Image courtesy of BBC One

On Christmas Day, geeks all over the world crowd around their television sets and computers to watch the Doctor Who Christmas special. Some see it as it airs; others find it online, eagerly watching their download bars progress, pixel by pixel. Some years, the special is a disappointment (*cough* The End of Time *cough*). Other years, it’s brilliant.
Taking inspiration from the Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol, Steve Moffat’s first Christmas special is a fun romp  packed with Matt Smith silliness from start to finish. It’s a memorable episode, and definitely one of the best Christmas specials to date–second only, perhaps, to 2007’s Voyage of the Damned.

Opening with a ship in turbulence and the bridge crew lurching around Star Trek style, we soon discover it’s Amy and Rory’s honeymoon; after the requisite honeymoon jokes, the plot gets serious–or at least as serious as Silly Who gets. The ship’s survival depends on the kindness of Scrooge Kazran Sardick (marvelously portrayed by Michael Gambon), a bitter old curmudgeon without the usual heart of gold.

It’s a nice touch of lightness after the David Tennant specials, several of which featured Tennant taking on the bad guys in  his Special Moralizing Shoes–which makes excellent viewing, but isn’t exactly full of the peace, love, and goodwill we tend to look for in Christmas shows. But for all its (literal) sweetness and light, for all its fun, the glaring plotholes are worrying, particularly as they’re unnecessary, except to set up a slightly saccharine (though surprisingly not annoying) ending. The tight, carefully woven writing of Moffat’s weeping angels story line has given way to a more sentimental style. Worse still, this isn’t the first time Moffat’s caved in: his 2000 series, Coupling, moved from a searingly sharp take on relationships to a mawkish lovefest in the course of its four year run.

Yet even if Moffat’s lapse is a temporary one, this episode may herald a major change in the Who universe. As io9’s Charlie Jane Anders points out, the Doctor has gone from being completely unable to control the TARDIS to minute precision for no real reason. True, it’s fun to have a Doctor who can effect daring, in-the-nick-of-time rescues, but it’s more fun to have a Doctor jetting through time and space with no idea where he’s headed, as a sort of Ulysses 31 cross Galactic Robin Hood with a bit of Don Quixote thrown in. (Isn’t it? Isn’t it?)

Fortunately, there is some hope–as the first season of the current series established, the TARDIS is more than a machine, and it’s possible we’ll get another look into the heart of her in the coming season. And there are more concrete good points about this special, not least of all the Return of the Fez, and the distinct lack of “Geronimo!” a catch phrase which is more puerile than spontaneous and endearing.