The Christmas Invasion ★★★★★

David Tennant instantly shines in this exhilarating treat for Christmas 2005

39648

Story 167 

Advertisement

Christmas special 2005

“What do you mean, ‘That’s the doctor’? Doctor who?” – Jackie Tyler

Storyline
On Christmas Eve 2005, the Tardis crash-lands in London in Rose Tyler’s estate with the regenerated Doctor aboard. Still recuperating, he’s given refuge in Jackie’s flat. Rose and Mickey are attacked by flame-throwing, robotic Santas and a lethal Christmas tree rampages through Jackie’s flat. Unit and new Prime Minister Harriet Jones are on high alert when an alien spaceship arrives over London. The Sycorax plan to enslave humankind and bargain by compelling a third of the world’s population to climb to the edge of tall buildings. Aboard the Sycorax ship, the Doctor, still in pyjamas, defeats their leader in a swordfight.

First UK transmission
Sunday 25 December 2005

Production
July–November 2005. Main locations: Wallis House, Brentford, London; Brandon Estate, Kennington, London; The Hayes, Cardiff; Clearwell Caves, Gloucestershire; Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Studios: Unit Q2, Newport; HTV Studios, Cardiff.

Cast
The Doctor – David Tennant
Rose Tyler – Billie Piper
Jackie Tyler – Camille Coduri
Mickey Smith – Noel Clarke
Harriet Jones – Penelope Wilton
Danny Llewellyn – Daniel Evans
Alex – Adam Garcia
Sycorax leader – Sean Gilder
Major Blake – Chu Omambala
Sally – Anita Briem
Sandra – Sian McDowall
Jason – Paul Anderson
Mum – Cathy Murphy
Policeman – Sean Carlsen
Newsreaders – Jason Mohammad, Sagar Arya, Lachele Carl

Crew
Writer – Russell T Davies
Director – James Hawes
Designer – Edward Thomas
Incidental music – Murray Gold
Producer – Phil Collinson
Executive producers – Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner

RT review by Patrick Mulkern
(filed February 2016)

At the time of writing, it’s staggering to realise that a whole decade has passed since David Tennant made his proper, full-on debut as the Doctor; it’s also rather staggering to be reminded just how dazzling this Christmas special was on every level.

In 2005, the notion of a Doctor Who episode being scheduled on Christmas Day was very special indeed. There hadn’t been one since 1965 (a feeble William Hartnell effort 40 years earlier). This was a reward for the programme, having been so masterfully revived by Russell T Davies, and a treat for fans and for the resurgent audience. A tradition for yuletide specials was instantly set in train; there’s been one every year since; and I’d claim that The Christmas Invasion has yet to be surpassed in quality or content.

It’s helped in no small measure by the allure of David Tennant. He instantly shines as the tenth Doctor. If he suffered any newcomer’s anxieties on set, he exudes confidence on screen. A lifelong fan of Doctor Who, he understands the part down to his toenails. Just 34 here, he’s energetic, mercurial, quirkily good-looking: no wonder he attracted a massive female following. He can command a scene and is already working that cocksure swagger and gaping-gob shtick, which later became tiresome.

For most of the episode he’s in his pyjamas (actually pyjamas belonging to one of Jackie’s flings) – a look pitched somewhere between Hitchhiker’s Arthur Dent and Harry Potter all grown up. It confers a sleepy innocence, a vulnerability that we, the viewers, cannot help but respond to.

Tennant was apparently surprised at how little he’s given to do in the first half. Davies keeps his new Doctor tantalisingly giftwrapped, recovering from regeneration in Jackie’s flat, occasionally rising like Lazarus. When finally he exits the Tardis in the Sycorax ship – the clever moment when the Time Lord universal translator kicks in – a saviour is among us. He’s the man Rose has mourned, the hero Harriet Jones has prayed for in her TV appeal. His resurrection is the first of several Christ allusions in coming years.

In 2005, Russell T told RT: “It took zero-point-six seconds to think of the title, The Christmas Invasion. Those three words just sum up the whole thrill of Doctor Who – the familiar and the dangerous jammed together to make something new.” He takes the trappings of Christmas and makes them menacing. Thus, a brass band of Santas busking in a festive market are soon revealed as robots with flame-throwing trombones. Jackie’s new Christmas tree is in fact a rotary saw, hacking through furniture and walls, accompanied by a demented rendition of Jingle Bells.

