Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Welcome to the Convo, where ACG Blog contributors get together for discussion and analysis. Today’s topic is this year’s “Doctor Who” Christmas special “A Christmas Carol.”


Merry Christmas, Whoniverse! Ever since the BBC’s flagship science-fiction program Doctor Who was brought back to our televisions in 2005, there’s been a special episode aired at Christmastime to tide audiences over between the regular seasons that are shown in the spring. While the previous offerings have been fine adventures in their own right, most have had only the trappings of Christmas — snowy countrysides, robot Santas, and the occasional homicidal Christmas tree, but little else that would link their stories to the holiday. Last year’s two-parter, “The End of Time,” was a poignant farewell to lead actor David Tennant, but its tone was about as far from Christmas as could be. This year’s special, “A Christmas Carol,” is the first to feature Tennant’s successor Matt Smith in the lead role as the time-traveling alien Doctor, and the episode more than lives up to its name. It is a fantastic timey-wimey romp, and it is quintessentially Christmas.

The episode takes its name from the classic Christmas story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s ghostly visitors, but it offers a “Doctor Who” twist on the story, rather than a simple retelling. In fact, in a clever bit of writing, we are shown the Doctor getting his inspiration for how to deal with the Scrooge-like Kazran Sardick by a chance mentioning of the phrase “a Christmas carol.” The context was unrelated to the original ghost story, but you can almost see the wheels turning in the Doctor’s head as he makes the connection. The Doctor met Charles Dickens himself several years ago in the episode “The Unquiet Dead” and professed himself to be a huge fan, so it’s of little surprise that when faced with a Scrooge he decides to reenact the tale. What follows, however, is a version of the classic story that only writer-producer Stephen Moffat could have come up with.

The Doctor is brought into the case by a crashing spaceship, which happens to be carrying his two companions, Mr. and Mrs. Amy Pond. Sardick is the only one who can save them, because only his device can part the clouds enough for the ship to stabilize. When he refuses, the Doctor decides that it is up to him to play the Ghost of Christmas Past to persuade Sardick to become a better person. Although it is not often recognized as such, the original short story was a time-travel adventure — the ghosts take Scrooge into the past to see his former self, and then into the future to see where his present path is leading. In Moffat’s version, however, the time-travel is even more blatant: facing rejection by Sardick in the present day, the Doctor travels back into the man’s past alone and sets about trying to make things right back then. In the present, Sardick is watching a recording of his past self, and so is able to witness both internally and externally as his memories change.

In truth, this bit had the potential to be incredibly creepy, but it was played just right by the “Doctor Who” team. Sardick is startled by the Doctor’s presence in the recording and by the new memories that start flooding in, but he never appears to be scared or violated by them. This is good, for what the Doctor is attempting is a much riskier venture than any we’ve seen before. By stepping in and attempting to willfully mold a person’s entire life history, the Doctor is flirting with the kind of dangers that his Ninth incarnation let loose in the 2005 episode “Father’s Day”, in addition to risking the arrogance of the Time Lord Victorious last seen in 2009’s “The Waters of Mars.” Luckily, Sardick never seems angry at what the Doctor is doing to his life — just exasperated and wishing he had time to sort out which memories are which.

The visits from the Doctor’s Ghost of Christmas Past begin to mollify Kazran Sardick in the present, mostly due to the beautiful Abigail whom the Doctor finds frozen in Sardick’s father’s vaults. Abigail, however, is harboring a secret illness, and although she has had the night of her life many times over with the Doctor and young Sardick, she must eventually be frozen away forever after letting a now lovestruck Sardick know she has but one day left to live. When the Doctor returns to the present day, it is to find a less bitter Sardick who recognizes him as a friend — but one hardened by the loss of his beloved Abigail, and still unwilling to part the skies.

The Doctor’s companions are woefully underused in this story, being primarily stuck on a crashing starship for the majority of the episode. Amy Pond, however, oversees the next step of the Doctor’s Christmas plan, which is to show Sardick up-close and personally the four thousand people in space he is condemning to death. Unfortunately, the caroling holograms she projects do little to sway his mind.

