Friday, May 24, 2013

The Christmas Invasion - "No second chances. I'm that sort of a man."

The Christmas Invasion - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 2, Story 1 (Overall Series Story #167)

Withholding the Doctor for most of the first half of this episode, just giving the viewer a few moments, then putting him back to sleep, should make the moment when he emerges from the Sycorax ship more dramatic than it was. That moment when the TARDIS starts translating Sycoraxic to English, alerting us that the Doctor was back, should have made that moment where he opens the doors and steps out a better payoff than it was. That it felt only overdue might be partly the fault of having him say just a tad too much when he woke up to save Rose & co. from the spinning xmas tree. If the plan was to just tease the viewer and then put him back to sleep, then he was probably awake a bit too long.

The Doctor answers the most interesting question posed by this story, Sycorax style.
Anyways, a few bright spots -- of course there are a few, no Tennant-era show lacks them utterly -- don't quite make up for the long stretches where the supporting cast are handling the crisis. Harriet Jones is a welcome return but her character turns out to be a disappointment to the Doctor at the end, so he brings down her government by uttering six words to her right-hand man. That moment would have worked in an episode that was more straightforward political thriller; that's just not what this episode is, so it only feels like the Doctor meddling in a way he probably shouldn't. She was, after all, a legitimately elected leader. Doing a fine job of it, we are shown.

Now, hold on just a moment, you might say, we just saw her shoot down a retreating vanquished opponent and the Doctor was simply punishing for that act of murder.

Well ... here we come to one of the two interesting questions posed by this episode (we'll take up the other next): did Harriet Jones do the right thing by giving the order to shoot down the retreating ship? The Doctor would have us believe she didn't. Based on the available information though, it's not a clear cut case and I think she actually had a strong argument for the moral authority to act.

Harriet Jones and staff.
Consider what she knew of the Sycorax: they proved themselves belligerent and dishonorable -- the former by coming to take invade the planet, the latter by killing two people they brought up to their ship to parley; the use of the blood control technique also showed them to be devious, as the Doctor showed it was a bluff and that they couldn't have made all the A-positives throw themselves off rooftops after all -- that did make them seem less menacing but also enforced they idea they simply couldn't be trusted in any negotiations; and, finally, after being defeated by the Doctor and swearing on the blood of his people that he surrendered and would leave the Earth alone, the leader of the Sycorax attempted a cowardly attack on the Doctor while his back was turned, so clearly he couldn't be trusted to keep his word, and we should probably infer he is a product and exemplar of a culture of dishonesty based. Given all this, there was no reason Harriet Jones should have trusted the Sycorax would just leave and not come back. Frankly, I think with the means to stop them, and only a moment to make the decision before the ship would be out of reach, most of us would have made the same call.

The case you can make for the Doctor's ruling on the matter is that by taking down the retreating ship, Harriet Jones had become just as dishonorable as the Sycorax. And, well, it's almost a fair cop. The agreement made with even a vanquished foe should be kept as a general rule. Here though, Harriet Jones did not make the agreement, nor did she authorize the Doctor to make the agreement. (You could argue that she was passive while the Doctor stood as champion for the Earth, thereby giving implicit authority represent the Earth, but what, realistically could she have done besides see how the Doctor's gambit played out?)

The Doctor himself said, "No second chances," when he killed the leader of the Sycorax -- who did it have it coming. Yet, what he was punished Harriet Jones for not doing was giving a second chance. That doesn't pass the hypocrisy smell test and it absolutely undercuts the episode.

The second interesting question posed by the episode was: what kind of man is this new Doctor? "Am I funny? Am I sarcastic? Sexy? [clacks his teeth in that very distinctively Tennant way] Right old misery? Life and soul? Right handed? Left handed? A gambler? A fighter? A coward? A traitor? A liar? A nervous wreck?" That's what we all want to know, right? What've we got here after the first regeneration of the new series? And we see right from the start we've got an live wire of a Doctor, with out-sized charm, abundant wit, joie de vivre, and a bright future. He's right when he says at the end that it's going to be fantastic.

Is he Arthur Dent, whom he namechecks?
Nah, more Zaphod Beeblebrox, if you ask me.

It's just not quite fantastic yet.

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