It goes without saying that this review will contain spoilers. Although I did just say it, rendering the previous sentence moot. Anyway, read on.
The hit rate of Doctor Who Christmas specials in the last few years has been somewhat up and down. It was with this in mind that I sat down to watch Last Christmas, the 2014 Doctor Who Christmas special written by Stephen Moffat, with a degree of apprehension.
That’s unfortunately what being a rabid Doctor Who fan does to one I'm afraid. Or at least that’s what it does to me. Makes me cynical and doubtful. It’s quite a pity that I can’t just sit down and watch this special as just a casual viewer after some Christmas entertainment. No, I'm always analysing and critiquing and looking for resemblances to other episodes. Is that entirely fair to the people who worked hard to bring us an hour of solid entertainment of one of the most magical days of the year?
No, but I'm going to press on regardless.
Peter Capaldi continues to shine as the 12th Doctor. He brings to the role a weary, sarcastic quality that is a perfect contrast to the previous bubbly, childlike incarnation played by Matt Smith. I suppose you’d be weary and sarcastic too after travelling through time and space for over 2000 years. Of course, there are shades of light amongst the darkness. Witness his performance in the final scenes with an aged Clara, and his sheer joy and wonder at the absurdity of getting to ride Santa’s sleigh. Nice to see him turn up in Clara’s dream as a chalkboard too, almost like that’s become his motif, like Tom Bakers scarf, or Colin Bakers coat.
Yes, Santa. Played here by Nick Frost, and anticipated since his surprise appearance at the very end of Series 8. Frost has the task of being both comedic and lightly threatening in certain places, and he pulls this off with typical aplomb. I knew his performance was great when I realised that for a few moments, I had stopped thinking “there’s Nick Frost dressed as Father Christmas” and was just thinking “there’s Father Christmas”. Shame about the elves, mind.
I've never been an enormous fan of Jenna Coleman’s performance as Clara. It’s still unclear to me weather that’s due to Coleman’s performance, or the fact that her character often feels seriously underwritten and developed. That being said, I enjoyed her turn at the end as an aged, much older Clara, and felt that would have been a perfect send off to her character. But unfortunately, it seems they chickened out, with the scene turning out to yet be another dream. Hmm.
The supporting cast acquitted themselves admirably, although they don’t have an awful lot to work with, there characters seeming like little more than props to move the plot forward. Sam Anderson, in a surprise return as Danny Pink, seems very happy to be playing Danny as slightly happier and warmer than we've been used to.
The monsters were suitably effective. Large crab creatures that clutch on to your face and create in your mind a dream world, which allows you to live out a fantasy while the creature slowly eats it way through your brain. Another good example of Moffat’s obsession with perception and fantasy, exploring what’s real and what’s an illusion. Large crab creatures that latch onto your face may remind one of the film Alien. As one character amusingly points out. Doctor Who once again proudly wearing it’s influences on its sleeve.
My only gripe with this, is the same problem you have whenever dreams or hallucinations are introduced into any story. You immediately start doubting what you’re seeing. Which is fine in a way, but it does tend to colour your own perception of later events. There’s a scene later on where Santa, and indeed there whole environment, is revealed to be yet another dream state created by the crabs. Well yes, most people probably had this figured out soon as the crabs were introduced. I suspected as much as soon as Santa made an appearance at the end of Series 8. It’s not so much the reveal, it’s the fact that it’s written and directed AS a big reveal. Just like when Missy, the villain from Series 8, was “revealed” to be The Master, something most fans had figured out by the first episode.
Stories involving dream worlds mean that literally anything can happen. Which is very interesting I find, as it both reinforces and throws out the element of surprise. If anything can happen, why should we care when it turns out Santa isn't real? We KNOW he isn't real, we know he was eventually going to turn out to be a dream, or a robot, or a manifestation of the Doctor. They never would have just introduced Santa to the sci fi world of Doctor Who.
Saying all that, it’s nice to see a Christmas special that creates a dark, gloomy mood, and feels like proper old school Doctor Who. Makes it nicer when the inevitable scene of Santa flying over London turns up, almost feels like we've earned it. #Television