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08 January 2011 @ 02:13 pm
A Christmas Carol  
The very first time I came across Steven Moffat's work was the story Continuity Errors in one of the Decalog collections. In that story the Doctor is attempting to borrow a book from a library and is persistently thwarted by the librarian who tells him the book is restricted. This short scene repeats itself time and again. Each time the librarian's life is less bitter and filled with tragedy until..., I suppose I had better not reveal the end but it isn't the obvious conclusion. One of the interesting things about this story is that the Doctor's actions, despite making the librarian's life immeasurably better, are presented as entirely selfish. He wants the book, making her life better is just a means to an end.

There are obvious parallels in A Christmas Carol in the way the Doctor chooses to manipulate Kazran's past to turn him into the kind of person who will save the crashing spaceship. However, of course, this is a Christmas Special on BBC1 not a short story in some obscure fan-audience only publication and so the hard edges have been rubbed off and the rather sinister aspect of the Doctor's actions is ignored. My first thought was that, obviously, for a Christmas special there was no place for the darker tone but I can't help wondering if Russell Davies (for all his faults as a writer and showrunner) might not have left them in. He had streak of misanthropy within him which sometimes surfaced producing stories surprisingly against the "people are/the Doctor is fantastic" ethos of NuWho and, of course, he explicitly examined the Doctor's assumption of the right to meddle in this way in the Waters of Mars.

The excision of the darker side to the Doctor's actions, I think, also helped to make A Chirstmas Carol feel rather over-saccharine despite it's central tragedy (Abigail and Kazran's doomed love), and its acknowledgement that really the Doctor only succeeded in making Kazran just about nice enough to save a ship full of thousands of people when implored to do so by the Doctor.

All that said, I really enjoyed it. I found it refreshing to see a take on Dickens' book which wasn't a direct retread but instead used the story as an inspiration for telling something altogether different. I appreciated that there were darker undercurrents and that this was a world in which everything most definitely had not been put right at the end, even if that fact was glossed over somewhat, and I enjoyed the madness of the fish. There were some odd problems with it, such as the age of Abigail's family members and the unfortunate decision to record Katherine Jenkins' singing voice so it sounded like a Soprano making a recording rather than someone singing in a real location. It was a bit like watching the film of My Fair Lady and coping with the dislocation every time Julie Andrews' voice starts issuing out of Audrey Hepburn's mouth.

I didn't mind so much the way the story ignored the Blinovitch Limitation Effect* since the conceit served the story well. Unfortunately Blinovitch exists entirely to rule out a particular category of plot get-out. It explains away the question so often raised in newspaper filler articles: "why doesn't the Doctor just travel back in time and have another go?". Where stories like A Christmas Carol have got away with ignoring Blinovitch in the past has been when they have suggested that to do so is, in some way, either dangerous or unethical and often both. Despite its success, A Christmas Carol may introduce medium term problems into writing Doctor Who. The ability to go back and rewrite history until events suit your purposes is an absolute killer, in plot terms. In the past the general public have generally just accepted that you can't, even if they've never heard of the Blinovitch Limitation Effect, as part of the show's premise. Now, however, they will remember "that Christmas special" and will more urgently want to know why the Doctor can't do this again.

*An awesome piece of technobabble invented in the seventies to explain why you can use time travel to solve things.


This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/30241.html.
 
 
 
telperion_15: Gallifreyantelperion_15 on January 8th, 2011 04:22 pm (UTC)
they will remember "that Christmas special" and will more urgently want to know why the Doctor can't do this again.

At which point Steven Moffat will starting citing reasons like 'fixed points in time' blah blah blah, the Doctor can't cross/change his own timeline, etc. Neither of which appear to apply in the instance of 'A Christmas Carol' - which is fine, I don't really have a problem with that. And the whole fixed point in time thing kind of passed me by, really - that one just seems like a convenient excuse NOT to stop Vesuivius erupting or whatever, and they've never really explanined what it actually *means*.

I do, however, get annoyed with a certain friend of mine who always asks why, at the end of 'The Girl in the Fireplace', the Doctor can't just travel back and see Reinette when he discovers that she's died without ever seeing him again. She doesn't seem to understand the whole 'because that would mess up his own timeline and create a huge paradox' argument...

