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'A Christmas Carol' (Photo: BBC)

Steven Moffat wrote “A Christmas Carol” as a big bag of festive gifts. Basing his tale on his favorite Christmas story— the Charles Dickens classic of the same name— he stuffed it with musical treats, with special guest appearances from familiar faces (Michael Gambon and Katherine Jenkins) and even managed to weave in a phobia he invented as a child: that sharks might one day evolve to swim in the air.

Here are a few things to keep an eye out for, the next time you watch:

(The episode is available on iTunes and Amazon.)

Playing Abigail was Katherine Jenkins’ first ever acting job. Having made her name as a mezzo-soprano and singer/songwriter, the idea of acting had never been an ambition, but as she told Cultbox the lure of Doctor Who proved irresistible: “To be honest, I didn’t think I really wanted to act. I’d been asked to do things in the past and hadn’t done them, but when I got the call to do Doctor Who it really excited me. It’s such an iconic show and one we all watch as family. I wasn’t sure I could do it but after reading for the part, I got a call on my 30th birthday to say I’d got it. It was the best birthday present I could have asked for!”

The set was created with subtle nautical touches to try and suggest that this is a population who have had to find ways to coexist with the flying fish around them. So the buildings are metal, and the windows are round like the portholes on a ship, and the walls were the color of copper which had gone green. Meanwhile, Kazran’s father’s machine has controls that resemble those of a church organ, to match the singing of hymns and Christmas carols to ward off the fish.

Matt Smith was thrilled to work with Michael Gambon, having already modeled his choice of footwear on him. He told Digital Spy (in the video below): “Michael Gambon is the reason I wear brightly colored socks, and I wear brightly colored socks in my life. I saw him at the National playing Falstaff. I was there doing a play at the same time. He’d be in the cafe upstairs drinking tea with mad colored socks, and I always thought ‘wow they look cool,’ so I started wearing them and I told him at the read through. He’s just brilliant. He doesn’t disappoint in any way as a human and as an actor. He’s everything you want Michael Gambon to be.”

Behind the scenes, Matt Smith and Laurence Belcher (who played young Kazran) gave their CGI shark the nicknames “Percy” and “Clyde,” despite being a female shark.

This is not the first time the Doctor has attempted a card trick and failed. His Ninth incarnation attempted to shuffle a pack of cards in front of Rose Tyler and sprayed them everywhere. Which is strange, considering that the Fourth Doctor claimed to have been taught sleight-of-hand magic by the Victorian magician John Nevil Maskelyne (“The Ribos Operation”). Maskelyne made one exceptional contribution to the English language when he invented a lock for public toilets that required a one penny piece to be inserted before opening. The British slang expression “spend a penny,” used as a euphemism for going to the bathroom, comes from this invention.

The “isomorphic” nature of the controls on Kazran’s weather-controlling machine is a throwback. In “Pyramids of Mars,” the Fourth Doctor claims the TARDIS controls are isomorphic, that only he can control them, although subsequent events and adventures suggest that if this is indeed the case, the ship has more control over this than the Doctor does. Mind you, the Master’s laser screwdriver, as seen in “Last of the Time Lords”, is most definitely isomorphic.

Speaking of the Fourth Doctor, there’s a neat reference to him when the Doctor and Kazran return to visit Abigail wearing long multicolored scarves. This is then shown to be on Abigail’s fourth remaining day.

In 2007, Paul Cornell (“Father’s Day” / “Human Nature”) wrote a Doctor Who short story for the Daily Telegraph called “The Hopes and Fears of All the Years,” which also has the Doctor— albeit the Tenth Doctor at the time—arriving down the chimney and then visiting someone through various stages of their life.

There’s a crossover between Doctor Who and Class in the casting for this episode, as the extravagantly named Pooky Quesnel appears as the Captain of the ship that contains Amy and Rory’s honeymoon suite. She will later be seen playing Dorothea Ames in the Class episodes “Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart” / “Brave-ish Heart,” “The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did” and “The Lost.”

While the story is clearly based on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and the Victorian era, there’s a definite 1950s undercurrent going on, with references to Frank Sinatra‘s beach house, the Doctor marrying Marilyn Monroe, and the fact that Kazran’s missing babysitter is called Mrs. Mantovani, presumably after the orchestra leader of the same name. While Sinatra and Monroe probably need no introduction, Annunzio Paolo Mantovani (known by his surname) is a lesser celebrated figure from the history of pop culture. An Anglo-Italian conductor, composer and entertainer, he was the first musical act to sell over one million stereo albums, and by 1959, at the peak of his career, had six albums of quavering strings in the U.S. Top 30 simultaneously.

Now go back and read the entire 10 Things You May Not Know About Doctor Who archive.

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By Fraser McAlpine