One of the things that prevented us from ever truly embracing David Tennant’s run as The Doctor (,they wrote, inviting controversy and outrage to follow) was his version’s tendency to get awfully mopey and melodramatic. “Histrionic” is the word we’d use. Generally speaking, we don’t think The Doctor should get too bogged down in his emotions. The whole point to him, as we see it, is that he runs away; whether from things that get too ickily emotional or toward things that look shiny and interesting to him. For us, moping and wallowing should never get out of hand with this character.
We weren’t keen on another “Oh, my faithful companion is lost to me forever” opening, to be followed by the requisite “Plucky, cute English girl who has raised me out of my doldrums, how would you like a key to my box?” closing. It’s part of the mythology, of course, and hats must be tipped in that direction whenever a new companion hops on board, but we went into this special with two prejudicial thoughts: that there would be some furniture reshuffling in order to get the new character into the slot the old one occupied; and, because it’s a Doctor Who Christmas Special, that it would be somewhat shockingly sentimental; a deluge of Victorian-style maudlin.
No, really. The Brits can be hilariously cynical in their entertainment, but sometimes we’re blown away by the overwhelming waves of sentimentality that pop up occasionally on British television. We realize, of course, that Americans are no less sentimental in their entertainment (and arguably more so), but because it’s British sentimentalism (i.e., different from our own; also: with more children’s choirs) coming at us, we tend to notice it much more.
So yes, we may as well admit it: we were happy to have another hour (plus) of new Who for Christmas, but we weren’t expecting it to be anything more than loud, sentimental, and somewhat expected overall. We are quite happy to report that the result was both more and less than what we expected.
Oh, it was sentimental, of course. The claptrap about “Nothing more powerful than a family crying on Christmas Eve” did not fail to produce eyerolls rather than eyes filling with tears. And yes, Clara is quite the plucky little English girl, isn’t she? Plucky and perky and perfect, our little Clara. Almost as if she were designed to be a companion to the Doctor. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
No, what we got, in place of Victorian melodrama, was, in fact, a diatribe against Victorian repression, oddly enough. And while the good Doctor moped, he had a gaggle of funny, sharp, lively and much-loved part-time companions on hand to point out just how annoyingly mopey he is. And while, yes, there was a family crying on Christmas eve, all dragged out in Victorian sleepwear, looking like a woodcut Christmas card, the energy level throughout was so high and the guest stars so much fun (a near-ageless Richard E. Grant out-moping the Doctor at every turn and the mellifluous sounds of Ian McKellen doing his best snow-Gandalf voice) that we didn’t mind a minute of the proceedings. Not even when Clara ascended the magic stairway to the clouds because — oh, did we not mention? We sometimes get irritated with the show’s latter-day habit of casting itself more as a fairy tale than a science fiction story.
So to recap: T Lo get annoyed with/roll their eyes at:
- The somewhat rote way companions are introduced after previous companions get “lost.”
- Sometimes hilarious levels of Victorian sentimentality in Who Christmas specials.
- The Moffat era’s reliance on fairy tale tropes and imagery to romanticize the character and setting.
But we loved this episode. We really did. Maybe it’s because Matt Smith just mopes better than David Tennant did. Maybe it’s because Clara really is kind of fun and smart. Maybe it’s because they introduced her in the standard manner and then had her die after falling from a great height; an event which undercut the sentimentality while at the same time providing new opportunities to revel in it. Maybe it’s because there’s a new mystery being set up as to who, exactly, Clara is. Maybe it’s because we’d watch just about anything with Strax, Jenny and Madame Vastra in it. Maybe it’s because (Blasphemy!) we forgot completely about the Ponds once the Doctor snapped out of his moping. Or maybe – and most likely – it was a combination of all these factors. We refuse to beieve that it’s because we’re getting sentimental ourselves, in our old age. That can’t possibly be true, because we managed to devote at least some time during the episode to hating the TARDIS redesign. And thus, our angry nerd cred is maintained.
But really, we loved this episode. Great fun, and a great setup for the rest of the season.