Friday 26 December 2014

Last Christmas - Review

"Tangerine Dream" could have been an alternative title.
Naturally, don't read if you haven't seen this year's Christmas Special.

What do you make of a story that technically never really happened? Apart from the closing few moments - when Clara decided to return to travelling with the Doctor, and so confirmed her on-going presence for Series 9 - everything we saw was a dream.
Just when you thought the dream was over, it turned out you were wrong. This allowed the programme to continually play with us. With all the speculation that Jenna Coleman was on the point of leaving, it appeared that she was going to do so as an 80-something year old woman, that the Doctor had missed the last 62 years of her life. This would have been a good way to write out a companion - but, of course, Clara's unseen life - though interesting - sounded decidedly lonely. It would not have been a good way to write her out.
One of the dreams within a dream saw her reunited with Samuel Anderson's Danny Pink. Lovely to see him again.
Assuming that the memories contained within the dreams are retained, it means that Clara got to have one last idyllic day with him - a chance to say a proper goodbye that was denied to her in the final episode of the series. Danny gave her a means to carry on with her life - don't forget him but don't dwell. Five minutes a day.

The base-under-siege format may have its critics (I love them) but in this, thanks to the continual shifting of reality / dreams things were kept interesting. The creatures - Kantrofarra, or Dream Crabs - were very well realised. Some might argue that they were a bit too close to the Face-Huggers of the Alien franchise - but the plot actually pointed this out. Michael Troughton's Professor Smithe specifically pointed this out, and the film was on Shona's Xmas Day to do list (along with Miracle on 34th Street, which this also referenced - people trying to work out if someone who claims to be Santa really is Santa). (Before we knew Clara was going to be sticking around, I was looking at Shona and Ashley as potential new companions. Either would have been very good).
Moffat has a knack for creating creatures with an idiosyncratic modus operandi. The Kantrofarra attack when you think about them - lying dormant when ignored.

Many of us were naturally worried about the whole Santa thing. Nick Frost was excellent. Santa's inclusion was explained perfectly well within the narrative. If you are at the North Pole on Christmas day, he's sure to be in mind. The Elves provided a little bit of comic relief, but not much, and just dropped out of the plot once they'd done their bit of fooling about.
Some of the CGI left a bit to be desired. Compare the wonderful model work in the opening two episodes of Seeds of Doom with the first views of the base, and the reindeer worked okay flying about but not so much in the bucking-Rudolph scene.
Capaldi was on top form as usual. Only the Twelfth Doctor could get into an argument with Santa Claus. His obvious joy at flying the sleigh was great to see. It looked incongruous - whereas we wouldn't have batted an eyelid had this been Tennant or, especially, Smith. Hopefully we'll see a few more flashes of fun from him in Series 9 (though please don't drop the curmudgeonly Doctor altogether).

In the past, Steven Moffat has struggled with Christmas Specials. Either he nails Christmas, but forgets it's a Doctor Who story, or it is a Doctor Who story that clumsily shoehorns Christmas in.
This year he seems to have got the balance right - a scary story with creepy monsters, where the fact it is Christmas is intrinsic to the story. There was a little continuity to deal with - the Doctor and Clara revealing their respective lies, and Danny's farewell - but not enough to have alienated the casual viewer.
Overall, an enjoyable episode.
And what are we to think of that tangerine left on Clara's window-ledge? Might it be, just possibly, that Santa Claus really does exist? Or is that just a dream...?

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