Friday, December 26, 2014

Doctor Who: Christmas Goes Deeper

And in the end, everybody lied. The Doctor lied to Clara about Gallifrey. Clara lied to the Doctor about Danny. Missy lied to everybody about everything. And everyone knew everyone was lying, and they were all too polite to say anything. 

Spoilers are found in stockings underneath the tangerine. No one likes either. 

And after a brief interlude of rooftop lunacy, we see the consequences of those lies.

I went into this episode with a great deal of trepidation. I'm quite fond of Nick Frost, from his days with Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, Jessica Hynes, et al. Spaced and the Cornetto Trilogy are fantastic, and have my highest recommendations. That said, this is Santa Claus in Doctor Who. Even if it is a clever and sarcastic Santa Claus, it only leaves" an episode of Who to be directed by Edgar Wright" before I've got Bingo.

Take what I've previously said about finales, and multiply it by a factor of 10; Christmas specials are even more unlikely and even more bonkers than the finales. Starting with the arguably the calmest story of the Christmas specials, Eccleston's regeneration into Tennant (which only featured killer Christmas trees, Santa robots, and an asteroid spaceship shattering the windows of every building in central London), the Christmas specials have been an affair of escalating madness over the last 9 years, and "Last Christmas" is really no different. For context:
  1. Aliens use 'blood-magic' to hypnotize a large percentage of Earth's population only be chased off by the newly-minted Tenth Doctor, then blown out of the sky by Earth's first Death Star Laser.
  2. A glimpse at Ten's dark side as he stops an alien spider queen from hatching a brood of spider-babies that have been nesting at the Earth's core since its formation. Drains the Thames.
  3. Space-Titanic nearly crashes into Earth, buzzes Windsor Palace. Kylie Minogue almost becomes a companion.
  4. Ten meets what he thinks is a future possible incarnation of himself. Hundreds-of-feet-tall Steampunk Cyberman stomps around Victorian London.
  5. The first half of Ten's epic showdown with the John Simm Master. Later goes on to inspire a scene in the third Transformers film as Gallifrey starts to leave the rift it was in, entering Earth-space.
  6. Eleven becomes the ghosts of Christmas's past, present, and future to inspire good in a bitter old space-tycoon to save Amy and Rory from a crashing ship. Air-sharks.
  7. Eleven repays a grieving widow who once helped him by helping her bend space and time to bring her bomber pilot husband home after his plane was lost in the war. Tree-people.
  8. Eleven becomes a bitter recluse hiding in a cloud. Clara's debut, along with Strax, Vastra, and Jenny. The villains are no less than Sir Ian McKellen and former non-canon Doctor Richard E. Grant.
And now Twelve: Inception with guest-stars Santa Claus and Aliens.

In short, Christmas stories are insane, more-so than season openers and finales combined, and "Last Christmas" is, again, no different. The jarring juxtaposition of dingy polar base and creepy brain-eating head-crabs with Santa Claus and his elves is nigh-disorienting. It really shouldn't work, and the mind screams out that it doesn't, but somehow Nick Frost with a jolly beard and red suit somehow fits right in.

It is quite good seeing Coleman and Capaldi on-screen again, especially seeing how difficult and unresolved their last scene was in "Death in Heaven". Twelve tries to distract Clara (successfully) from the dream-crabs by saying something unkind about Danny, and she hauls off and slaps him in a way that he hasn't been slapped since Jackie Tyler. There's an air of open hostility from Clara towards him as they reveal they were both lying the last time they spoke, which is met by Twelve coming as near as it seems possible to walking on egg-shells. Normally Twelve and Clara butt heads quite well, but this time he was almost petulantly deferential to her. This is a very different dynamic for them, one I found enjoyable but also severely strained; it was almost out of character for Twelve, but he was still enough him that it felt natural.

I also really enjoyed the heart-wrenching dream sequences with Clara: first, with her last Christmas with Danny (PE stealing the show even after he's dead), and then her last Christmas with the Doctor. By the end I was sitting by myself and saying out loud “Don't do that again, I can't take it.” 

This episode also marks the sixth appearance of Slade's "Merry Christmas Everyone", as the most Northern girl in the world dances like a buffoon to distract herself from the threat. Other highlights include the dream logic of “it's a long story”; magic carrots; bigger on the inside; Santa questioning how ridiculous the Doctor himself is; “There's a horror movie called Alien? That's... really offensive. No wonder everyone keeps invading you”; and the scene that would not have worked in any other episode: Twelve's sheer joy in piloting Santa's sleigh. And of course the ending, implying that we will get another year with Clara who, given last year's character development, needs and deserves it.

I do have to wonder where this leaves Nine, though, with the exchange at the end of "The Doctor Dances": 

Rose: “Look at you, beaming like you're Father Christmas.” 
Nine: “Who says I'm not, red bicycle when you were twelve...”

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