As it turns out, however, Amy’s brief appearance as the Ghost of Christmas Present seems to have been only a distraction for Sardick while the Doctor readied the final apparition. Sardick, perhaps familiar with the original tale, asks bitterly if the Doctor has come to show him a lonely grave as the final ghost showed Scrooge. As it turns out, however, Sardick himself is the terrifying future he faces, as the Doctor has brought forward in time the miser’s horrified younger self. Michael Gambon’s portrayal of Sardick is masterful throughout the entire episode, but in this scene between him and his former self, the actor’s emotion is simply incredible. This, for me, is where the story ends. When Kazran realizes the kind of man he has become (and is brought face-to-face with the kind of man he wanted to be), he breaks down and cries into his younger self’s shoulders. When he stands back up, it is clear that he has rededicated himself and will help the spaceship land.

Of course, the episode doesn’t end there, and some more fancy footwork is required until the day has been saved for real. The most important aspect of this last part is that Abigail must be woken up for her final day to sing to a flying shark – a piece of storytelling that was charming, odd, and unexpectedly integral to the plot. Kazran, Abigail, and everyone else know that Abigail is going to pass away after this last day, because apparently future health care practitioners are good enough to put an exact count on this sort of thing. Not even the Doctor can do anything to help the young woman – but as he reminds Amy, “Everything’s got to end sometime, otherwise nothing would ever get started.” Amy, who has a tendency to take her time with the Doctor for granted, seemed rather unsettled by this line, which I thought was a good note to end the episode on.

All in all, I think the Christmas special was a hit. Fans of the show may notice that under Stephen Moffat, the Doctor’s adventures are getting more “timey-wimey” — aka, relying more on time-travel as an actual plot element rather than just a framing device that gets our characters to the start of an adventure and takes them away at the end. This current Doctor, whose previous incarnations frequently claimed to not be able to leave a timeline once they’d become part of events, seems to not be bound by such rules. Instead, time-traveling jaunts back and forth in Kazran’s life (along with the occasional side trip to visit the pyramids or Marilyn Monroe) seem perfectly acceptable. There’s a danger in this, both for the accompanying arrogance of the Doctor’s character and for the storylines which no longer are possible if the Doctor feels free to hop in his TARDIS and go anywhere at any time. In previous adventures, Moffat has portrayed the Doctor as perpetually out-of-sync, regularly missing appointments with Madame de Pompadour and Amy herself due to overshooting his arrival in the time-traveling TARDIS. It’s hard to imagine the Doctor of “A Christmas Carol,” with his propensity to hop back in the blue box to try something different, ever being so out-of-sync again.

But this lovely program is entering its forty-eighth year, and I am well aware that plotlines and characters evolve — or all the best ones do, at least. If the madman in a box is becoming even madder, I for one am excited to see where that leads. And if the preview for series six that aired at the end of the Christmas special is anything to go on, the Doctor’s adventures from here on out will be mad indeed. Geronimo!

Joe Kessler


I never like when this happens. I love “Doctor Who,” I really do, but sometimes an episode is simply just too bad or questionable or full of holes that I have to become — wait for it — miserly. This, unfortunately, was the case with this year’s Christmas special, “A Christmas Carol.” Thankfully, I do feel less guilty about the review I’m about to write because of Joe’s nearly unequivocal endorsement above.

Don’t get me wrong; there were many things I enjoyed about “A Christmas Carol.” Amy and Rory dressed up as a policewoman and Roman centurion for honeymoon games, for example, which was amusing enough to raise a grin but sly enough to slip past young viewers. Plus, come on, we all knew what those handcuffs were going to be used for. I quite liked the smooth reference in Abigail’s song that “Silence will fall all around.” As an Arthur Darvill fan I was pleased to finally see his name in the opening credits, a place extremely deserved. Michael Gambon was exceptionally skilled in portraying a quasi-Scrooge, continuing a long and proud tradition of exceptional performances on the show. And of course it was beautifully designed and executed; each set, each shot and each costume was a triumph, especially considering the increasingly slashed show budgets.

There are equally nitpicky things I was not happy about, too. The Blinovitch Limitation Effect, for example, which was critical during “Father’s Day” but has apparently gone completely out the window now. How could it possibly be cost-effective to keep people frozen as collateral over long periods of time? Also, I hated basically everything about the fish, from their unnecessary part in the plot to the contradiction that the air is so full of water they can swim and yet everyone walks around dry as a bone. Of course, those are the kinds of things I’m willing to overlook. Unfortunately, “A Christmas Carol” had some rather major structural problems I simply cannot ignore.

