Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol (UK - DVD R2)
A non-box-set New-Who release in 5.1? The Wilson Bros are truly flabbergasted!
An intergalactic star-liner is plunging toward certain doom above the surface of a planet that is covered by a mysterious cloud-layer that is interfering with the controls of the liner. Onboard is honeymooning couple Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darville), who try and help regain control of the vessel. A distress call to The Doctor (Matt Smith) is sent out, but he is unable to help directly, as appealing to the good nature of the man who controls the all-encompassing clouds is an impossibility.
Instead, The Doctor travels back in time to when Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon) was a young, optimistic boy and effectively haunt him in order to get him to change his ways so it will be possible for him to show a little humanity and prevent the liner from being destroyed and save the lives of its four thousand passengers...
Doctor Who and Dickens have been on nodding terms for quite some time, with possible the most blatant example before this being Mark Gatiss' wonderful story The Unquiet Dead, which had Simon Callow playing Dickens and staying true to the period in which he lived. When Executive Producer Steven Moffat announced that the 2010 Christmas special was going to be the most Christmassy Christmas special ever", many fans groaned, as New-Who hasn't had the best track record when it comes to festive episodes – let’s briefly look back at them...
The Christmas Invasion - Surprisingly good, even if the new Doctor didn't properly appear until well into the final act.
The Runaway Bride - Just awful, with Catherine Tate at her most insufferable; when she was asked back, most fans baulked, as her characterisation and performance in this story was so OTT, but fortunately this was toned down.
Voyage of the Damned - Mind-numbing; it should have been called The Poseidon Misadventure, although the idea of a crashing star-liner would provide someone with an idea for a future story...
The Next Doctor - A great premise is almost literally squashed underfoot in the third act by the appearance of the ridiculously silly Cyber-King.
The End of Time - Not the greatest way to bring the tenure of one of the most popular Doctors in the show's history to a close and don't get us started on the extended "lap of honour" at the end.
Despite the obvious over-familiarity of the storyline, there are some nice scenes that show jumping back and forward in time, illustrating just how Sardick became so black-hearted and the attempts made by The Doctor to change him.
Where this story comes unglued a little is the inclusion of an airborne aquatic adversary; when watching the thing on-screen, certain members of the audience must have imagined that Steven Moffat must have watched the Young Ones episode Flood and heard Adrian Edmonson exclaim "that's just the most completely brilliant thing I've ever seen - a flying shark!" and thought "hmm - that gives me an idea..". Dickens himself at one point during the writing of his tale of Ebenezer Scrooge's redemption "it's good, but it needs a silly monster in it somewhere", but ultimately decided against it. The flying sharks add a touch of menace to it that kids will enjoy, but adults - particularly those familiar with the original Dickens story - will find it an unnecessary distraction.
Matt Smith is as engaging as ever as The Doctor; the relish he has for the part shows every time he's on-screen. Smith has brought a new energy to the show and his enthusiasm is certainly infectious, bringing a Troughton-like quality to the role.
Karen Gillan and Arthur Darville are barely in this story, which is a shame because they work well together and even better when directly playing off Matt Smith. It was a rather crass idea to have Gillan in her signature policewoman kissogram outfit, but one that was welcome by a new generation of "Dads", not too dissimilar to the legion who watched Louise Jameson in her skimpy attire in the seventies.
Michael Gambon is an old pro, bringing the necessary sense of callousness to the role, but staying just the right side of evil because this is a show intended for a family audience. Anyone else remember Gambon back in the late eighties when he played the voice of a randy washing machine trying to crack on to an attractive housewife...?
Katherine Jenkins demonstrates just why she is a supremely talented singer rather than an actress; many Doctor Who fans would rather have had musical notes tumbling from her mouth, rather than Moffat's dialogue emerging in a manner not too dissimilar to that of a car coming out of a crusher. Still, for those who operate on a purely superficial level, Ms Jenkins ticks the right boxes on the "eye-candy" level.
A Christmas Carol on DVD comes in an anamorphically-enhanced 1.78:1 image, which looks great. We watched the Christmas airing in HD and although it can't compete with high-definition, it still holds it's own, with vibrant colours and a pleasing amount of image detail for standard-definition.
This is a real shocker - a non-box-set New-Who release that has a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack! Who'd have ever thought that it would happen? It's a most welcome addition, though you can't help but think that it was included as an incentive to get some of the more cynical Doctor Who fans to part with their money. The sound-mix itself is pretty impressive, with lots of uses of the surround channels, particularly during the opening scene, where the sound of the alarm on the stricken space-liner can be heard out of one of the rear speakers.
When we revealed over Gallifreybase, that we were reviewing this particular title, we were immediately asked by Doctor Who fans to confirm whether or not the preview of series six (which was on the end of the TV broadcast) was included and we can reveal to you dear readers that the preview IS on the DVD (and Blu-Ray) releases of A Christmas Carol.
Another shocker here - whilst this release is not laden with extras, it does contain two VERY substantial ones!
Doctor Who Confidential: Notice that we didn't put the usual "Cut-Down" suffix? That would be because The-Powers-That-Be have seen fit to include the full version that went out immediately after the show was broadcast on Christmas Day. This hour-long behind-the-scenes look at the making of A Christmas Carol has all you have come to expect, with the cast clowning for the cameras and Steven Moffat making glib remarks.
Doctor Who at the Proms: This is wonderful stuff; The Royal Albert Hall is the venue for the 2010 Doctor Who Proms, with Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darville as your hosts, not to mention the obligatory invasion of adversaries to thill the children in the audience and for adults to think "they must be hot inside those costumes". Smith and Gillan seem perfectly at home in front of a live audience that numbers in the thousands, but Darville is distinctly uncomfortable. Matt Smith seems to have a whale of a time when appearing in character as The Doctor, dragging the odd kid out of the audience and interacting with them, much to the delight of everyone around them. Long-term fans such as ourselves will appreciate the suite that features footage of all the actors to play the Doctors, along with regeneration footage (where it exists). The only problem we have about this extra is that it just presented in plain old Dolby Digital 2.0; seeing is this is so music-orientated, it would have really benefited from a discrete 5.1 mix.
Steven Moffat's conscious steering of Doctor Who away from science-fiction and into the realm of science-fantasy continues - A Christmas Carol is a fun enough romp, with a dazzling turn from guest star Michael Gambon and some very impressive visual effects. Fans of Dickens (or just of A Christmas Carol in whatever previous form it may have taken) will possibly be wondering why yet another variation has been produced.
We take our hats off to 2Entertain for not only including a couple of substantial extras, with Doctor Who at the Proms being particlarly great, but also for including a rather nifty Dolby Digital 5.1 sountrack on this first release of A Christmas Carol.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 24th January 2011
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Extras: Doctor Who Confidential, Doctor Who at the Proms
Easter Egg: No
Director: Toby Haynes
Cast: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darville, Albus Dumbledor
Length: 60 minutes
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