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Doctor Who - The New Series

Sp.02: "THE CHRISTMAS INVASION"

TX: 25 December 2005

Written by: Russel T. Davies

Directed by: James Hawes

Running time: 59' 10"

Location: London, England

Date: December 24-25, 2006 AD

Monsters and villains: The Sycorax (a race of warrior invaders), the "pilot fish" (robotic creatures disguised as Christmas paraphernalia)

Plot Synopsis: It's Christmas Eve and the newly-regenerated Doctor is recuperating in Rose's flat. But it's to be a far-from-silent night as robotic Santas, murderous Christmas trees and a spaceship full of vicious warrior aliens plan to take over the Earth. With the Doctor out for the count, it's down to Rose, Mickey and Harriet Jones (Prime Minister) to save the Earth.

Trivia: (1) Noel Clarke, who plays recurring character Mickey Smith, was knocked to the ground after getting too close to a controlled explosion whilst filming this episode. Thankfully, he only suffered temporary ringing in one ear.

(2) Public interest in the series had increased massively after the first season was shown, so much so that filming for the first block of the second season (sp.02 "The Christmas Invasion", 2.01 "New Earth" and 2.03 "School Reunion") was continually interrupted by flash photography and noisy spectators. Eventually, the police were required to guard shoots and escort away troublemakers.

(3) There are two references to Star Wars in the episode; the scene with the severed hand mimicks an identical moment in The Empire Strikes Back, while Torchwood's laser defence system is similar to the beam fired by the Death Star in A New Hope.

(4) News of the episode's anti-war politics leaked onto the net prior to broadcast, leading to much controversy on some sites who saw it as an attack on the Bush/Blair Iraq War. However, the attack on the spaceship is much more reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher's decision to destroy the Belgrano, a retreating ship, during the Falklands War.

(5) During the initial pan across the Houses of Parliament, scaffolding can be seen surrounding the clock tower, which was partially destroyed by the Slitheen spaceship in 1.04, "Aliens of London".

(6) Objects and clothing from the original series can be seen in the TARDIS's wardrobe, including the Seventh Doctor's umbrella, one of the Fourth Doctor's scarves and his hat, the Fifth Doctor's hat, the First Doctor's walking stick, the Third Doctor's cloak, the mirror from "Castrovalva", the golden column that stood in the First Doctor's console room and Steven Taylor's striped jumper from "The Celestial Toymaker". There is also a reference to David Tennant's appearance in the film adaptation of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"; a Gryffindor scarf (red and yellow) can be seen in one shot. One of Tennant's costumes from Russel T. Davies's "Casanova" TV series can also be seen.

(7) The shop that Mickey and Rose walk past when the Santas are first seen - the one with the blue angel outside - is Henrik's, the fictional store whose top floor was blown up in 1.01, "Rose".

(8) The news reporter repeats something that Government sources have said "off the record" - this would not happen, since something that is said off the record is not to be repeated. Davies probably meant that the sources had said it and asked not to be named, in which case, the quote would be introduced as "an unnamed Government source said...".

(9) "Sycorax" is the name of the cruel witch in Shakespeare's The Tempest.

(10) The Sycorax's message, as seen on Alex's palmtop, also says that they want Earth women. The spoken line was cut from the broadcast because when they make their threat "they will die", it appeared to refer to the women rather than the soon-to-be-possessed people.

(11) Immediately after broadcast, an mp3 commentary for the episode was put up on the BBC's Doctor Who site. It featured executive producer Julie Gardner, producer Phil Collinson and head writer Russel T. Davies.

(12) Prior to the episode's broadcast, a fake website was set up by the BBC at http://www.guinevere.org.uk/, purporting to be owned by the fictional British Rocket Group featured in the episode. The British Rocket Group were also mentioned in the original series story "Remembrance of the Daleks", and originated in the "Quatermass" TV series created by Nigel Kneale. "Quatermass" had nothing to do with Doctor Who - in fact, Kneale was known for disliking Who, which he accused of trying to frighten children at tea-time. Interestingly, David Tennant appeared in a live reconstruction of one of the Quatermass stories in 2005.

