strength, with Moffat really going wild with the outdated "single rewriteable line". And no, he doesn't get to excuse it just by having Amy dance around citing "Time can be rewritten" like an airhead. Most of what the Doctor does in this story would help our scrooge's doubles in parallel/branching universes, not rewrite the one he meets originally in the "present" time, whenever that is. And after all the Doctor's excessive independent time jumps in this story, which flow off into parallel/branching universes, he'd be hard pressed to know which doubles of Amy and Rory he ended up saving and taking home at the end.

By the way, how many of you out there chimed with Moffat's suggestion that Dickens' original "A Christmas Carol" was already (kind of) a time travel story? Technically, it isn't; it's more of a time observation thing. Scrooge looks at past, present, and possible future, and as a result of what he's seen, decides to change his destiny by making new choices in the present. The crux is entirely in "the now". Moffat's story may fail space/time/choice mechanics, but Charles Dickens aces it with flying colours. Just to be clear.

Moffat's only decent wiggle room is in the idea of memory, but he doesn't confine himself to what would work in that regard. The adventure turns out about as ridiculous as "The Pandorica Opens" in that regard, but here it is at least self contained. Okay, whatever, Moffat gets no great points here.

A Character Story

What works is the human emotional element. And both Dickens' masterpiece and Moffat's usual arcs contribute to that and complement each other, even if it's a bit of a rerun of "The Girl in the Fireplace" and "The Eleventh Hour".

Michael Gambon's portrayal of the elderly Kazran Sardick is the centerpiece holding the story together - completely enjoyable all the way through and receiving good support from the younger actors playing him at earlier ages and from Katherine Jenkins playing Abigail. Matt Smith is enjoyable as usual as the Doctor, and gets to make a highly unique entrance that I thoroughly liked on this occasion. One infers that the TARDIS is VERY busy in this story, but it does so mostly in the background - which is pretty much a necessity and an ideal this time around.

Music has a critical role to play in this story, and it is pulled off quite well in the finished product due to the combined efforts of Toby Haynes' directing, Murray Gold's composing, all those involved in the orchestra, and of course Katherine Jenkins adding the crowning vocal qualities to the idea and tying it into the story via her character.
Music by Murray Gold
A full suite of music from the story
is available on the audio CD album:
Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol
Original Music soundtrack

More info & buying options

Amy and Rory have little to do in this one. I wouldn't have minded seeing more of them in a Christmas Special - however, if they're going to be occupied with anything approaching a proper honeymoon, you can leave that off-screen, as was so thankfully done here. And I am pleased that this was not the adventure that the closing dialogue of last season had led me to anticipate. This was better.

There's some great financial imagery here regarding cryogenic chambers, but the health-related portions of it end up being ridiculous.

Well, this is unlikely to become a favourite Doctor Who episode of mine, but I must say, it's a nice enough Christmas Show. If you're in the mood for Christmas, by all means go for this. If you're in the mood for Doctor Who, standard episodes are better.

This story has become available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:

DVD NTSC Region 1
14-episode box set
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
14-episode box set
for the U.K.:

(Limited Edition)

Blu-Ray NTSC Region 1
14-episode box set
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada

Blu-Ray PAL Region 2
14-episode box set
for the U.K.:

(Limited Edition)

This story is also available in a single episode volume with unique bonus features.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:

Standard DVD:
NTSC Region 1 - U.S.
NTSC Region 1 - Canada
PAL Region 2 - U.K.
Region A/1 - U.S.
Region A/1 - Canada
Region B/2 - U.K.
DVD Extra features include:
  • Doctor Who Confidential documentary (56 min.)
    [also included in full season box sets,
    see top of page for details]

  • "Dr. Who at the Proms" 2010 concert (57 min.)
    [unique to this volume]

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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for
the next DVD / Blu-ray box set: "Season 32" (aka Series 6, 2011)

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