Not unlike “Rose”, we pan from the Moon down into Jackie Tyler decorating her
Christmas Crimbo tree. It’s white and gold with pastel lightbulbs, the better to blend in with the room. Then she picks up her present for Rose and looks at it with concern. Some naughty prop artist has underlined her name on the tag with a Jesus fish. Religion in a Christmas episode? What do you think this is, EWTN?
Anyway, she and Mickey both hear the TARDIS materializing, impressive since Mickey’s immersed in Automotive Repair Foley and bad British Christmas covers. They reach the usual landing spot, and the TARDIS appears overhead and they scrunch waaay down a good few seconds before it actually heads at them. It bounces off a few buildings but manages a two-point landing, and a strange man pops his head out. He has loud body language and accosts Rose and Mickey physically as he tries to recall what he needs to tell them. He announces “Merry Christmas!” and falls over unconscious.
Rose pops out next, and announces that this isn’t a spacetime hobo, it’s the Doctor. “Doctor who?” a befuddled Jackie insists, and with that ding! we’re off to the intro. The green and red have been toned down, just in time for Christmas, to pink and lime. That reads sarcastic, but it’s much appreciated.
The Doctor is now in a comfy bed in the Tyler residence. Jackie has “borrowed” a stethoscope from another flat, but she thinks what the Doctor really needs is a hospital, with a proper doctor in attendance. Maybe next companion, Jackie, as Rose has visions of alien dissections dancing in her head. Upon hearing the Doctor has two hearts, Jackie immediately wants to know if he also has two . . . anything else. One imagines she wondered the same thing about Spock back in the day. The Doctor exhales a drop of golden regeneration energy, and we get to watch it whisper its way into space.
Rose is teary-eyed about having to get to know a new Doctor. But she quickly decides her mother’s sex life is more interesting. You’re all alone on that score, Rose.
Then Harriet Jones, now Prime Minister, talks to the press on the telly. Remember when the Doctor said Harriet Jones would preside over Britain’s Golden Age, which was at least a different flavor of dumb in a generally dumb episode? Well, for whatever reason, PM Harriet is getting written out this episode, and it’s not like last season repeatedly told us “history can change”, so we’ve got to prove the Doctor right. So Jackie declares that her wages have gone up and that everyone is already calling Jones’s reign Britain’s Golden Age. That’s asinine, even in this day when everything must be labeled right away. Generation Y, indeed.
Rose is also all alone in recalling the Slitheen episodes fondly, but she did good there so it’s understandable. Meanwhile Harriet Jones is defending her space program on grounds of national pride, but it’s a probe to Mars. I expected a cheap satellite broadcasting “HELLO WORLD” or aiming a Fisher-Price telescope at the stars, but no, this sucker’s preparing for descent, destination Mars as they speak. It’s Mars — don’t you wait until the probe disappears before you start bemoaning the cost? I sense subtext. I think the “waste of money” must refer to bloated budgets and maybe a no-bid contract or two, and Jones just avoided the issue with a “YAY BRITANNIA.” Will it actually do any science, Prime Minister? Whose palms are being greased here?
Anyway, Guinevere One promptly smacks facefirst into a moon, which turns out to be an artificial construct that sucks it in. Wow. Mars expeditions peaked under Queen Victoria and it’s been downhill ever since.
Rose is out with Mickey, who joshes at her for talking about nothing but her TARDIS adventures. Their romance is still on the rocks, but they can laugh and accept each other better now. Rose tries to just enjoy herself, but notices the street music is being played by people covered by identical Santa Claus masks and robes. This is creepy when you’re in Doctor Who. And then they all lower their instruments and stare at Rose. This is creepy wherever you are. And then one strokes his trombone and it blazes forth Yulefire at her, which is a universal red flag. The other Santa Clauses (Santa Clausi?) also open fire, and everyone screams and runs away.
Rose and Mickey flee using fruit stands for cover without knocking any over, which I needn’t tell you violates basic rules of storytelling. Then a Claus launches a TUBA missile at them, knocking a tree over onto himself. No witty one-liners, no tomatoes flying everywhere. This episode is sinking fast.
