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Doctor Who Christmas Special 2014: Last Christmas

December 26th, 2014 (12:26 am)

I seem to share in a broad (though I'd never presume to say universal) consensus that this year's Doctor Who Christmas episode was very successful and the best for some years. The cut-and-paste storytelling was stuffed with homages that other people were better at recognising than I was, especially to horror cinema; there's a scene in Aliens which made an impression on Clara, evidently. The method was appropriate for a story about dreams, how they process experience and are sometimes - often - frustratingly oblique. It worked through the themes of the last series in a way which worked as a precis for non-regular viewers while serving credibly as a coda for those familiar with series eight. The seductive power of the dreamworld and the false confidence it induces appealed to the saccharine sentimentality of an audience at the heart of the holiday retreat from work and school. The reflections on loss, age and the fleeting ties of friendship and family reminded me of the suppressed downbeat lyrics of 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas', and the dreams within dreams of Christopher Priest's A Dream of Wessex though Inception was probably the closer tie.

Of course, there were weaknesses. The horror element could only be advanced so far, and there was a section about two-thirds of the way through where I felt the episode lost momentum as more and more levels of dream were stripped away without there being further development of the threat to the characters beyond their manifestation as lumbering Dreamcrabbed sleepers. I've spent too long on the internet not to see Doctor Who at times through the prism of gender pop-studies; was the fate of Professor Albert a judgement on men who practise casual sexual harassment?

As for the casting surprises: Samuel Anderson gave perhaps his best performance as Danny, a taller dream-figure with an autonomy apparently derived from his being part of both the Doctor's and Clara's memories, but no-one seems to be ruling out his making further appearances. I was briefly convinced, once we saw the elderly Clara, that this was going to be Jenna Coleman's last appearance, with the final note being Clara and the Doctor accepting that circumstance and choices made place limits on even a Time Lord's wishes. In the end, though, imagination and hope triumph. The dream base was based on the favourite films of Shona (and given that she kept calling the Doctor a magician, I did wonder whether we would be seeing more of her in the new season given that the first episode will be The Magician's Apprentice, but perhaps this refers to the next stage of Clara's relationship with the Doctor) and the dream perhaps helped her move towards forgiving one Dave. Clara and the Doctor are reunited in their blue box for their second chance.

Oh, and Father Christmas's reality was never, ever in doubt.

Also posted at http://sir-guinglain.dreamwidth.org/2014/12/26/doctor-who-christmas-special-2014-last-christmas.html.

Comments

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: December 26th, 2014 10:42 am (UTC)
Leekley

I liked it, but all the dreams-within-dreams stuff seemed a bit obvious to me. Maybe I've just read too much Philip K. Dick recently (and there did seem a deliberate nod to his Ubik in the manual scenes). I have a gut feeling this will improve on repeated viewing, though, as I'm hoping the last season will improve too.

When I saw elderly Clara, I also thought this would be her last appearance and while I can't say she's one of my favourite companions, her acceptance of a return to TARDIS travel was suitably joyous; Moffat is happier to end his Christmas specials on a upbeat note than Davies was.

I also get annoyed with all these films and TV programmes that assume that everyone celebrates Christmas, which is just cultural imperialism (so widespread as to go largely unnoticed), but I suspect I'm in a minority here. My Doctor Who script, The Chanukah Horror is in the pipeline...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 26th, 2014 11:13 am (UTC)

The elderly Clara scenes reminded me of Tom learning with whom he's been sharing his dreams in Tom's Midnight Garden.

I can see the headlines now: Candlesticks at Dawn* as Saunders Challenges Moffat...

*or possibly sunset.

Edited at 2014-12-26 11:14 am (UTC)

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: December 26th, 2014 01:28 pm (UTC)
Leekley

I also forgot to mention: I believe Slade has now appeared (well, been heard) in more episodes than Katarina. The campaign for Noddy Holder to be considered an official companion starts here!

