Christmas is a pretty special time in the UK, I think. I theorize. I’ve never been there at Christmas time, but one glance at the decorations on Oxford or Regent Street tells you what it’s like in London.
I also haven’t participated in that age-old tradition of the Queen’s Christmas address. But one tradition I am always happy to indulge is the tradition of the Christmas special. During busy weeks, particularly in the holidays, TV here tends to come to a screeching halt. Repeats for weeks on end. The only exception is (American) football, which is on constantly from Thanksgiving to …February. Blech. I’ll pass on that. But the Christmas special! Something everyone can gather around the TV and enjoy, that (usually) doesn’t involve padding or jock straps. I can support that tradition whole-heartedly.
This Christmas was a big one for Doctor Who, with Matt Smith’s last episode and Peter Capaldi’s first. They like to do these transitions on big episodes, don’t they? And this one was a particularly unusual story. We saw the Doctor bald, we saw him naked,
and even more strangely, we saw him old. Doctor’s aren’t supposed to age, are they? During that stretch of episodes in America, we see the Doctor some 200 years older in one episode than when we see him next, and there isn’t the slightest change. So exactly how much time did he spend in a town called Christmas, on a planet called Trenzalore, to get to looking like this:
He looks and acts very Dickensian, which I find rather amusing. He’s always been very Victorian, number 11, with his waistcoats and bow ties and pocket watches. Being rather fond of that era myself, I am sad to see that go. I am genuinely sad to see Matt Smith go, which is a big credit to him, since I was weeping over David Tennant’s exit.
This episode was very grand and (is often the case with very grand episodes of the show) it often seemed more concentrated on being big and important, rather than making much sense. I try to remember what exactly was going on, but I found myself thoroughly confused by a lot of the plot for this one.
The way I understood it, the Time Lords were communicating through the crack in the wall, which reappeared in Christmas. Their message was heard by everyone, and it scared everyone. They were asking the Doctor’s name…and if he told them, they would come through. And this would, for some reason, cause immediate and total war? The Church of the Mainframe protects the planet from the hordes of Daleks, Cybermen, and every other type of villain that is trying to get in.
I have so many questions from this episode. How are the Time Lords of Gallifrey able to send messages, and then (Deux Ex Machina) time energy, through the rift when they are stored safely away in a frozen moment of time? How did a burst of time energy reset the clock on the Doctor’s regeneration count? And simultaneously give him power to kill Daleks with a light beam? Why does the regeneration process seem to happen really quickly sometimes (John Hurt’s Doctor to Chris Eccleston’s, Eccleston to Tennant) and sometimes (Tennant to Smith, Smith to Capaldi), it takes quite a while. Most importantly, what’s the point of using the Silence as priests? Why would you want to confess and then forget you’d done so? Much better to have a priest who forgets everything you’ve just told him. And was the episode implying that the Silence were created to be priests? Or that they were recruited as priests after they were more-or-less killed off on Earth?
I think this episode attempted to do too much, too big, without enough time or weight given to some of the big issues. And the most important thing, the actual regeneration, took place so late in the episode, that we barely saw Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. I like him already, I feel I can’t help but to like him. But with a new Doctor, any new Doctor, he needs to win the audience over nearly immediately. Now we’ve seen Peter Capaldi for approximately 40 seconds, and now we have to sit and wait until …whenever they decide to air the next series… before we get to really see him as the Doctor? I don’t like it. I wanted more, obviously, and I think it’s important to the audience to keep out any doubts over the new Doctor. I was pretty disappointed to not see more of him, and that’s part of what makes me unhappy and unsettled about the episode as a whole.
And then there was Downton Abbey.
Another Christmas special that has utterly nothing to do with Christmas? This time it’s the London Season, where debutantes are launched into society and try to land the richest possible husband. Mary is entertaining multiple suitors as usual, we learn that Bates probably did murder whats-his-name, and the Grantham family has to engage in some clumsy skullduggery to save the Prince of Wales from embarrassment over his affair. Most importantly, Carson is barefoot in the ocean. Mr. Carson is the last person I imagine to ever be barefoot. The poor man, I would gladly have gone on his outings. I liked the Science Museum and all the other ‘educational’ outings he suggested.
Rose drove me less crazy during this episode by far. She’s still silly and a bit dim, but she acted like an adult at least. Edith and Mary, on the other hand, drove me crazy. Mary is just as spoiled and selfish as she has ever been, and Edith is tedious and dull at best. I never like indecision, particularly in TV characters. In a story, there’s no point in indecision. It’s a waste of the audience’s time. Edith waffling back and forth and being rude to others about a situation she’s created for herself is…just as annoying as I’ve come to expect from her character. I miss Sybil!
Finally, we got to see Paul Giamatti as Cora’s brother, and I thought he did splendidly. He always seems to play the same character–the grumpy but charming man who wins over far more attractive ladies.
No exception here. I know the ‘Americanness’ of these characters is heightened to the point where they may as well be from another galaxy, but I quite like them. They get almost all of the minute social niceties completely wrong in every situation–futile introductions to the Prince of Wales, never understanding that they’re supposed to get their own tea or breakfast, not comprehending the practice of downstairs servants being called by the name of the person upstairs that they serve, etc., etc. But no matter how many times they get it wrong, it doesn’t phase them. And as an American, I think that’s pretty accurate. While the Brits are disdainful of our loud voices and lack of manners, we are blissfully apathetic to doing these things the ‘wrong’ way. Undoubtedly, Harold will tell all his amused friends in Newport about his conversation with the Prince, whereas any Brit who had made the same mistake would probably be mortified. I know Downton takes place nearly 100 years ago, but I think these are social mores that still exist in each culture. Brits still have fear of causing offense or inconvenience; Americans generally don’t know or don’t care when we’ve accidentally committed a minor faux pas. The American in me genuinely likes Cora, her mother, and her brother, for being too independent to care about titles or propriety, and for caring far more about the actual value of a person or an action. I hope Paul Giamatti is in more than just this one episode, because I like him and I think the Grantham family needs more people to come and ruffle their feathers. They’ll never survive the changes coming their way if they are allowed to believe the world is going to stay the same.
Bates’ story was the only real menace in the episode. Mary and Mrs. Hughes know that he probably killed Mr. Green, and they’re not certain if they ought to keep it a secret. The more I think about Bates, the more I think he’s a villain. No one can really blame him for wanting to kill Mr. Green. But to act on it…and I have never been entirely convinced he didn’t kill his first wife. He seems to be surrounded by characters so evil that no one could really blame him for wanting them dead, but the amount of death that seems to follow him is pretty ridiculous. Anna seems to be doing much better, but this will tear her apart again, so he is hurting her more than almost anyone. I don’t trust him or like him anymore, and he’s shown he’s quite capable of lying to cover up his actions. He’s gotten rid of a lot of problems in his life by acting like a criminal. It may be safe to say, at this point, that he just is one. I’m ready for him to be done.
It’s a long time until Downton Abbey starts again, and I’m not certain this episode provided me with a really compelling reason to keep watching. I enjoyed the 4th season, but there was no particular cliffhanger or massive event at the end of this episode that would make me hungry for more. But I did like the little moment with Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson, because they’re both lovable and they deserve more fun. That being said, it seems an odd place to leave your Christmas episode–on a sunny beach.