Friday, December 26, 2014

Back Door Santa: An Overanalysis of "Last Christmas"

Last Christmas, I gave you my heart
The very next day, you gave me crabs...

Have you ever asked yourself the question "Hey, what if Inception was a Christmas movie?"  No, because you're a normal person.  Steven Moffat, not being a normal person, answered that question for us that nobody was asking.  A dream within a dream within a crab, all with Santa Claus thrown in.  Moffat did keep his promise when he told us this was the weirdest episode he had ever written, but I wasn't quite ready for just how bizarre it was going to be.  He promised us a story that combined "The Thing" or "Alien" (depending on which interview with Moffat that you read) with "Miracle on 34th Street," and he delivered on that.  Moffat clearly loves Alien, as evidenced by his brilliant references to it in the Coupling episode "9 1/2 Minutes," his choice of casting John Hurt as the War Doctor, and his both subtle and overt references to it in "Last Christmas."  That's really a better way to describe "Last Christmas":  Alien meets Inception with Santa Claus thrown in for good measure.

But he also promised us a few things that were outright lies, something I keep forgetting to expect from him, even though I made it a rule right at the top of my blog.  He told us that the Doctor and Santa were old friends, or rather old enemies.  Seeing as how Santa was actually a figment of everyone's collective imaginations, that particular Moffat statement was designated a lie.  Capaldi gave us a nice lie in an interview, too, promising Santa would remain "in tact" at the end of the episode and wouldn't be anything "sci-fi."  True, there's a hint at the end of the episode that Santa might still be real, but that's not the same as keeping him "in tact" and, overall, the explanation of him was particularly "sci-fi."

The Dream Crabs are continuing with a popular Moffat theme of a creature whose power is linked to your own perception of them, like the Weeping Angels and the Silence.  The continuation of this theme is so strong that I'm left almost tempted to say that he's gone too far with it, but the Dream Crabs are such a creepy variation on this theme that I'm willing to forgive it.  A creature who can only attack you when you are thinking of them?  Try not to think about pink elephants.  That's possibly the most terrifying idea yet, as at least the Silence and the Angels have a comparatively easy way to keep them at bay: simply keep an eye on them.  Trying not to think of something is nearly impossible.

The real solution to the Dream Crab problem!

By about halfway through the episode, I was left wondering why Santa was even there.  What purpose was he serving other than Steven Moffat's assertion that he wanted to see Santa and the Doctor standing side by side on screen together.  While Moffat proved to be lying about the Doctor and Santa knowing each other from way back, they did have an interaction like they did.  Santa and the Doctor had an instant chemistry, one that left me wanting to see more of it.  Nick Frost was a perfect Santa, and his appearance in the opening credits was well deserved.  He was very much a star of this episode.  Santa, the dream that tries to save you.  What better dream could you have?

I was wondering how Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink) had been signed on to do the Christmas special so many months back, and then his character died off in "Death in Heaven."  Now we know.  That's the fun of killing off a character when the actor playing them is actually still alive:  you get to do fun things like bringing them back in a tempting dream sequence.  But I still don't think Danny is done yet.  Moffat recently gave an interview in which he explained how "Listen" could have made sense even if Danny Pink never comes back, but everything about his explanation just screamed "I don't mean to say that any of this is true."  He didn't even give us a lie, he gave us an explanation that we could tell even he didn't believe.  Somehow, he's coming back.  How?  I don't know.  It's going to be hard.  Rory's return from the dead seemed easier; his death always seemed tenuous.  Whether it was because he died saving the world, or because it was part of the end of a season, somehow Danny's death felt more permanent.  But something has to give to make "Listen" make sense.  And because of "Listen," it won't feel cheap, because we know it's been setup all along.

If you expect me to stop making this joke, you're going to get very...irritated.

A lot of the press around this episode left us wondering if Clara was going to be leaving after this special or not.  Rumors came out a while back that Jenna-Louise Coleman (I refuse to call her by her shortened name) was done after this season, then rumors came out contradicting the original rumors (which amounts to the same as there having never been rumors in the first place, which makes the whole thing bullshit), and then it was announced just today that Jenna-Louise Coleman is back for the whole of season 9, to the consternation of many.  While I'm interested to meet someone new at this point, because I think we know a lot about Clara already, I also fail to see how anyone else is going to be able to put up with the Doctor's shit at this point.  He's at his most difficult point in a long time--probably the most stubborn and obnoxious he's been since his 6th incarnation--and, while he's on a redemptive arc, he's far from being redeemed enough to really be able to get anyone else to come on board the TARDIS without scaring them away.  If Coleman leaves at the end of Season 9, Clara will tie with Amy for longest running companion of the new series, which I'm fine with.  If she breaks the record, I might not be as happy.  But the arc of the Doctor and Clara's relationship played out very nicely in this episode, as that was, in the end, the whole point of the episode:  Clara and the Doctor realizing how desperately they'd miss each other if they parted ways right now.

