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.

Related:

Doctor Who series 8 reviews

Doctor Who series 9 reviews

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Doctor Who Review: Series 8 Overview

doctor who series 9 review overview peter capaldi jenna coleman steven moffat era logo twelfth doctor vortex title sequence clocks clara oswald

So, with another series over, I wanted to take a bit of a look back across the whole series, seeing how it fitted together, talking a little bit about the arcs involved, and generally the overall quality of the episodes.

Here I’ve got links to my reviews of each episodes (some of which were, uh, posted quite late, meaning you may have missed them). Quite proud of most of them, although it is obvious in quite a few that I was running short of time, because they’re a little bit on the shorter side. Still, nothing wrong with being concise.

  1. Deep Breath | Steven Moffat | 8/10
  2. Into the Dalek | Phil Ford & Steven Moffat | 9/10
  3. Robot of Sherwood | Mark Gatiss | 7/10
  4. Listen | Steven Moffat | 5/10
  5. Time Heist | Stephen Thompson & Steven Moffat | 8/10
  6. The Caretaker | Gareth Roberts & Steven Moffat | 7/10
  7. Kill the Moon | Peter Harness | 3/10
  8. Mummy on the Orient Express | Jamie Mathieson | 9/10
  9. Flatline | Jamie Mathieson | 9/10
  10. In the Forest of the Night | Frank Cottrell-Boyce | 6/10
  11. Dark Water | Steven Moffat | 10/10
  12. Death in Heaven | Steven Moffat | 8/10

And presented here as part of a handy-dandy graph. I do love a good graph.

image

I’ve seen this series described as having had consistent quality levels since 2005, when the show came back. It’s interesting actually, because I would have said the same myself, before looking at my handy dandy graph.

In terms of numbers though, it got a total of 89/120, which works out as 7.417/10. Given that people were harking back to the 2005 series, that’s a rather useful point of comparison (even more so because it’s the only one I have mathematical date for). When I reviewed that series, it got a result of approximately 8/10 as an overall average. (You can see a very nerdy breakdown of the scores here. It wasn’t so popular, which is why I changed the format a little for this overview.)

What it is perhaps fairer to say though is that, barring a few mis-steps, the series had a much higher level of consistent quality than the last two Matt Smith seasons. I wasn’t really a fan of series 7, on the whole, and I felt that this was a massive improvement on largely every count.

In terms of Steven Moffat’s writing, this was another massive step up (Ignoring Listen, of course). Of the four series’ he’s been in charge of, this one is certainly the best since Matt Smith’s first. Perhaps the best altogether? I’m not entirely sure, but it may well come close.

doctor who review series 8 into the dalek clara oswald jenna coleman tardis red shirt teacher phil ford steven moffat ben wheatley best companion

Something I think that series 8 did particularly well with, better than most others, was the way it treated the role of the companion.

Around the time of Asylum of the Daleks, when Jenna Coleman first appeared, I said something along the lines of “I think she’s going to be my favourite companion”. Words to that effect, anyways. Obviously this turned out to be not quite the case, given that Clara wasn’t quite in the spotlight in her own right throughout the rest of series 7.

But after series 8, I am actually quite prepared to hand Clara back that position.

It’s difficult to talk about the arc that Clara had throughout the series, because I really keep wanting to jump right to the end, because the way in which she developed still excites me so much. This is possibly one of the best uses of the companion role ever, and the best possible extension of the idea that the Doctor changes his companions.

Flatline was one of my favourite episodes of the series (making me a little sad my review is quite so short) and that’s because of what it did with the Doctor/Clara dynamic. Honestly, there’s just so many clever things about that episode I want to pick out, but the one that needs mentioning is the idea of lying, I think. You can see that being developed across the series, picked up on, examined, and looked at through all these different lights. It culminated in my favourite scene of the series – the Doctor lying about Gallifrey. How fantastic was that? Absolutely fantastic.

Now, none of that would have been possible if it wasn’t for Jenna Coleman, who really showed how brilliant Clara could be. She absolutely deserved top billing at the end of the series. “Clara Who” is a show I would watch, let me tell you right now. (Though it needs a better name than that!)

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On another note, writers and directors. Some new ones this year, which is nice; as part of series 7 last year there were, I think, too many writers that had more than one episode, and had worked on the show before. It’s always good to get new people in (like me) though, to be fair, this year there was something of a mixed result in terms of new writers. Jamie Mathieson, absolutely fantastic, needs to return. Peter Harness, probably best forgotten about. And Frank Cottrell-Boyce… well, maybe? He’s the only one I have no particularly strong feelings about, for or against.

Normally, I don’t pay a great deal of attention to directors, which I probably should, but I’ve been really impressed by a lot this year. Douglas MacKinnon did another great job, and I was impressed by Ben Wheatley. Nice to see female directors on the team – I realise everyone else has said that, but it’s true. And, obviously, the fact that they were female directors wasn’t the only important thing – Sheree Folkson and Rachel Talalay are both very, very good.

(Mind you, still not that fussed about the possibility of Peter Jackson turning up. The fact he’s such a massive nerd makes me laugh, but there’s nothing that really makes me think “woah we need him here right now”.)

doctor who review series 8 kill the moon planet earth turn the lights off peter harness

There were certain things I wasn’t mad keen on, of course. I’m not sure if I’m becoming a bit more socially aware, or if there were more mistakes made this season, but a few things stood out to me as being a bit on the not-so-good side of things.

The abortion metaphor of Kill the Moon I already spoke about a fair extent, and the same goes for the medication stuff in In the Forest of the Night. Those were both things which should have been picked up on, and removed, but unfortunately… weren’t.

Something I didn’t mention at the time, but I still wasn’t sure about was this weird racial undertone in The Caretaker. Strange one really; it was clear the production team was trying to show a diverse, multi-racial set of students, but it fell down a bit flat since quite a few of the truant/miscreant kids were coloured. That can be written off as an accident, but I’m surprised no one took pause with the fact that the Doctor mocked Danny, suggesting he was only competent at physical tasks. Bit odd really, in terms of the way it could be read.

Also, speaking of the Doctor and Danny, where did that distaste for soldiers actually go, in the end? It all seemed a tad aimless. You can make a case, I suppose, for it having been set up for the finale, but even then… it wasn’t great. The set up with Missy wasn’t amazing either, I think it must be said, given that they were little more than sporadic “remember we have an arc guys” moments. Could probably have been replaced by “this is a mystery” cue cards, perhaps.

doctor who review series 8 mummy on the orient express peter capaldi twelfth doctor you still have to choose jamie mathieson

So.

A final word on the Eighth Series of Doctor Who?

I think it was, honestly, quite brilliant. It had no shortage of misfires, that’s fair to say, but that’s not to say it wasn’t very, very good. You could really see the work that went into it, making each idea fresh and new, offering us some of the best character drama we’ve had in years, as part of a remarkably stylish, wonderfully written television program.

And, on today of all days – the start of our 51st year – Series 8 is worth talking about.

Because Series 8 shows us why Doctor Who has lasted quite so long, and why it is still kicking.

Related:

Doctor Who series 8 reviews

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