Doctor Who Review: Last Christmas

doctor who last christmas review steven moffat nick frost santa claus jenna coleman samuel anderson peter capaldi paul wilmshurst faye marsay

Do you know why people get together at Christmas? Because every time they do it might be the last time. Every Christmas is last Christmas and this is ours. This was a bonus, this is extra. Now it’s time to wake up.

Happy New Year! Ish. Close, anyway. I’m a little bit late with this one, but I figured I needed to get on and post it today, because if it went up in a whole different year to the actual episode, that’d be one hell of a missed deadline, even for me.

Doctor Who at Christmas has become sort of traditional, hasn’t it? This is, after all, the tenth special that they’ve done. That’s pretty impressive, really. It’s not something you’d immediately link, Doctor Who and Christmas. But it does make sense, if you think about it. It’s the same sort of idea, in them both – being halfway out of the dark, and embracing hope.

Doctor Who at Christmas. Very fitting.

First of all, it’s worth talking about the concepts in play here. It’s some very clever stuff; the different layers of the dream are, for the most part, very well put together. As I was watching it on the first go around, I wasn’t entirely impressed by Clara’s sequence with Danny – not because I had anything against it, per se, but that I thought it might have worked better with a more subtle build up, with little clues and hints to make the audience doubt what was going on, and which scenario was a dream or not. But then, of course, we got that anyway later on in the episode, which was really the best of both worlds. (It could, perhaps, have been played up a little more however – there was a line in the episode which essentially amounted to “How can you tell which is the dream and which is reality, when they’re both so bizarre?”, and I think that could have been played up a little bit more and emphasized throughout.)

doctor who last christmas review clara oswald santa claus jenna coleman nick frost rooftop dan starkey elf steven moffat paul wilmshurst

It was, admittedly, a tad predictable. Fairly soon in the episode, it became obvious that the entire base was going to be a dream, or at least a little bit “off” – I think that it was around the second or third “it’s a long story” moment when I realised. Still, despite that, there were a lot of elements to it which really worked very well – I liked the sense of dawning realisation when the crewmembers looked in their manuals, seeing different words each time, and the eventual fates of each crewmember were quite poignant – particularly Bellows in her wheelchair, and Shona sat alone at Christmas. I think it’s a testament to the characterisation and the acting throughout the special that those moments had the impact that they did. (And that dancing scene was rather brilliant)

Nick Frost played an excellent Santa here. I’ve only ever seen him in The World’s End before, which is a weirdly depressing film. He was definitely a brilliant character. What I did really liked though, and I think it’s been pointed out a few times already, was the role Santa played as symbolising dreams and escapism. I thought that was a really nice way to bring Christmas into the episode, and making it work with the themes at play in the episode – particularly, the dreams segment.

Towards the end, when the characters are taking a sleigh ride across London, it really felt very upbeat and positive, and quite Christmassy too. I think that was an important moment to include, and I’m glad it was there.

doctor who last christmas review old clara oswald jenna coleman time of the doctor christmas cracker matt smith peter capaldi parallels

This was another good episode for Clara, I think. At the time of Death in Heaven, I wasn’t sure about her coming back in the Christmas special, because I thought that the ending she got was actually rather perfect – I spoke about it a little in my review. But, like I said at the time, it was still possible that they could bring her back and it would still work. For the most part, it did! It was great to see Clara back, and her final moments with Danny were excellent. (There was one line in particular which I thought was quite revealing about her character, but I’ll save that for another post)

I really liked the moment with old Clara, towards the end, where the Doctor helps her to pull the Christmas cracker. The parallels there with old Matt Smith in The Time of the Doctor from last year. It was, I think, rather perfect. Very poignant.

Buuuutttttt…. It’s not the end. And I’m in two minds about that. It’s funny, actually, because Clara did just get the second perfect departure, and she’s still staying! Can’t get rid of her! Here forever! Having said that, I do think that more can still be done with her character. She’s developed a lot since her introduction, and I think she can still continue to do so. My only worry would be that there won’t be a third perfect ending.

So, Last Christmas?

It was pretty good. It wasn’t perfect. At times, I felt a bit disconnected, and a little bored for a few segments. (The elves grated a bit)

But those are pretty minor complaints. I think it’s fair to give Last Christmas a 7/10.

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Doctor Who Review: Deep Breath

doctor who review deep breath peter capaldi twelfth doctor jenna coleman clara oswald vastra strax jenny steven moffat

You have replaced every piece of yourself, mechanical and organic, time and time again. There’s not a trace of the original you left. You probably can’t even remember where you got that face from.

Regeneration is a tricky old thing, isn’t it? It’s all well and good to say that life depends upon change and renewal, but it can be pretty weird to see a new Doctor in the role.