I’m a big fan of timey-wimey shenanigans done well. See “Blink”; “The Big Bang”; River Song. But this was simply too unbelievable and too difficult to follow. A fast pace is part of “Doctor Who,” I know, but there was simply so much flying by me this time that I had to give up and simply focus on holding on for dear life. I was following it right up until the Doctor and Young Kazran began time traveling each Christmas Eve with Abigail. Why her over the other frozen people creepily taking up Sardick basement real estate? Was it simply because Old Kazran had referred to her as unimportant? Or did the Doctor hope for the outcome that would break the heart of Horny Kazran (as I refer to the kiss-happy middle incarnation)? Their love is also a little questionable. Although it seems nice on the surface, remember, to her he was 12 like three days ago. He certainly was handsome, but, come on, that’s a little much.

Furthermore, Amy and especially Rory were criminally underused. This hopefully won’t be a running problem through the series, but sometimes Rory gets rather shut out, and I’m desperate for more Rory time. Perhaps they could even do one from Rory’s point of view, where he feels a little left out and then has his own little side adventure or something. I know, I know, “Buffy” has done it before, but frankly “Doctor Who” could do it even better.

I could go on and on, but in the Christmas spirit I’ve decided to let my point lie. I had some problems with the episode’s format, that’s clear enough, and its incoherence interfered with enjoying the episode. But it’s Christmastime, and I shall forgive “Doctor Who” its problems and plot holes. With the new year coming up, I’d rather focus on the fabulous looking sixth series. Here’s to 2011!

Alex Guillén


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“It’s the creepiest Christmas song,” one of my co-workers said.

“Kind of date rape-y,” another added.

Of course, they were talking about “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” the 1944 Frank Loesser duet that’s technically not a Christmas song but still is popular during the season. Coincidentally, it’s long been one of my favorites, with a relaxed cadence and impressive scheme — especially in a time of increasingly poppy tunes, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and its numerous covers have remained rather classy and stylish.

The song has, unfortunately, gotten a bad rap over the years, as my co-workers banter indicates. The root of that reputation lies in a fundamental misunderstanding of the lyrics; they were written in a different era, and more than 60 years later some parts of the song certainly could come across as overly sketchy. While understandable, this misinterpretation represents a tragic loss of the context of the song, alienating it not only from its own time but from ours as well. A closer reading and consideration of the lyrics, however, will provide an understanding and hopefully even an appreciation of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

I really can’t stay – Baby it’s cold outside
I’ve got to go away – Baby it’s cold outside
This evening has been – Been hoping that you’d drop in
So very nice – I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice
My mother will start to worry – Beautiful, what’s your hurry
My father will be pacing the floor – Listen to the fireplace roar
So really I’d better scurry – Beautiful, please don’t hurry
Well Maybe just a half a drink more – Put some music on while I pour

The neighbors might think – Baby, it’s bad out there
Say, what’s in this drink – No cabs to be had out there
I wish I knew how – Your eyes are like starlight now
To break this spell – I’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell
I ought to say no, no, no, sir – Mind if I move a little closer
At least I’m gonna say that I tried – What’s the sense in hurting my pride
I really can’t stay – Baby don’t hold out
Ahh, but it’s cold outside

C’mon baby

I simply must go – Baby, it’s cold outside
The answer is no – Ooh baby, it’s cold outside
This welcome has been – I’m lucky that you dropped in
So nice and warm – Look out the window at that storm
My sister will be suspicious – Man, your lips look so delicious
My brother will be there at the door – Waves upon a tropical shore
My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious – Gosh your lips look delicious
Well maybe just a half a drink more – Never such a blizzard before

I’ve got to go home – Oh, baby, you’ll freeze out there
Say, lend me your comb – It’s up to your knees out there
You’ve really been grand – Your eyes are like starlight now
But don’t you see – How can you do this thing to me
There’s bound to be talk tomorrow – Making my life long sorrow
At least there will be plenty implied – If you caught pneumonia and died
I really can’t stay – Get over that old out
Ahh, but it’s cold outside.

The premise of the song is simple enough: a young woman has been visiting a young man. It’s late in the evening in winter, approaching the time it would no long be socially acceptable for them to be alone. She laments the societal mores that would tarnish her image should she stay too late; he provides possible excuses for her to use with her family, including, of course, that it’s too cold outside to walk home.

Of course, that’s the PG version. The adult version is that they want to have sex, but of course rumors would profligate at “Easy A” levels. Or, possibly, they already have, because she asks for a comb, indicating her hair is mussed from a roll in the hay. Even still, the plot remains both sympathetic and endearing.