(13) A second website was set up for Harriet Jones by Doctor Who fans at http://www.flydale-north.org.uk/.

(14) The credits list Tennant as "The Doctor" - unlike the first series, which listed Christopher Eccleston as "Doctor Who". This was never consistent in the original series, either, but this time around the change was made at the request of David Tennant himself, who is an old-school Who fan and asked that the Doctor be given his 'correct' title.

(15) At the end, the Doctor tells Rose that he once met Arthur Dent, the protagonist in Douglas Adams's series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Whether he's joking or not is unclear (fans have speculated that they might have met in an alternate dimension), but this is not the first Guide reference in Doctor Who: in the original series story "Ghost Light", the Seventh Doctor quoted the Guide, and in the Fourth Doctor story "Destiny of the Daleks", a book by a Guide character named Oolon Colluphid is mentioned. The latter was inserted by Adams himself, since he was script editor for the show at the time.

(16) The Doctor's severed hand is seen in the spin-off series Torchwood, in a jar in the Torchwood team's HQ.

Spoiler Synopsis: Jackie is putting out Christmas presents and Mickey is hard at work in his garage when they hear the familiar hiss of the TARDIS landing. However, something is clearly wrong as the TARDIS appears tens of feet in the air and crashes to Earth, hitting buildings, bins and a van on the way down. The newly-regenerated Doctor stumbles out of the TARDIS, greeting a baffled Jackie and Mickey, who do not recognise him. he wishes them a merry Christmas and collapses to the ground.

The group take the Doctor up to Jackie's flat, where Rose uses a borrowed stethoscope to make sure that the Doctor's hearts are still beating (he is wearing pyjamas and a dressing gown borrowed from Jackie's boyfriend - remember that, it's important later on). She explains the process of regeneration to her mother while, unbeknownst to them, some of the vortex energy the Doctor absorbed in "The Parting of the Ways" slips out of his mouth and into space. Back in the flat, Rose watches Harriet Jones, Britain's newest Prime Minister, giving a speech on TV about Guinivere I, an unmanned probe being sent to Mars. However, the probe comes into trouble when it hits what appears to be solid rock out in space. A door in the "rock" opens and sucks the probe inside.

Later, Mickey takes Rose out shopping, hoping to distract her from the Doctor's condition. It works, but not in the way he expected - a quartet of murderous, robotic, gun-toting Santa Clauses appear and attack Rose and Mickey. As they flee back to the flat, Rose guesses that they're after the Doctor, and are looking to take out his companions before they can help him.

Back at the flat, Mickey and Rose try to convince Jackie to run away from London with them, but their plans are cut short when the Christmas tree - installed by some mysterious third party while Jackie was in another room - turns into a whirlwind of blades and starts chasing them back out. Mickey tries to hold it off with a chair while Jackie and Rose carry the Doctor out, but the chair is soon reduced to sawdust and they find themselves trapped in the bedroom with the unconscious Doctor. Rose slips the sonic screwdriver into the Doctor's hand and begs him to help her. Suddenly, he sits bolt upright and zaps the tree with the screwdriver, causing it to explode spectacularly. The Doctor notes that the tree is remote control, but wonders who is controlling it. He looks outside and sees the Santas on the ground, peering up at him. He aims the screwdriver at them, but they teleport away immediately.

The Doctor says that the creatures were "pilot fish" and then collapses. He explains that they woke him up too soon - he's still regenerating and full of vortex energy - energy that they could use to power themselves indefinitely. They were planning to kill everyone so that they could kidnap him and take him away. He warns them that the pilot fish mean something else is coming and falls unconscious again.

