Doctor Doctor Who Guide

This has to be, quite simply, one of my favourite Doctor Who stories yet.

Oh, yes, reasons.

Well, for one, Simon Callow as Dickens. Who'd have thought an actor, as talented and well thought of as he, would take a guest appearance in our little show? Just goes to show how seriously it's being taken. And what a performance from him! Played with such conviction, Dickens what utterly convincing, far from the caricature that Doctor Who often made of historical personalities.

Billie's performance was, again, totally convincing. Now her character seems more settled in as a time-traveller, but she still displays perfect wonder and excitement, and, when needed, believable anger when confronting the Doctor. For all that the hype surrounding her suggests, Rose isn't cutting edge because she stands up for herself, saves the Doctor and fights her own battles – Leela was doing that back in the 70s – but because she is written and played as a normal person. She reacts in a perfectly understandable way when confronted with body-snatching aliens.

This counterpoints her with the Doctor, who behaves in a bizarre, but entirely logical, way when dealing with the Gelth. His sharp yet justified snap at Rose to get used to a different morality underlines this incarnation's view on the world. ‘It could save their lives,' he says of the corpse-stealers, and he's entirely right. It's a point that is in no way diminished when the aliens turn out to be villainous after all. Even then, the Doctor is regretful that they have to be destroyed to save humanity. As with the Nestene, he first tries to negotiate and agree terms, showing empathy for a people desperate to survive; and also, it seems, guilt for his part in the mysterious war. With Cassandra, in the previous tale, he showed no mercy, killing her in retaliation for her greed-inspired murdering.

In this and other aspects of his performance, Eccleston continues to impress, and it is a great shame he'll only have one season in which to build on his character. His evident delight in meeting Dickens is a joy to behold, and I must confess, I've always had a soft spot for dreadful puns. Also enjoyable to watch is his growing fondness for/attraction to Rose, which thankfully is subtle enough not to alter the focus of the stories, merely to add a frisson of something new.

The effects were possibly the best so far, perhaps because they didn't try to achieve the impossible. The Gelth were genuinely creepy, and the scream truly horrible, something that the ‘other' 9th Doctor's story, Scream of the Shalka, was missing. The Victorian setting was one of the best aspects, evoking a wonderful Christmassy atmosphere. Although I had hoped the Doctor would don appropriate period clothing, he actually didn't look as out of place as I had feared. Rather than being weirdly futuristic, he instead came across as more of a scruffy traveller, muscling in on proper society, which is exactly what he is.

All in all, the perfect Christmas episode. It's simply a pity the production team didn't know they'd be having a Christmas special when they produced it – how can they top that?

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