Although I wouldn’t class myself as a Doctor Who fan I’ve always made time to watch the Christmas special as they’ve often offered a bit of festive escapism. I was particularly excited for this year’s festive offering as I rather enjoyed the most recent series thanks in no small part to the performance by Peter Capaldi. While Capaldi was great as always, I found Steven Moffatt’s story to be rather dark and, were it not for the appearance of Santa Claus, I’d question whether it should be shown on Christmas Day at all.
Last Christmas picks up where the last series left off with The Doctor and Clara having lied to one another about the next steps in their lives. However, in the episode’s pre-credit sequence, the pair are reunited after Father Christmas lands on Clara’s roof with a couple of comedy elves. Although the pair soon learns of the other’s deceitfulness, they are forced to band together when Santa takes them to a remote base on the North Pole. Here we meet a quartet of scientists who are struggling to fend off attacks from a mysterious alien race. The Doctor is soon able to identify the pests as Dream Crabs; a race which makes their victim believe in their dreams whilst they slowly suck the life from them. The use of the Dream Crabs allowed writer Steven Moffatt the chance to play with the narrative and make the viewers unsure of whether what they were watching was a dream or not.
With the possible exception of last year’s Christmas special, which centred round The Doctor’s regeneration, this was one of the least Chrismassy instalments in recent memory. Indeed, the sight of Shona trying to evade the attention of the Dream Crabs by singing Slade was almost as festive as it got. Thankfully Nick Frost’s joyous turn as Father Christmas at least allowed for a bit of light to be let in to this otherwise dark story. From when he first arrived on Clara’s roof complaining about tangerines, Frost’s Santa really lifted the mood whenever he was on screen. The double act of Dan Starkey and Nathan McMullen, as Santa’s elves Ian and Wolf, were a fine accompaniment to Frost’s broad performance and again allowed Moffatt to write in a bit of pantomime-esque comedy. But, as the story went on, even Santa started to take on a darker form as he became a character that the others had to escape from in order to survive.
At the heart of Last Christmas though was the further exploration of the relationship between Clara and The Doctor; which was one of the more enjoyable themes of the most recent series. As Clara is seemingly living somewhat of a lonely existence after both the men in her life left her she seems to relish being in the Tardis once more. But it’s soon revealed that the memories of Danny’s demise are still looming large over her to the extent that she’d rather die with him than live without him. The rumours of Clara’s departure from the series meant that I was constantly trying find signs that this was to be her last episode. Though I doubted very much that she’d be killed off early on, the final scenes seemed to suggest that The Doctor might have to find a more sprightly companion. However, thanks to a bit more Christmas magic, the pair was reunited and I for one was glad about this as I’ve really enjoyed seeing their relationship blossom.
Steven Moffatt described Last Christmas as ‘The Thing meets Miracle on 34th Street’ which I’d pretty much agree with although I’d say there was more of the former’s tone throughout the episode. The bleak landscape of the Arctic Base made me feel quite uneasy especially when you consider the fact that these four people were essentially trapped inside with aliens that basically wanted them dead. I’d also agree with one of the characters’ assertions that the creatures resembled the titular monster from Alien; a film that isn’t exactly orientated to a family audience. At times, I felt that the episode was a little bleak and definitely didn’t feel it was suitable for Doctor Who’s youngest fans who’ll probably still be up when Last Christmas airs. It also appeared as Moffatt felt he was being too clever for his own good and I could see most of the plot twists coming mile away. Additionally, the dream-within-a-dream story made Last Christmas seem like a low rent version of Inception albeit one that had Father Christmas as one of its main characters.
One element of the episode that didn’t disappoint was Peter Capaldi’s central performance as he ably balanced The Doctor’s conflicting emotions of love and disdain. Capaldi appeared to relish appearing next to Nick Frost with their scenes together being a particular highlight of the episode. Like he did all series long, Capaldi ably conveyed The Doctor’s need to protect Clara from herself, even putting his own life in danger to enter her dream. One of the biggest surprises of the last series was the great job Jenna Coleman did at making her character more likeable than she was when she first appeared. Coleman certainly provided most of the emotional side of the episode as she was able to successfully express Clara’s need for companionship whether it is with The Doctor or with the late Danny Pink. Brilliant support was also provided by Faye Marsay as the gobby Shona and by Michael Troughton as the base’s Professor.
Overall, I feel there was more good than bad in Last Christmas; an episode that I probably wouldn’t have deemed suitable for a large family audience. The positive aspects of the episode were Capaldi and Coleman’s chemistry, Nick Frost’s great turn and the continuing exploration of The Doctor’s relationship with Clara. However I personally didn’t enjoy the darker tones of the episode or the way the story felt it was cleverer than it actually was. Ultimately, Last Christmas let us know where the next series of Doctor Who was going and I for one will be jumping on board the Tardis when it returns at some point in 2015.
What did you think to Last Christmas? Did you enjoy the tone of the episode?
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