Back at the press conference, Harriet Jones and Guinivere I's project manager, Daniel Llewellyn, are looking increasingly worried, since they lost contact with the probe earlier that night. However, they reassure the reporters that they've regained contact and the pictures will be broadcast later that night. Meanwhile, Mickey has found the definition of pilot fish - they're scavengers who hang around with large sharks and eat the remains of their kills, and that means something much, much scarier will be arriving shortly. At that moment, the pictures from Guinivere I are broadcast on TV, showing a roaring, skull-faced alien. Soon after, news stations across the world are broadcasting Earth's first contact with alien life (again).

Beneath the Tower of London, Daniel Llewellyn is led by armed UNIT escort to a special secret crisis centre. A Major leads him to Harriet Jones, whose right-hand man, Alex, has put out a cover story saying that the message was a hoax set up by students. The Major returns soon after, taking Harriet and Daniel to Sally, a communications expert. She says that the broadcast was made from 5000 miles above the planet, not from Mars, and the Major explains that this means the probe must be aboard some kind of ship. And according to the Hubble array, that ship is closing in on Earth fast.

Mickey has somehow hacked into UNIT's computer systems and is watching their radar screen. Suddenly, four bony alien faces appear on the screen. They begin speaking in a strange language that Rose cannot understand. She notes that the TARDIS usually translates alien languages into her head, and guesses that with the Doctor out of commission, the TARDIS is unable to work properly.

In the UNIT command centre, the Major tells Harriet that the Doctor has not appeared and she asks whether "Torchwood" can be contacted. She says that she's not supposed to know, and that even the United Nations themselves aren't aware of its existence. Nevertheless, she needs to contact them. He goes off to make the call and Alex walks up with a translation of the aliens' message. The creatures, calling themselves the Sycorax, claim ownership of Earth and wish to take its land and minerals and threaten that "they will die". Daniel, who has just walked up, asks who "they" are. Alex says he has no idea. Harriet gives Alex a reply to the Sycorax, saying that the planet is armed and that they will not surrender.

At sunrise the following morning, UNIT receive the Sycorax's response to their warning. The Sycorax leader raises his left hand, which is enveloped in a blue glow. A similar blue glow appears around Sally's head, and around the heads of several other UNIT members. The glowing people, now seemingly hypnotised, begin sliently walking out of the room. And all over London, similarly hypnotised people - men, women and children of all ages and races - begin walking, zombified, in large groups. Rose and Mickey step outside to see Cassandra, a woman from the same block of flats, following her glowing boyfriend. It seems that the zombies are all walking towards the highest buildings they can find - anything with steps and stairs. On top of the Tower of London, Sally and the rest of the hypnotised UNIT members walk right up to the edge of the building... and then stop. Back at Rose's council estate, the residents have done exactly the same thing.

Alex, meanwhile, has noticed a pattern - the affected seem to be blood relatives. Daniel hears this and asks for medical records of all the affected staff. It turns out that they all have A positive blood. He realises what has happened: a sample of A+ blood was placed aboard the probe alongside other artifacts from Earth, and the Sycorax are somehow using that sample to control everyone with A+ blood - and that control is extending right across the planet!

Harriet appears on television in lieu of the Queen's speech (the royal family are all up on the roof too) and asks the Doctor to step forward and help mankind. But the Doctor is still unconscious, and Rose is by his bedside in tears, crying that the Doctor has left her. Suddenly, a sonic boom tears across London, shattering glass across the city - the ship has entered the Earth's atmosphere! Rose, Jackie and Mickey run out of the building and look up to see the ship, seemingly constructed of rock, looming above. Rose darts back into the flat, telling her mother to gather food and Mickey to help her carry the Doctor. Realising that she has no idea what to do, she's elected instead to hide out in the TARDIS.

