Doctor Who: Last Christmas
Well don’t blink (no pun intended) or you’ll miss something vital. There are some absolutely stunning performances; Nick Frost made a perfect Santa and Faye Marsay was truly impressive as Shona. It’s a ruthless storyline that is built on twists and false starts, it confronts issues of death, betrayal and loneliness whilst simultaneously trying to create a fairytale Christmas feeling. The result is an episode that on paper seems to have the right ingredients but actually feels very confused and on a practical note makes for difficult watching.
Now, I mean difficult watching in its literal sense. It’s Christmas day! By 6 o’clock most of us are full of chocolate, turkey and wine and surrounded by people who probably don’t have the same level of enthusiasm for Doctor Who (that’s ok of course we do our very best to educate them). There will be noise, distractions, crying children and a grandma talking to you about her colostomy (probably). Now a good Doctor Who Christmas episode will allow you distraction time, it will be gripping yet easy to follow. Last Christmas demands and expects an attentive audience taking its cues from the film Inception.
In fact this episode feels like a homage to film with ‘Inception’, ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ and ‘The Thing’ featuring heavily. There are also references to ‘Alien’ and ‘Die Hard’ in there (go back and watch the doctor ride the sleigh). This in itself might just seem a bit weird until you realise that those aren’t the only things that seem familiar. Haven’t we seen dreams within dreams before? yes – Amy’s Choice. Ear worms? yes! Creepy science stations in the middle of nowhere? yes – in practically every episode. Even the ‘brand new’ aliens are actually (yet another) new version of the weeping angels. So far in series 8 we have had don’t breathe, don’t turn around and now don’t think. This seems like lazy writing, particularly when the plot rules and endings are made to change ‘because it was all a dream’ the most clichéd ending in sci-fi.
There are some really good bits! Nick Frost gave a superb performance as Father Christmas. Wonderfully classic yet slightly ‘bad-ass’, the writing and acting combined to create a refreshing character out of a cliché. Peter Capaldi, as always is a fantastic, delightfully dark doctor when he isn’t being over-shadowed by his assistant (hopefully we’ll see more of him in series 9). However, the highlight for me this year was Faye Marsay as Shona, It was a stunning performance that’s got many fans hoping she could be Jenna Coleman’s replacement whenever that may be. That won’t be any time soon though, as after the perfect goodbye scene turned out to be just a dream it was confirmed that Jenna Coleman will be staying on for series 9.
The reason that this episode seems confused is because it tries to do too much in the time that it has. This makes the whole thing feel rushed and so the wonderful glittering moments that should be given their time are pushed back to back with darker and more sensitive subjects (eg. Danny Pink) which also don’t deserve the quick fix treatment. As “Doctor Who: The Movie”, this might just work but for a Christmas day episode it’s way off the mark. 4/10.
All photos copyright BBC.