The modern interpretation, however, is somewhat different, and relies around the misinterpretation of a single line of lyrics. She agrees to another half-hour, and he pours them both drinks, as people in the ‘40s (and, to be honest, today) are wont. “Say, what’s in this drink?” she asks. Most people I know cite this line when questioning the intentions of the man, and at first glance it could be interpreted to indicate her drink was roofied. But the true meaning is more complicated: just as people do today, she is blaming conscious action on inebriation, providing an excuse, if not a very desirable one, for her advances. Yes, her advances. Both the man and the woman are interested in sex, something that maybe wasn’t explored on “Leave it to Beaver” but which did, in fact, occur.

What proves the plot is less skeevy than modern interpretation would hold? She spends much of the song worrying not about her actually stay over but rather her family’s reaction, including a worrying mother, a pacing father, a suspicious sister, a brother at the door and a maiden aunt with a vicious mind. “But don’t you see / … There’s bound to be talk tomorrow / … At least there will be plenty implied,” she tells the man. “I really can’t stay,” she says, and he replies, “Get over that old out,” as in excuse.

As an example, the below video, a cover of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by Chris Colfer and Darren Criss from “Glee,” showcases the appropriate tone and delivery of the duet. Colfer, singing the female role, is obviously not scared or worried, as someone who was in a predatory situation would be; rather, he is coy, hinting at deeper desires contrasting with cultural acceptability.

Ultimately, of course, she bucks acceptability: “I ought to say no, no, no, sir / … At least I’m gonna say that I tried / … I really can’t stay / … Ahh, but it’s cold outside.” The final line is sung not back and forth, as the rest is, but rather together in harmony. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” isn’t about overpowering a woman or even really an inner conflict, but rather pushes away socially acceptable behavior in favor of personal desires. Unfortunately, that message has become muddled and somewhat lost to time. Ironically, never before has such a song been so reflective of society.

Photo via Flickr.

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Welcome to the Convo, where ACG Blog contributors get together for discussion and analysis. Today’s topic is last night’s episode of “Glee,” “A Very Glee Christmas.”


Glee Christmas — another mixed bag. Is this show really as good as, or does it have the potential to be as good as, those first thirteen episodes (at least as I remember them)?

Artie and Brittany officially stole the sweetest couple crown from… well, no one, really. But that doesn’t make them less sweet! Brittany may be as dumb as a sack of hammers, but her stupidity compounded this week with her wide-eyed innocence (she still believes in Santa Claus — even if he’s black, or a woman, or a woman dressed in Grinch-gear) endeared her to me. Artie doesn’t want to ruin the Santa illusion, but the plan backfires when a mall-Santa promises that he’ll grant her wish: for Artie to walk. She also walks in on Sue tearing up the glee club’s tree and stealing the presents for the homeless. Brittany’s all dolled up as Cindy-Lou Who, acting out the classic scene from the animated Grinch. Pretty cheesy, and I wasn’t completely sold on it, but Brittany’s offering of a dollhouse was cute (“at least their dolls won’t be homeless”).

Coach Beiste (as Santa) tells Brittany she just won’t be able to give her her wish this year, and that what Brittany really needs this year is patience. Brittany may not even want to believe in Santa anymore, but she goes home to find an exoskeleton device called the ReWalk under her tree. It seems to have been procured by Coach Beiste (how did she afford it?), and provides a nice moment when Artie surprises the glee club by walking.

The Sue/Grinch story failed for me. Would Sue rig secret Santa so everyone would have to buy her gifts? Yes. Would the teachers reclaim everything when they figured it out? Probably. Would Sue steal all the presents back, after it was decided they should go to charity? Eh, I don’t think so. And she realized the error of her ways when all the Whos down in Whoville began to sing. Lazy, lazy writing. There’s no need to retread classic children’s cartoons. Sue returns the gifts by making her way into Will’s home with the glee kids, so he won’t have to be alone on during Christmas. Sue gifts him some hair clippers. Score.

Finn and Rachel continue to bore me. Finn is a pretty likeable character, and is totally in the right about breaking up with Rachel. Clearly he is going to have some trust issues. But Rachel is determined to win him back, it seems, by singing to him. Which means we get some more Rachel solos. Also this bothered me the whole episode, but you would think that in a glee club all about diversity and tolerance, there might have been a token attempt to recognize other religious holidays.

