Friday, December 26, 2014

Doctor Who: The Last Christmas Special Ever?

Doctor Who: The Last Christmas Special Ever?

Warning: This review contains spoilers.

You sometimes wonder as a fan of a long-running popular television program why it wishes to imitate every other show on the telly. Just because many TV series produce a Christmas special for broadcast every December doesn’t mean your series has to have a Christmas special or even should have a holiday special, does it? Doctor Who from 1963 to 1989 never had a distinctly Christmas special, but since its 2005 reincarnation it somehow sees the necessity of producing one every December 25, featuring killer Christmas trees, homicidal angels or evil Christmas stars. “‘Tis the season to hate Christmas!” it seems to sing.

So, after viewing this season’s special, I have one word of advice to those planning next year’s Christmas special: Don’t.

Okay, maybe it’s two words: Please don’t. Take guidance from the original series—if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Use the extra money in the budget to produce another regular episode or two, give the cast and crew a pay raise, or go on location big-time. In other words, put the money and resources to good use and produce quality programming instead of a Christmas special that’s not needed or possibly even wanted by some of the fans.

Having said that, the basic premise of this season’s special, Last Christmas, is a good horror tale of dreams nestled within dreams and of face-hugging dream crabs whose shape is directly ripped off from the Alien/Aliens franchise. If the story had been broadcast on or near Halloween, minus the addition of Santa Claus and possibly re-designing the aliens to look less like the popular movie monster, it might have worked. As it is, it’s yet another Christmas special that advertises how its creators don’t quite get the true meaning of the holy day. After all, if you don’t believe in Christ, then you don’t have to celebrate Christmas or add it into your show in any form, do you? Maybe you should just write sci-fi/fantasy episodes with a more generic tone and leave the Christmas specials to others to pen?

One could ask why is Santa Claus in this Doctor Who script at all. We’re told that he’s a universal symbol that all the characters can relate to during their horrific dilemma, but truly, who is Santa Claus? He’s a part of your dreams—nightmares you might not ever wake up from—according to Last Christmas. Not quite a great thing for young children to be told and indicative of how far the show has traveled from its family-friendly origins. If youngsters aren’t terrified of killer Christmas trees, homicidal angels, and evil Christmas stars, they can now be frightened of Nightmare Santa and the face-hugger aliens who can make your happiest dreams deadly. Should parents go ahead and send their children’s psychiatric bills to the BBC?

Perhaps there is some hope in the fact that Santa Claus himself is played quite warmly (despite some of his throw-away lines) by Nick Frost. And perhaps—without even realizing it—Steven Moffat has written a most Christian motif into the ending of Last Christmas. The Doctor says to his companion he doesn’t know who brought them together in their nightmarish adventures of dream states, but the camera pulls back to reveal a tangerine (looks more like an orange really) placed on the windowsill. 

Placing tangerines (oranges) into Christmas stockings is a long-standing tradition from St. Nicholas’ Day, December 6, when children are given gifts in the saint’s honor. The orange globe represents one of the bags of gold that Nicholas tossed into the window of the home of three young women whose father wasn’t able to provide dowries for them, so they weren’t able to marry. Mirroring God’s unconditional love, Nicholas tossed the money into their home—no strings attached—so that the young women could go from a state of hopelessness to hopefulness about their futures. Their lives were changed for the better all because of this beautiful gift that they never asked for or expected, freely given.

 As St. Nicholas stands as a symbol of God’s love and his gift of the gold (tangerine/orange) a symbol of the gift of the Savior promised to all people, perhaps we the audience are being given a hint just Who is actually directing the Doctor’s travels and what special purpose the Doctor serves in helping humanity unconditionally.

With the promise of the true gift of Christmas, Clara and Danny wouldn’t have to suffer through a maudlin scene of this is our “last Christmas,” since we’re never promised another one with those we love, for with Christ at the center of the Christmas celebration we are all promised an eternity of Christmases with those we love. Eternity—it’s a heckuva lot longer than a short life span here on earth. Eternity—we get to spend forever in God’s unconditional love. What a great way to time travel with those we love! 

If only the Doctor, Danny and Clara could accept God’s unconditional love, given as the gift of the Christ-child born on Christmas day, then we’d see more emotionally and spiritually mature characters who wouldn’t have to act maudlin, whiney, childish, or confused. They could act confident in the fact that they have a loving Higher Power watching over them in all the challenges they face, now and in the future. What an uplifting and happy Christmas special that would be!


You can read my review of Death in Heaven here:

Doctor Who vs. Marvel's Agents of Shield: Creating strong female characters:

I got the Doctor Who Let Down Blues:


A J said...

For the first time ever I'm not interested in watching a Doctor Who episode. That's saying something since I've been a fan of the show virtually from the time it first aired in the UK.

Moffatt seems to have a real issue with Christmas and appears determined to infect others with his attitude. Thanks, but no thanks. The episodes I enjoyed in the last season were not written by him. Go figure.

Cynthianna said...

I'm not sure it's just Moffat at the Beeb who hates Christmas--Russell T. Davies didn't seem like much of a Christmas supporter, either. You do wonder if they didn't receive their requested toy one December long ago and they've held a grudge against the holiday ever since. Childhood hurts can run very deep.

