Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Nightmare Before Christmas of The Doctor


We've had Doctor Who Christmas specials for what, eight years now.  Apart from a reference in The Feast of Steven episode in The Daleks' Master Plan, I don't think Christmas was a large part of the Doctor Who mythos in the Classic Era.  Now, however, we live in a new world, where NuWho feels compelled to create a story every December 25th that will tie in some way to the season's festivities (with the exclusion of course of any mention of or reference to Jesus Christ, a figure which has absolutely NOTHING to do with Christmas and which would be too offensive for Christmastime viewing since people don't want 'religion' during Christmas).

Last Christmas, the most recent Doctor Who Christmas special, as a story is very easy to sum up.

Last Christmas is Alien meets The Thing with an extremely heavy dose of Inception and a pinch of Miracle on 34th Street put into the Doctor Who blender.   Do we really need to waste time on a recap when the above description pretty much covers all the bases?  Oh, very well...

Clara (Jenna Coleman) finds herself meeting Santa Claus himself (Nick Frost) and two of his elves on her rooftop, with Kris Kringle dropping tangerines all over the place.  She isn't all that fazed by it, but having travelled with The Doctor for what appears to be millennia one can't blame her for being a bit nonchalant about the whole thing.  The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) whisks her away to The North Pole.  There is a base there, and it's under siege.  There are four people at the North Pole: Shona (Faye Marsay), Ashley (Natalie Gumede), Fiona (Maureen Beattie), and Professor Smithe (Michael Troughton).  They are menaced by beings not dissimilar to the Face Huggers of Alien (which The Doctor claims to have never heard of, sharply remarking that the use of Alien is probably the reason Earth keeps getting invaded).  The Doctor and Clara arrive just as these creatures, known throughout the galaxy as Dream Crabs, are attacking.

To the rescue comes Santa and his elves, who now must join forces to fight these otherworldly beings.  The Doctor knows that the Dream Crabs induce dreams that appear real and wonderful, but that this is really a form of anesthetic to lull the victims until they are dead.  Into this state Clara enters, finding herself once again with Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), which she believes to be real (despite herself).  The Doctor goes in to rescue her at risk to himself, convincing her that, in the words of Dallas, "it was all a dream".

However, there is still more nefarious work about.  Once The Doctor pulls Clara out of her dream state, he realizes they are in a dream-within-a-dream (a completely original Steven Moffat idea which has never been used before in the history of film or television).  Now he must work out how to get out of the dream-within-a-dream, with a little from Father Christmas. 

At the end we find that the appearance of Santa Claus itself is connected to being in a dreamworld, and that the three survivors (the bad Professor having woken up dead, we're told).  Santa is not real, but the fact Santa isn't real allows them to escape the Dream Crabs on his sleigh.  The three women all wake up in their own worlds, with Shona looking up her list to see that her own dream matched so much of what was going on (minus the Game of Thrones marathon).  Thanks to them waking up, the Dream Crabs die.  The Doctor goes to Clara, only to find that she has aged 66 years. 

In what appears to be a beautiful reunion, but Santa popping up alerts the Doctor that he's in a dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream.  He awakens, rushes to save Clara in the present day, who agrees to keep travelling on with the Doctor.  Things appear to be as they should, though outside Clara's window, a tangerine lays...

For those at home keeping score, I count four dreams: Clara's dream of Danny, the group dream involving Santa, the group's dream OF the dream involving Santa, and the Doctor's dream of Old Clara.  Honestly though, I might have missed one.  For me, this entire idea was one dream too many.  It's another effort to make things more 'complex' but sometimes, Moffat should not gild the lily when he's given the opportunity. 

What can I really say about Last Christmas?  A bit illogical?  Yes (all those dreams, the Doctor flying Santa's sleigh because it makes for a 'Christmasy image').  Repetitive of other Doctor Who stories?  Yes (Santa sending the Dream Crabs to bed was not unlike the Ninth Doctor telling the children to "go to your room" from Moffat's own The Empty Child Parts 1 & 2, the 'judge what is real and what isn't' might have made us call this episode Clara's Choice, and Clara's speech about not marrying despite proposals due to a man she was with being 'impossible', well, let's just summon Sarah Jane Smith in School Reunion).  And that isn't even going into how Last Christmas so nakedly steals from Alien/Inception/The Thing/Miracle on 34th Street.  Moffat may acknowledge Last Christmas was inspired by those (except for Inception), but there's a difference between homage and rip-off. 

