Doctor Who Series 8 Christmas Special Review: Last Christmas

Last Christmas Doctor WhoAnother Christmas means another British TV tradition: The Doctor Who Christmas Special. Whereas some may watch movies like Elf or Miracle on 34th Street or Die Hard, there’s always something for the Whovians – a very special hour of Doctor Who. Usually written by Steven Moffat.

This year is no different. The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is different this December 25th, but it’s still the tenth in the string of Doctor Who Christmas Specials since the show’s revival back in 2005.

Moffat brings us yet another twist on a tale of Christmas folklore and it’s one that’s a surprise to some who can’t believe it hasn’t already been tackled – Santa Claus. In recent years we’ve had wintery jaunts inspired by classic stories like A Christmas Carol or iconography such as snowmen, but here Santa Claus is a real character, played by Nick Frost.

Well, the reality is questionable here. Much like how earlier this season concepts like the afterlife have been touched upon, the truth behind Santa is something that is constantly examined.

Because it really is safe to say that this Christmas Special truly was Miracle on 34th Street meets Alien. The conncections are obvious and even lampshaded throughout the episode, but truthfully, Last Christmas has a fair bit of wham behind it, lathered in shades of the Inception.

Dream Crabs are the villain of the week here, and what interesting creatures they are. Much like the facehuggers of Alien, once they latch onto a host, you can be sure of a horrific symbiotic relationship between human and crab. But at least these monsters are nice enough to evoke happy dream states into those they are about to harvest.

Which would all be well and good for The Doctor to take on, if it wasn’t for the fact that one manages to snag hold of Clara (Jenna Coleman).

Last Christmas starts off light and merry with a lot of humorous back and forth between the Twelfth Doctor and Santa (the practicalities of Christmas and delivering presents around the world make for chuckle-worthy exchanges), but then Steven Moffat manages to do one of the things he can do well in his writing – creating fear out of the day to day experiences we all have.

Dreaming and nightmares are fully explored in Last Christmas, all of which are still impressive to watch unfold in his narrative, even if you’ve already seen Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Moffat continues to be a very strong storyteller when it comes to unfurling a narrative, and while this week’s episode isn’t even that timey-wimey, Moffat succeeds at playing with how things are playing out.

It doesn’t hurt that director Paul Wilmshurst knows how to get this story onto the screen. There is a sequence that includes an interesting character appearance with some fantastic imagery. Small hints of the real nightmare creeping alongside happy escapism. Wilmshurst does well to balance the humour of Frost’s Santa and Dan Starkey and Nathan McMullen’s elves alongside the heavily-Alien-inspired monsters and their subsequent effects.

But of course, this is not a perfect episode, and if you’re familiar with Doctor Who of recent times you know where things fall down: Clara. Not only is Clara there to necessitate plot progression as opposed to character progression, but yet again the hollow shell of her admittedly rather improving development is dragged out for more adventure even though it felt like her story had ended a couple times already this year.

It’s gone too far for the audience to be satisfied by a payoff to Clara’s journey, and while there are nice payoffs here, it’s still too much. In an episode that treks quite smoothly and almost feels the perfect length, we’re cheated out of a good moment by tacked on endings.

The final shots may or may not annoy some Whovians, but hey, at least we’ve got the title for the next episode.

Which is pretty much the mantra for Doctor Who: Wait until the next episode.

Because this Christmas Special was rather impressive for the most part. Moffat delivers yet another solid script for this December 25th, and now we’ve gotten a whole season of a pretty strong Doctor in Peter Capaldi. All one wants right about now is that second season of brilliance with a character and a tone safely found, regardless of whatever time and relative dimensions in space are travelled to.

Also, hopefully it has better makeup in it.

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