That being said, as a mature adult writer you need to work through your hurts and hang-ups and think about your audience. What sort of special would THEY enjoy seeing? Do they want to partake of a yearly round of Christmas-bashing? I would say the majority of the Doctor Who fans enjoy celebrating Christmas and wouldn't mind an uplifting tale about it.

But if you as a person don't care for Christmas--then please DON'T WRITE ABOUT IT ANYMORE. We won't think less of you as a writer, Mr. Moffat, and we may think more of you as a person it you lay off the anti-Christmas attitude.

Anonymous said...

First of all, Ghost stories have been a part of Christmas. That's why Dickens included ghost in A Christmas Carole as well as the song The Most Wonderful Time of the Year having the lines, "There'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmasses long long ago."
Secondly, Dr Who Christmas episodes have been some of the best of the series

Cynthianna said...

It's "A Christmas Carol" and not the girl's name spelling "Carole". ;)

But to each their own. I just like my sci-fi adventure series to be pure sci-fi adventure. If you don't believe in celebrating Christmas yourself,just don't write about it. You won't risk coming across as being clueless about certain things. But Mr. Moffat certainly has freedom of speech to write whatever he likes in the U.K., as I do in the U.S.

Astrid Cooper said...

I've watched Dr Who from the first episode in the sixties - I was a small kid, terrified of the daleks, but loving the s.f. and the stories/characters. This latest serving of Dr Who Christmas left me confused, and unsure whether I'm ever going to watch the Dr. again. What made Dr Who special since it first aired (in my opinion) has been the story lines, the action, the characters - not psychological to-ing and fro-ing with dreams within dreams and the definition of reality, etc. The Dr has been quirky, humorous, poignant (and yeah some of the episodes were dorky), but they entertained. I find the latest incarnations of the Dr UNdoctorish, and sometimes cruel. I only watched this latest Dr. Christmas special because nothing else was on TV and I had exhausted my DVD collection. I should have switched off and read a book (or retreated to my office and written a few more pages of my latest book). I find the later series up to the present a rush and unfulfilling - the need to cram the story into 45 minutes or 60 minutes makes for very confused action and story and superficial characterisation. Having said all this negativity (sorry) - I am a Dr. fan and will remain so -- of the earlier doctors, storylines and characters.

Cynthianna said...

I hear ya, Astrid! I'm a longtime Doctor Who fan, too, but lately the new series has really made me miss the old series. The "unDoctorish" attitudes and sometimes cruelty displayed by the main characters has been off-putting to say the least. (I mean, why does Clara have to slap the Doctor? That's partner abuse, IMO. It's not nice, it's not healthy, and it's just plain mean.)

I think as longtime fans we keep hoping that it will return to its glory days (or at least to the 2005 season where the scripts were fairly decent). The cramming of too much story into 45 minutes is a valid point to make, and one wonders if it could be made as multi-part half hour shows like it was originally that it wouldn't improve. Still, cruelty and snarkiness expressed by the Doctor and companions need to be excised or else the spirit of fun and optimism the show originally possessed will be killed off permanently.

Why make yet another dark and brooding TV show only for adults? There's enough of them already. Bring back the family-friendly wonder Verity Lambert helped create in 1963.

Anonymous said...

I really have found the current Doctor very hard to like. and I'm really confused as to
where Clara fits in. It seems like they totally changed her character. Last night I happened to turn BBCAmerica on and they were starting one of her episodes with Matt Smith where the intro is about her being the "Impossible GirL" What happened to that,in the current season she was just being all ordinary and worried about dating Danny Pink. I always was under the impression that the reason to not change companions when changing Doctors was for some consistency and then companions change. (the notable exception being the transition from David Tennant to Matt Smith as that happened without the benefit of a full series, just specials with no regular companion on the Tardis)

Cynthianna said...

You make a very good point, Anon., about the inconsistencies in Clara's personality. She does seem like two completely different characters at times--the Matt Smith version and the Season 8 version. You'd think if she were a creation of Mr. Moffat's he'd remember her back story and her character traits, or at least take the time to double-check them before writing new scripts, wouldn't you?

I really like Jenna Coleman as an actress, but I do feel that she's been given some weak scripts (and possibly weak direction). It is confusing that she started out as a "helper" to the eleventh Doctor, but now she's more of a abusive, scolding nag to the twelfth. (The episodes where she smacks the Doctor and tells him to shut up were both written by Moffat someone pointed out to me. Interesting.)

Having recently watched the Jon Pertwee to Tom Baker regeneration episode on Retro TV, you can compare the consistency of the character of Sarah Jane Smith with the third and fourth Doctors. Suprisingly, she comes across as the same person in both versions.

Obviously, there was tighter editorial control over scripts and character interpretation in the classic era. One would hope it would continue in the new era, but the last few years have demonstrated a decided lack of oversight; hence, inconsistencies abound. While some fans seem to take it personally when other fans notice these inconsistencies, I feel that, by pointing them out to the powers-that-be, the show can be improved and its chances of staying on the air lengthened.

google-site-verification: googlec9fe367ac800d499.html