You can't just give a girl crabs and then leave her...
Also, Faye Marsay's character Shona, who Moffat promised us would be very interesting, was somewhat speculated to be the new companion.  While she obviously isn't (unless Moffat's pulling a Donna Noble), she did prove to be possibly the most entertaining part of the episode, particularly with her amazing dance to Slade's "Merry Christmas Everybody," (which, as my co-host at Mile High Who Podcast has pointed out online, manages to appear in every BBC Christmas special).  While playing a more subdued role, I'd be remiss in not pointing out the appearance of Michael Troughton as the one victim of the Dream Crabs, Albert Smithe, as Michael Troughton is the son of the Second Doctor himself, Patrick Troughton.  Also, as one of the elves, we had Dan Starkey, usually seen in different prosthetics as Strax.

The very cute throwback to "Time of the Doctor" was appreciated, when the Doctor and Clara pulled a Christmas cracker, with the Doctor helping Clara pull it in exactly the way that she helped him pull it when he was old and feeble in last year's special.  It reminded us that Jenna-Louise Coleman is now the only actress to play a major role as a companion in more than one Christmas special, having now been central to three of them.  But, overall, the ending left me with more questions than answers.  So, the Dream Crab somehow attacked the Doctor right after he said goodbye to Clara at the end of "Death in Heaven"?  Presumably, we don't know how much time passed between the moment the credits began to roll at the end of "Death in Heaven," and when they were cut short for Santa's arrival.  It would appear that more time passed than we thought.  So why did the Doctor seem to wake up right outside the volcano from "Dark Water"?  Maybe that's not what it was (the volcano from that episode was a dream, after all) but that's what it looked like to me, and it seemed a strange and confusing call-back.  I was really surprised because the episode kept seeming to be offering a nice, neat solution to clean up all the messy bits about "Dark Water"/"Death in Heaven," including the deaths of two very beloved characters.  All it had to do was say that the Dream Crabs attacked them before the events of "Dark Water."  Instead, it chose not to offer us that out, and seemingly comes down in the end on the side of only this episode being a dream.  Furthermore, to get Danny and Osgood back in this way, we'd have to lose Michelle Gomez's brilliant performance as the first female Master.

Still, the Dream Crabs now leave Moffat with the option to just Dallas large chunks of the show, and yes I just used Dallas as a verb.  Naturally, I'm referring to the infamous time when the series Dallas deleted one entire season of their show, revealing the entire thing to be one of the characters' dreams.  While it certainly doesn't feel like Moffat's going to reveal that "Dark Water"/"Death in Heaven" was one big dream--as the appropriate moment to do that was really before the end of "Last Christmas"--the Dream Crabs now exist in the Doctor Who Universe.  They're out there, always capable of popping up and erasing large chunks of timeline without further warning.  It's the one and only way that someone could pull the it-was-all-a-dream ripcord and not be accused of a cheap deus ex machina, because the possibility for it was setup in this episode.  I simply hope that Moffat choses to use it wisely, if at all.  The Whoniverse now, officially, has crabs.  (Sorry, that joke is just too much fun.)
Seriously, the things I can find on a Google image search are way too much fun.

The ending credits promised us that the Doctor and Clara will return in "The Magician's Apprentice," a title that had actually been announced before this episode aired.  The second it was announced, I had to check Wikipedia to see if that was the name of one of the Narnia novels.  Turns out it isn't, and that what I was thinking of was The Magician's Nephew, although there is a fantasy novel called The Magician's Apprentice.  Still, I think the similarity between the name of this episode and this obscure fantasy novel are probably coincidence, while the vague similarity between it and the title of the Narnia novel is probably more likely intentional, given Moffat's affinity for Narnia that was displayed in The Doctor, The Widow, and The Wardrobe.  But we'll see, whenever the 9th gets going.

Who knows when that might be.

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