Friday, December 26, 2014

Review - "Doctor Who - Last Christmas"

Warning - This review will contain spoilers

I was of the opinion that the inclusion of Santa Claus at the end of the Series 8 finale, Death in Heaven, shattered the morose and downbeat atmosphere which the episode invoked. Therefore, I went into this year's Christmas special with some mixed feelings. Would Father Christmas interrupt yet another episode's atmospherics? Let's take a closer look at Last Christmas.

After meeting Santa Claus (Nick Frost) on her rooftop, Clara (Jenna Coleman) is spirited away by the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) to the North Pole. A group of researchers stationed at the base have fallen victim to an alien race known as the Dream Crabs. When under the Crab's power, the victim enters a dream-like state and cannot separate reality from dreams. Soon, the Doctor comes to understand that their situation is more dire than he could anticipate and that Father Christmas may be their only hope for survival.

It is collective opinion of many Doctor Who fans that showrunner Steven Moffat is at his best when he's writing stand-alone episodes,ones which do not have to relate back to the overall arc of the series. I am in inclined to agree and I select Last Christmas as evidence of this. This Christmas episode managed to be quite intense and suspenseful, something which surprised me as most Christmas specials are lightweight in tone. Last Christmas is arguably the darkest Christmas special thus far - the characters' uncertainty about whether they are dreaming or not added real gravitas to the story. What's more, I'm sure I wasn't the only one who got a chill up their spine during Clara's dream sequence; a chalk board looming in the background foretelling her death if she didn't wake up.

"Nobody likes the tangerines"
Performances were, as expected, excellent. Peter Capaldi's Doctor has undergone a slight change in personality.Perhaps it was just the festive holiday spirit, but the Doctor seemed far less angry and uncaring. There was the occasional moment of true aloofness, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Twelfth Doctor's heart of ice continues to melt throughout Series 9. Jenna Coleman gave a genuine performance as she confronted her feelings about Danny Pink's death from Death in Heaven. I'm also happy with Clara returning for Series 9. She's been a good companion thus far - I only hope that she doesn't take centre stage too often like she did in Series 8, when the focus should have been on Peter Capaldi's still-developing Doctor.

As to guest star Nick Frost as Santa Claus, I couldn't help but feel that his contribution to the episode was inconsequential. This was of course a fault of Moffat's script and Santa darts in and out of the action with startling frequency. He turns up in the end to save the day which felt like a tremendous deus ex machina, and that's about it. However, Frost's line delivery was nice and he managed to make the fabled Father Christmas a humane character with some incredibly witty dialogue. Also, seeing Capaldi's snarling Doctor getting into a heated confrontation with Santa was a sight which had to be seen to be believed.

I don't think Last Christmas can be called the best of the Doctor Who Christmas specials, that honour going to A Christmas Carol, but it manage to feel large and epic, unlike last year's festive offering The Time of the Doctor which promised to be made on an epic scale, but felt small. Exciting in execution, the episode manged to be an intense, emotional ride. I cannot give it full marks as Nick Frost's Santa Claus seemed out of place and really took much of the emotional weight out of the proceedings. Therefore I give Last Christmas 4 out of 5 stars.

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