My Christmas Day traditions are simple. Wake up early, open presents, visit my dad’s parents, visit my girlfriend’s parents, visit my mom’s parents, and then return home to watch the Doctor Who Christmas Special. Christmas has been a part of Doctor Who history since the very beginning, with the First Doctor breaking the fourth wall to wish the viewers a Happy Christmas during “The Feast of Steven.” And starting with the Tenth Doctor, yearly Christmas specials would be counted as separate episode from the rest of the season, meaning an extra episode every year. But when Doctor Who first came back in 2005, its first Christmas episode was just another episode. The third episode, actually. The one I’ll be talking about today, in fact. So let’s take a look at the Doctor’s triumphant return to Christmas.
|Not to be confused with the time he goes to a place called Christmas. Spoilers.|
Mr. Redpath: “She was so full of life.”
Yeah, with foreshadowing like that, you can probably tell where this is going. The undertaker, Mr. Sneed (Alan David), offers his condolences and lets Mr. Redpath have a moment alone to say goodbye. He closes his eyes as he tries to compose himself, meaning that he doesn’t notice a weird, blue, glowy vapor flow into her. But he does notice what happens next.
|“You put me in this dump of a funeral home? You always were a
Why can’t you be more like your brother? Also, braaaaaiiiiins.”
|“Ugh. With this shit again.”|
Mr. Sneed: “Gwyneth! Get down here now! We’ve got another one!”
But Gwyneth doesn’t arrive soon enough, and Mrs. Peace busts out of the coffin and heads off into the streets of the Victorian Era.
|No doubt to begin the events of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.|
Rose: “What happens in 1860?”
Doctor: “I don’t know. Let’s find out.”
As the TARDIS zooms along, Mr. Sneed dabs his forehead with a wet cloth while yelling for his servant girl, Gwyneth. She finally shows up, played by Eve Myles, and explains that she’d been in the stables the whole time and couldn’t hear him. He explains that she needs to get the horse around so they can chase after yet another zombie or as Mr. Sneed puts it….
Mr. Sneed: “The stiffs are getting lively again.”
Gwyneth asks Mr. Sneed exactly how many more times this same crap is going to happen, and he rightly protests that he doesn’t exactly have any say over what dead people do. He also informs Gwyneth that Mrs. Peace ended up killing her grandson who was there to grieve. And worse still, Gwyneth’s spider-sense is acting up and telling her that something’s wrong with the funeral home itself. He brushes her concerns aside and tells her to get the hearse around.
Mr. Sneed: “We’re going bodysnatching.”
Elsewhere, the TARDIS vworps into existence on a snowy street. The passengers inside pick themselves up of the floor from the bumpy landing, and the Doctor is proud to see that the TARDIS is telling him that he finally arrived precisely like he meant to. Like Gandalf.
Doctor: “Earth, Naples, December 24, 1860.”
Congratulations, Doctor, you took Rose to the exact day that South Carolina decided to secede from the Union so they could keep their slaves. But Rose is busy having a little moment of existentialism, probably brought on by time travel messing with her biological clock. Think about it. Times of year have a distinct feel to them. Have you ever said, “Yep, it feels like Christmas”? Rose’s body is probably telling her that it’s just two days after she left. But the world outside is telling her that it’s Christmas. And this gets her thinking. Christmas, 1860. It only comes once. She missed it by being born too late. And yet, here it is, waiting for her.
They share a moment as she marvels over the wonder of being able to spend a day in any day, and she nearly rushes out before he stops her. After all, she’s dressed in a tank top, jeans, and jacket. The first top hat worn in London started a freaking riot, so who knows how Naples would react to the fashions of 2005?
No, seriously, a riot. They claimed that the tall, shiny hat was specifically crafted to “frighten timid people” and fined him 500 pounds, which was a lot back in the day. Allegedly, women fainted and dogs barked at the inventor, John Hetherington, as he walked by. London was nuts.
As Rose changes in the TARDIS wardrobe, Sneed and Gwyneth are searching the streets in their hearse, but can’t find the glowing old lady. With few options, Sneed insists that Gwyneth needs to “use the sight” or she’ll be fired.
|“I know you don't like doing it, but if you don’t find that zombie for me, I won’t let you find zombies anymore!”|
|“I don’t think you understand how negotiating works.”|
Charles Dickens: “I’m like a ghost.”
