Those tuning in to BBC America on Christmas night will see one of the most original and entertaining interpretations ever written of Charles Dickens' classic tale A Christmas Carol.
For the first time, the Doctor Who Christmas Special will be broadcast in the United States on the same date it airs in the United Kingdom — Dec. 25 — and viewers will find it a mix of science fiction, bittersweet regret, whimsy, a touch of horror and a soupçon of Steven Spielberg. Executive producer Steven Moffat must be proud.
Doctor Who — not Dr. Who, as legions of fans will tell you — is a "Time Lord" from the planet Gallifrey who travels in a spaceship that looks like a blue British police box from the 1960s.
He's been delighting British sci-fi fans with his exploits since 1963, and Americans have been able to follow him, sporadically, on public television and, more recently, the Syfy channel and BBC America.
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This year's one-hour show has the signature qualities of the Doctor Who Christmas Specials — planetary destruction, feisty companions, wonderful visual effects, and sparkling dialogue. Insider jokes for fans abound.
"I was laughing madly as I typed along to Christmas songs in April," Moffat said of his creative process.
In Dickens' Christmas Carol, Scrooge is a greedy, mean-spirited miser at war with the generosity usually shown at Christmastime. He is visited by three spirits — past, present and future — and shown how his fateful decisions will lead him to an uncelebrated death and forgotten grave. In fear of his soul's damnation, Scrooge becomes a generous man who "knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge." Written in 1843, the novella has never been out of print.
The Doctor Who Christmas Special also deals with social issues but with a subtle hand. Moffat evokes a gentler Christmas season than did Dickens, who was writing for a harsher time and used stronger language to make his point about the need for Christmas charity.
Michael Gambon, best known to American audiences as Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films, dominates as Kazran Sardick, the greedy, bitter old man. The other guest star, Welsh soprano Katherine Jenkins, is crucial as Abigail, who is pivotal in Sardick's story.
How? Watch it and see — let there be no spoilers to a jolly good time. You are likely to not see anything like the Doctor Who Christmas Special again.
Until next year.