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Scrooge U: Part XXIV -- How Xena saves Xmas ... er ... the Winter Solstice

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Scrooge U: Part XXIV -- How Xena saves Xmas ... er ... the Winter Solstice

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How exactly do you tell a story that's inspired by "A Christmas Carol" on a television program that's set in a time period that predates the birth of Christ?

That was the challenge facing Chris Manheim, a writer for "Xena: Warrior Princess." But to add to the fun of this assignment, Manheim was then told by "Xena" 's producer that this particular episode had to be a bottle show.

Now in TV production parlance, "a bottle show" is an episode of a television series that is deliberately designed to be shot on the cheap. Meaning that it can't feature any on-location work, massive crowd scenes or elaborate stunts. Ideally, "a bottle show" must make use of the series' pre-existing sets & costumes as well as keep the number of guest stars needed down to a bare minimum.

Faced with these financial restrictions as well as the challenge of telling a Christmas-themed story in a B.C. setting, Ms. Manheim said "To hell with it." She wasn't just going to write a Xena-fied version of "A Christmas Carol." Chris was also going to fold in a sub-plot that revealed Santa Claus' true origins as well as tack a cameo appearance by Jesus, Mary & Joseph onto this special holiday episode.

I know, I know. That last bit sounds kind of blasphemous. But taken in the context of the show, this cameo is rather clever & sweet. A cute little button on "A Christmas Solstice." Which is a decidedly tongue-in-cheek outing for the cast of "Xena: Warrior Princess."

Copyright 2003 Anchor Bay Entertainment

Our story starts with Xena (Lucy Lawless) & Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor) planning on having a quiet Winter Solstice celebration. In preparation for this, they stroll through the marketplace of a small kingdom -- hoping to each find a small gift that they can then give the other. But while they're shopping, Lynal (Daniel James), swipes Xena's chakram (You know? That lethal-looking frisbee-kind-of-thing that the Warrior Princess regularly heaves at her enemies?) right off of her belt.

Xena & Gabrielle pursue this young boy through the marketplace. And Lynal eventually leads them back to the orphanage where he lives with a dozen other unfortunate children. Once there, we learn that the boy hadn't stolen Xena's chakram because he was looking to hock it. But -- rather -- because Lynal thought that bright shiny disc would be a perfect topper for their Winter Solstice tree.

Mind you, these orphans have set up their tree in secret because -- as Melana (Sheri Booth), the director of the orphanage explains -- they live in a kingdom where the Winter Solstice celebration has actually been banned.

To explain: 30 years ago, King Silvas (Peter Vere-Jones) had become so hard-hearted that his lovely wife, Queen Analia up & left him. And on Winter Solstice of all nights. Since Silvas couldn't bear to be reminded of the night that his wife rejected him, the King ordered that henceforth all Winter Solstice celebrations be banned.

Copyright 2003 Anchor Bay Entertainment

This doesn't sit well with the Warrior Princess. This -- coupled with the news that, due to a 1000 dinar tax bill that Melana can't afford to pay, she & the orphans are due to be tossed out on the street at midnight -- makes Xena decide to pay a call on Silvas.

So -- after scaling the castle wall -- the Warrior Princess sneaks into the royal sleeping chambers. Where -- channeling Jacob Marley for a moment -- Xena tells Silvas that he has to open his heart again, he has to try & help others once more. The king's response is to scream for his guards. But before the Warrior Princess makes her escape by jumping out a window, Xena warns Silvas that he's in for a restless night.

Copyright 2003 Anchor Bay Entertainment

You see, Xena & Gabrielle have already formulated a plan to frighten Silvas into changing his ways. Inspired by a story that the Warrior Princess' bard told the orphans about Croesus (Who the Fates hoped to reform by separating the threads of his life & showing that greedy ruler the many mistakes that he'd made over the course of his reign), the two women now plan on impersonating the Fates as well as showing the king a vision of his long-missing queen.

Of course, in order to pull off this last illusion, Xena & Gabrielle need to make use of some back lighting, a bit of rope and a donkey. Which then makes it appear as if the Warrior Princess' bard (who's now dressed to look like Silvas' wife, Analia) is floating in mid-air.

Copyright 2003 Anchor Bay Entertainment

Xena winds up playing two of the Fates (Which -- obviously -- are standing in for the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Be in this extremely loose adaptation of "A Christmas Carol"): Clotho (left) who spins the thread of life and Lachesis (center) who determines the length of thread. Meanwhile Melana stands in for Artophos (right), the Fate who actually cuts the thread of life when the proper time for death has finally arrived.

Copyright 2003 Anchor Bay Entertainment 

Mind you, in order to convince the king that he really is being visited by the Fates, the Warrior Princess & her bard are going to need more than Melana's help. Luckily, Silvas' assistant Senticles (Joe Berryman) used to a toymaker. So he has all of the technical skills necessary to pull off the various illusions that are needed.

