Season 8, Christmas Special “Last Christmas”
At a base at the North Pole, a group scientists find themselves facing an alien threat, and even the Doctor and Clara can’t save them.
Only one man can… Santa Claus.
Ho. Ho. Ho.
Well this is much later than I had originally planned, but the holiday and travel and work and this blasted cold have conspired to keep me from sitting down to write as I’d hoped. Seriously folks, the head and chest cold has been really brutal… if this article doesn’t make any sense, I’m blaming the drugs. OK, I’m much better now, so that excuse won’t hold up, but still. Oddly though, this has given me a nice chance to see what everyone out in the world has thought about “Last Christmas”, and some of what the fans are saying out there is both really interesting and… um… really, er… hmmm.
Before we get going, we’d like to take a moment and congratulate John Hurt on his recent knighthood. He received it at this year’s Queen’s New Year Honours, and while he is of course known to Doctor Who fans as the War Doctor, his acting career has spanned more than five decades, and included The Elephant Man, Alien, 1984, A Man for All Seasons, Midnight Express, and many, many more. It is a well-deserved honor. Congratulations, sir.
So, as I said above, the delays in getting to sit down and write led to some time seeing what fan reaction to the Christmas Special was, and overall, it seems that both the fans and the critics are in agreement that it was a great hour of Doctor Who. From the resolution of the Doctor and Clara’s mutual lies, a proper send-off for Danny Pink and the answer to the question of the long-rumored departure of Jenna Coleman, the special packed a lot of emotional roller coaster in with face-hugging alien brain-suckers and a certain Jolly Old Elf. Or elves in this case.
Of course there are the Moffat-Haters too, railing against the use of the Base-Under-Siege storyline again, ripping off Alien, wasting Nick Frost, keeping Clara-Oh-God-I-Hate-Clara-So-Much for Season 9, ruining the show and blah, blah, blah.
Grinches, all of them.
Look, you don’t have to like Steven Moffat, or the direction of the show, or any of the things that the fans — the truly wonderful fans — get upset about. I didn’t like a lot of Russell P. Davies’ tendency to make Rose be in the show at all, the farting aliens in Eccleston’s season, or a lot of the melodrama in Tennant’s run. And yet, there was so much, so much, that I loved about Davies as a showrunner. It’s the same for Moffat. Does he get it right all the time? Of course not, but he’s hardly the first producer of the show to make missteps, and he’s not even close to ruining the show, which has seen constant growth in viewing numbers and a truly successful Series Eight with Peter Capaldi.
Really folks, look at the numbers… Doctor Who under Moffat is doing just fine. Trust me, whatever complaints you may have about the show, go back and look at some of the Original Series.
We have it so very, very good.
But like I said, overall, “Last Christmas” was quite popular, and for good reason I think. Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman got to dig into the Doctor and Clara in rather powerful ways, Nick Frost was a blast as Santa, and we got that real goodbye for Samuel Anderson’s Danny. The Base Under Siege? That’s classic Who right there, and with nods to Inception and Alien and a wicked sense of humor throughout, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Of course there were a couple of niggles, as is my critical soul’s wont, but there really were only a couple. My biggest issue was how the Dream Crabs actually physically got from the Doctor, on an alien world, to Clara and the others, and… well, no that’s plenty big right there. There doesn’t seem to be an actual reason for that, and in an episode where so much is neatly explained by dream logic, the “real” part has a pretty big hole right there.
The other niggle is the complete lack of response to the death of Michael Troughton’s Smithe, which, considering that Smithe, Shona, Fiona and Ashley just got swept up into this by accident and it all started because the Doctor was attacked by the Dream Crabs… look, collateral damage happens, and we do have a more pragmatic Doctor here, but still. Smithe and the others are complete innocent bystanders here, so a touch of regret would be nice.
But that’s it for the niggles, because “Last Christmas” runs so well off dream logic that everything else actually does make sense in context, something the episode itself plays with. It’s a nice series of layers we’re given – each one peeled back, revealing something a little closer to the truth each time – that all fit within the storytelling style of Doctor Who. Hard to say “Heyyyy, this doesn’t make any sense” when we just had an episode that established that Robin Hood was real, or saw Matt Smith tumble down a chimney a few years ago, isn’t it?
