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Friday, 26 December 2014

Doctor Who S34 Xmas Special: Last Christmas.

Doctor Who
Series 34 Christmas Special.
Last Christmas.

Let's ... talk about expectations, shall we. 

Generally, the Doctor Who Christmas specials aren't great. They're kind of oddly placed, coming between series and thus not really tying into the narrative of either, and the relative lack of competition, I think (and make no mistake, there is no competition for audience on Christmas Day), makes the writers a bit lazy, and so the episodes end up a bit lazy. This isn't a Moffat-specific problem: Russell T. Davies' Christmas Specials often had the sensation of being very phoned in as well.

In this year's festive episode, Clara wakes up on the night of Christmas Eve to find Santa Claus on her roof. Being quickly grabbed by the Doctor, they head to an Arctic research base where people are being attacked by dreamcrabs: Mind controlling alien crustaceans that induce a dream state while they digest your brain and take control of your body, and are drawn towards people thinking about them. 

Thankfully, it's not a lazy episode. I might stop short of saying it's good, but it is at least not lazy. Moffat had an idea he clearly loved and he pushed it in this episode, and it feels very much like at least a little bit of a passion project. That's good: Heaven knows, I will let a lot by under the excuse of 'it's a passion project', because I think that things that people are passionate about but are technically flawed always come across better than things which are technically good but which the writers are bored by.

Also: Jesus Christ, Moffat, if you have another fictional species comically
refer to humans being 'racist' against them, I will be vexed.

In fact, he pushes it a bit too far, as in this episode every Doctor Who fan has found the answer to the question "How many times can you use the 'it was all a dream' plot twist in an hour before your audience hates you," and it's somewhere around three times. Moffat uses it four times. Four. It's exhausting to watch, especially as all four are clustered into the second half of the episode, meaning that over the span of about twenty-five minutes, characters are constantly discovering they're dreaming and then waking up.

It also has a lot of the Moffat hallmarks. Oh, a monster whom to escape from you have to control a natural impulse? Please talk to the Weeping Angels, or the androids who could detect you breathing, or the bank monster that could detect guilt. It's a plot device that Moffat uses to create tension again and again, and while I really like the idea of monsters that can find you when you think about them, I am extremely aware that this is just one in Moffat's neverending chain of same-y monsters, presumably soon to be followed by the monsters who will kill you if you scratch that itchy spot on the small of your back.

(The dreamcrab victims are very sinister, though. The episode teases us with the crabs opening to reveal their faces, always stopping just before you can see their eyes, and it is some very effective cinematography. Which makes sense: Moffat has always been a great cinematographer, he's just not a very good writer.

Thing is, Santa is also quite sinister. He switches abruptly from 'cheery chappy' to staring intently and darkly intoning warnings, and that in and of itself makes him seem malevolent. Unlike the dreamcrabs, Santa isn't meant to ever be taken as an antagonist.)

I liked this character. She had a notebook.

The Danny Pink subplot makes a brief return, too, as he shows up in one of the many dreams. I will grudgingly tolerate it this time, as it's brief and fairly unobnoxious, and I actually manage to like him again briefly here. In general, the interactions between the Doctor and Clara are a lot less toxic now that that subplot is out of the way, and that gives me hope that the next series won't be as excruciatingly painful as this one was. 

(It pokes its head in quickly towards the end, too, when an elderly Clara proclaims that she never had a proper relationship with another man after Danny, because nobody could compare with him and the Doctor. Really, Clara? I know it's a dream, and this isn't actually true for your actual life necessarily, but really? Really? Moffat's obsession with women who are breathlessly devoted to his male characters needs to die.)

So, did I like it? Actually, yeah, I did. I wasn't blown away by it, let's put it that way, but it is definitely one of the better episodes of Series 34, as much as that's not really an achievement. I had fun with only minimal frustration for an hour, and given that almost all of the last series was frustration central for me, that is an achievement. 

The Doctor and Clara will both be returning next year, something that may surprise many people, as the BBC had made many rumblings that Clara was going to leave, presumably so that people wouldn't immediately figure out that the elderly Clara dream was a dream. I am - kind of looking forward to that. I guess. Maybe.


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