Back at the UNIT command centre, the Sycorax make contact again, demanding that Earth's leader stand forward. With no one else to turn to, Harriet does so. The Sycorax beam her, the Major, Daniel and Alex aboard their ship, where they find themselves in a vast hall, surrounded on all sides by Sycorax warriors. Their leader steps forward and removes his bone helmet to speak. He demands that they surrender or else the people perched on top of their roofs - all 33% of Earth's population - will jump. Daniel, realising that his probe is the cause of all this trouble, steps forward to speak. He asks the Sycorax to have compassion for humanity, who are just children in the grand scheme of things. The leader responds by attacking him with a whip that burns the flesh from his bones. The Major, disgusted to see a prisoner murdered in cold blood, steps forward to remonstrate and is dispatched just as quickly. The leader repeats his threat, his hand hovering over a large, dangerous-looking red button. He tells Harriet that she must decide between half of Earth's population being sold into slavery or one third jumping to its death.

Back on Earth, Rose and Mickey carry the Doctor into the TARDIS while Jackie readies a Thermos flask full of tea. She passes it to Mickey and runs outside to get more food. Mickey tries to tune the TARDIS's scanner in to the news to see if Earth has surrendered, and in doing so, sends out a signal that is picked up by the Sycorax ship. They beam the TARDIS and its occupants aboard, leaving Jackie back on Earth. Rose steps outside to see where her mother is and is captured by Sycorax guards. Mickey drops the Thermos and runs outside. Tea from the flask begins to dribble onto the TARDIS's circuits beneath the gantry, turning into steam...

The Sycorax leader, having decided the Rose must be the owner of the TARDIS, says that she must speak on behalf of the Earth. Haltingly, she tries to scare away the Sycorax by ringing off some of the names and phrases she heard the Ninth Doctor use, but the Sycorax remain unconvinced and laugh at her. The Sycorax, being something of a showman, reels off a long speech which slowly morphs from his own language into English. The leader denies that he's speaking English and Rose realises that it must be the TARDIS translator kicking back in. She turns to the doors and sees the Doctor standing there. He smiles. "Did you miss me?"

The leader tries to kill the Doctor with his whip, but the Doctor yanks it out of his hand before it can do any damage. He then attempts to hurt the Doctor with his ceremonial staff, which the Doctor snaps in half. The Doctor tells him to wait his turn and goes back to Rose. He explains that the tannin and free radicals from the superheated tea were just what he needed to complete his regeneration. He tells Rose off for giving up on him and notes that he appears to be rather rude now he's in his new body. After a brief hello to Harriet, the Doctor is accosted by the Sycorax leader, who demands to know who the Doctor is. The Doctor says he doesn't know yet, since he's only just got a new body and personality. As he explains, he notices the big red button of doom and goes over to take a look. He finds the blood in the mechanism and tastes it, noting that it is A+. He then hits the big red button, but rather than jumping to their deaths, the hypnotised people are turned back to normal. The Doctor explains that the Sycorax were bluffing - the survival instinct is too strong to kill someone through blood hypnosis.

The Sycorax says that it could call for the armada, but the Doctor rightly notes its showoff streak and challenges it to a duel instead. Their swordfight takes them out onto the ship's "roof", where the Sycorax leader's superior swordsmanship forces the Doctor to the very edge. It knocks him down and slices off his hand, which falls - with the sword - down to Earth. The Sycorax leader cheers in victory, but the Doctor, unperturbed, stands up and explains that he's still within the first 15 hours of his regeneration cycle, thus allowing him to regrow his hand. Rose tosses him another sword and the first begins with renewed vigour. This time it is the Sycorax leader who is knocked onto his back. The Doctor holds the sword to his throat and says that he'll spare his life if he promises to leave the planet and never return. The leader agrees.