There are some important moments here that we should talk about, some informed by the dream state, some not. The first is the resolution of the Doctor and Clara’s “Gift of the Magi” moment from the end of “Death in Heaven”, where our two acknowledged liars each tell the other what they think they want to hear. As you’ll recall, Clara told the Doctor that Danny made it back from the Nethersphere, so that the Doctor could go find Gallifrey and go home, and the Doctor told Clara that he’d found Gallifrey, so she’d stay with Danny and be happy. Of course, Danny gave up his chance to return to save the boy he had killed in Afghanistan, and Missy lied about Gallifrey returning, so we watch two friends lying to each other, each thinking they are doing the right thing for their friend’s happiness at the expense of their own.
Clearly Clara still has some anger at the situation, because when the Doctor tries to use Danny as a means to get her to think about something other than the Dream Crabs, she slaps him in what is becoming a rather problematic trend of Clara’s. Still, it’s hardly surprising that she’s still angry and hurting. Here, the two of them finally tell each other the truth, and you can see that there is a shared pain between them that the lies have caused – the separation that the lies caused chief among it – and that the revelation that they both were trying to make the other’s life better by not being in it has caused them pain they didn’t need to experience. In an odd way, it’s a bonding moment, almost a renewal of their severed bond, and from that time on, they are the friends they need the other to be.
We’ll talk about the humor, the intriguing portrayal of Santa by Nick Frost, and more in a minute, but first, let’s look at what the fandom has brought forth after watching “Last Christmas”, because oooohhhhh boy, there has been a lot of theories and speculation out of this episode.
Let’s start with Shona. Wow, do the fans love them some Shona. There is a HUGE number of folks out on the internet who are clamoring for her to be the next Companion, and I really don’t get it. At all. Is it her dancing? Because that was fun, sure, but other than that? Faye Marsay was good, quite good in fact, but really?
Honestly? I think it’s because she’s more or less Rose.
Shop girl. “Ordinary”, and a little lonely. Had a fight with her boyfriend of some kind, and trying to figure out if she should forgive him. Waiting to see her dad on Christmas Day. C’mon folks… she’s Rose. No, she’s not Rose in disguise or anything like that, but she’s just like Rose, and apparently that’s enough for a lot of folks. For those of us who aren’t the biggest Rose fans… ehh. I’d much rather have Journey Blue back.
But ohhhhhh, the speculation! It’s amazing and kind of insane.
For example, let’s consider “Forgive Dave”, from Shona’s Christmas Itinerary, which has led to a LOT of people posting around the web things like:
Clara’s father is named David! OMG! Shona is really Clara’s Mom!
Or, OMG! Shona is Clara’s step-sister!
Mmmmkay. First of all, Shona is watching Alien and The Thing From Another World and Miracle on 34th Street on DVD, so she clearly can’t be Clara’s mom. DVDs simply weren’t in existence then. Not to mention — and this should be the obvious one — that Clara’s mom is named Ellie. Second, just because Clara’s dad’s name is Dave doesn’t mean that he’s the only person in the world named Dave. I have at least six friends named David or Dave, and none of them are related. Hell, I share the name of a famous British film composer… that doesn’t mean I wrote the score for Branagh’s Hamlet. Is it something Moffat might do? Sure. Is there any reason to think, at all, that he did it here? I think not. And look at her face when she checks it off… that’s relationship pain, folks.
The other wild and fun theory I’m seeing around the interwebs involves the planet the Doctor wakes up on, which looks a lot like the volcano planet that Clara and the Doctor had their confrontation about Danny, which turned out to be… wait for it… more or less a dream, and so ipso facto, the last two episodes of Season 8 were a dream!
Or perhaps, just perhaps, the set was still standing, and the production team used it again.
