Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Halfway Out of the Dark

So I grew up as a geek; my mother raised me on Star Trek, my first computer was a TI99/4A, and I've had a subscription to National Geographic from the time I was nine. So the yearly Doctor Who Christmas special is a highlight of the holiday for me. And the most recent one is arguably the best (though "The Christmas Invasion" comes in a close second).

Yes, Michael Gambone is wonderfully nasty as the Scrooge stand-in Kazran Sardick; there hasn't been a Scrooge who was that much of a bastard since George C. Scott. And the steampunk mise-en-scène fits so nicely, so well for a Christmas Carol retelling (and for some reason, it works better for me than "The Next Doctor"). But what made this episode so good was two-fold: it gave a surprisingly fresh take on the Dickens warhorse, and it really embraced the secular meaning of this season: as the Doctor says, we're halfway out of the dark.

Amy and Rory are on an interstellar ship headed for disaster unless the man who controls the skies over his planet--Kazran, who inherited this position from his father--clears the skies and lets them land. He won't, simply because he can--and, as he says, the planet already has a "surplus population"--who needs another 4003? So, naturally, the Doctor needs to change him, and since it's Christmas, he's inspired (in a fairly straightforward way) to take on the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Kazran's memories are changed in front of his--and our--own eyes, once the Doctor goes back to change him into a better person. Moffat knows how to play with time travel better than any of the writers of the revived show, and he pulls out all the stops here, including a clever take on the visit from the Ghost of Christmas Future. Kazran's lost love Abigail is, unfortunately, apparently suffering from Victorian Novel Disease, but at least she exists for more than breaking Kazran's heart; Katherine Jenkins's voice is appropriately haunting, and let's face it, singing to sharks is cool.

Like Dickens, and like It's a Wonderful Life, this is about someone who isn't too far gone, who can be redeemed. Kazran's father was too far gone--he was dead; Mr. Potter was too far gone--he never even had a crisis of conscience. But Scrooge? George Bailey? You and I? We're not too far gone--we can come back out and see the light.

We've come through the longest night of the year; from here on out, the days get longer, even if winter's grasp on us won't lessen for a long time.

On Christmas Eve, while driving home from seeing some friends, my husband asked "Why do you think Christmas is so tied up with being depressing? I don't think Charlie Brown started it--so where did it come from?" We didn't come up with a good explanation, just a list of examples--Charlie Brown Christmas, It's a Wonderful Life, the great O. Henry story "Gift of the Magi". Catcher in the Rye is about a kid losing his mind right before Christmas. The Bishop's Wife is about an angel who falls in love and can't do anything about it. We talked about whether it was a post-war phenomenon, whether it was born of that whole modern alienation problem. But now I wonder if it isn't partially because it really is the darkest time of the year, and we suffer from a type of seasonal affect disorder. Or if it's tied up in anxiety about families, and at least in the U.S., families are flung to the four corners, and often not speaking to each other; this is certainly true for my family. But Christmas is all about families, they say--and so anxiety reigns.

But maybe it's as simple as seeing all the commercialism, the worrying about money, about status, about presents, meanwhile every day gets darker and darker, and so striving for something more--because something has to bring us out of the dark.

Well, we're halfway there--the sun is no longer standing still, the days will slowly get longer, the year is about to begin again.

Also, finally, isn't Matt Smith wonderful as Eleven? I can't wait for the next series to start.


Kate said...

I haven't seen any of the 11th yet since we don't get BBC America. Bah!

I'm not sure why Christmas is equated with depression, but as you pointed out, it is one of the darkest nights of the year and if you're spending it alone, well... that is pretty depressing. Perhaps it has something to do with disappointment of expectations: not getting they present[s] one wanted, or more substantially, not getting to see or spend time with loved ones. Not having someone on Christmas definitely stresses one's isolation.

Leslie Gatchel said...

It's hard to be happy when you're busy and broke. Add in cold, dark days and it's a recipe for heavy drinking and crying. That is unless you're me and you thrive on that stuff. Bring it on Chritmas... you don't scare me.