Edited at 2014-12-26 01:29 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Alice Dryden (huskyteer)
Posted at: December 26th, 2014 12:21 pm (UTC)

The one thing I couldn't work out was why it was called 'Last Christmas'.

Poor Albert was obviously doomed; I said as much when he was wolfing that drumstick, one of many plot elements I predicted a little too easily.

Overall, though: enjoyed.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 26th, 2014 02:11 pm (UTC)

I think it was called 'Last Christmas' because this almost was humanity's last Christmas, and there was a line (not greatly signalled) suggesting this. The Christmas content was nicely underplayed, though, even Santa.

Posted by: Alice Dryden (huskyteer)
Posted at: December 27th, 2014 09:44 am (UTC)
Ace

Ah, I must have missed that one. Thanks!

Posted by: muuranker (muuranker)
Posted at: December 26th, 2014 07:42 pm (UTC)

A nod to George Michael? ... I must admit, 'Last Christmas' seems odd English. 'our last Christmas', 'the Last Christmas' or 'Christmas last' being more usual.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 26th, 2014 07:46 pm (UTC)

The song title was borrowed, certainly, but I'm not sure how much else was!

Posted by: muuranker (muuranker)
Posted at: December 26th, 2014 09:12 pm (UTC)

Thinking about this more ... Last Christmas was a double A side with "Everything She Wants". It had a video in which everyone gets everything they want (pairing up nicely by the end of the video). For many female viewers, it would have been easy enought to imagine oneself in the role of The One that Got George Michael.
But everyone is now aware of George Michael's sexuality, which makes that somehow more finally impossible than any of the previously known impossibilities of that situation.
So it's a good parallel to the episode: a real world example of realising you were dreaming.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 26th, 2014 10:38 pm (UTC)
MummyIcon

That's brilliant - 'Everything She Wants' fits this last season's conception of Clara too.

Posted by: Alice Dryden (huskyteer)
Posted at: December 27th, 2014 09:43 am (UTC)
Brigadier

Nice!

Posted by: travels_in_time (travels_in_time)
Posted at: December 29th, 2014 05:13 am (UTC)

Danny says that the reason that people get together every Christmas is because every Christmas could be the last one they're all there to BE together. I think it's a nod towards Danny and Clara's last Christmas together, if only in their dreams.

There's also a parallel to be made between the dream crabs creating a happy shared illusion for the dreamers, and people getting together for Christmas to create a shared happiness in case it's the last time...but I don't have the energy to give that the thought it deserves.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 29th, 2014 11:28 am (UTC)

Yes to all this... Thanks.

Posted by: LiveJournal (livejournal)
Posted at: December 26th, 2014 12:30 pm (UTC)
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Posted by: Steve Green (stevegreen)
Posted at: January 9th, 2015 01:53 am (UTC)
Cyber

I watched it with my friend halloween_jill, and we were united in our dissatisfaction with both this 'special' and most of Peter Capaldi's first season. Moffat seems to be under the impression that whenever he or one of his team comes up with what they consider a 'cool' idea (Doc in a box, Cyberzombies, Lady Liberty coming to life Ghostbusters-style, Spitfires in space, Master/Missy, flying sharks which actually jump themselves...), any requirement for actual logic or scientific sensibilities can simply be chucked out of the production office window. That's lazy short-termism, and it's damaging the show.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: January 9th, 2015 02:18 am (UTC)
Hartnell words

I'm dissatisfied with the logic too, though it's not everyone's priority. I don't think the season arc was executed as well as it could have been, though I'm not sure whether it's always laziness as a self-doubt which pervades and even energises a lot of Moffat's work. This can manifest as a nervous over-insuring against unwanted audience reactions (for example, unable to see how Michelle Gomez would play the part or engage the audience, he chose to kill Osgood as a way of turning the audience against Missy). I'm not a scientist, and my academic supervisor once commented that I have a different sense of cause and effect to everybody else, but I would like to see what a more consciously scientific, perhaps more procedural Doctor Who might look like in the current era. The scientific method is present in current Doctor Who but is often obscured for effect.