The Doctor Who Christmas specials fit into two categories – those that focus on massive myth-arc building elements which are significant in the grander scheme of the series (eg. The Time of the Doctor or The End of Time) and those that are concerned mainly with telling a fun Christmas-themed romp of a story (such as Voyage of the Damned or A Christmas Carol).
(OK, I know that we could actually divide up the Christmas episodes of Doctor Who along all sorts of categories – those featuring classic monsters / those that don’t, or those with David Tennant / those without, or those that are any good / those that are rubbish, or etc / etc. But this is the paradigm I’m working with today)
But the truth is of course that there isn’t a sharp division here, but more of a continuum. The “standalone” stories like Runaway Bride or The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe have “series” elements to them, where we are developing the characters and they’re relationships with one another. And the “arc” stories, such as The Christmas Invasion or The Time of the Doctor are still trying to give the audience a fun adventure not bogged down in ongoing story elements.
All this brings us to Last Christmas, a title we’ll be able to make obvious jokes about until next Christmas – the first Christmas special featuring Peter Capaldi (though the third to co-star Jenna Coleman). This episode manages to give us the best of both worlds by giving us a very poignant story about Clara coming to closure about the death of Danny Pink, while at the same time stringing together a series of effective sequences that are in turn funny, exciting, or scary. (Spoilers, ahoy!)
Seriously, the closure thing is really impressive. When Santa Claus turned up in mid-credits sequence of Death in Heaven, I was fully hoping that this would lead to the recovery of Danny from the Nethersphere and a happy ending for Clara. I couldn’t have imagined that the show would not bring Danny back, but still leave me in a place where I felt it was dramatically justified that neither Clara nor the audience were still hoping he would return. And yet, thanks to an effective dream (within a dream (within a dream (within a dream))) sequence, we all felt ready to say goodbye to both Danny and to actor Sam Anderson.
But what about Orson Pink?! screams out a whole bunch of the internet. How could Orson be Danny Pink’s grandson if Danny died?! I gather there are probably lots of Danny Pink theories out there, but the obvious one to me is that Orson wasn’t his direct descendant. Indeed, that was never stated. Orson could easily be the descendant of Danny’s brother or sister or cousin, something like that. And as I check it out on the internet, I see that Steven Moffat was even quoted as saying that Orson is Danny’s lateral descendant, basically confirming my idea. The quote goes on to say that after his death, Clara got in touch with his family and gave them the soldier toy.
Of course, it’s well known that Moffat lies about the show whenever it suits him, and none of the aforementioned closure means that Danny couldn’t still come back from the dead somehow and have a child with Clara. But if he doesn’t, well, that’s okay. I’m ready to see some more Doctor-Clara adventuring, hopefully without so much emphasis on Clara’s home life this time. Not that I disliked it, but I’m ready for something else.
But back to Last Christmas. Emotional drama story aside, the episode was filled with the sort of blithering lunacy that Steven Moffat seems to revel in. I quite like blithering lunacy, when it’s got the kind of narrative logic that Moffat likes to weave through it. And in this case there is the additional safety net of being able to say that anything did not make sense was because it probably a dream anyway.
Even so, there were still things of questionable sense, but they don’t bother me since I can easily find explanations for them. Like, how did Dream Crabs that were from dreams send Clara and the others into dreams? And why did they fall apart and disintegrate in the dreams just like they do in real life, even nobody had seen them do that?
Answer: the dreams were created by a mix of the Crabs trying to lull everyone into acceptance, and the victims trying to fight their imminent deaths. Add the Doctor into things, who probably knows or can deduce something about these creatures, and the result is a dream which is probably more “realistic” than the Crabs might have wanted: ones in which they behaved and died just as they would have in real life.
Another question is, if the Doctor knew what was going on and what Santa was doing there, as he stated in the show’s opening moments, why does he seem so surprised when he realizes that he’s dreaming (twice)? Answer: as the Doctor also says, dreams are confusing and disjointed. He may have understood a bit more at the start of the dream than he did later on, as he got “sucked into it”.
Final question: how do we know that the Doctor ever woke up? Whose to say that he isn’t still dreaming, and that the rest of the series, how every many years it runs, isn’t just his dying hallucination. Answer: because that’s stupid. I mean, we know it the same way we know that the entirety of Inception isn’t a dream being had by a butcher in Brooklyn who had too barbecued steak before he went to bed: because even though such a thing is “possible,” it’s also not interesting or dramatically rewarding in any way, and not supported by what we saw on screen. So seriously, let’s move on.
Anyway, all-in-all, I really liked the episode. The scary stuff was lots of fun and there was tons of it – the Clara / blackboard scenes, monsters that can kill you if you think about them, poor Michael Troughton getting killed by monsters reaching out to him through his television. But the story also showed the 12th Doctor enjoying himself in a way that we haven’t seen before (as he drives the sleigh), as well as becoming truly passionate about his desire to renew his friendship with Clara. It was a new step for the character and one that I hope is consistent with what we see next.
I wasn’t crazy about the final “still in a dream” sequence with Old Clara, but I can understand it if what I read is true and that originally the episode was going to end with Old Clara dying for real, but that it was changed when Jenna Coleman decided to stay on for more of the show. Of course I’d be excited to meet a new companion but I’m glad Clara will be around some more. Over this last year she’s shaped up immeasurably and I’m in no hurry to see her go.
And presumably sometime in 2015, I’ll get to see more of her and the Doctor, in The Magician’s Apprentice. Is Clara the apprentice? Is it someone else? Is the Doctor the magician? I’ve got plenty to keep me busy until whenever that show airs, but I’m looking forward to it.