Wednesday, 1 April 2015

"Last Christmas"

Doctor Who has never been shy of taking inspiration from other sources. However, what elevates some of these stories far beyond mere plagiarism is the way in which ideas have been used to tell wonderfully fresh stories. The layered dream saga that is "Last Christmas" is clearly inspired by Christopher Nolan's Inception, and there are obvious nods to Alien - so blatant, that the script has to acknowledge it ('There's a horror movie called Alien?! That's really offensive. No wonder everyone keeps invading you!') - but it is what the layers consist of that really make the story stand out.

The state of dreaming is vitally important to the presentation of the story. Events and motivations are understandable, but have a fuzziness that often happens in dreams. The key scene here is Shona’s initial infiltration into the sick bay. What she is trying to accomplish is unclear, but the characters treat the situation with complete sincerity, as does director Paul Wilmshurst who masterfully creates fear and tension in the Dream Crab scenes that are not invalidated by Santa and his elves making a completely incongruous appearance. The supporting cast is outstanding – Michael Troughton makes an appearance where more than one member of his family has been before, and the excellently steely Maureen Beattie makes an immediate impression as Professor Bellows. Natalie Gumede shows a maturity and authority I never realised she possessed, which leaves the adorable Faye Marsay in the junior role – her hilarious dancing has to be seen to be believed. Then, as the ultimate unreality of the season we have Nick Frost, who makes Santa into the jolly, bearded deus ex machina that we need him to be – and, if there is any justice, ‘Nick Frost’ will now become an actual nickname for the Man in Red. Alien, wrapped in Inception wrapped in Doctor Who makes an interesting three-bird roast, but it is the appearances by a, seemingly, completely real Father Christmas that make the irresistible pigs-in-blankets. This is a truly extraordinary script by Steven Moffatt not only managing to be a truly terrifying monster story and a jolly Christmas story at the same time, but also examining the notion of Christmas as a dream state that we must all wake from. The supporting characters are scientists in the base, but all wake up to a more mundane reality and, vitally, get on with their lives.

Anchoring all of this is a beautiful pair of performances from the two regulars. The Doctor is, as always, the man in charge, but keenly protective of his companion. Clara is still in mourning and the way they share their loss is very touching, as is the scene with the apparently aged Clara. ¤The dynamic changed after Danny died, but it still exists and it will be interesting to see how it will progress.

I (jokingly) wondered when Steven Moffat would do his version of The Box of Delights, but this thrilling tribute to the necessary dream of Christmas (to which an extra layer is added when the viewer watches it on Christmas Day) goes a good way to fulfilling this.

NEXT: "The Magician's Apprentice"/"The Witch's Familiar"

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