But the show must go on, and he goes onstage to give his performance while the Doctor fiddles underneath the TARDIS control panels. Soon enough, Rose emerges in full Victorian grab, ready to go.
|The Third Doctor called, he wants his cape back.|
Rose: “Considering what?”
Doctor: “That you’re human.”
|There’s the old Doctor charm we know and love.|
|Besides, he already went through that Victorian phase.|
|Though I will admit that this same bit always scared me as a kid.|
|Da ba dee, da ba di.|
|"It appears to be some kind of Puzzle of Flesh!"|
Doctor: “That’s more like it!”
As Dickens tries and fails to convince everybody that it’s just a part of the show, Sneed and Gwyneth show up as the blue vapors become a vaguely humanoid shape that flies around. And this is what the Doctor sees as he manages to enter the theatre. The Doctor runs up to Dickens and asks if he saw where the thing came from, but simply ends up being accused of being behind all this and getting yelled at. Rose runs after Sneed and Gwyneth, who are trying to abscond with the body, but ends up getting knocked out with ether when Gwyneth’s lies about a “brain fever” don’t convince her.
|Uh, Merry Christmas?|
So the Doctor heads out to meet up with Rose, only to watch Sneed take her away in his hearse. Dickens follows the Doctor outside, demanding answers about this whole deal and how the Doctor faked these illusions, but the Doctor’s more preoccupied with getting Rose back. So he commandeers a coach, which happens to be Dickens’s, who’s a bit upset that this weird guy ruined his show and stole his ride. The Doctor and Dickens ride off together after Sneed’s hearse, and it’s at this moment that the driver refers to “Mr. Dickens,” cluing the Doctor in as to who exactly he’s riding with. The Doctor takes a moment to go all fanboy and gush to his hero about his wonderful books.
Doctor: “I’ve read ‘em all! Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and what’s the other one? Th-th-the one with the ghost?”
Charles Dickens: “A Christmas Carol?”
Doctor: “No, no, no, the one with the trains! The Signal-Man! That’s it. Terrifying!”
Oh, you mean the one that Charles Dickens wrote to help him cope with that horrible train crash he survived? Way to remind him of that chapter in his life.
The Doctor tells Dickens that he’s a huge fan, which he appreciates, despite a bit of trouble with the Doctor’s use of slang that hasn’t been invented yet.
Doctor: “Mind you, for God's sake, the American bit in Martin Chuzzlewit, what's that about? Was that just padding? Or what? I mean, it's rubbish, that bit."
I’d go into detail about how the answer is “yes,” but if you don’t already know, then odds are you don’t exactly care.
Charles Dickens: “I thought you said you were my ‘fan.’”
Doctor: “Oh, well, if you can’t take criticism….”
Like every other fan, he praises a writer before calling some of his work crap. I know I’m certainly guilty of that. That’s basically this blog in a nutshell.
Doctor: “Go on, do the death of Little Nell, it cracks me up.”
I will go into a little detail with this one, though. Dickens wrote a book called The Old Curiosity Shop that was originally published serially. That is, one chapter at a time. It was basically the Harry Potter of its day in terms of popularity. In fact, the American readers, who got the chapters after the UK did, are reported to have shouted at incoming boats from England “Is Little Nell alive?” before the last chapter came over this way. And, much like Harry Potter, the ending was widely criticized and even laughed at by such people as Oscar Wilde, who said that “One would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without dissolving into tears...of laughter.”
Basically,the Doctor is saying the wrong things, considering Dickens's mental state, and perhaps he should shut up before he puts the man in an even worse mood than when we started.
Luckily, the Doctor quickly remembers that they’re chasing after Rose’s kidnappers and gets back on task. And when he finally explains to Dickens that they’re chasing after a kidnapped young lady, Dickens changes his tune completely and is all for continuing the chase.
Doctor: “Attaboy, Charlie.”
Charles Dickens: “Nobody calls me Charlie.”
Doctor: “The ladies do.”
So as the Doctor and Charlie speed off, Gwyneth and Sneed take Rose’s unconscious body inside the morgue, where they try and figure out where the heck to proceed from here. Sneed suggests that maybe he could get an exorcism done cheaply, but a knock on the door summons Gwyneth as Sneed goes elsewhere. Fortunately, Rose wakes up. Unfortunately, so does the corpse of Mr. Redpath in the coffin next to her. Gwyneth gets the door, revealing Charlie, who demands entrance while the Doctor takes note of the flickering in the gas lamps.
Charles Dickens: “What the Shakespeare is going on?”
