In Third Place: The Christmas Invasion
Think of everything that is great about Tennant as the Doctor. The great sense of energy and fun. Bringing a bit of humility to a near-omnipotent being. Doing the serious stuff well when he needs to.
All of this is what made him seem like he was going to be such a great Doctor when we first properly met him in the first Christmas special, before he started to phone in his goggle-eyed performances. And the actors were certainly made to work for their Christmas bonus – with the star of the show, the new Doctor, laid up in bed for the first half of the episode.
It certainly gave the programme a bit of chance to breathe after the big finish of series one. Surprisingly, there was still time for the Doctor to avert near-certain invasion from a species that had a third of the population hypnotized to jump off the nearest building (presumably those in bungalows were pretty much safe).
It’s quite strange what else sticks in the mind about the episode. The deadly Christmas trees were great, the robo-Santa less so, but both were memorable. Does anyone else remember the Gherkin in London blowing up? Me neither, but I’ve just watched the episode back, and it definitely happened. Rose trying to bluff the Sycorax that she is the Doctor as the real one is unconscious? Again, it’s completely gone from my mind.
It’s doubtlessly because there was just so darned much else going on. The Doctor losing his hand, Star Wars-style, after sword fighting – something that’s coming back to haunt him now. Prime Minister Harriet Jones return to the intergalactic stage. And the references to 101 other bits and pieces (UNIT, Torchwood, the Royal Family atop Buck House about to jump). Heavily layering the episodes is always a good starting strategy with the Who.
But above all else, the whole episode was good fun and games. The big finish atop the Sycorax spaceship, with the Doctor facing off a foe in a dressing gown, was just the big fun we needed to kick a bit of humour back into the whole shebang after the Daleks tried to kill us all.
Despite a typically unsubtle tip towards real-world commentary and the Belgrano-esque shooting down of the fleeing spaceship, this was a proper gung-ho effort, even managing to get in a bit of sword-fighting. If that isn’t the ideal telly for Christmas Day, I don’t know what is.