Rose and Mickey race home to Jackie. Rose is practical, wanting to go to ground far away, but is distracted by a standard green Christmas tree in the corner of the room. The tree waits politely for them to figure out it shouldn’t be there, then lights up and whirls at dangerous speeds and advances upon them. If you know exactly where a Time Lord is, just send a spinning tree to kill his buddies, and then send some Santas to comb the city for them because apparently you don’t know exactly where they are.
I know, it’s a silly Christmas episode, doesn’t mean I can’t poke fun at it.
Anyway, Mickey (per usual) tries to fend the tree off to cover their escape, but Rose won’t leave the Doctor, so they wind up barricaded in with him. Desperate, Rose puts the sonic screwdriver in the Doctor’s hand (remember this is when you had to have some clue about how to operate it), then leans over and whispers that she needs help. The Doctor pops up as if he’d been faking all along and explodes the tree. He then leads them outside to find several Clausia holding the tree’s remote control. They back off and teleport away, because you don’t mess with a Time Lord before his new regeneration has woken up properly.
The Doctor says the Santae were attracted to the tremendous regeneration energy he’s radiating. The Doctor mentions a “neural implosion” resulting from being awakened early and says he needs something, at which Jackie rattles off painkillers and food until he tells her to shut up. The Doctor warns them that there will be something bigger coming, then collapses into a pained sleep.
The Doctor gets tucked back in, looking worse for wear, and the humans all shaky-cam watch a press conference about the Mars probe, starring a stammering nerd that someone cruelly promoted out of his natural habitat. This being a Christmas episode, Mickey spells out the “sharks following pilot fish” thing the Doctor mentioned again, then we get probe footage of a bony, red-eyed, wolfish, snarling visage.
I’m guessing this is our bad guy.
Anyway, the world is flipping out, and Over-Promoted Nerd confers with UNIT and Harriet Jones. Penelope Wilton puts a strong personality into Jones starting right now, forceful and practical without any coldness. You’d hate to let her down on a professional or personal level. They all watch a scary red blip leave Mars for Earth. Rose and Mickey watch along on a laptop, because I guess “buffalo” is still the password for everything everywhere. And then the aliens cut in and rhapsodize in Huttese.
Rose is upset that the TARDIS isn’t translating the Huttese for her, because the only explanation is that the Doctor is “broken”. Rose’s descent into despair never takes over the episode, but is a vital part of its emotional core, and she pulls the viewer down with her to be properly receptive when the Doctor makes his grand entrance at the end.
Meanwhile the U.S. President wants to take over from UNIT, and we all know the only thing Americans do with things that scare them is pew pew. So Harriet Jones tells the President off, then confers with a UNIT officer. No report of the Doctor. No thought of tracking down Rose. Torchwood comes up for the second time. Harriet allows nobody is supposed to know about Torchwood, but she does know, and she’s willing to activate them on her authority — clearly A Drastic Step.
The translation arrives: the Sycorax own Earth and its inhabitants, so surrender or watch ‘them’ die. Jones sends back a message of peace or begone.
The Sycorax response is to activate a blue light around the heads of billions of people around Earth. These people just blankly walk around, until they find a high spot where they’re one step away from plummeting to their death. It’s a frightening process, with people seeing their loved ones stripped of their selves and put into a clear hostage situation. Rose, who has moved on to the “frustrated inadequacy” phase of the grieving process, tells Mickey that “there’s no one to save us. Not anymore.”
But O.P. Nerd has figured something out: the K-Mart people must all have A+ blood. The Sycorax have done something with the blood sample from Guinevere One. Uh, I don’t see the point of having stuff meant for aliens onboard a Mars probe. Mars is dead as far as Nerd knows. Frankly, it’s an unacceptable contamination hazard.
So P.M. Jones goes on the telly and asks the world for calm, then begs the Doctor for help because she has no idea what to do next. Rose breaks down, taking the Doctor’s condition personally, telling Jackie that “he left me, Mum.”
