Friday, September 2, 2011

The Keys to the TARDIS: The Christmas Invasion

Doctor WhoToday we are launching a new series called "The Keys to the TARDIS," in which people write about the parts of the BBC show Doctor Who that they think are somehow key to the series.  "Key" can be interpreted in a wide variety of ways--key to the narrative, key to a certain character's development, key to personal understanding, key to the overall conception of the show.  We'll post a new installment each Friday, and we'd love to know what you think, too, so make sure to post your own choices in the comments. 

In this first installment, Jen Miller writes about how "The Christmas Invasion" episode in between Series 1 and 2 of the reboot changed her thinking about the nature of the Doctor. 

I'm new to Doctor Who.  I just started watching this summer, and I started watching the show from when it picked back up in 2005, rather than from the very beginning.  Not only that, but I haven't caught up to the current episode of Doctor Who, either.  I'm not even close--I only just started watching the episodes with Martha Jones as the 10th Doctor's companion.  All of this is a very long way of saying: I'm not an expert on Doctor Who, and this essay shouldn't be read as an analysis of the series as a whole.

Rather, this essay is a look at one episode that changed the way I thought about the Doctor, and thus changed the way I watched the show.

This essay is about "The Christmas Invasion."

Christmas Invasion"The Christmas Invasion" is a Christmas special that originally aired on December 25, 2005, right in between the tenures of the 9th and 10th Doctors (Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant, respectively).  And as such, it's an episode that is in a very uncertain space.  We just lost the Doctor that we had come to know and love, and now we're trying to figure out whether or not this new Doctor will be any good--something that is hard to do, because he is still regenerating and spends much of the episode asleep.

And it's perhaps because this episode exists in this interstitial space that I found it to be so unsettling.  The imagery of the episode supports this as well--the Santas with machine guns and the snow that is actually ash are both perfect examples of Freud's theory of the uncanny.  The strange and dangerous is combined with the familiar and comforting, an effect that is amplified because of how important Christmas is to so many.

But while I think this aspect of the show is brilliantly done, that's not why I'm writing about it.

No, I'm writing because of Harriet Jones.

Harriet JonesHarriet Jones was first introduced earlier in the 2005 season in the episodes "Aliens of London" and "World War Three."  She was a Member of Parliament who helped the Doctor and Rose save the day.  The Doctor liked her.  I liked her.

When we see her again in "The Christmas Invasion," she is now Prime Minister.  And she's desperately trying to save the world from an alien attack while the Doctor sleeps, oblivious to the danger.  And at the end of the episode, after the Doctor has gotten rid of the Sycorax and sent them back to where they came from, Harriet Jones gives the order to have their ship shot out of the sky.

And when the Doctor furiously accuses her of murder, Harriet Jones gives this answer: "That was defense...You said yourself, Doctor, they'd go back to the stars and tell others about the Earth.  I'm sorry, Doctor, but you're not here all the time--you come and go.  It happened today.  Mr. Llewelyn and the Major, they were murdered.  They died right in front of me, while you were sleeping.  In which case, we have to defend ourselves."

And the Doctor then speaks six words to Harriet Jones's assistant, six words that ultimately result in her being removed from office.

Those six words are what changed the way I think of the Doctor.  Before this episode, I didn't give a lot of thought to his power.  His seemingly infinite knowledge was helpful in forwarding the plot, and his special technolgy and abilities got him and Rose out of many a sticky situation.  But I didn't think about the implications of his having such powers.

After "The Christmas Invasion," it was no longer possible for me to view the Doctor in this innocent way.  His knowledge and abilities come with a dark side, as well--a side that has the possibility to become corrupt.  I'm not arguing that Harriet Jones made the right choice, but I also don't think that it was up to the Doctor to decide.

And so for me, "The Christmas Invasion" made the Doctor a much more morally ambiguous character.  I definitely still like him, but I'm also much more able to see the potential problems with the Doctor's actions.

And I think the show is stronger for it.