Timestamp #172: Born Again & The Christmas Invasion

Doctor Who: Born Again
(1 episode, Children in Need, 2005)

Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion
(1 episode, Christmas Special, 2005)

 

New teeth. New hand. New Doctor.

 

Born Again

After a brief recap of Bad Wolf and the Ninth Doctor’s farewell, we meet the Tenth Doctor. He plots a course for Barcelona – the planet where dogs have no noses – before taking stock of his new looks, all the while ignoring Rose’s confusion and apprehension. She’s skeptical of this new face, not recognizing him because regeneration is a whole new deck of cards for her.

After discounting nanogenes, Gelth, and the Slitheen, the Doctor assures her that he is still himself by recounting the day they met. Rose is still not convinced, and the Doctor offers her the choice to go home. He changes course to London on Christmas Eve, but soon suffers a bout of irrationality as the regeneration goes wrong. It’s so bad that even the Cloister Bell begins to sound as they TARDIS barrels through the vortex, almost out of control.

 

The Christmas Invasion

On Earth, Jackie trims the Christmas tree as Mickey works in the garage. The sound of the TARDIS brings them both running just in time to see the police box materialize in mid-air, bounce off a few buildings, and skid to a stop. The Doctor pops out of the box to meet Jackie and Mickey, collapsing just after he wishes them a Merry Christmas. Jackie and Mickey look on in confusion as Rose explains that this is now the Doctor.

The Doctor ends up resting in the Tyler home, sport a new set of pajamas that belong to Howard, Jackie’s current boyfriend who stashes random fruit in his pockets. Rose is examining the Doctor using a (shall we say) borrowed stethoscope and Jackie is amazed that he has two hearts. As they leave the room to wait for him to recover, the Doctor breathes out a wisp of regeneration energy. They watch newly elected Prime Minister Harriet Jones as she headlines a press conference on the unmanned Martian probe Guinevere One, launched by the British Rocket Group. That probe is soon lost to a giant island-like spacecraft.

Rose goes out with Mickey to do a little Chirstmas shopping, but their date is interrupted by a group of masked Santas wielding brass instruments as weapons. Our two lovebirds run and grab a taxi back to the flat, assuming that the Santas are chasing them to get to the Doctor. When they get there, they find a new Christmas tree that was recently delivered, and it tries to kill them. Rose, Jackie, and Mickey take refuge with the sleeping Doctor as the tree tears the place apart. Just as the tree bursts into the bedroom, Rose whispers “Help me” into the Doctor’s ear, and the Time Lord snaps into action to destroy the threat. He then points his sonic screwdriver at the Santas on the street below, forcing them to transmat away.

The Doctor is bursting with regeneration energy, and that energy could power the alien spacecraft for a long time. The incoming spaceship detected the energy as the Doctor continued to bleed it off, and the Santas were scavenger-like “pilot fish” leading the way for the larger predator. As he collapses again, the Doctor warns that something is coming and tries to ask for an unknown food item. His condition continues to deteriorate as the humans watch a news conference by the probe’s lead scientist, Daniel Llewellyn. The first images beamed back by the probe show a snarling alien face, a visage that spurs the world into action. Llewellyn is escorted to the Tower of London by UNIT where he meets Harriett and her aide Alex. Llewellyn is shocked to know that both the United Kingdom and United Nations are familiar with extraterrestrials, and analyst Sally Jacobs reveals that the signal came from an incoming ship.

The inhabitants of that ship contact Earth, but no one can understand them. UNIT applies a translation program while Rose (watching from Mickey’s hacked access to UNIT systems) laments the lack of the TARDIS translation circuits. The crisis builds as the translation program works and Jackie watches over the Doctor, and Harriett asks Major Blake of UNIT about Torchwood’s ability to handle the invasion.

Apparently, Harriet Jones shouldn’t know about Torchwood.

The translation program decrypts the transmission: The Sycorax are coming for Earth and its resources, and they demand a total surrender. Harriet refuses the demands, and the Sycorax respond with a signal that reprograms select humans on the planet to act like drones. The drones, now spread all around the world, all climb to high points like tops of buildings and prepare to unwittingly jump to their deaths. UNIT records show a genetic link among those affected, and they all share a blood type: A-positive. Guinevere One had a sample of humanity aboard – music, literature, and so on – including a vial of A-positive blood, and the Sycorax have used it to their advantage.