Mr. Redpath begins shambling toward Rose in the other room, followed by Mrs. Peace as the Doctor barges in and listens to the walls, confirming his suspicions that something’s living in the gas. Rose starts yelling for help, and the Doctor rushes in to provide it. Charlie, having followed the Doctor, suggests that this is all some kind of dream, or they’re hypnotized, or something. But the dead are truly walking.
Rose: “Who’s your friend?”
Doctor: “Charles Dickens.”
Rose: “Oh. Okay.”
The Doctor tries the new tactic of introducing himself to the corpses and asking them what they want. Surprisingly, the answer isn’t “brains.”
Mr. Redpath: “We’re failing…. Open the Rift… We’re dying….”
After delivering their message, the bodies spit up the blue vapor and collapse to the ground.
|“What an eccentric performance.”|
Rose: “First you drugged me, then you kidnapped me, and don't think I didn't feel your hands having a quick wander, you dirty old man!”
But luckily for him, she doesn’t linger on that particular accusation and instead yells about being left for dead in a room with zombies, allowing him to protest that it isn’t his fault that the house is haunted. It always had a bit of a reputation, but for some reason, the dead started getting back up about three months ago. And they seem to fixate on particular aspects of their previous life, like the old lady going to see Charlie.
But in this moment, the Doctor is more suspicious of Gwyneth, who just gave him tea with two sugars, just how he likes it. Except he didn’t tell her that. Even more suspicious is Charles Dickens. He dismisses the whole thing as a bunch of lies, so the Doctor tells him to STFU and GTFO if he’s just going to ignore all the proof right in front of them. Like the flickering gas, which the Doctor ascribes to the Rift getting wider.
He explains that the Rift is a weak point in time and space where, occasionally, stuff can sneak through. And it’s in Cardiff of all places. Which is why Sneed got the house so cheap. The house was always a bit unsettling, but that was good for business. Dickens heads out into the hallway to listen to the voices in the lamps and check on the dead bodies in an attempt to figure out what’s really going on. The Doctor walks in on him checking for wires on the dead bodies, and politely tells him to get his head in the game. After all, he saw these things walking around and throwing up gas creatures. This gives the Doctor a chance to explain to both Charlie and the audience exactly why these things are going around possessing dead bodies. When a dead body decomposes, it produces all sorts of gas, giving these gas creatures their equivalent of a motorhome. But… Charlie’s still upset about everything.
Charles Dickens: “Can it be that I have the world entirely wrong?"
Doctor: “Not wrong. There’s just more to learn.”
Charles Dickens: “I’ve always railed against the fantasists. Oh, I loved an illusion as much as the next man, reveled in them, but that’s exactly what they were. Illusions. The real world is something else.”
Basically, Dickens is having the opposite of a crisis of faith. Instead of doubting his own faith in the spiritual, he’s doubting his own achievements in the real world. After all, in terms of eternity and the afterlife, what good does it do to concern yourself with social causes on Earth?
Elsewhere in the house, Gwyneth is getting after Rose for helping her with her chores. But Rose insists, and they have a nice little chat. Much like Rose’s talk with Raffalo, there’s a bit of a culture barrier, but they bond over things like how much they both hated math, and cute boys and stuff.
Rose: “Good smile, nice bum.”
Gwyneth: “Well, I have never heard the like.”
Gwyneth is utterly amused and perplexed by Rose. She’s dressed up so nice and proper like Eliza Doolittle post-Higgins, but she talks like Eliza Doolittle pre-Higgins. But she doesn’t let that bother her and tells Rose that Mr. Sneed took her in when her parents died, and how she hopes that she’ll be reunited with them in heaven. And she also wishes for Rose to someday see her dad again in the same way. Except that Rose never mentioned that her dad was dead. And when Gwyneth gets a glimpse inside Rose’s head of modern day London… she freaks out a little bit over the half-naked people running around underneath giant metal birds with people inside.
Gwyneth: “The things you’ve seen… the darkness. The Big Bad Wolf.”
Get used to those "Bad Wolf" references. They started off in background dialogue, but are about to get more and more blatant.
Gwyneth apologizes and explains that she’s had the
Doctor: “We’re gonna have a séance.”
They all gather in another room as Gwyneth prepares to copy what she’s seen other mediums do. First, she asks that they all hold hands, which is already enough for Charlie.
|“This is the first straw! I’m out of here!”|
Doctor: “Now don’t antagonize her. I love a happy medium.”
