DVD REVIEW: DOCTOR WHO – LAST CHRISTMAS / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: PETER WILMSHURST / SCREENPLAY: STEVEN MOFFAT / STARRING: PETER CAPALDI, JENNA COLEMAN, NICK FROST, NATALIE GUMEDE, MICHAEL TROUGHTON, NATHAN MCMULLEN, DAN STARKEY / RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 26TH
The Doctor and Clara arrives at a remote research facility in the North Pole where the crew are under attack from terrifying alien crabs who attach themselves to their heads and suck out their brains. Ah, if only...
Of course, this is a Steven Moffat Doctor Who episode – a Steven Moffat Christmas Doctor Who, no less – so things are, sadly, never quite as they seem. Last Christmas is, inevitably, no traditional exciting runaround adventure with the Doctor fighting off the advances of a gruesome alien threat. The alien crabs are, of course, ‘dream crabs’ and they only exist when people think about them and they plunge their victims into a dreamlike state as they – very slowly - absorb their brains. Cue a typically wordy, full-of-itself Steven Moffat Doctor Who revolving around yet another twist on the writer’s preferred story type featuring aliens existing somewhere at the edge of perception. For God’s sake, what’s wrong with a few tooled-up robots or tentacled things which are just too no-good for the hell of it rather than relying on the ‘you can’t see it!’ gimmick Moffat has been running into the ground since he hit gold with the Weeping Angels in 2007?
But Last Christmas isn’t as disastrous a festive special as last year’s appalling Time of the Doctor or the horribly-uneventful The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe from 2011. It’s powered by – and saved by – another crackling performance from Peter Capaldi and the ‘dream crabs’, despite the over-familiarity of their modus operendi, are a bit more repellent and visceral than many of the muscular monsters (Zygons, Ice Warriors, Judoon) the show tends to specialise in when it does get around to featuring some more typical Doctor Who nasties. But the ‘dream-within-a-dream’ storyline doesn’t have even a whiff of originality about it, and by the end it all gets a bit wearing as the whole drama has been undersold by the fact that we’re on our guard not to believe that anything we’re watching is actually happening. Moffat does, cleverly, toy with our expectations of the ultimate fate of long-time companion Clara (Coleman), who looks as if she’s really leaving the show this time and there’s a certain joyousness in her ‘clean slate’ reuniting with the Doctor as the two rush off into the future at the end of the adventure. But it does seem a shame that the beautifully-bittersweet finale of Death in Heaven has been sold down the river by the pair carrying on travelling together for at least one more season, but in the end we have to expect this sort of frustrating disappointment from Moffat who’s quite clearly making this all up as he goes along.
Where the story fails catastrophically, however, is as a standalone Christmas Doctor Who special. Moffat’s predecessor, the peerless Russell T. Davies, knew that the Christmas episodes were an ideal opportunity to ‘sell’ the series to a captive audience who might not normally watch the show so he carefully structured his always-enjoyable festive specials to draw in casual or disinterested viewers by some clever piece of marquee casting or ‘big concept’ storyline. Last Christmas boasts only Nick Frost as Santa and a fiddly too-cerebral-for-Christmas story which relies on at least some knowledge of the previous twelve episodes to fully understand and appreciate the relationship between the Doctor and Clara and the relevance of certain narrative beats – Clara’s dream of a happy home life with Danny Pink – and almost the entire final ten minutes. Last Christmas doesn’t specifically exclude new viewers but, along with its pedestrian story and remarkably unspectacular execution, it doesn’t exactly welcome them on board with open arms and the promise of the trip of a lifetime. This, along with the show’s slightly falling stock in the UK (and ever-changing TV-viewing habits, admittedly), is why the likes of Voyage of the Damned (Kylie! On the Titanic!) drew nearly 14 million viewers and Last Christmas struggled to appeal to 9 million.
Despite its largely-static nature, Last Christmas looks rich and gorgeous on DVD and Blu-ray and whilst the special features are minimal – the thirteen-minute Doctor Who Extra screened online following the TV transmission and a chatty and genuinely-detailed commentary from director Wilsmhurst and producer Paul Frift – they pretty much tell you all you need to know about the making of the episode. Last Christmas isn’t a clunker by any means; the show has given us far far worse in recent years but as a brash, bouncy, feelgood festive special it is very much (wait for it) not what the Doctor ordered.
Special Features: Audio commentary / ‘Doctor Who Extra’
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