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New Series Episode 76:
A Christmas Carol

Plot

Amy and Rory's Christmas honeymoon is interrupted when the spaceship on which they're vacationing suddenly plummets through a maelstrom of fog to the planet below. Miserly Kazran Sardick possesses a machine that can control the fog and save the vessel, but he refuses to comes to its aid. Determined to rescue not only his friends but all four thousand people aboard the ship, the Doctor travels back in time on a mission to change Kazran's life for the better... but only if he can navigate the shoals of bitterness and heartbreak which have made Kazran the man he is today.

Production

Director Toby Haynes was finishing work on the Season Thirty-One finale, The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang, in mid-March 2010 when he accepted the challenge of a third consecutive Doctor Who episode in the form of that year's Christmas special. Around the same time, writer and executive producer Steven Moffat was beginning to formulate ideas for the first special of his time at the helm of the programme. He wanted to put a Doctor Who spin on his favourite Christmas story -- Charles Dickens' 1843 novel A Christmas Carol. Although this had previously been the inspiration for 1986's The Trial Of A Time Lord, that serial had utilised only the basic framework of visiting events in the past, present and future. Moffat wanted to directly draw on the idea of an old miser's redemption, with the Doctor consciously imitating the events of the Dickens book.

In April, Moffat was in the United States on a promotional junket with series stars Matt Smith and Karen Gillan when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland erupted, throwing international air traffic into chaos. Grounded in Los Angeles, Moffat set to work on scripting the Christmas special despite his decidedly non-wintry surroundings, eventually downloading a playlist of seasonal tunes to help him overcome writer's block. In addition to Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Moffat's other primary inspiration was his own childhood dread of sharks rising up out of the water to attack, a nightmare fuelled by the 1975 blockbuster horror film Jaws. Moffat intentionally placed the story's emphasis firmly on the Doctor, largely confining Amy and Rory to the spaceship Thrasymachus (which originally carried 403 passengers and crew, rather than 4003).

During the break following the end of recording on Season Thirty-One, a number of changes took place in the Doctor Who production office. The producer's title had alternated for the past year between Tracie Simpson and Peter Bennett, but both had now decided to move on to other projects. Simpson became the line producer on Baker Boys and Casualty before returning to Doctor Who in this capacity in 2014. Bennett worked as a production manager on Casualty and a first assistant director on Sherlock; he reprised his producership of Doctor Who in 2014. Replacing them on an interim basis was Sanne Wohlenberg, who had previously produced Funland, The Whistleblowers and Wallander. Wohlenberg would remain with Doctor Who through the initial production block of Season Thirty-Two.

The first day of recording for the Christmas special was July 12th, marking the official start of production on Matt Smith's second season. Since completing The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang in March, Smith had also appeared as the Doctor in Death Of The Doctor for the fourth season of The Sarah Jane Adventures. Smith was delighted to be joined by legendary actor Michael Gambon, playing the Ebenezer Scrooge-like Kazran Sardick. Gambon had risen to fame for his theatre work, winning the Laurence Olivier Award three times (amongst thirteen nominations). On television, he had starred in programmes such as The Singing Detective and Maigret, while his film roles included The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, Gosford Park and The King's Speech. In the realms of science fantasy, he had latterly become famous as the second actor to play Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movie series.

More unusual was Haynes' other prominent casting choice. Moffat had made music an integral part of his script, particularly through the character of Abigail Pettigrew. It was initially hoped that popular classic/contemporary singer Katherine Jenkins might be willing to record the song which the Doctor would broadcast into the sky above Sardicktown. Jenkins, a native of the Welsh town of Neath, had first captured the spotlight seven years earlier, when she sang for Pope John Paul II at Westminster Cathedral. After meeting with Jenkins on June 28th, however, Haynes and Moffat were so impressed with her talent and enthusiasm that she was offered the opportunity to play Abigail as well. Jenkins nervously accepted; although she had previously enjoyed cameo appearances in programmes such as Emmerdale, this would be her first prominent acting role.