Oh, and Kurt and Blaine are shoehorned into the episode. Blaine needs help rehearsing for some community gig. “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” The insertion into the story was somewhat clunky, but I liked this cover — even if it is the sketchiest holiday song of all time. This and “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” were really the only numbers I enjoyed. So, par for the course really. Another theme episode, another middling to poor episode for the effort, with just a few bright spots.

More Artie and Brittany in the new year, please.

Alexandria Jackson


“Glee” had its heart in the right place for last night’s Christmas special. The two main plots were each delightfully Christmassy, albeit somewhat unlikely to ever actually occur. But this is “Glee,” home of the grilled-cheese Jesus. Let’s take a look.

Sue rigs the faculty Secret Santa, so that everyone else ends up getting gifts for her. Schue figures it out, but Ms. Sylvester threatens to sue him if he tries to take the gifts back. He assumes she’s being unreasonable, and grabs the gifts to give to a charity for homeless kids. She responds by being even more unreasonable, dressing like the Grinch, and trashing the choir room. She’s spotted in the act by Brittany Pierce, who acts as an uncannily appropriate Cindy Lou Who to Sue Sylvester’s Grinch. Brittany, our naïve innocent, believes Sue’s claim that she’s Santa, there to fix a light on the tree.

This moment works very well, and ties Sue’s plotline nicely to the other main story of this episode: Brittany still believing in Santa Claus. This would be hard to believe of nearly any high schooler out there, but actress Heather Morris pulls off Brittany’s earnestness beautifully. As usual, she is utterly convincing as the simpleminded cheerleader. The extent of Brittany’s cluelessness is of course highly unrealistic, and I was wondering along with Artie whether she was kidding when she first mentioned writing to Santa Claus. But I’m glad that she wasn’t. Kudos to the “Glee” writers as well — the ‘magic comb’ plot from last week’s episode was a good lead-in to Artie’s revelation about his girlfriend this week, and made the Santa business even more believable.

Because Brittany still believes, Artie decides that the glee kids need to take her to the mall so that she can see the big man herself. A ‘very tan’ Santa asks her what she wants for Christmas, and Brittany casually utters a heartbreaking request: make my boyfriend walk again. The mall Santa, not seeing Artie’s desperate gestures behind Brittany’s back, says that he’ll make sure it happens, and the kids are left facing the question of how to keep Brittany believing in Santa despite the impossibility of her request and the inevitability of a letdown on Christmas day.

Like I said: delightfully Christmassy. I liked the football guys convincing Coach Beiste to dress as Santa (to break the news as Brittany that her wish wouldn’t be coming true after all), and I thought Dot Jones gave one of her best performances yet in that Santa suit. What I loved, though, was the mysterious gift of a “ReWalk” that showed up under Brittany’s tree. It might have come from Beiste, or Artie, or Brittany’s parents… or maybe from Saint Nick himself. “Glee” didn’t try to answer the question, and I think that decision really made this episode shine.

Back at school, the rest of the New Directions sings “Welcome Christmas” from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and Sue’s heart grows three sizes or something. Anyway, she breaks into Schue’s apartment — she had a key made ages ago — along with the glee kids, and they decorate and put back all the presents Sue stole. It’s a nice touch, since various characters had commented throughout the episode how sad it was for Schue to be spending Christmas alone this year. Of course, character-wise, it doesn’t really make much sense for Sue… but I’ve almost given up on her character having any consistency from week to week.

There was way too much in this episode about Rachel and Finn, which ended with him breaking up with her for good… which I thought he already did last week. Anyway, Rachel (again) behaved terribly in this episode, continually pressuring Finn to get back together and refusing to give him the space he said that he needed. I tire of Rachel very easily these days, and I’m disappointed that the writers keep making her this pathetic. A better use of her character in a holiday special might have been to make her Judaism more than just a throwaway punchline. I know there aren’t a whole lot of Hannukah songs out there… but for an episode about the winter holidays that aired during the Jewish one, on a show with at least two main characters who are Jews, it feels sort of strange to make it all about Christmas.

You’ll noticed I haven’t mentioned the music. And the reason for that is… Eh. A Christmas carol is a Christmas carol, really. “Glee” did them adequately, but with the exception of Kurt and Blaine’s duet of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” none of the songs this episode were particularly memorable or noteworthy. I’m expecting the iTunes sales to drop this time around, although I suppose there is some novelty to be had in “You’re a Mean One, Sue the Grinch.” All in all, “A Very Glee Christmas” was a great Christmas special, but it was one carried more by the plot than the music.

Joe Kessler

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