But there’s no time for that, as the Sycorax (great alien race name, btw) enter the Earth’s atmosphere, producing a glass-shattering sonic wave that murders whatever that glass pineapple thing is. O.P. Nerd has a very GIFable take, rising into the shot, delivering his line with his eyes focused desperately at the cameraman’s thumb, then sliiiding his eyeballs to the side to look at . . . who knows?
Outside, the spaceship glides into view like an asteroidal leaf on the wind for all the extras to stare at, and stare at, and stare at some more. This episode certainly likes to set its own pace. It works, but one notices it. Rose looks long and hard at the ship, and comes to a decision. They’re going to take the Doctor into the TARDIS and just hide there.
Meanwhile the Sycorax beam Harriet & co. up. Remember the Santas beaming up? Feels like an entire episode ago. Anyway, the humans materialize in the Klingon court from ST: VI, which isn’t very reassuring. A Sycorax removes the wolfish helmet to reveal what looks like bone and muscle underneath. I’m with Nerd: put the helmet back on, please. Nerd tries to sort of inverse-Picard speech some mercy out of the Sycorax, but the alien flays the meat off him with an energy whip. The UNIT chief protests that that was a bad show, old fellow, and gets skellified in turn. Harriet Jones identifies herself, to which the Sycorax becomes the third person to tell her that, yes, he already knows who she is. He also tells her that she has a choice between letting half of Earth be enslaved or letting the third that has A+ blood die. Nasty choices indeed. Incidentally, what are the A+ infants doing?
In the TARDIS, Mickey and Rose fiddle with the central console’s screen dealy to see if they can pick up a broadcast. Somehow their fiddling is heard in the alien ship, and the Sycorax get paranoid and beam the TARDIS onboard to see what the Earthlings are hiding from them. Rose wanders out to see what Jackie is up to and gets nabbed immediately. Her scream brings Mickey out and he gets nabbed too. All that’s left safe in the TARDIS are the Doctor and Mickey’s Thermos, which drips tea onto a blue mushroomy bit of machinery.
Harriet recognizes Rose. Rose tells her that they’re on their own, then they all get lined up in front of the TARDIS for a photo I guess. The lead Sycorax decides that since Rose has the shiny box, she’s the one in charge. Despite having felt useless, Rose accepts the responsibility: “Someone’s got to be the Doctor.” Split between fear and bravery, she invokes Article 15 of the Shadow Proclamation blah blah blah, but the Sycorax just laugh it off. The lead Sycorax calls her a child, but his words turn to English as he nears the end of his monologue. Everyone turns dramatically as the camera zooms in on the TARDIS, and 41 minutes into the episode, the doors open and the Doctor appears at full tea-empowered strength. He smirks just a bit and asks, “Did you miss me?”
The Doctor yanks the energy whip from the lead Sycorax’s hand, breaks his other weapon over his knee, and immediately begins to assert his full personality in classic style, telling the lead Sycorax to just stay put for the moment. It may be significant that the first thing he does is give Mickey a delighted greeting. No residual disdain here, thank goodness.
Anyway, he intensely asks Rose how he looks, and after being disappointed at not being ginger he tells her off for giving up on him — but then acts a little surprised at how “rude” he’s being. Then he reassures Harriet that he is the one and only Doctor and begins to catch up with her. All of this, of course, without regard for their circumstances. The lead Sycorax demands to know who this person is, which is of course the very hook the Doctor needs to go off on a ramble about all the things he might be, but doesn’t know about yet . . . and then the Doctor catches sight of the pink jewely orb that the lead Sycorax has been standing by most of the time.
He investigates, tastes the blood in the dish underneath, identifies it as human A+. That’s one Time Lord ability I could have done without knowing about, but it puts him on the right trail. “I haven’t seen blood control in years!” he exclaims delightedly. Then, talking about how he just doesn’t know how he will react to a “great big threatening button that should never ever be pressed,” he grins maniacally and pushes down on it.