Rose: “I can’t believe you just said that.”
|“Did I tell you about the midget psychic that escaped from prison? There’s a small medium at large!”|
|“Doctor, it’s 1869 and that joke’s already old.”|
|It's pretty much the same as their other form, but with a face.|
Gelth: “The whole universe convulsed. The Time War raged, invisible to smaller species, but devastating to higher forms.”
|"Uh... my bad?"|
Rose: “But we can’t.”
Doctor: “Why not?”
Rose: “It’s not….”
Doctor: “Not decent? Not polite? It could save their lives.”
The Gelth reiterate their pleas and disappear back into the lamps, leaving behind a weary Gwyneth while Charlie finally realizes that what he’s seeing is actually true. Gwyneth, exhausted, wakes up some time later as the Doctor tries to explain this whole situation in terms that people from 1869 can understand. Basically, the Gelth are trying to get through the Rift, but the “road’s blocked,” so to speak. Only a few can force themselves through for brief periods before being cast right out again back into the gas pipes.
The whole situation is starting to amuse Charlie, but his slurred speech indicates that he’s probably a bit drunk at this point.
|“Creatures made out of gas. I mean, surely, this means anything’s possible!"|
|"Most things, yeah."|
|“Creatures made out of living color, perhaps?”|
|"Forest of Cheem, lovely people."|
|“Men made from… I don’t know, rheum?”|
|“Oh, that’d just be stupid. I’d sooner use up my remaining few regenerations than deal with something like that.”|
Doctor: “Do you carry a Donor Card?”
Uh, that’s beside the point. Even if Rose has given people express permission to use her organs after death, the matter at hand is whether or not unwilling people should have their bodies hijacked after death.
Doctor: “It is different, yeah, it’s a different morality. Get used to it or go home.”
The Doctor kind of sounds like a jerk... but he's right. This is a life-and-death decision that needs to be made now. And Rose is basically complaining that things won't be the way she prefers them. Temporally speaking, she's kind of being selfish.
Rose still protests that they can’t use Gwyneth in this, but Gwyneth pipes up that she would like to speak for herself. Rose insists that Gwyneth doesn’t quite understand, but she insists that she understands enough. The Gelth need her or they’ll all die. Or as she puts it, “the angels need me.”
|I think they can fend for themselves, Gwyneth.|
Doctor: “Time’s in flux, changin’ every second; your cozy little world can be rewritten like that. Nothing is safe. Remember that, nothing.”
|“Well, except for fixed points in time, but the writers aren't using that idea yet.”|
|Isn't there an episode of Teen Titans GO! like this?|
Meanwhile, Rose is using some flawed logic. She thinks that because she hasn’t been born yet in the future, she can’t die in the past. Which… is really stupid logic. Hasn’t she ever seen that episode of Next Generation where they found Data’s disembodied head in San Francisco?
Outside, Charlie realizes the Gelth’s weakness: they’re gas. As the Doctor laments having survived World War Five and the Fall of Troy only to die in Cardiff of all places, Charlie rushes back inside and turns the gas lamps all the way up, sucking the Gelth out of the dead bodies, like osmosis. It ends up working, so now they have to figure out what to do with the airborne Gelth. Gwyneth is unable to send them back, so she tells them to get out while she holds them in the house. And with everybody out, Gwyneth reaches into her pocket and gets a match out.
The house done blows up real good, breaking the connection and destroying the Gelth. But as the Doctor explains, the blast didn’t kill Gwyneth. Because she was already dead from the moment she made contact with the Gelth.
Rose: “But… she can’t have, she spoke to us. She helped us, she saved us. How could she have done that?”
Charles Dickens: “There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Even for you, Doctor.”
They take a moment to remember Gwyneth before heading off to the TARDIS. Charlie is feeling much better after the whole ordeal, having realized what’s truly important. He vows to catch the mail coach to London and spend Christmas with his family. And beyond that, he’s inspired like never before, even considering adding ghosts to the book he’s writing at the moment: The Mystery of Edwin Drood. You know, the unfinished one.
After letting Charlie know that his books will never be forgotten, Rose and the Doctor head into the TARDIS. The Doctor tells Rose that, unfortunately, he’ll never finish that book, but for the time being, they’ve made the life of Mr. Dickens just a little bit brighter. And with that, they disappear, leaving their new friend with one final mystery.
Charles Dickens: “God bless us, everyone!”
And with a merry Charles Dickens walking the streets, the episode ends. So let's review the Ninth Doctor's first Christmas episode, complete with its unintentional racism!