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Monday, March 2, 2015

Blu-ray Review: ‘Doctor Who – Last Christmas'

Article originally published as Blu-ray Review: ‘Doctor Who’ – “Last Christmas” on Blogcritics.

A few months ago, as the BBC has often presented, Doctor Who aired a special on Christmas Day in both the United States and the UK. The latest holiday-themed episode is called “Last Christmas,” and it finds Santa Claus (Nick Frost, Shaun of the Dead, Mr. Sloane) dropping in on The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman). This leads to an adventure at the North Pole with a group of scientists. But things get dreamy-weamy when a brain-sucking alien that can alter perception attacks them. This special is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Overall, I was quite disappointed with the most recent season, the eighth since the reboot, but “Last Christmas” is slightly better than those other installments. It is fun and scary and has a classic-type villain that poses a puzzle for our clever heroes, which is the good part about it. Sadly, it also flirts with character development without fully committing to it, teasing at some depth between the show’s leads, but failing to deliver a meaningful package, which is the main weakness of season eight. In short, it’s enjoyable, but also disappointing.

“Last Christmas” picks up after a long separation between our two protagonists, who lied to one another about their “happy endings.” Well, The Doctor lied, and Clara didn’t correct his assumptions about her, spelling an end to their time traveling together. Thrust back into adventure (which is explained adequately enough), they do have a brief screaming match to air the truth, but then they decide to resume their past arrangement with no discussion of the problems between them, minimizing what should be a really cool personal subplot.

I finally have a theory as to why the writers don’t deal with the underlying issues between this pairing. The Doctor is never one to dwell on his darkness when a companion is around, trying to present a cheery front. Normally, his companions help ground him, but Clara is also an avoider of reality, and between the two of them, a true confrontation and discussion just isn’t likely to spring. Which is why Clara needs to go. Part of why Doctor Who is so awesome is because of the complexity of its main Time Lord. With Clara by his side, The Doctor is allowed to ignore his issues, as she just wants to find the fun. The Doctor needs a companion that will stick challenge him to be his best self in a way that Clara does not.

That aside, the episode itself is mostly satisfying because it messes with the viewer’s brain. Some of the best installments of Doctor Who present something to fear and then outline why you cannot protect yourself from it. “Last Christmas” does that brilliantly with it’s Inception-like concept of dreams within dreams. Making Santa Claus, played by the always-terrific Nick Frost, a part of this makes a lot of sense. It’s not as mythology heavy as the previous two Christmas episodes, but it’s a fine stand-alone.

For extra meta-fun, there’s a guest turn by Michael Troughton, Second Doctor Patrick Troughton’s son, who plays one of the scientists, and Dan Starkey, who has a recurring role as Strax, pops up here as an elf.

On a side note, how did The Doctor and Clara encounter Danny Pink’s (Samuel Anderson) descendant in series eight when the later dies without having children? Danny’s cameo in “Last Christmas” makes me think his story may not quite be over, but I don’t see a way for it go forward from here, unless the show repeats itself with him as it did with Rory. I keep expecting Clara to be pregnant, but it doesn’t seem like Doctor Who is going that way, and Danny doesn’t seem to have coupled with anyone else, given his mental state. Will the series follow up and explain this?

The extras on this release are quite weak. We get a ten minute behind-the-scenes, which is pretty cool, as far as these things go, but that’s it for featurettes. There’s also an audio commentary track with the director, Paul Wilmhurst, and a producer, Paul Frift. Both are interesting enough, but I think fans would rather hear from the stars of the show, so it’s a bit disappointing. With only these two bonus features, I don’t think this release is worth it for the extras. If you already have a digital copy of the episode, that’ll surely be enough.

Doctor Who will return for a ninth series (since the reboot) sometime in 2015. Doctor Who: Last Christmas is available now.

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