Anyway, I did feel that there was a certain element of darkness in the plot of 'A Christmas Carol', even though it wasn't really addressed explicitly in the plot. Okay, the Doctor is changing Kazran's life/memories in order to save everyone on the space ship, not for selfish reasons, but he is still completely changing someone's memories without batting an eyelid, and I found it faintly creepy that he could (and would) just do that...
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 8th, 2011 04:27 pm (UTC)
I'd forgotten about the "fixed point in time" thing, that would be a handy work around for all sorts of chicanery - although it does rather seem to imply that not being able to fix things is the exception rather than the rule.

I debated a bit about the extent to which A Christmas Carol airbrushes out the dubiousness of the Doctor's actions. You don't want TV to have to continually shout out "by the way what the hero is doing now is WRONG" but, on the other hand, it is nice to see some kind of acknowledgement of this even if its quite subtle. I didn't feel that A Christmas Carol raised the point at all but I suspect mileage may vary.
kilodaltonkilodalton on January 9th, 2011 02:03 am (UTC)

I do, however, get annoyed with a certain friend of mine who always asks why, at the end of 'The Girl in the Fireplace', the Doctor can't just travel back and see Reinette when he discovers that she's died without ever seeing him again. She doesn't seem to understand the whole 'because that would mess up his own timeline and create a huge paradox' argument...


... just tell her that Ten came to the realization that Mickey would probably kick his butt if he hurt Rose like that, so in the end, Ten thought the better of it and decided to let her stay dead XD
kilodaltonkilodalton on January 9th, 2011 02:07 am (UTC)
Despite its success, A Christmas Carol may introduce medium term problems into writing Doctor Who. The ability to go back and rewrite history until events suit your purposes is an absolute killer, in plot terms.

I think you're right, assuming that the more hardcore of us fans begin to reference ACC (and Moffat in general) for canon. Right now however, it looks like ACC is just ticking a lot of the hardcore fans off for that exact reason. The less-hardcore fans might not even notice .... but yeah, I can totally see how a fan who started watching s5 and never saw anything previously might have this question.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 9th, 2011 10:00 am (UTC)
I was thinking of the general public more, to be honest, than hardcore fans who will always find inconsistencies to pick at. But the "why can't he go back and change things" is an objection that the public often raise to Doctor Who. I think in the past he's got away with a lot of goodwill on the "he just can't" front but now the show has demonstrated that he can and the public will remember that for at least a while. Whether that will have a negative impact on, say, viewing figures, I don't know - maybe they already think it's a silly and inconsistent show and watch anyway but I'd worry about it as a show runner in the same way shows often seem to worry when they introduce some all-poweful device and then subsequently need to get rid of it.
kilodaltonkilodalton on January 9th, 2011 12:28 pm (UTC)
You're probably right. As a hardcore viewer myself it's hard to put myself in the shoes of a casual viewer sometimes XD
promethia_tenkpromethia_tenk on January 9th, 2011 02:13 am (UTC)
I have some suspicions that Moffat will be returning to this idea of rewiting people in the season proper, probably in a more complex and darker manner. He does like to foreshadow, after all, and isn't using "A Christmas Carol" the perfect way to introduce an audience to the idea of trying to change a person by changing their past? It's a familiar story, and we all know how it's supposed to go, and it's Christmas besides, so of course the Doctor doing it this time was more or less alright (albeit slightly creepy), but we did go back again to that familiar refrain of "time can be rewritten" but this time with the added idea that "people can't." It would surprise me very much if the sixth season didn't try to explore that in more depth.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 9th, 2011 08:45 am (UTC)
Now that's a very interesting thought!
kilodaltonkilodalton on January 9th, 2011 12:26 pm (UTC)
He would have had a perfect opportunity to do this in s5 however, what with the cracks erasing so much of Amy's life. And then, the Amy at the end of the series was an Amy with completely different life experiences than the initial Amy we met ... but I didn't see a difference in terms of "people changing" at all. Mistreating Rory early in the season; mistreating him at the end. Trying to snog Eleven early in the season; trying to snog him at the end. Snarky early on; snarky at the end. Etc.

I think that if that WAS what Moffat was aiming to do, it would be great - but I don't think he's that type of a writer or, frankly, even remotely capable of writing something that complex. He seems to like to tinker with "what if ..." time travel scenarios more than he likes to plan a character arc -- and to pull off something like that would take some serious characterization.