Friday, December 26, 2014

Last Christmas - "There's a horror movie called Alien? That's really offensive. No wonder everyone keeps invading you."

Last Christmas (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

xmas 2014 (Overall Series Story #257) | Previous - Next | Index

*** SPOILERS ***

The Christmas Special is a strange beast. Its producers, or their bosses, deciding to tie one hand behind their backs and encumber the show with a very special message of hope and goodwill towards men while not gagging on the requisite Santa-is-real-even-though-he's-not instruction for children to Believe. The structure of Doctor Who's production schedule also means that these Specials aren't just asides, they're season cappers, or starters, for the most part, and tend to feature regenerations, new companions, and other significant events that give these particular shows what we might argue is undue weight. I mean, we get about 13 episodes a year, and one of them is sort of always dealing with this theme (or baggage), so a remarkably high percentage of all new series DW is set at Christmas. I'd argue it was time to take Christmases off, except this one was so good it seems it can be done without being done to death.

What better way to take on the Christmas Special than to shove Alien and Inception down its throat? Rather like spitefully shoving a tangerine down the gaping maw of a Christmas stocking. (I'm rolling with critical consensus of citations here despite the fact we could tick off The Thing, Miracle on 34th Street [both on Shona's Christmas Itinerary, so we're on firm ground there],  "Amy's Choice", Brazil, The Matrix, at least a few snowbound Base Under Siege episodes from both the new and classic series, and Star Trek: Generations as other likely sources/influences.) If you have to tell a Christmas story, might as well have a surprise underneath the de rigeur bows and ribbons.

Moffat is making explicit, again (in a way that strikes me as reckless -- though possibly brilliant) that his version of Doctor Who is a dream archetype, a story built on the self-awareness we feel upon exiting a dream that we're in a dream, but one we didn't recognize as a dream while it was happening, and the subsequent need to interrogate reality when we awaken to determine whether we're still dreaming. If we even can. It's a bold choice for how to make television, one that flirts with metaphysics, if not exactly practicing it, while it messes around with critical theory. It's an especially bold choice for a family show built to draw huge ratings after the family has spent the day practicing capitalist excess and non-ironic sentimentality.

For many, "Last Christmas" may be too much of a good, or bad, thing. There are valid criticisms to be leveled against it, though I admit I'm not particularly motivated to make them. Moffat's reiteration of monsters that are depended on how we perceive, or don't perceive, them can legitimately all be considered variations on the Weeping Angels. They work because that idea is so effective for TV. But, to keep drawing from that well may suggest you're a One Trick Pony.

So Clara's staying. Which may be good news because Jenna Coleman is great; but, again, Moff can't keep drawing us back to the same well. The tension around the notion she may or may not be leaving practically every episode grows tiresome. Though, I keep coming back to how talented an actress Jenna Coleman is, and how there's still plenty of room for her character to grow. The call has gone up from all corners of the internet to have Shona join the crew, and I'll be surprised if we don't see her again, which raises the possibility of a new dynamic in the TARDIS with two young companions who don't need to have a romantic relationship to make them interesting, together and apart. (Yellow flags: she's got a Dave she's working on forgiving, which could make for challenges passing the Bechdel Test if she does return; and, her itinerary also left the door open for her to have Daddy issues, which I don't trust Moffat to handle well.)

Speaking of Shona, did anyone not love her dance moves as mental distractions as she made her way through the infirmary?

Me, I loved it. My son did as well. He was proud that he figured out before the reveal who the sleepers in the infirmary were, and he couldn't wait to cop some of Shona's moves. My daughter, who's more skeptical of the show in general, also enjoyed this one, so it was a crowd-pleaser in our house at least. (The poll at Gallifrey Base shows it seems to have hit the right notes for most. There are, of course, the usual lot of Worst. Episode. Ever. scrooges, but very few of them present any compelling reasons for being so down on this particular story.)

Odds and Ends:

No call back to Eleven mentioning he knew Santa as "Jeff." Mercifully, no other allusion to having the last room at the inn that silent night as Ten made in one of his specials -- escapes me at the moment which that was ...

Dreams being a chance to travel time and space harkens back to the conference call in "The Name of the Doctor". And, in "Doomsday", Ten was able to guide Rose to alternate universe Bad Wolf Bay by calling to her in a dream.

A redditor pointed out one of Santa's elves was sporting a Red Ryder BB gun.

Nick Frost was pitch perfect as Santa. Wow. He did as much as anyone to sell me on scenes that could have gone so, so wrong. That was a casting coup.

[edit] This comment over on TARDIS Eruditorum points to one of those things I hate about the obvious ... missing it.

[edit] Here's another possible inspiration: Matthew over at Tea with Morbius recalls an X-Files episode with a very similar structure.

Did I imagine it or does Frost's Santa break the Fourth Wall as blatantly as we've seen since the Christmas episode of "The Daleks' Master Plan" by saying "Peter, shut up!"?  I couldn't believe it and wonder as I write this if that wasn't something that happened in a dream. The way my temple hurts I can't be certain ...

How did this one go over in your house? Let me know in the comments!  Also, if I've missed anything.

And, I'd be remiss if I didn't wish you all a belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to come!

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