As the Doctor walks back to the ship's interior, Rose puts Jackie's boyfriend's dressing gown over his shoulders. He finds a satsuma in the pocket (Jackie's boyfriend gets hungry in the night) and muses that he always ends up getting one of them at Christmas. Behind him, however, the Sycorax leader stands and readies his sword, hoping to make one last strike. But the Doctor is onto him, and throws the satsuma at a button on the wall, opening a trapdoor beneath the leader's feet and sending him plummeting to his death. "No second chances. I'm that sort of a man," the Doctor says.

Inside, he warns the Sycorax never to return, and that the Earth is defended. Then the TARDIS and humans are teleported down to Jackie's council estate. They cheer as the Sycorax ship flies out of Earth's orbit. The Doctor and Harriet greet one another and the Doctor warns her that the Earth's habit of sending out probes and rockets is starting to get it noticed more and more. Harriet looks horrified. As Jackie and Rose are reunited, Alex gets a call from Torchwood - the thing they were asked to organise is ready. Looking deeply troubled, Harriet tells them to fire. Green laser beams erupt from five points across London, joining to form a single, giant laser that strikes the Sycorax ship, destroying it from the inside out.

The Doctor, furious, marches across to Harriet and tells her that she just committed murder. She says it was defence - adapted from alien technology that landed ten years ago - and was entirely justified; the Sycorax could have returned with an armada and she can't rely on the Doctor to come and save the Earth every time something happens. The Doctor says that he gave them the wrong warning - he should have told the Sycorax to run from the human monsters. Harriet refuses to back down, asking whether that makes him another alien threat. He tells her not to challenge him and threatens to bring down her government with a single word. Or, rather, the six that he whispers to Alex: "Don't you think she looks tired?" Harriet demands to know what he whispered as the Doctor, Rose, Mickey and Jackie walk away.

As Jackie, Rose and Mickey enjoy their Christmas turkey, the Doctor roots through the TARDIS's wardrobe looking for some new clothes to fit his new body. He eventually settles on a suit/trenchcoat combination that curiously mirrors his pyjamas and dressing gown and joins the party, which is interrupted when Rose notices Harriet being interviewed by the press on TV - it seems someone is spreading rumours about her health, and the scrolling writing at the bottom of the screen indicates that some organisations have accused her of having "blood on her hands".

Just then, Jackie's friend calls and tells everyone to look outside. They peer out and see that it's snowing, and beautiful comets are racing across the night sky. The Doctor points out that the snow is actually ash from the destroyed spaceship and the "comets" are bits of debris burning up in the Earth's atmosphere. Rose asks the Doctor what he's going to do; he says that he'll go back to travelling around in the TARDIS. He asks her if she wants to come and she agrees, much to Mickey's disappointment. But he smiles and agrees. The Doctor and Rose hold hands and look up to the sky and all the new adventures they can have.

Review (may contain spoilers): Well, after a slightly underwhelming performance in the Children in Need scene, this full-blown epic shows that David Tennant is going to be a marvellous Doctor. He has the charisma, the charm, the perfect comic timing and, at a push, the steely gaze that bear the promise of a spectacular Time Lord. Granted, he's not quite as good at the serious stuff as Christopher Eccleston was - his voice never has the righteous anger that his rant at Harriet implies - but it's early days yet, and Tennant has proven himself to be an excellent actor outside of Who so I'll put it down to a slip of direction.

Not that there's much to complain about with regards to James Hawes's work; this episode looks and feels bolder and more confident than anything in the last series, and there's none of the leaden pacing and direction that crippled some episodes of the last series (Dalek, I'm looking at you). The open blue skies and slightly bleached colours are a pleasing step away from the first series' dayglo claustrophobia, and the special effects are handled with confidence and aplomb - no pixellated Daleks or fake-looking firey explosions in this one, no sir. The scenes in which the ship passes over London are genuinely breathtaking, and far beyond anything seen in the first series. However, it's not all perfect - the climactic swordfight is a spectacular letdown - Hawes chops and changes the shots like there's no tomorrow, leaving the Doctor and the Sycorax leader looking like clumsy amateurs. It doesn't help that the weapons of choice are broadswords, which are inherently brutal and clumsy weapons anyway, but Hawes could have really worked this to his advantage by using longer shots, showing the sheer weight and power of the swords as they crash down. Instead, there's lots of quick-cutting of the kind that ruined the action in Pirates of the Caribbean and Batman Begins, and the whole thing loses any sense of danger or pacing. Shame, because this is the big scene that we've been looking forward to for so long.

