I’m a rather late convert to the Doctor Who revival, and the franchise in general, but I have been voraciously devouring new and classic episodes for the past year or so. After four seasons of Hugo-dominating, high quality television, the new series took a year to say goodbye to star David Tennant with a series of five holiday specials – two years of Christmas specials, an Easter special, a New Year’s Special, and….um…Guy Fawkes Day? Three of them were eligible for this round of Hugos, and, despite being fairly poorly received by a lot of fans, all three received nominations.
There are two big things going on in this special. First, it’s a very steampunk story that has the Doctor fighting Cybermen in Victorian London at Christmas. We get giant robots with gears, powered by Dickensian child labor! At the same time, we have an odd twist on the old “mulit-doctor story.” If you’re not all that familiar with the show, the Doctor has been played by eleven different actors (and that’s just canon!). Since he is a time traveler, it’s not too hard to do a story where he hangs out with different versions of himself. This has happened three different times on the show proper (but not for twenty-five years), and some more in telethon specials and in audio plays. In this special, we’re teased with the twist that Tennant’s Doctor is meeting a future version of himself played by David Morissey. It doesn’t quite work out that way, but it’s a fun idea.
So, steampunk, multiple doctors, bigger budget special – it all sounds good. Why the disappointment? I actually don’t have a great answer for this one, other than, it’s just not as crisp and exciting as the best Doctor Who always is. There are a couple of chase scenes, a big setpiece with the aforementioned giant robot, and lots of scenes of Morissey and Tennant chatting, but there’s not much going on underneath. Writer Russell T. Davies tries to do something with the villain being a woman of ill-repute, motivated by oppressive Victorian society…but there’s not much depth to that either. And, it’s a bit twee at times – instead of the Doctor’s usual TARDIS, a time travelling police box, the Victorian Doctor has the Tethered Aerial Release Developed In Style, a hot air balloon TARDIS. It’s not horrible, but it’s not up to the high standards of the show at its best, and it’s not Hugo-worthy either.