TV REVIEW: Doctor Who – Last Christmas

If there is one particular element that I have enjoyed about the Christmas specials since 2010, it is that they moved away from what had become an annual invasion of Earth. I think it was getting to the point on the Whoniverse’s Earth where the population must have been coming to dread the festive period. I have managed to avoid spoilers for this year’s offering – the preview copy of the finale I watched had no trail and I’ve avoided the trailer. All I knew was that the Doctor would meet up with Nick Frost as Santa Claus. Given my main critique of last series being slightly too much on the side of the fairy tale, was this going to be more of the same or a Last Christmas to remember?

 

 

The Doctor and Clara face their last Christmas. Trapped on an arctic base, under attack from terrifying creatures, who are you going to call? Santa Claus!

The pre-credits scene set the tone for this adventure quite nicely. The story opens with Clara at home being woken by noises. Investigating, she heads to the roof and meets none other than Santa and two elves. After a short period of quizzical non-belief, the TARDIS and The Doctor arrive. Something seems off kilter as the Doctor faces off against Santa – both Capaldi and principal guest Nick Frost are excellent in this teaser. When the credits role, I wasn’t sure whether this was the real Santa or not. I also wasn’t sure whether or not the two icons were at odds or about to partake in a good old fashioned team up.

The credits have been given a festive overhaul for this episode which helped add to the seasonal atmosphere of the episode. I really liked the snow-covered TARDIS, for example, and the overlay of festive bells on the theme arrangement. I’m not quite sure that Frost needed a separate credit nor am I sure about where it was crammed into the titles, but those are just me being a tad pedantic as is the norm!

I think the greatest achievement that Steven Moffat made this Christmas was in creating an episode that, while undeniably filled with Seasonal ingredients could easily have been shown as part of a regular season of the series. The episode, for the most part, is tense and filled with a creepiness that is perfect for the show. The plot is also suitably convoluted and manages to leave the audience in the same state of confusion as the crew of the arctic base in which our heroes find themselves.

It is with great cunning that Moffat once again manages to dig into the depths of our psyche to pluck forth yet another common element and twist it into a Doctor Who plot that holds together and keeps the viewer interested. The threat is incredibly creepy and draws from the best of the alien-invader threads while keeping an element of originality. The obvious parallel is called out within the story itself – an excellent move which will hopefully catch out the internet-users who delight in point out such similarities.

Nick Frost is perfect in the role of Santa. The character is written, directed and performed with considerable skill. Each of those three elements comes together to leave the viewer wondering as to Santa’s true nature throughout the adventure. Frost looks the part and his voice is warm – perfect for Santa. As could be expected from the veteran comedy actor, Frost’s pitch of the dialogue is on target. Funny when it should be and almost sinister on occasion too. I was expecting to dislike this episode purely based on Santa’s presence. I will be eating a major slice of Christmas Humble Pie as the inclusion worked brilliantly.

The rest of the cast also work well within the confines of the script. Portraying four scientists on a polar expedition in the near(ish) future, there is something not quite right about this team from the outset. Shona (played by Faye Marsay) especially seems out of her element. Even the three more “competent” members of the base’s survivors (played by Natalie Gumede, Maureen Beattie and Michael Troughton) don’t seem to be quite cut out for their mission – whatever it is. Of course the reason for this becomes clear as the story progresses. The characters work well and bounce off Capaldi and Jenna Coleman well.

Speaking of the principles, it was a joy to see them together again on the screen. After the conclusion to the year’s main series, I was unsure if the partnership I had come to enjoy could survive another adventure and I was happy to see they could. The relationship of the characters has moved into a mutual respect and dependence that I think is very fitting. Coleman is given the chance to shine in several emotional scenes which manage to reveal the vulnerable side of Clara for a change. The character has previously seemed too perfect as a companion with few flaws. Those flaws she had demonstrated actually enhanced her suitability as a traveller with the Time Lord. This time we see a detrimental one.

Overall, I thought this was a great episode that can be viewed outside of the festive period and be equally as enjoyable. Usually the Christmas episodes have an element of “this should be watched in the mid-winter festival” about them but I think Last Christmas holds up as an example of how a Christmas special can really work within a format. The whole plot encourages the audience to question the contents and, in my opinion, they are rewarded for doing so.

Finally – a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone who has taken the time to read this and my other Doctor Who reviews over this last year. Also, to the cast and crew of Doctor Who, who continue to produce a top-quality show that both chills and warms the heart.

Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: WedgeDoc

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