Harriet Jones continues to work the Torchwood angle as she broadcasts a plea to the Doctor, wherever he may be, to help them in their hour of need. Rose sees this broadcast and weeps for the dying Doctor, and her grief is broken as the incoming ship creates a sonic wave upon entering the atmosphere that shatters glass across the city. Soon enough, the island in the sky is hovering overhead. Rose rushes to the bedroom and moves the Doctor to the TARDIS as a last resort. Meanwhile, the Sycorax transport Harriet, Major Blake, Alex, and Llewellyn to their ship and demand their surrender. When Llewellyn begs for mercy, the Sycorax leader kills him and Major Blake. Harriet is faced with a terrible choice: One-third of the population dies or one half is sold into slavery.

Rose, Jackie, and Mickey get the Doctor to the TARDIS, and as they fiddle with the scanner, the Sycorax detect the advanced technology. After Jackie left to fetch a tote of food, the Sycorax teleport the TARDIS to their ship. Rose and Mickey are taken hostage, and a dropped container of tea drips onto the components below. The steam and smoke from the dripping tea rouse the Doctor as Rose is called forward to speak for humanity.

She attempts to bluff her way through a declaration, but fails miserably.

Lucky for her, the Doctor arrives in time to save everyone. The cup of tea, or rather the vapors from it, are exactly what he needed. Tannins are apparently good for the mind.

A brief round of introductions (and a lament about not being a redhead this time around) later, the Doctor springs into action. He quickly deduces how the Sycorax are controlling the humans below, and he decides to press the big red button. Instead of killing everyone, it releases the control. Blood control acts like hypnosis, and the instinct to live is too powerful for hypnotic suggestions of suicide. He tries to sway the Sycorax with The Lion King before challenging them to ritual combat for control of the planet.

The sword fight commences, eventually leading to the decks outside. Moments later, the Doctor’s hand is cut off, tumbling away ala The Empire Strikes Back, but the Time Lord uses the rest of this regeneration cycle to regrow his hand. Declaring it to be a fighting hand, he defeats the Sycorax leader and demands that the ship leave immediately. When the Sycorax leader attempts to double-cross the Doctor, the Doctor dumps him off the edge. This incarnation doesn’t believe in second chances for betrayal.

That’s a bit of an interesting twist, since the Doctor has only survived because of redemption.

The humans, the Doctor, and the TARDIS are returned to the planet’s surface as the spacecraft departs in a hurry. They celebrate as the Doctor warns Harriet that the planet is being noticed. They should expect more visitors. The Prime Minister receives word that Torchwood is ready, and she orders them to fire. Moments later, a beam of energy lances upward and destroys the Sycorax ship.

The Doctor is downright furious, and rightfully so. This has echoes to Doctor Who and the Silurians.

Harriet defends her actions, pointing out that the Doctor isn’t always there. He threatens to bring her down with six words, which he whispers to Alex: “Don’t you think she looks tired?”

Harriet Jones, Prime Minister, demands to know what the Doctor said before muttering an apology as he walks away.

The Doctor retreats to the TARDIS to pick out a new wardrobe – a pinstripe suit and trenchcoat ensemble – before joining Rose and her family for Christmas dinner, and the Time Lord watches the news as Harriet is faced with a vote of no confidence. They go outside in the freshly falling snow, which just happens to be ash from the ship. The Doctor prepares to leave and invites Rose to join him. He consoles Jackie and Mickey before preparing for their next adventure.

 

This episode begins a new tradition for the franchise in regular Christmas specials. The last time an episode was aired on December 25th was A Feast for Steven, the seventh part of The Daleks’ Master Plan, aired thirty-nine years prior. This story was different since is was specially produced for the holiday.

While it lacks in substance, it does have quite a few things going for it: The dramatic tension on the UNIT side is good, and the callbacks to elements of the franchise’s history keep the story grounded in its overarching identity. I mean, everything else that has been mentioned aside, the wardrobe scene is a veritable Who’s Who of Doctor Who history:

Sadly, all of that is not quite enough to overpower the long stretches of maudlin Rose and a comatose Doctor. Tennant’s superior acting kicks things into gear, but that energy doesn’t arrive until late in the game.

Until then, it’s a rather boring slog that takes full advantage of the Project’s regeneration handicap. Thankfully, it gets better in the future.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: New Earth

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

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