The music is generally solid, and much more filmic than the stuff used in the first series. Whether that's due to rescoring or just better timing, I don't know. A particular highlight is the wonderfully manic, mischievious and sinister version of Jingle Bells that plays during the Christmas tree's attack. However, it does on occasion suffer the same problem that the first series had, with the music being mixed up far, far too much making dialogue difficult to hear. This was particularly obvious during the Santa shootout and subsequent taxi ride.

But this really is splitting hairs. The only really major problems with the episode (and they are few) are due to Russel T. Davies' script which is, as ever, a mixture of brilliant dialogue, excellent jokes and spectacular setpieces strung together by the faintest semblance of a plot and the bare minimum of internal logic. I may be wrong, but Davies does seem to write with a devil-may-care attitude whereby plot holes and weird contradictions either go unnoticed or are glossed over in the hope that the viewer will be too busy having fun to notice. Either way, there are some extremely strong weaknesses in the script. For example, there was much confusion on fansites about the nature of the Santas - they're described as being like pilot fish, hanging around the Sycorax and scavenging from their conquests, but many were still not entirely clear whether they were in communication with the Sycorax or not, leading to some thinking that the Sycorax were initially interested in the Doctor and then forgot about him completely. There's also a question mark hanging over their methods: if all they wanted was the Doctor, why did they bother putting a Christmas tree in Jackie's flat when it would have been easier to just murder her and take the unconscious Time Lord?

But the most irritating part of the script, and the one which really does undermine the otherwise excellent ending, is the eventual downfall of the Sycorax leader. The Doctor somehow senses that the Sycorax leader is about to charge him - fair enough, there are plenty of ways he could have known about that. But then he throws an orange at a button on the wall which causes a trapdoor to open beneath the leader and makes him fall to his death. Er. So why was there a trapdoor on the side of the spaceship, and why did it open such a tiny little section of the floor? How did the Doctor know that the button would open up the trapdoor, since it looks just like one of switches to open the door back into the ship? And how did he know that the leader happened to be stood on the exact tiny part of the ledge that the button opened? Things like this are so screamingly contrived that it's hard to believe they ever made it past the first draft, let alone through the complicated and expensive filming and post-production work required to put the sequence together.

Ah, but where's my Christmas cheer? With these small exceptions, the script to The Christmas Invasion is excellent. Keeping the Doctor out of the action seemed like a bad idea at first, but Davies keeps the tension high and the scenes in which the zombified citizens stand ready to throw themselves from rooftops are suitably unnerving. The ending is also impressive, with Prime Minister Harriet Jones's arguments for destroying the spaceship being just as strong as the Doctor's conviction that it should have gone unharmed. It's to Davies's credit that no solid conclusions are drawn either way, and it's easy to see both Harriet and the Doctor as the "villains" of that scene.

The cast are largely excellent - Piper puts in another fine performance, as does Penelope Wilton as Harriet Jones. Even Jackie and Mickey are pretty good, and they were always the weakest links in the first season. Yes, if The Christmas Invasion is any indication of the quality of Who to come, then I shall be very, very happy. Just someone keep an eye on Davies' scripts, alright?

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Sources:

http://www.imdb.com/ - The Internet Movie Database http://www.gallifreyone.com - Outpost Gallifrey http://www.physics.mun.ca/~sps/9doc.html - A Brief History of (Time) Travel http://www.gallifreyone.com/forum/showthread.php?t=63526 - A discussion about the wardrobe scene (requires registration)

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