The first venue for recording was Mir Steel in Newport. Scenes in the Sardicktown streets were filmed there from July 12th to 15th, the latter day also accommodating material in Isabella's home. This work included the climactic scene where Abigail's song saves the Thrasymachus. Subtitled Silence Is All You Know, it was the creation of Doctor Who's regular incidental music composer, Murray Gold. Although it had once been an annual tradition for Gold to contribute a new song for the Doctor Who Christmas special, this was the first such piece since 2007's Voyage Of The Damned.

The 16th and 17th were spent at Upper Boat Studios for scenes aboard the Thrasymachus; this set consciously aped the bridge design of the various starships Enterprise from the Star Trek franchise. Then, from July 19th to 22nd, scenes in Kazran's bedroom -- including the closet and the rooftop outside the window -- were completed at the Coal Exchange in Cardiff Bay. Also filmed on the 22nd were the sequence of the little girl spying the shark-drawn rickshaw and Abigail's recorded message, before cast and crew relocated to Wrinstone House in Wenvoe, which posed as Frank Sinatra's estate.

Haynes' team then returned to Upper Boat, where special effects shots -- particularly aboard the rickshaw -- were recorded on July 23rd. From the 26th to the 31st, the chief focus involved scenes in Kazran's main room, together with additional effects sequences and inserts. More of the latter was on the schedule for August 2nd, when the cameras were also rolling on the TARDIS set. From August 3rd to 6th and on the 9th, material in the cryo-cave was recorded at the Johnsey Estates in Pontypool's Mamhilad Park Industrial Estate. This marked the end of principal photography, with some pick-up shots on the Thrasymachus bridge later completed at Upper Boat on October 8th.

In mid-November, the special's title was confirmed as A Christmas Carol. This would be the first Doctor Who episode transmitted on the new BBC1 HD channel. While the programme had been available in high definition since 2009's Planet Of The Dead, such broadcasts had been housed on BBC HD, which featured programming from across the BBC spectrum. The new channel ensured that Doctor Who would henceforth be televised simultaneously in both standard and high definition.

The broadcast of A Christmas Carol on Christmas Day eclipsed The Eleventh Hour as the most-watched Eleventh Doctor story to that point. In fact, during the remainder of the Smith era, only the fiftieth anniversary special The Day Of The Doctor would attract more viewers. Unlike previous dips in the Doctor Who ratings, however, this was less suggestive of a drop in the show's popularity than it was a sign of the way that new means of accessing programming -- such as the BBC's own iPlayer service -- was transforming the television landscape.

Sources
  • Doctor Who News.
  • Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition #29, 14th December 2011, “A Christmas Carol” by Andrew Pixley, Panini Publishing Ltd.

Original Transmission
Date 25th Dec 2010
Time 6.00pm
Duration 61'47"
Viewers (more) 12.1m (4th)
· BBC1/HD 12.1m
· iPlayer 810k
Appreciation 83%


Cast
The Doctor
Matt Smith
Amy Pond
Karen Gillan
Rory
Arthur Darvill
(more)
Kazran Sardick
Michael Gambon
Elliot Sardick
Michael Gambon
Abigail
Katherine Jenkins
Young Kazran
Laurence Belcher
Adult Kazran
Danny Horn
Pilot
Leo Bill
Captain
Pooky Quesnel
Co-Pilot
Micah Balfour
Old Benjamin
Steve North
Boy
Bailey Pepper
Benjamin
Bailey Pepper
Servant
Tim Plester
Eric
Nick Malinowski
Isabella
Laura Rogers
Old Isabella
Meg Wynn-Owen


Crew
Written by
Steven Moffat
Directed by
Toby Haynes
Produced by
Sanne Wohlenberg
(more)

