Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol—A Spoileriffic Analysis of the Parable

(Please watch the latest Doctor Who Christmas special! I want to encourage this show’s viewership. It is a great series, and this is a great episode. However, I also want to talk about certain aspects of this latest episode that will spoil it. Sorry. Either read this and watch it anyway, or go watch it and come right back! It is available cheaply on iTunes.)

Steven Moffat has done it again. This latest Doctor Who Christmas special was the best one so far, partly because he favored meaning over flash and message over fluff. A lot has already been said about Moffat’s writing here at NonModern. One of the themes that Moffat fearlessly (and skillfully) tackles is something that Doctor Who has surprisingly avoided in the past. He does not shy away from the sticky bits of telling time-travel stories.

For instance, in The Girl in the Fireplace, he built an entire story about the Doctor visiting the same girl several times over the course of her life. With the new companion, Amy Pond, he has developed similar ideas that were only barley addressed with Tegan and Sarah Jane in past seasons. Perhaps his most complex story is the one he is building around the character River Song, but we have yet to see the end of that one. (Wait a minute. We HAVE seen the end, just not all the middle bits yet. Or have we?)

In A Christmas Carol, Moffat reinterprets the classic Dickens story quite brilliantly. He has the Doctor—in the span of an hour—completely change a bitter old man into someone much better using the man’s past, present and future. Our Scrooge in this case is Kazran Sardick. He controls the skies on a planet where the Doctor’s companions (on their honeymoon) are about to crash. If he does not allow the ship to land, they and 4,000 other passengers are going to die. Sardick is perfectly willing for that to happen. The Doctor has to get Sardick to change his mind and as he is thinking of what to do, he is reminded of the classic Dickens story.

We are all familiar with the old story, and so is the Doctor. However, instead of showing the man his past, he actually goes into that man’s past—and the man in the present is changed. He experiences his life changing. His memories change. Time is rewritten. Later, in the present, he shows the man what is happening on the ship. But it is in the future part of the plan that something is changed and the results are amazing.

Here is your last major spoiler warning!

In a last ditch effort to save his friends, the Doctor approaches Sardick as the “ghost of Christmas future.” Sardick is ready. He tells the Doctor to go ahead. By now he knows the Doctor’s capacity for time travel well. “Show me the future,” he dares the Doctor. Nothing will change. He knows that he will die eventually, and that does not matter to him. The Doctor responds by saying that he IS showing Sardick the future, and it is then that we see the childhood Sardick. He has been brought forward by the Doctor! He is being shown his bitterness before it has become bitterness, and… he is changed. You should watch it to fully get the impact, but it is powerful.

At this point, the Christian in the audience is sure to smile. This is a powerful picture of the change that is created in the life of a person when they begin their relationship with Jesus Christ. It is very much like this story. In the moment a person believes and the power of the Gospel story is realized in their lives, they are changed in time. Before they ever did a single evil thing; before they turned their back on the Creator; before they were born—time was changed and they became a different person… all those years ago on a cross outside Jerusalem.

This is surely not the point Moffat was shooting for, but it is a powerful truth none the less.

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