I leave it to you to decide which one Last Christmas was.

One of my correspondents on Facebook observed that Doctor Who doesn't have actual Christmas stories but either previously-seen stories set AT Christmas but with little to nothing to do WITH Christmas or Christmas stories adapted for Doctor Who.  There was Doctor Who Meets The Poseidon Adventure (Voyage of the Damned).  We've had A Christmas Carol (which followed Dickens' story beat for beat), The Doctor, The Widow, and The Wardrobe (which if not a strict interpretation of C.S. Lewis' work a remarkable facsimile thereof), The Time of The Doctor (a variation of It's A Wonderful Life, perhaps), The Snowmen (a retelling of the children's book The Snowman, if the TARDIS wiki page is to be believed) and now Last Christmas.

Perhaps this is to say that Christmas really has no purpose in Doctor Who (as Last Christmas could have been set outside Christmas without affecting the plot).  Perhaps this is to say that Doctor Who is a show running on its legacy as opposed to its originality (in other words, it's out of ideas and resorting to remakes to keep going). 

Last Christmas is suppose to be a dream, or a dream-within-a-dream or whatever, but perhaps it is just me, but my own dreams aren't as conventional as the ones within Last Christmas.   Dreams are a place where all sorts of things, however illogical, can take place, because dreams have their own logic.  Last Christmas' dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams weren't all that clever or original.

How many times has there been a 'base under siege' story in Doctor Who?

Now, like all good Moffat stories, when you think about it, doesn't make sense.  IF we are to believe what we see, Shona's dreams came from her Christmas watching of Alien and The Thing From Another World plus Miracle on 34th Street (the first two odd choices in and themselves for Christmas, but I wondered why she would choose to watch the Howard Hawks 1951 version rather than the John Carpenter 1982 remake, one of the few to be the equal of if not superior to the original. So long as she watched the 1947 Miracle on 34th Street and not the crappy remake with Sir Dickie in it, but I digress...).   HOWEVER, one can ask, WHY HER?  WHY THEM?  Why were these particular people the ones the Dream Crabs went after?  Why have them share the same dream?  I figure the Dream Crabs have some kind of herd mentality on these matters, but if the Doctor was the first one infected, where did he dig up Shona?

Allow for a slight digression.  Shona referred to The Doctor as a 'magician'.  It's already known that the Season Nine episode is titled The Magician's Apprentice.  Steven Moffat is not known for subtlety.  Will Shona make a return? 

I sincerely hope not (though I wouldn't put it past him).  Already calls for Shona to be the next Companion (which shows the total lack of imagination among NuWhovians, who keep picking the same types: 21st Century British women as Companions).  However, given how Moffat always goes for a complex and convoluted answer when an easy answer would be better, I would not be surprised to imagine Shona (whose opening scene was to dance into the infirmary in the manner of Star-Lord in the opening of Guardians of the Galaxy) to get her wish and exchange numbers.

Still, I wonder why this massive invasion would select these particular people.  There wasn't anything tying them together or to The Doctor, so where did they come from?

There's something else I don't follow.  The Doctor claims to have never heard of Alien, yet this is the same Doctor who was fully aware of the entire Harry Potter series (like all things in NuWho, the ending made him cry.  Didn't have that effect on me, but oh well).  I find this rather illogical in that the Doctor, at least in the revived series, has been fully immersed in popular culture, and something as legendary as Alien and Aliens having escaped his attention seems unbelievable.

Then again, we have a story where Santa Claus comes across as real, so perhaps this is really a pointless point of debate. 

Another odd question from Last Christmas.  When the Doctor visits Old Clara, he says that he's seen people use these Christmas hats, though he doesn't seem to understand what they really do. 

Let us take the Wayback Machine to The Christmas Invasion, the first Doctor Who Christmas Special...

Yeah, the Doctor has seen people wear those Christmas hats.  It's not as if HE HIMSELF has ever donned Christmas gear...