Grounding Doctor Who in reality is part of the programme’s DNA, neglected at a showrunner’s peril. This period was sometimes criticised for its soapy milieu, but I enjoy seeing Rose dumped back in her humdrum world, straining to break free. I relish the way Jackie and Mickey are drawn inexorably into the Time Lord’s sphere. Both are developing as three-dimensional people, credible characters dealing with the incredible. Camille Coduri, Noel Clarke, along with Tennant and Billie Piper, are sharp casting. I was astonished, looking back, to be reminded of the deftness, the humour, the camaraderie and chemistry of this quartet – notably in the scene on the estate walkway when the Doctor dispatches the Santas then collapses with Rose, Mickey and Jackie fretting around him.

More than Christopher Eccleston’s Slitheen fart-fest earlier in the year, The Christmas Invasion convinces as a “first contact” story, with humanity finally being confronted by alien aggressors whose existence they cannot deny – first in a series of threats that build in impact during Tennant’s tenure. Here, on Christmas morning, one third of the world’s population is entranced and compelled to climb to the top of tall buildings and teeter on the edge.

The Sycorax may be little more than generic Doctor Who baddies but they’re fearsome warriors; they appear on Unit’s TV screens as four skull-like masks in a diamond configuration borrowed from Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody; their snarling leader, the only one seen unmasked, uses a “laser-lash” to reduce Harriet’s sidekicks to skeletons.

Their massive ship juddering to a halt over London with gawping citizens below could be a steal from Independence Day but looks more like a nod to the Vogon vessel in Hitchhiker’s Guide. Russell T even invokes the classics of Doctor Who’s distant past. Some of the Doctor’s dialogue in the closing act recalls stories from 1970: Spearhead from Space (the Brigadier’s warning about humanity drawing attention to itself) and The Silurians (the third Doctor’s disgust when the Brig blows up the reptiles’ base).

If there’s one aspect of The Christmas Invasion that jars, it’s the treatment of Harriet Jones. Such a delightful character in the Eccleston episodes, winningly played by Penelope Wilton, beautifully written by Davies, she’s that rare thing in TV drama: a sympathetic politician. She’s wonderful throughout this special: courageous, decisive, the woman of the moment, standing up to the aliens and trumping the Americans. At the end, however, she sanctions the obliteration of the retreating Sycorax. The Doctor is justifiably appalled, instantly sets out to depose her and whispers “Don’t you think she looks tired?” into the ear of her PA. This might be a clever nod to Thatcher’s downfall, a morality check, but it feels like lovely Harriet has been traduced. And I don’t really buy that his whispered words would be so effective that mere hours later there are news reports of her leaving office.

But we end on a high. Russell T treats us to a glimpse of the Tardis’s cavernous, spiralling wardrobe. In past times this was depicted as little more than a Woolworth’s rail in a broom cupboard. The Doctor chooses his new clothes (Tennant was inspired by the sight of Jamie Oliver in suit and trainers on Michael Parkinson’s chat show) and then – in what would once have been very un-Doctorly behaviour – he joins Rose, Jackie and Mickey for their Christmas dinner.

This heartwarming montage is elevated by Song for Ten, a joyous 60s-style pop track written by Murray Gold and still one of his most appealing songs for the series. Check it out on YouTube – the full original sung by Tom Phillips; not the inferior re-recorded album track. But be warned, it’s catchy: “I wish today was just like every other day/Cause today has been the best day/Everything I ever dreamed/Then I started to walk/Pretty soon I will run/And I’ll be running back to you…”

Outside, on the Tylers’ estate, it appears to be snowing. Actually, ash is falling from the blown-up spaceship – a dark edge to the swirlingly romantic final scene. Underscored by Gold’s achingly wistful Rose’s Theme, the Doctor and Rose gaze up at the night sky, choosing which way they’ll fly next: “That way. No, hold on. That way…” Adventure, romance and heartbreak lie ahead.

101117

*

RT Archive

In 2005 Doctor Who made it onto the cover of the Radio Times Christmas double issue for the one and only time to date.

Such was the appreciation for the reborn series, we produced a special ten-page guide to The Christmas Invasion:
Opener
Russell T Davies
The cast
Swordfight poster
Sycorax
Competition

There was a special promotional Dalek poster for the issue.

Advertisement

Plus, a gallery of rare photos from the Radio Times Archive