Did we like it?
The first half-an-hour was perhaps the most thrilling introductory sequence since Dr Who’s resuscitation. The subsequent 20 minutes seemed to have fallen limply from crackers pulled at the Space Cadets Christmas party. Blessedly, the last 10 minutes returned to the excellence of the opening.
What was good about it?
• David Tennant as the Doctor, eventually. Unconscious for the best part of the episode, he awoke just in time to act in some of the worst sci-fi scripting since Space 1999 (more on that later). But he was given a chance to stamp his authority on the role in the confrontation with the capricious British PM Harriet Jones (the brilliant Penelope Wilton) after she ordered the destruction of the departing Sycorax mothership.
• Mickey telling his workmates to turn Slade’s seasonally ubiquitous atrocity Merry Xmas Everybody off. If only there was a Mickey in every workplace, in every home, on every street, on every train or bus, and at every party inhabited by desperate, directionless souls who try to terminate their feebly constructed arguments with the words “end of!”.
• It’s odd but it’s now taken as a matter of course that the special effects will be splendid. The whirling, destructive tendrils of the Christmas tree, the leviathan Sycorax spacecraft, the Sycorax spacecraft breaching the atmosphere and shattering glass for miles around, and the Torchwood laser.
• The innumerable references to other sci-fi TV/films. There are probably many we’ve missed, but we spotted: The Doctor in his pyjamas – Arthur Dent in Hitchhikers (even the Doc noticed this); the Sycorax mothership blotting out the sky with its vast volume – Independence Day; PM Harriet Jones appealing for the Doctor for salvation – Superman 2; the Doctor having his hand severed by the Syocrax leader during their duel – Empire Strikes Back; the duel itself was reminiscent of an episode of Star Trek when Kirk battled the leader of an alien race on a remote planet; the Torchwood laser, originating from four different sources to form a potent death ray – the Death Star in Star Wars; the Sycorax were a less tusky version of the Predator dressed by GWAR’s stylist; the people walking to a specified location like automatons – X-Files; the Doctor waking up and dispelling the threat of the Christmas tree with his ‘wand’ was similar to Professor Lupin in the Prisoner of Azkaban; and the combat with Claymores – Highlander.
• It even referenced itself – the Doctor’s weakness after regeneration was akin to Peter Davison’s first few episodes.
• The set of the whole episode was fantastic as one third of the world’s population waited on the edge of tall buildings to, apparently, wait for the command from the Syocrax to jump to their doom if the Earth did not surrender to an eternity of slavery.
What was bad about it?
• After the Doctor woke from his slumber, the story fell apart. We can’t quite fathom what caused the disintegration – Russell T Davies is a peerless writer, and David Tennant showed glimpses of becoming a distinguished Doctor – but the Doctor defeated the Sycorax too easily.
• Perhaps it was the constraints of squeezing the whole tale into one hour that caused the action to be reduced to something that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Colin Baker years. Saving the world through a one-on-one duel? Where’s the Doctor’s trademark ingenuity? Was it perhaps the festive complacency that, most noticeably, provokes sensible, valuable additions to the human race to lose their minds and dance to Westlife and Pussycat Dolls simply because it’s Christmas?
• When the TARDIS door opened, the mood lightened, and despite being surrounded by thousands of vicious looking aliens, the PM. Mickey and Rose started celebrating as though victory was a facile formality. In the annals of broadcasting, it most resembled the bit in every episode of Popeye when after being beaten black and blue by Bluto, Popeye finally gets his hands on some spinach.
• De-de-de-de-de-der-der. The Doctor thwarts the Sycorax ‘blood control’ by pressing a button. De-de-de-de-de-der-der. The Doctor challenges the Syocrax leader to single combat through some mumbo-jumbo clause. De-de-de-de-de-der-der. The Doctor defeats the evil Sycorax leader, and banishes his people from the Earth forever. De-de-de-de-de-der-der. Rose, in the role of Olive Oil, looks on adoringly.
• Because of the rushed nature of the conclusion, the Syocrax did not pose a credible threat. Initially, they seemed to be an intriguing mix of advanced technology and tribalistic feudalism, but this impression wasn’t built upon. They claimed to want to invade Earth to enslave the population and to mine the valuable minerals. In other words, they had gained a first class honours degree in How To Be A Clichéd Alien Species. And what’s more, only the leader seemed to be animated, the rest fulfilled the role of heinously ugly wallpaper. While morally wrong, it was actually a boon they were blasted out of the sky to prevent them polluting any future stories.