That frees the A+ people. With the lead Sycorax trying to save face, the Doctor explains that blood control can’t actually force anyone to kill themselves. It was all a bluff. The Doctor tries to persuade the Sycorax to leave humanity alone to realize its potential, and accidentally starts quoting “Circle of Life” from The Lion King. When that doesn’t seem to have any effect, he challenges the lead Sycorax to a duel. “You stand as this world’s champion?” the alien roars. “Thank you. I have no idea who I am, but you’ve just summed me up,” the Doctor replies.
They fight with longswords. Just basic longswords. Or broadswords maybe. Not an expert, but the Sycorax’s form doesn’t impress me. I know, Christmas episode. Anyway, the Doctor is getting the worse of it, so he heads outside for a change of venue. That doesn’t work so hot either, as the Sycorax quickly cuts the Doctor’s sword hand off, then turns away to roar his victory to the onlookers. But the Doctor grows a new hand into existence, then when Rose throws him another sword, declares it to be a “fightin’ hand” and goes on the attack.
The Doctor wins and the lead Sycorax swears to leave Earth alone forever. He hugs Rose and walks away chattering about the fruit he found in his borrowed houserobe. Upon hearing the Sycorax come up behind him to kill him, however, he throws the fruit at a button that causes the “ground” to retract from under the alien (why?), leaving the dirty cheater to plummet to his doom. “No second chances. I’m that sort of a man,” the Doctor grimly says.
He goes back inside to deliver a warning to the Sycorax assembly: stay away and warn others to stay away. They’re all
teleported tellyported back down to Earth and get to watch the Sycorax ship fly away to the sound of triumphant music.
On being asked, the Doctor tells Harriet Jones that, sure, there are thousands of alien species out there, and they’re noticing Earth more and more! He clearly means it as a “chin up and have a blast” sort of message, but Harriet takes it the other way. On hearing that Torchwood is ready, she sadly, reluctantly gives an attack order. Death Star beams lance out from London and destroy the Sycorax ship.
The Doctor is of course angry, calling it murder. Dead UNIT Guy would agree. Harriet insists that it was necessary, to prevent word about Earth spreading to others who might plunder the planet while the Doctor was not around. He refers to the human race as monsters, and she wonders whether she will have to protect the Earth from him. He threatens to end her ministry with six words, and when she doubts him, whispers in the ear of her sidekick, “Don’t you think she looks tired?” . . . and simply walks away with his Tyler retinue, freaking Harriet out.
The rest of the episode is Christmas and wardrobe festivities, Harriet sliding down the slope of public opinion, and festive meteors and snow-ash falling from the sky.
The main takeaway about Tennant’s Doctor from this episode is his dominance. When awake, he dominates every frame he’s in. He dominates the screen when he’s loud or soft, when he claims to be at a loss or when he knows every letter of what he’s doing. He strides regally onto the balcony to confront the Santa Claus aliens. When he catches himself drifting into Disney song, he never loses any intensity. He dominates the lead Sycorax from beginning to end . . . well, we’ll call the swordfight a tie. Harriet is built up to be forceful and charismatic, but her PMship is sacrificed so that his personality can steamroll hers the moment she moves against his wishes. I think this was done so that “Is the show still worth watching?” was answered not by his looks or personality, but by his sheer force of presence. You may not actively like this Eccleston replacement, but he demands your attention . . . and meanwhile the other characters you love are still around. And that grants Tennant the time to grow into a Doctor you do like.
Rating: 3 Sycorax wolf masks
Favorite dialogue: Mickey: That’s fascinating, because I love hearing stories about the TARDIS. Ooh, go on Rose, tell us another one, ’cause I swear I could listen to it all day, TARDIS this, TARDIS that.
Rose: (grinning) Shut up.
Mickey: “Oh, and one time the TARDIS landed in a biiig yellow garden full of balloons!”
Me and my big mouth: thinking I’d never have to talk about the Slitheen mess again, back in the S1 summary
Featuring bits from: ST III, ST VI, SW V
Shoutout to: The late Adams Douglas Adams, when the Doctor mentions meeting Arthur Dent
1. The Christmas Invasion