Sunday, December 28, 2014

Doctor Who 2014 Christmas Special: "Last Christmas"

“These are Christmas hats. I've seen people use them. You put them on and absolutely everything seems funny.”
- The Doctor

The “Doctor Who” Christmas special has become an annual ritual among the geekier segment of American society, much as it is in the UK. Of course, we here at MTVP were watching! The big question going into the special was whether or not Jenna Coleman would be sticking around portraying Clara for another season. By the end of the episode, at least, that question was definitively answered. Overall, we found “Last Christmas” to be better than many of the Christmas specials of the Moffat era (“The Christmas Invasion” from the Russell T. Davies era is still our very favorite), although it didn’t feel especially Christmas-y. The episode was sort of a cross between “Alien” and “Inception,” and it featured face and brain eating crab creatures. It was more gross than festive. But we did get Nick Frost with a rather acerbic take on Santa Claus, so there was that!

Before we dive into the real analysis of the post, we wanted to give you a brief overview of the plot. Clara wakes to hear arguing on her roof and finds it to be Santa Claus with two of his elves. Before long, the Doctor shows up and entices Clara back into the TARDIS. They head to the North Pole where they find a group of scientists who are trying to get past some sleeping people in the infirmary. Shona, the one going in, is told to listen to music and not look at or think about the patients. Unfortunately, the Doctor and Clara have to blunder in and mess it all up. Luckily, the group is rescued by Santa and two of his elves. As we quickly learn, the aliens attached to the people in the infirmary are called dream crabs and they eat your brains (more on that later). Everybody has a dream crab sucking on their face right now and they need to find a way to wake up. The Doctor goes into Clara’s dream where Danny is alive and they are celebrating Christmas together to try and save her.

Once the Doctor wakes Clara, he has the scientists read from a random page in the manual to show that they are all still really asleep. It’s not until Santa returns and whisks them all away on his sleigh that they begin to wake up, one by one. They scientist group really weren’t scientists. It was all part of the shared dream from the dream crabs. Clara is the last to awaken and the Doctor finds her as an old woman. You think that Clara’s done traveling, but the Doctor realizes he’s still dreaming and when he finds Clara again, she’s young and ripe for more TARDIS adventures.

On to the meat and potatoes of this post, let’s start with some of the good things about the special. Overall, the quality of the episode’s writing was just all around good. There were several interesting guest characters, for starters. There were many guest characters in this episode, because of course the Doctor and Clara were working with the whole crew on the dream North Pole base. Of the North Pole base crew, the real stand-out was Shona. Her big plan for Christmas by herself (once she’s out of the dream) is a movie marathon, including “Aliens,” a character trait likely to appeal to the “Doctor Who” fanbase. Her first scene where she is dancing in the infirmary was also quirky and endearing. There were also many entertaining plot twists, as the dreams built on each other, “Inception” style.

There were also several notable performances. Faye Marsay was memorable as Shona, obviously. Also, Nick Frost, most known for his comedic films with fellow Doctor Who alum Simon Pegg, gave a commendable performance as Santa Claus. Frost’s take on Santa, while generally likeable, had an edge to him, and the Doctor took a while to warm up to him. If Santa had been too saccharine, the episode wouldn’t have worked. Frost calibrated it just right. Dan Starkey, usually seen on “Doctor Who” as the Sontaran member of the Paternoster Gang (where he is quite humorous), also gave a memorable turn as one of Santa’s two comedic elf sidekicks.

One of the hallmarks of a Steven Moffat-era Christmas special is that it tends to rip off or at least riff on a previously established story. A few years ago we had a riff on “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” and we’ve had “A Christmas Carol.” This year, we went a little less Christmas-y with “Inception.” For those not in the know, it was a 2010 Christopher Nolan film with dreams within dreams, and it left you wondering if you really got back to reality at the end. We had dreams within dreams here thanks to the icky dream crabs, and Sarah called it as an “Inception” rip-off very early on. While it wasn’t what we were expecting, it was still an interesting way to take this non-Christmas-y Christmas episode.

Like any good show, there were mixed emotions here at MTVP as to whether we thought Clara should continue to travel with the Doctor past the series 8 special. Sarah was ready for Clara to move on and get someone new but Jen likes Clara and the development she’s had over the last series We can only hope that Clara and Twelve will gel a little better now that they’ve stopped lying to each other and they see each other more as equals (not quite in the Ten/Donna sense but it’s getting there). Additionally, we tend to like our Christmas specials to be somewhat festive, and while Santa certainly brought a festive element to the proceedings, and there was a lot of talk about the meaning of Christmas, gross brain-eating crab monsters just aren’t very Christmas-y.

Overall, the special was decent. We had our nitpicks but all good TV critics do. We are ready to see what series 9 brings us in terms of the times and places the Doctor and Clara will visit. We are ready though whenever Clara decides to stop running around all of space and time with the Doctor. One more season of her adventures will probably be just about right for striking a balance between telling stories you can only tell with really established characters and wearing out her welcome. And we are eager for the Doctor to find Gallifrey. So bring it on, Moffat! But next year, do avoid the creepy brain sucking aliens at Christmas, please.

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