Critiquing Capaldi: “Last Christmas”

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Christmas. “The most wonderful time of the year” according to the popular song, and I have to agree. For as long as I can remember, I have absolutely adored the occasion, it fills me with energy and warmth inside, and it’s a time I desperately look forward to each year. You probably wouldn’t guess that about me, I don’t really want to hear about the holiday for the vast majority of the year, but as soon as it gets to December, the Christmas spirit certainly awakens inside me. Despite this, I’m not really mad on the idea of “the perfect Christmas” you get in movies and TV. You know how a character tries to do all these wonderful things to make this Christmas the “best Christmas ever”. I’m more of a fan of taking things as they come myself. Of course, you need to plan some aspects of the holiday season, but too much planning does kinda lose the speciality of the occasion for me.

Last Christmas tries to do a lot in an hour. It’s effectively telling four stories at once: your classic base under siege story, your classic “Steven Moffat” story, a character based story, and a comedic romp. To be fair, it achieves the majority of this, and at a good level too. It just tries to do too much I feel. Like most supermarkets around the holiday season, Last Christmas tries to get its audiences to consume more than they need to, which doesn’t help it in the long run.

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Let’s look at the four stories Last Christmas tries to tell. The first one being your classic base under siege type story. I think it’s fair to say that this aspect works brilliantly. It’s one of the most traditionally dark and scary stories in a long time, which ironically makes it a refreshing change from the last few “scary” episodes. The base under siege from monsters story was one which was popularised with Second Doctor Patrick Troughton, so it makes sense to have his son Michael guest star as almost a homage. The set design and lighting are brilliantly dark and atmospheric, and the music in these scenes is brilliantly eerie and creepy, adding to the scary effect. The tone of the story is set up magnificently, and it definitely feels like we’re going for a “Doctor Who episode set at Christmas” rather than “A Christmas episode of Doctor Who”.

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The next story Last Christmas tries to tell is your classic Moffat adventure, or in other words, an adventure based around a scary an interesting concept, usually linking to something from everyday ordinary life. This time, we’re using dreams, something which most of us experience several times a night. This is my favourite aspect of the episode, it’s certainly the one I find the most interesting, and it’s the one I feel which is executed the best, as it’s certainly used effectively to make this story thrilling, both in the sense of excitement and horror. The Kantrofarri are an excellent monster, Moffat’s strongest original creation since the Silence. It’s fair to say they are absolutely terrifying, and it’s brilliant they are used to their full potential. The use of dream logic, or lack thereof, is really interesting and provides for a lot of effective moments, ones which force you to keep,your eye on the screen. In particular is Clara’s dream state. Her ability to not remember things correctly and the sped up time, I both find really chilling. Wilmhurst’s direction in this scene is also a treat. Another moment I enjoy is when they all get out their manuals and look at the first word on the same page. The words being different for each member may be a slightly predictable revelation, but it’s a terrifying one none the less. I think it’s fair to say that Last Christmas shows some of if Moffat’s best conceptual writing to date. It’s a complex, original, and effective idea which is used to its full potential, you can’t ask for more than that.

Last Christmas also achieves as a character piece. Character has been a strong point of Moffat’s this series, and it certainly does not die down here. Clara is again the highlight, and the theme of fairy tales and reality in this story is touched upon in a very sweet, but effective, manner. Of course, Clara never grew out of fairy tales, and the realisation of that at the end of the story is something which honestly made me feel warm inside. Twelve and Clara’s relationship is at their loveliest here. The realisation that they both lied to each other to make each other feel better, the Doctor’s guilt at missing 62 years of his best friends life, and his attempt to fix that. The last ten or so minutes, when the crew have disappeared, are the best in the episode. It’s a lovely ten minutes and gets the balance being warm and lovely and not being sickly incredibly well.

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Where this episode does fail is its use of comedy. Okay, sometimes it works, Twelve’s “You have a horror movie called alien? That’s really offensive, no wonder why you keep on getting invaded” line is the funniest gag of the series, but the shifting at the beginning between intense horror and comedy elves is tonally jarring. As is the character of Shona McCullough, who is arguably the most annoying guest character in the show’s history. She’s a horrible northern stereotype, isn’t funny in the slightest, and Faye Marsay’s performance just grates. It’s always a bad sign when you wish death on a fictional character you’re supposed to like. Shona’s appearance knocks the episode down on its own. Her atrocious attempts to be funny, as well as just being generally infuriating, really take you out of the story, and stick out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of it. The rest of the guest cast aren’t particularly interesting but are inoffensive. Nick Frost is fun as Santa though.

Wilmshurst’s direction is fantastic here, his best appearance to date, using some really interesting shots, particularly in Clara’s dream sequence. Controversially, not overly keen on Gold’s score here. It’s okay, but I don’t know why everybody raves about “Every Christmas is Last Christmas” myself, mostly because I can’t remember for the life of me how that piece goes.

Overall: For the most part, it’s very good. A really conceptual piece of writing, with some great ideas and lovely character moments. Just a shame it jars at times with tone and would have been better if it stayed serious throughout.

Previous Score: 6
New Score: 8

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