I’m more interested in the dynamics between Danny and Clara, and how they changed when the Doctor entered Clara’s dream, honestly. Considering how much the Doctor’s influence is all over the mental landscape here (Think about it: The Dream Crabs are supposed to give their victims a comforting dream to lull them as they are consumed, yeah? Who else, pun intended, would find an alien attack at a isolated scientific outpost comforting?), isn’t it interesting how Danny points out that he only set out to save Clara, and the rest of humanity was just along for the ride? Considering what we know about Danny, about the kind of man he was, does that sound more like him, or more like the Doctor’s view of him? Of course, Clara’s view of Danny is in there too, but it’s something that struck me. In any event, it was a good, solid, sad and appropriate final exit for Mr. Pink, and had the emotional power that his goodbye in “Death in Heaven” lacked.
As for Nick Frost as Santa, welllll, I’ll be honest. When I first heard he was playing the part, I was… unsure. I like Frost, and I think he’s extremely funny, but I didn’t see him as Santa for some reason. Can’t really explain it – perhaps too young? – but I was happy to see that his version, this gestalt-Father Christmas, was not only funny, but fit the story in a way that made throwing Santa Claus into Doctor Who actually make sense. The tension between the Doctor and Santa worked extremely well, in much the same way, though darker, as the tension between Robin Hood and the Doctor did, and I’m all for more “conflicts” between our Time Lord and other so-called “fictional” characters.
And of course, one can’t forget the elves, whose banter and interactions with the cast were a big part of the humor. Nathan McMullen’s Wolf was wonderfully silly, but the real joy between the two was having Dan Starkey’s face on the screen, free of his Strax makeup for a change. And, while I may think that Shona doesn’t scream Companion material, the bits with her and the elves were just hysterical.
But of course, none of this would have worked without Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, and this episode was full of great moments for them both. The word is that Jenna was seriously considering leaving at the end of this season, and looking at our penultimate scene of an aged Clara recounting her growing old in a life without the Doctor, one can really see that if that was the original plan for her exit, it would have been quite powerful. The mirroring of her scene with Matt Smith from “The Time of the Doctor” was touching and sad, and when the Doctor reached out and put his hand on hers, this Doctor who doesn’t like to be touched gave this viewer a bit of a catch in the throat, especially when you see a moment before, when it becomes clear that for all the teasing the Doctor has given Clara about her appearance this season, he sees her quite clearly, no matter what her age may be.
And in many ways, this Christmas Special capped Season 8 pretty much perfectly. We started the season with Clara uncertain about this new Doctor, and ended with her knowing and loving the man he had become. We started with this 12th Doctor seemingly cold and a little angry, and ended with him smiling and laughing as he steered the sleigh and, in fact, with more smiles from the Doctor than I think in any of this season’s episodes. As I’ve written before, this Doctor isn’t quite the snarling beast we were told he’d be, but more of the alien, and that has worked more than quite well for the way Capaldi has been playing the part. Again, Peter was born to play the Doctor, in my opinion, and I’ve really enjoyed watching him make the part his own.
Jenna Coleman has also had a great season, with Clara being allowed to be more than just the Impossible Girl. She’s had kind of a rough season, too, with a lot of fans complaining that we’ve spent too much time dealing with her domestic life. But I’ve thought from the beginning that she had a chance to make Clara more than a plot device this season, and I’ve enjoyed the highs and lows of Clara Oswald. I’m happy Jenna is staying for Season 9, because the chemistry between her and Peter is excellent, and I’m liking having a Doctor/Companion relationship that doesn’t have the sexual tension that’s been a hallmark of the New Series.
But what of Season 8? Was it good?
Yes. Yes it was. Were there missteps? Of course. “Kill the Moon” for example. But I’d watch that episode again before I’d re-watch “Aliens of London”, which I hated, or “Partners in Crime” which was just, well, dumb. Was “Forest of the Night” slight and “The Caretaker” a bit disappointing? Sure, but this was also the season of “Listen”, “Mummy on the Orient Express”, “Deep Breath” and “Dark Water”. We had a really good Dalek episode, a cheerfully fun Robin Hood, and the triumphant return of the Doctor’s greatest enemy in Michelle Gomez’s Missy/Mistress/Master.
And the show has never been more popular.
So here’s to a great Christmas Special, a solid and often brilliant first season for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, and the promise of a fantastic Season 9. It can’t come soon enough.