A Christmas tradition as strong as chewing on Turkey, singing carols or disowning family members during a Monopoly battle, the Doctor Who Christmas special graced our screen again. Usually these stories are drawn out, ridiculous or indeed a poisonous combination of the two venomous ingredients. Would this break the trend or be as predictably disappointing as a Christmas cracker joke?
This episode begins as it teased, with Father Christmas invading the lives of The Doctor and Clara as they reunite. This sends the goofy meter off all known charts along with his wise cracking Elves, has Doctor Who lore gone so dry they need to delve into Yuletide tradition? Or were they so scared they had driven away their younger viewers that they sent in the fat, jolly, red man with presents to rescue the youth appeal of the show. Luckily none of the above. Except the moment of Rudolph’s alarm nose, that made me cringe to the point of implosion.
We then find a group of scientists harassed by aliens who only sense and attack you when you think of them, the Doctor and Clara bundle in with all the grace of the Hulk with a hangover and are promptly rescued by their Crimson saviour, the returning Santa! They discover the ‘dream crabs’ who consume their prey slowly as they present to them a dream world that keeps them happy and content and their brains are devoured. I think I may have read different Christmas carols and stories than Mr Moffat….
This is a rather predictable episode in ways and soon combines Alien, Inception and a dash of The Matrix for good measure. In fairness though if you are going to steal from films you could pick a lot worse and they even joke about the Alien similarity, with The Doctor chastising the entire human race for good measure! The quality of shot, effects and scenes and very good without it being so glossy that it loses the gritty tradition or horror feel. The music is also the usual combination of safe BBC jaunty jams and eerie whines with Christmas jingles for good measure, it’s not really noteworthy so arguably serves its purpose fine.
The coup however is the story and script which of course is the meat and substance of this Christmas feast. Some of the lines are over the top and set pieces are flamboyant but this all justified and let’s the writers go all out without alienating the audience. The reunion between the main characters is a little understated but this works and it doesn’t take from the episode and it makes sense and they were as at fault as each other. The ending also gives it it’s due attention and clears up any speculation about Clara’s exit from her cosmic ballet with our favourite Timelord.
Their are lines of dialogue than snap and pop and it’s great to see Capaldi as the contrasting against the jolly merriment and hope of Santa, the belief and heart of Christmas and the calculating mind of The Doctor. Nick Frost uses his lines well and helps the story a lot more than he could have hindered it, proving his comedy and heart warming chops. The story is brilliant as well as the horror becomes claustrophobic and contained. The dream plot device is also well utilised, the layers of dream give a sense of floundering and disbelief at your own sense trusting no one especially yourself. It also justifies Santa as their subconscious screaming warnings to the victims. It explains the frantic start as well as The Doctor and Clara appear, they observe that you don’t question your dreams but accept it which also gives a commentary on what we accept when watching TV and this very show. Other nice touches include the Doctors method for testing, using the books and this also sets up and ominous verbal countdown to revelations.
Some particular scenes stand out such as Clara visiting a future with Danny Pink, which in my opinion must be the easiest task known to man. It’s a great show of The Doctors affection as he dives in to save her and Clara’s turmoil is well acted and creepily portrayed with blackboard warnings to boot! The support characters are also varied and lovable and is explained well. Also the effect on their lives is shown individually and this feels like a journey for developed characters, something the series misses often. A revelation with the older lady is also brave and moving when she returns to her normal life on a bold, emotional level that shows maturity and understanding. The addition of Michael Troughton, the son of the second Timelord is a another subtle, gracious nod to the past.
The very end scene and the sleigh ride may be flamboyant but it is Christmas after all and is hard earned in the darker and more serious set of scenes. This is by far and away the strongest Christmas episode and part of me thought it was a shame it wasn’t a non-Christmas episode as it would be a strong episode in any series of the famous sci-fi show. The mature and dark approach and justification of the infused Christmas cheers is admirable and creative to appeal to its wide spectrum of an audience.
The verdict: A highly enjoyable and well crafted compliment to the show and the season. This is the most thought through and well flowing festive creation of this world and hopefully a new trend of satisfying Yuletide entertainment.