One thing to have The Doctor unaware of Alien.  It's another to have him not aware of what a previous regeneration had/hadn't done. 

Sure, call it nitpicking.  I call it continuity.

Yes, the Doctor HAS seen people use Christmas hats. 
Shame he can't remember where or when...

Doesn't understand them.  HE'S BLOODY WORN THEM!  Is continuity THAT irrelevant on Doctor Who

At least this is a positive about Last Christmas: we had a plausible explanation for Santa Claus being there (the Dallas solution, I call it).  To his credit Moffat acknowledges the silliness of believing Santa Claus as real.  There WAS a solution, and it all would have worked so well, but Moffat went one too far with the tangerine (which I think is a British Christmas tradition).  I know it's a nod to Miracle on 34th Street, where they find a cane not unlike Kris Kringle's at the house Susan wished for.  That doesn't mean it works.

In the film, it was there to leave doubt as to Santa's existence because the whole film was based around that.  In Last Christmas, having already established that Santa was not real, why throw that in? 

Look, I'll just cut to the chase because I'm bored with this all and I want to finish this.  I didn't hate Last Christmas.  It has the sappy sentimentality that NuWhovians crave.  It gives them the little romance bit with Danny they all like (which was a waste because there is no pathos involved knowing that it really is all a dream where a struggle to believe whether it was real or not would have made things more tense, and frankly which was done better by of all things, Ugly Betty).  I didn't hate it.  I just didn't like it.  At times silly (the Doctor excited about driving Santa's sleigh...what would Pertwee think?), at times nonsensical (we never got the connection between our characters), Last Christmas has nothing that made me happy.

I cringed at seeing Santa come to the rescue.  I cringed at Santa riding Rudolph like a horse.  I rolled my eyes at Santa turning Rudolph's red nose like a car alarm. 

Seriously, Santa was immaterial to Last Christmas.  If you cut him out of the story, it would have worked just as well. 

I had made Last Christmas my make-or-break episode, whether it would be something so patently idiotic (after the horror of Death in Heaven Parts 1 & 2) that I would quit Doctor Who...again, or whether it was tolerable enough to keep this train chugging.   To his credit, at least Moffat decided that having Santa Claus be as real as you or I was too idiotic even for him, and that at least a plausible explanation for having Santa in Last Christmas was provided.  Therefore, Doctor Who survives to see at least one viewer continue, though this viewer has pretty much given up all hope that the show he still has fond memories of will now ever be truly good. 

Honestly, I'm beyond caring.

Toss up as to which is more embarrassing...


Next Episode: Davros' Revenge Parts 1 & 2 (The Magician's Apprentice/The Witch's Familiar)

Ho Ho No!

1 comment:

  1. If the Doctor loves all the Harry Potter movies(just like the NuWhovians!), what did he make of Barty Crouch Jr?

    Not acknowledging Alien is weird for another reason. the original Alien "borrowed" heavily from The Ark in Space. Now Doctor Who is "borrowing" from Alien.

    I said years ago that Who has run out of steam and was using its name rather than anything original. I was banned from several online message boards and forums. After all, '''Doctor Who is better written now than it's ever been before, and is the most popular television series in the world'''.

    My main problem with Moffat Who has always been the same....Doctor Who is a BBC Science Fiction Drama Series. Moffat's idea of Doctor Who is some bizarre mash-up of Harry Potter, Marvel Comics, Fairy Tales and Teen Soap Operas. This last year Moffat has illustrated to us how much the Doctor(or rather his idea of the Doctor) is like both Robin Hood and Santa Claus.

    The name 'Santa Claus' is an American name. People in the UK call him 'Father Christmas'. By calling him 'Santa', it's clear that Moffat's first concern is American tweens.

    That's not a knock on the USA, just that Doctor Who is a British show, funded by British licence fees. As for US TV, well the original Twilight Zone did much better "dream within a dream" stories more than fifty years ago.

    Can anything positive be taken from Last Christmas? If we take it that Santa only exists in dreams, and there's the tangerine and Rudolph's radioactive nose at the end, then Doctor Who itself is happening in a dream. Here's hoping we soon see Paul McGann stagger to his feet and remark on the bizarre nightmare he's had, including several dreamed regenerations...


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