No Christ in Dr Who’s Christmas?

Of course not. It would be an act of purest optimism (as the Monty Python crowd would say) to expect it.

My family greatly enjoyed the Dr Who Christmas special for 2010 (you can probably still catch it on ABC’s IView – just google “iview”). Of course it was very silly at points (sharks pulling sleighs and opera singers changing the atmosphere) but this is entertainment, guys, not education! I loved all the “wibbly wobbly timey whimey” stuff especially. And of course the play with Dicken’s classic, “A Christmas Carol”

Nevertheless, I received the following comment from one of our commentators:

I watched the Dr Who Christmas special this year, which was based on Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. Among the usual Dr Who fluff and nonsense, there was a careful avoidance of anything to do with the birth of Christ. The people on the planet were celebrating the winter solstice, and of course, there was a lot of talk about Santa Claus… I’ve never read A Christmas Carol, but I would be interested to know how much Christ or Santa is mentioned by Dickens. Of course, we don’t need Dr Who to tell us about Santa taking over.

“A Christmas Carol” is my favourite Dicken’s story, and in fact, probably one of my all time favourite books. But there is precious little about Jesus and Christianity in it. Peter Craven recently wrote in an excellent article in The Age:

[T]he story of the Christ child…surfaces in us like a race memory… It can all sound pretty cheesy piped through the speakers at the supermarket amid the turkeys and hams and Christmas puddings but, wherever you come from and whatever you believe, it goes as deep as anything does in what we call our civilisation.

Nevertheless, all that cheesy stuff about Christmas in our culture is largely manufactured, and Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” was a part of the manufacturing as much as Coca-Cola’s Santa advertising campaign was. I always find the resemblence of the Ghost of Christmas Present tantalisingly both “like” and “unlike” the picture of Father Christmas I grew up with.

I don’t have any real problem with this “cultural” Christmas stuff, but I think there are two equal and opposite errors we need to avoid. The first is when the “cheesy” fantasy Christmas is allowed to merge seemlessly with the Christian story of the birth of Christ, so that the Nativity scene ends up as just one more decoration among the Santa and reindeer lights on the front lawn. The other is when we become so anti-Santa etc. (banning Father Christmas and Christmas trees and decorations etc.) that we end up looking like a Christian version of Scrooge.

There are two narratives at work here. One is a lot of fun, and the other is the most important mystery at the heart of our existence. Telling the difference shouldn’t be hard.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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4 Responses to No Christ in Dr Who’s Christmas?

  1. An excellent post, David. I totally agree with you (for once!). But I do also wonder how much the absence of _any_ reference to _Christ_mas in the Dr Who special reflects what’s happened culturally in Britain under ‘New Labour’? A recent survey suggested that less than 50% of Britons now regard the UK as in any sense a “Christian country”, and +Rowan has also recently written to the new Conservative PM Cameron urging action to remedy the outlawing of public displays of Christianity.

    (Btw, it might be worthwhile pointing out Luther’s connection to the popularity of Christmas trees – I don’t know how much of the story is apocryphal – there must be an element of truth in it, but it makes a good children’s message on Christmas day.)

  2. matthias says:

    Re a Christmas Carol and the lack of Jesus in that story,is that Dickens saw jesus as a great moral teacher rather than as God Incarnate coming to die for our sins.
    It would be interesting to see if DR WHO 2011 Christmas special changes given that UK Cabinet ministers gave directives for the removal of all political correctness around Christmas celebrations and to actually celebrate it as it has been doen traditionally prior to pc madness

  3. Terra says:

    I too enjoyed the Dr Who special and actually I thought the Christmas carols – beautifully sung (In the bleak midwinter especially, even though not exactly applicable here!) – made the Christmas connection quite nicely without hitting one over the head. And the Dickens’ Christmas Carol message as adapted seems to me to fit quite nicely with the spirit of Christmas. Well acted too with stars like Michael Gambon, so a step up from one or two of the previous specials.

    Kudos too to the ABC for putting it on so fast.

    But I continue to be dissapointed with the general much darker and less generally consistent with a Christian worldview take on the Whoian universe of the new production regime – in the past, for all his ability to fix things, the Doctor has surely never been painted as sufficiently semi-omnipotent as to be able to ‘reboot the universe’ !

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