As Gabrielle & Senticles tour his now-shuttered toy shop (Did I mention that -- as he was cancelling Winter Solstice -- that Silvas also banned the use of toys in his kingdom?), the bard says something to the effect of "You know, the kids at the orphanage would really appreciate getting ahold of some of these toys."

Unfortunately, the street of the kingdom are now crawling with soldiers. Some of which are standing guard outside the orphanage, making ready to serve that midnight eviction order.

So -- in order to avoid being recognized as Silvas' clerk -- Senticles put on a disguise. Then -- because the front door of the orphanage is being barred the king's soldiers -- the old toymaker & the bard gain entrance to the building by climbing up onto the roof and (You guessed it) coming down the chimney with their bag full of toys for the orphans.

It's at this exact moment that the soldiers storm the orphanage. And given that -- for some odd reason -- Xena & Gabrielle are currently weaponless, they must now use the toys that Senticles brought in order to beat back the troops.

Copyright 2003 Anchor Bay Entertainment

What follows is a slapstick set-piece where the Warrior Princess & her bard use everything from hula hoops to toy arrows to even a "Hercules" action figure to keep these soldiers at bay. At one point in the fight, one of the stuffed toys gets slit open. And -- as this battle continues in slow motion -- the air is suddenly filled with downy white feathers. Which makes it appear as if it's snowing inside of the orphanage.

In the end, King Silvas sees the error of his ways and promises to reform. Melana now drops her disguise and reveals herself to be the long-missing Queen Analia. The two royals tearfully reunite and Silvas then decrees that Winter Solstice will be celebrated annually throughout the kingdom from here on in.

And Senticles ... He's gotten such a charge out of coming down that chimney & distributing those toys to the orphans that this now-former clerk promises to do that every year.

And as for that Jesus, Mary & Joseph cameo that I talked about earlier ... For a show that typically traffics in over-the-top performances and slapstick battles, this scene is handled with surprising restraint & tact.

Copyright 2003 Anchor Bay Entertainment

To explain: Having just set everything right in Silvas' kingdom, Xena & Gabrielle are on the road again. With the Warrior Princess leading her horse, Argo, while the bard is walking with Tobias. You know? That small donkey that she acquired over the course of this adventure?

Anyway ... As these two are walking, they chance upon a young unnamed couple who are coming from the opposite direction & carrying their new-born son. This husband & wife ask Xena & Gabrielle for directions, looking for the road that will take them west. The Warrior Princess tells them that they're actually on the right road already. And -- if these three need help -- Xena & Gabrielle would be happy to escort them to the next village.

The husband thanks these two for their generous offer, but then explains that they're in a hurry to rejoin their caravan. Since this new family could probably make better time if the wife & child were riding, Gabrielle now offers them Tobias as a belated Winter Solstice gift.

The husband & wife now graciously accept the bard's gift. And -- again -- while no names are ever mentioned, given that the child in swaddling clothes has a certain golden glow about him (More importantly, given that -- as this show draws to a close -- the camera pans up to reveal that there's a bright new star blazing in the Eastern sky) ... Well, it's left to audience members to fill in the appropriate blanks.

So there you have it. An episode of "Xena: Warrior Princess" that not only pays tribute to "A Christmas Carol" but also touches on those two other holiday icons, Santa Claus and the Christ child. If you ever get the chance to check out this particular "Xena" (Which was presented during this syndicated show's second season), please do so. For It really does manage to put an interesting spin on Dickens' classic holiday tale.

As for tomorrow .... We go from the Warrior Princess to the Queen of ABC Daytime, Susan Lucci. Who plays the first female version of Ebenezer Scrooge in 1995's "Ebbie."

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  • >>"Manheim was then told by "Xena" 's producer that this particular episode had to be a bottle show. Now in TV production parlance, "a bottle show" is an episode of a television series that is deliberately designed to be shot on the cheap. Meaning that it can't feature any on-location work, massive crowd scenes or elaborate stunts. Ideally, "a bottle show" must make use of the series' pre-existing sets & costumes as well as keep the number of guest stars needed down to a bare minimum."<<

    Interesting to see the motivating factors for a particular X:WP episode--So, did we ever get a rational explanation for "Married, With Fishsticks"?  That one just...kinda had us worried.  0_o??

  • Re 'Ebby' see also its alternate name 'A Miracle at Christmas' - you should find a video release under that name at least.

  • Ha ha!  Boy, you really are digging deep on this Christmas Carol project, aren't you?  

    Well, I'm reading them all, so please keep it up.  This is probably my favorite story, and I find all of these articles about the various interpretations and manglings very interesting.  Thanks for your hard work and sometimes harder viewing.

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