1st Assistant Director
Mick Pantaleo
2nd Assistant Director
James DeHaviland
3rd Assistant Director
Heddi-Joy Taylor-Welch
Assistant Directors
Janine H Jones
Michael Curtis
Location Manager
Iwan Roberts
Unit Manager
Rhys Griffiths
Production Manager
Steffan Morris
Production Co-ordinator
Claire Hildred
Asst Production Co-ordinator
Helen Blyth
Production Secretary
Scott Handcock
Production Assistant
Charlie Coombes
Asst Production Accountant
Rhys Evans
Script Executive
Lindsey Alford
Script Supervisor
Phillip Trow
Camera Operator
Robert Arrowsmith
Focus Pullers
Steve Rees
Simon Walton
Grip
Gary Norman
Camera Assistants
Simon Ridge
Svetlana Miko
Boom Operator
Laura Coates
Sound Maintenance Engineer
Dafydd Parry
Gaffer
Mark Hutchings
Best Boy
Pete Chester
Electricians
Ben Griffiths
Gareth Sheldon
Bob Milton
Peter Scott
Stunt Co-ordinator
Crispin Layfield
Stunt Performer
Gordon Seed
Art Director
Stephen Nicholas
Set Decorator
Julian Luxton
Production Buyer
Ben Morris
Standby Art Director
Ciaran Thompson
Storyboard Artist
Rod Knipping
Concept Artist
Richard Shaun Williams
Props Master
Paul Aitken
Props Buyer
Adrian Anscombe
Prop Chargehand
Rhys Jones
Standby Props
Silas Williams
Katherine Archer
Dressing Props
Stuart Mackay
Kristian Wilsher
Graphic Artist
Christina Tom
Model Maker
Julia Jones
Petty Cash Buyer
Kate Wilson
Standby Carpenter
Justin Williams
Standby Rigger
Bryan Griffiths
Standby Painter
Helen Atherton
Store Person
Jayne Davies
Props Makers
Penny Howarth
Nicholas Robatto
Props Driver
Medard Mankos
Practical Electrician
Albert James
Construction Manager
Matthew Hywel-Davies
Construction Chargehand
Scott Fisher
Graphics
BBC Wales Graphics
Asst Costume Designer
Samantha Keeble
Costume Supervisor
Bobbie Peach
Costume Assistants
Jason Gill
Yasemin Kascioglu
Make-Up Supervisor
Pam Mullins
Make-Up Artists
Allison Sing
Vivienne Simpson
Casting Associate
Alice Purser
VFX Producer
Beewan Athwal
Assistant Editor
Becky Trotman
VFX Editor
Cat Gregory
Senior Visual Effects Artist
Craig Higgins
Post Prod Supervisor
Nerys Davies
Post Prod Co-ordinator
Marie Brown
Dubbing Mixer
Tim Ricketts
Sound Supervisor
Paul McFadden
Sound Effects Editor
Paul Jefferies
Foley Editor
Jamie Talbutt
Colourist
Mick Vincent
Online Conform
Mark Bright
Original Theme Music
Ron Grainer
Casting Director
Andy Pryor CDG
Production Executive
Julie Scott
Production Accountant
Dyfed Thomas
Sound Recordist
Bryn Thomas
Costume Designer
Barbara Kidd
Make-Up Designer
Barbara Southcott
Music
Murray Gold
Visual Effects
The Mill
Special Effects
Real SFX
Prosthetics
Millennium FX
Editor
Adam Recht
Production Designer
Michael Pickwoad
Director Of Photography
Stephan Pehrsson
Line Producer
Diana Barton
Executive Producers
Piers Wenger
Beth Willis
Steven Moffat


Media
DVD Release
Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol (2011)
Buy: UK
Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series (2011; boxed set)
Buy: Canada · UK · USA
Blu-ray Release
Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol (2011)
Buy: UK
Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series (2011; boxed set)
Buy: Canada · UK · USA

Updated 1st July 2014