After a trip to the distant future, it was now time for the revived series of Doctor Who to sample the past, in the first of many episodes to be written by Mark Gatiss, a noted and confessed aficionado of the show.
As Rose becomes more accustomed to life on board the TARDIS and changes into period gear to suit the setting, which is meant to be Naples in 1860. It is at this moment where we see further signs of the blooming relationship between herself and the Doctor, with the two of them developing a closeness rarely seen in the original series.
After a brief foray outside into the crunching snow, the Doctor’s errant time circuits are exposed and they are revealed to be in Cardiff in 1869, where ghostly apparitions are possessing the dead, as shown in a tremendous opening sequence where an elderly woman wails frighteningly into the stationary camera of superb director Euros Lyn.
She soon makes her way to the nearby theatre, where a career-questioning Charles Dickens gives a reading of A Christmas Carol. Meanwhile, undertaker Gabriel Sneed (Alan David) and his mysteriously psychic maid Gwyneth (Eve Myles) seek to restore the animated corpse to the mortuary, but Rose gets caught up in the commotion and is captured by Sneed.
The ensuing scenes between the Doctor and Dickens (played magnificently by Simon Callow) are a real highlight of the episode; never has a chase between two carthorses been so entertaining.
That is one of the lighter scenes, yet the stakes are still extremely high as Rose soon finds herself locked in a room with two possessed bodies. Dickens is impressively forceful here, but soon refuses to believe the supernatural events he has witnessed, much to the chagrin of the Doctor. The resulting rebuke begins a change of outlook for the weary author, who ends the episode with renewed spirit and vigour.
That dialogue sequence is gripping and neatly builds the tension, as does the one between Rose and Gwyneth. The maid comes across as an innocent girl, but her ability to enter the the minds of others adds an extra dose of spookiness, but the scene itself expertly illustrates the difference between the two characters, their culture, and the eras in which they grew up.
As the story develops we learn of the presence of the Gelth, a psychedelic people who were allegedly decimated by the Time War. They convince the Doctor that they arrive with good intentions and successfully persuade him to open the Rift in time and space that exists over Cardiff, but in doing so reveal their true colours.
Sneed finds himself possessed and the Doctor and Rose imprisoned as the Gelth aim to invade, while Dickens reawakens his brain to come up with a solution to pacify the ghostly villains. It seems unusual for the Doctor to come across this gullible, but then again, in the aftermath of the Time War he is as vulnerable as he’s ever been.
In the end, Gwyneth is moved to sacrifice herself in order to close the rift before cheerful farewells are exchanged with Mr. Dickens. All in all, this was an episode with excellent depth, production values, and innovative ideas. Just a shame many of Gatiss’ future episodes haven’t quite hit the same mark.