When Christopher Eccleston regenerated, I had only been watching the show for about two episodes, so I didn’t really get what was going on. When David Tennant regenerated, I was generally okay with it; I got the concept, and I thought he’d had a good run. With Matt Smith, it’d been quite a surprise, and I thought it was a bit of a shame – I think his last year wasn’t really as good as it could have been.

I like the fact that the show changes. I like that every few years, Doctor Who completely reinvents itself, and you end up with something new. I think it’s brilliant – it’s how it’s lasted 50 years, after all. So I’m never going to begrudge the show a change, though I might be a bit trepidant about it.

But there was no need for any trepidance here, was there? It was fantastic.

The most important thing about this episode was, obviously, to introduce Peter Capaldi. That’s the real job of it. And I think, on the whole, it did pretty well. The opening with the addled, confused Doctor was quite funny; I think maybe it was extended for a little too long (it’s about 25 minutes before he starts to settle down) but as a sort of tradition, it’s quite nice. And then after that, you’ve just got so many quality scenes with Capaldi – there’s the one with the tramp (it’s the next pigbin Josh!), his bantering with Clara in the restaurant, and the moment where they meet the robots (“Dormant. Hopefully.”) Loved that.

I think he really comes into his own though towards the end, especially where he offers the robot a drink. That moment I loved, and I felt like the new Doctor was really here. There he is; calm, collected, and with a cold, steely ruthlessness to him. And then the ambiguity surrounding the robots death, and just how involved the Doctor was with it. Did he intimidate the robot into committing suicide, or actually push him out himself?

doctor who review deep breath peter capaldi half faced man twelfth doctor ben wheatley spire push or fall steven moffat series 8

Companions! Clara, Vastra, Jenny and Strax. Clara was excellent here. Generally, I liked her over the last year, but I would certainly concede that she wasn’t the most well used or characterised. It’s really nice to see that changing here, and letting her come into her own a bit more. I’ve already said how I enjoyed her scene with the Doctor in the restaurant, but I think if I had to choose her best moment of the episode, it was where she was talking to the robot. Clara really held her own there; it was a well-written scene, with some pretty good acting to hold it up.

And Vastra and Jenny! Wow. I must admit, I am not normally a fan. I’m on the record as being totally bewildered by why they’re so popular, but I really, really liked them here. They were fantastic, as was the relationship between them. This was the first time, to me, it actually felt like a real relationship, as opposed to just the subject of a joke. In fact, this was their first appearance without a joke about their relationship – it’s finally grown beyond that. I’d be a lot more open to a spin off with them now. (With regards to the kiss, I did like it, but it might have been nicer if it wasn’t under those circumstances. Or better yet, they did that, and then again afterwards to celebrate or somesuch similar.)

Strax, still not such a fan. A lot of his humour just doesn’t wash with me. Bits of it were funny, but I think the comedy Sontaran is being pushed far too much now. It’d be better if he were played absolutely straight, and the jokes around him came from how serious he was. That’d be better I think. The bit where he was about to kill himself, to stop breathing – that’s the Strax I want to see more of. (Mind you, that was pretty dark, wasn’t it? Quite shocking even.)

The plot held up quite well too I think. In episodes like this, where you’re introducing the new Doctor, you don’t want to overdo it with something particularly complex. It’s best to just let the Doctor deal with something simple, and use the time to focus on characterisation. Still, it was pretty good, wasn’t it? Loved the return of the robots from The Girl in the Fireplace. It’s things like that that make me smile when I’m watching the episodes. Nice little callback.

doctor who review deep breath clara oswald jenna coleman madame vastra neve mcintosh silurian paternoster row steven moffat

It wasn’t perfect though, to be fair. There were some jokes that just weren’t funny – some of the Strax jokes grated, like I already mentioned. The scenes with Clara and Vastra at the beginning, all of that veil stuff… it was just nonsense, wasn’t it? Trying to imply that Clara was an impostor, but really it’s about how much they trust her, and… nah, load of old nonsense really. I just don’t get how that’s meant to fit into things at all. Well acted though, from all involved.

But, on the topic of perfect, there was one thing in the episode which damn near was. That phone call, at the end. I knew it was coming – I’d read about it months ago, and I remembered about it half way through. When I first found out about it, I was ready to come along and whinge about it on tumblr, but I’m glad I didn’t. I hate being wrong in public, after all. It was really nice, and lovely to see Matt there. It felt like a passing of the baton in a way his regeneration didn’t exactly. It’s the same sort of thing as in The Eleventh Hour, when the Atraxi roll through holograms of the different incarnations. Except this goes one better. It really emphasises he’s the same man. And it was really sweet, too.

So overall, that’s a really good episode. It did brilliantly setting up Peter Capaldi, though it did have some faults. I think I’ll give it an 8/10 – it gets better with rewatches.

Note: Despite being very specific about leaving these old reviews mostly unedited, in terms of their content at least, there were a couple of lines in here that really grated with me when re-reading this piece in 2018 that I removed. 

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