Tony Fyler weighs in on reindeer and dream crabs.
Ingredients for a great Christmas special:
1 beloved Christmas tradition – Check; this time in the person of Nick Frost’s Santa Claus and his comedy elves.
1 deeply creepy main threat – soooo check it’s practically tartan; the dream crabs were both gloopily icky and a horrifying philosophical construct.
Sprinkle with death, destruction, advancing terror, escalating stakes and a healthy dose of the Doctor being impossible - check.
Add a little heartwarming, air-punching pap, and if possible a journey through the skies on an unlikely conveyance – hot air balloon, shark-sleigh, and now, Santa’s magic reindeer. Check.
Given that Last Christmas had all the fundamental ingredients for a great Christmas Special then – plus Capaldi in full flight and Coleman doing solidly professional work as Clara - why is it that I’m left feeling like Christmas dinner was a big bowl of not much more than sprouts?
This is an early reaction, before all the analysis and rewatching begins, but I think it’s the final crab-rip that did it for me. The idea of dreams within dreams, in a Russian-doll stack down the layers of the subconscious is all very well and creepy, but there’s a sense, for me at least, of having had a reality ripped away with that last dream crab – the one that means Clara’s not an old lady, that the Doctor didn’t wait too long after all, that she still has time to travel with him, time to find a life in which he’s a part. Now of course there are plenty of rumours that this was to be Clara’s real last Christmas, and that the happy ending was crowbarred in at the end to enable her to travel with the Doctor in Series 9, rather than expiring, finally, at the end of this episode.
I need to make something plain at this point – I have no problem with either Clara or Coleman. She came into the show with no backstory to speak of, launched as The Impossible Girl, and for a while there she was just a big, bold bundle of sass to power the stories along. But since the Fiftieth Anniversary, she’s begun to seem increasingly like a real person – now we know she’s a teacher, a modern woman, a fan of Marcus Aurelius and so on, and given that she now has the kind of ordinary life from which companions are usually eager to escape from, it seems to have settled Coleman into the business of delivering a strong, believable character. But I’m going to come out and say this – she should have died at the end of this episode. I don’t want her to go, but the whole credibility of this story would have been paid off much more effectively if that last crab hadn’t been real. If the Doctor had been flawed, and late, and Clara had gone ahead without him and had that Rose Dawson life of travelling and teaching and making a difference in the world before he ever landed his Tardis back in her world. It would have been much more satisfying, from a storytelling perspective, for her to have had her old-lady conversation with the Doctor, and then, knowing that perhaps she had little time left to live in any case, to demand the impossible of him one last time – to replace the dream crab, allowing her to live her last ‘days’, Life-on-Mars style, with her Danny – a happy, bittersweet choice on which to end a Christmas special, and the time of a companion.
Somehow, that last re-use of the crab feels like pandering to the need for a happy-happy ending at Christmas, the kind of cop-out that could believably be the result of a last-minute rewrite. Overall, it feels like a weak strut to support what was arguably an overused idea by the time we got to the Old Clara scene – the layers within layers of the dreamscape. And of course it opens the show up to potential Bobby-Ewing-in-the-Shower moments later on – if that last crab was ripped away to give a happy ending, who’s to say that happy ending too isn’t a dream, or that everything that follows in the Twelfth Doctor’s life won’t be a dream? Fans of the Classic series – you’ve always wondered how the Valeyard came about; maybe, while the Twelfth Doctor sleeps and dreams of further adventures with Clara, the Doctor’s dark impulses break free and formulate an unstable body, bent on securing itself the Doctor’s lives.
Beyond such fannish speculation, the tone of the ending feels disjointed in a story that otherwise had all the ingredients right for a compelling, creepy, broad-threat Christmas Special. The challenge for the Production Team now will be to make Series 9’s Clara story-arc worth the broken tone of the end of Last Christmas, the forced jollification of the return of young Clara. The challenge is to make her relationship with the Doctor in Series 9 so compelling that we look back on Last Christmas and view the ending as an absolute necessity.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk