Last Christmas Review
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Instant reaction has it with 76.88% at an 8-10, with an 8 being the most popular rating, which is pretty standard issue. And to be fair, its faults announce themselves somewhat forcefully. There’s a bit of a pacing problem – the ten minutes or so after Santa wakes everybody up the first time and before the sleigh sequence are an entirely unnecessary bit of padding, and I found myself getting restless on first viewing. Second viewing was kinder, but also solidified my sense that there’s a problem there. Yes, it resolves a few levels of the Inception pastiche, but it’s not delivering any significant development, and mostly seems there to get a forty-five minute story to take an hour. Also, the “last Christmas” metaphor is a bit vapid, or, at least, seemingly missing a definite article.
But the reason these problems seem so visible is because this story’s chief virtue is its sheer level of confidence in what it’s doing. Inception meets Alien, only with Santa Claus. The fact that Doctor Who is at a point where it can do that, for a mass Christmas audience with an unusually large number of non-fans, is genuinely impressive. And yet the episode just gets on with it, trusting that the individual components of this are all broad and high concept enough to work so long as you spend a little time establishing them.
A corresponding part of this is also the confidence that they can do all of this. Here the virtue of casting Nick Frost really announces itself. He’s a fantastic choice for Santa, or, at least, for Steven Moffat’s Santa, which, as you’d expect, is mostly a series of jokes about how Santa is no harder to explain than anything else in Doctor Who. Frost’s instincts on how serious to pitch the performance are spot on. But there’s also a tremendous amount of confidence in the visuals. The sequence in which Santa arrives to save the day, with an army of toys marching into the polar base is flat out one of the maddest things Doctor Who has ever done, but there’s not a trace of the program seeming embarrassed by this or worrying whether or not it can get away with it.
As a result, it pretty much does get away with everything. Even the obvious accusation that Moffat is recycling things, and he unabashedly is, seems silly here. It’s difficult to imagine how the sentence “it’s business as usual: Inception meets Alien, only with Santa Claus” would even seem like a sensible and coherent thing to say about Doctor Who only two years ago. That this feels like a completely organic and sensible thing for the show to be speaks volumes about the degree to which the program has become flexible and varied even by the standards of Doctor Who. Much of this gets into what I’ll say in the Season Eight wrap-up post next week, but its nevertheless worth stressing just how much further Moffat has taken the idea that Doctor Who can do anything than previous writers.
To some extent, actually, that’s what Last Christmas is about. It studiously explains all of the magic tricks, unapologetically making explicit the idea that Doctor Who stories are always dreams, or at least always work according to the logic and structure of dreams, which is indistinguishable from how television editing works. There are several points where the Doctor quietly switches from describing events to narrating the, explicitly marking the switches in mood in a way that blurs the line between cause and effect. And the existential dread of it is wonderfully cheeky – Doctor Who makes waking up from a nightmare scary. I mean, that’s just beautiful, that is.
And then there’s the ending. I don’t mind as such that Clara is still around. It would be difficult for me to justify that position, really, given how fantastic she’s been this season. Equally, there are obvious hurdles to overcome. If she stays through all of Season Nine, she’ll set a new series record for most number of episodes for one companion. The change of Doctors after her first ten episodes helped her tremendously, but it’s not entirely clear what else there is to do with the character at this point. Perhaps more significantly, we’ve now had, what, three separate stories where Clara has gotten a seeming ending? Four if you count Mummy on the Orient Express separately from Kill the Moon. After this many rough drafts of Clara’s departure, one really starts to hope that Moffat has a spectacular idea he’s been keeping in reserve for the actual one, when he does get to it.
But these are problems for another day. What we have here is a story about two best friends reconciling on Christmas in their own inimitable way, in a story that mixes classic base under siege thrills with Santa Claus and makes it all work. I’ve said before that my basic standard for an episode of Doctor Who is that I want something I haven’t seen before. This certainly fit the bill.
- So, Paul Wilmshurst directed this, Kill the Moon, and Mummy on the Orient Express. That’s a hell of a case for director of the year there, even with Ben Wheatley’s impressive effort on the first two stories. What really stands out about Wilmshurst – and it was probably most highlighted in Mummy on the Orient Express where he had a writer with a similar skill – is his ability to introduce a concept. All three of his stories require quite a bit of setup time to explain their rules, and he makes those sequences lively while still quickly communicating everything that needs communicated. I really hope they don’t immediately lose him to better paying work.
- Notably, instead of a narrative substitution we have a sort of repeated and emphatic reiteration of the narrative. The cold open ends with what really is the key question of the story. The repeated waking out of dream states only serves to reiterate that this is the story it initially promised to be. It’s a masterpiece of doing exactly what you said you were going to do and still making it surprising.
- As this episode wrapped on Twitter, I saw the usually intelligent Laurie Penny with an immediate reaction complaining that it was sexist that the Doctor didn’t consider taking the elderly Clara on the TARDIS, saying “Same reason he couldn’t take Old Amy. Only young hot chicks allowed.” I really wish feminist critics of Moffat’s writing would stop being so completely idiotic. Yes, let’s give our lead actress a several hour makeup job in the future. And take a companion too infirm to open a Christmas cracker. This is a perfectly reasonable expectation and thus something that makes a sensible objection when it doesn’t happen. And never mind the fact that the episode includes the absolutely lovely scene of the Doctor being completely unable to tell she’s aged. For god’s sake. Have we really not progressed past the third year undergraduate realization that you can make a feminist critique of any text and to the useful and mature realization that this means that picking sensible and useful targets is important? Clearly not. Instead we’ve just declared Moffat an authorized punching bag against whom one should always raise a feminist critique with no regard for whether or not it’s a particularly good one. Ugh.
- The dance sequence to Slade stole the episode. Absolutely perfect. Other highlights: the series of spurious “that’s racist” gags that lead up to the actually quite reasonable point that naming a horror movie Alien says little good about us, Shona’s to-do list for Christmas (including a clear sign that my intent to do Game of Thrones reviews is sound), “magic carrots,” the reappearance of the “helping the old person open the Christmas cracker,” “you’re a dream that’s trying to save us,” and basically everything else to do with Shona.
- I’m going to do a final ranking for 2014 in the end of season post, so instead, a ranking of Christmas specials, from best to worst.
- Time of the Doctor
- A Christmas Carol
- The Christmas Invasion
- Last Christmas
- The End of Time
- The Snowmen
- The Runaway Bride
- The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe
- Voyage of the Damned
- The Next Doctor
December 25, 2014 @ 7:07 am
Christmas specials, as an annual fixture of a series with a British drama length of 13 episodes a year, are an odd thing narratively. It means something in the order of 7% of modern Doctor Who output is Christmas-themed, which is a fairly narrow set of signifiers to be invoking with such frequency. It also means every season has an odd emotional gravity toward sentimentality at its end, unless you treat the special as inherently disposable fluff which has no bearing whatever on the show's arc – but even that becomes odd in itself.
This year Moffat's take is to lean into the swerve: we're literally having Christmas invade the downbeat ending to the series and rewrite it. As a fan of metatextual shenanigans that are too clever for their own good, I'm all for it.
December 25, 2014 @ 9:19 am
December 25, 2014 @ 9:20 am
do really get the impression that there was at least one draft in which Clara's story came to an end, without the final reversal. If there was a last-minute switch, I am glad of it. Best since ACC.
December 25, 2014 @ 9:22 am
That was fantastic. Maybe it's because I have a weakness for meta fiction and post modernism, but the way it illustrated the tension between the camp and the grimdark in Doctor Who was great. Quite enjoyed how it accepted that, no matter what, the obsessive tracking of plot holes and technobabble (babby's first school of analysis) is irrelevant because the show is fictional and finding ways to prove that is pointless.
Big fan of how the ending reflects the end of Death in Heaven, and thematically represents the episode as whole, while not invalidating the fake ending since it is also a possibility (depending on your perspective).
Genuinely my favourite Christmas episode, possibly one of my faves overall.
December 25, 2014 @ 9:25 am
I'll let you know what I think about the episode when I'm finally confident I'm awake…
December 25, 2014 @ 9:35 am
Loved the callback to 'Time of the Doctor' with old Clara unable to open the Christmas cracker.
December 25, 2014 @ 9:36 am
I agree – it seemed pretty obvious to me that the Doctor through most of this episode was going to turn out to be a dream of Clara's.
With a number of clues being dropped through the episode, I was finally confident that was going to be the outcome the moment he took the reins of the sleigh!
December 25, 2014 @ 9:48 am
I think of the big questions is whether we see more of Shona. Going by what I've seen online I don't think there's been such a concerted call for companionhood since Sally Sparrow. But that went nowhere ultimately, and Faye's career might end up outpacing the show, much like Carey.
Perhaps the title of E1S9 is a clue, what with her reference to Capaldi as a magician? Do hope so. I think she'd have good chemistry with Clara, that of the perfectionist overachiever with someone very much neither. She'd be the first companion you could imagine getting high with.
December 25, 2014 @ 9:49 am
Simply lovely. The fakeout at the end had me punching the air.
December 25, 2014 @ 9:58 am
My fears were groundless although my speculation that Santa might be a shared fantasy turned out to be right. Absolutely loved this. Need to watch it again. Some great lines. Favourite – "There's a horror film about an alien? No wonder you keep being invaded!"
Some stand out performances too. Particularly Faye Marsey as Shona. Her dance through the isolation ward to Slade was hilarious and I want to know what she's forgiving Dave for.
This certainly owed a debt to Christopher Nolan' s Inception, in fact for a second thought the dream test the Doctor proposed was going to be a spinning top.
I totally bought into the old Clara scene, Moffat played me like a sucker. No wonder he's been cagey about Jenna Coleman's status up to now.
A great episode that ultimately transcended its Twighlight Zone and Miracle on 34th street roots to say something more (as has the whole of series 8) about the nature of fiction and reality, dreams and nightmares.
December 25, 2014 @ 10:11 am
Moffat was actually writing stuff along these lines 20 years before Inception, in Press Gang.
It's great to see him exploring these ideas to their full sci fi potential now, as Press Gang was restricted by it's format.
December 25, 2014 @ 10:16 am
press gang is restricted by nothing. press gang is boundless.
December 25, 2014 @ 10:16 am
also there's some mad press gang/sixth doctor cross-over fan fiction out there.
December 25, 2014 @ 10:19 am
Of course, I meant no disparagement to Moffat. However Nolan, and others have certainly made the imagery one can use in addressing these themes in a show like Doctor Who more accessable to a mainstream audience.
December 25, 2014 @ 10:32 am
Steven: I don't think you could wedge Santa Claus, an Arctic base and brain-sucking crabs into Press Gang, as clever and original as it was.
December 25, 2014 @ 10:33 am
Lynda Day vs Six is not something I realised I needed until right now.
December 25, 2014 @ 10:37 am
Moff's last ever episode should drop Lynda in as a one-shot companion, make Press Gang canon (opening up space for Arctic bases and brain crabs)
December 25, 2014 @ 10:44 am
Yes, dear god, yes. Lynda Day as a companion is all I've EVER wanted, tbh. She could snark any monster to tears
by Ewan Spence
December 25, 2014 @ 11:17 am
Well I read that as a massive 'Hinchliffe vs Williams' show-down. And I think I got more old references than normal into my Forbes review. Thoughts welcome.
December 25, 2014 @ 11:34 am
Well that was very Philip K Dick, which is always a good thing.
December 25, 2014 @ 11:53 am
Lovely. Lovely, Lovely, Lovely.
December 25, 2014 @ 1:42 pm
"Perhaps more significantly, we've now had, what, three separate stories where Clara has gotten a seeming ending? Four if you count Mummy on the Orient Express separately from Kill the Moon. After this many rough drafts of Clara's departure, one really starts to hope that Moffat has a spectacular idea he's been keeping in reserve for the actual one, when he does get to it."
I actually feel the opposite. I love that she's staying and given these 'rough drafts' of different significant varied and interesting endings for her I'd like to see her actual final appearance (a long time from now perhaps), be really a really low key affair, just somewhere in the middle of an episode two thirds of the way through a series.
Essentially, I suppose I mean that by now it doesn't very much matter how she leaves- she'd had plenty of great send offs already – take your pick. I feel it could be done a bit like "how did Sherlock fake his death" – that by that stage the point is something else.
December 25, 2014 @ 1:47 pm
After this many rough drafts of Clara's departure, one really starts to hope that Moffat has a spectacular idea he's been keeping in reserve for the actual one, when he does get to it.
Moffat's clever trick here is that, following that train of thought to its logical conclusion, one can only suppose he intends to kill her off. Which very effectively now ramps up the dramatic tension every time Clara's in mortal danger. I seriously doubted she would make it out of this one alive when the face-hugger got her but then to suggest that no, she dies of old age with the Doctor making one of his miss- timed house calls (cf Amy and Sarah-Jane) only to rug-pull the moment made me realise that Moffat really is having his cake and eating it. In fact with all the meta-referencing in this episode he actually had several cakes and scoffed the lot. Rather appropriate for a Christmas story.
December 25, 2014 @ 1:57 pm
i agree that the pacing was off. Too much standing around trading exposition and not enough running around being tormented by the monsters. They were pretty much in seperate rooms the whole time except for when people woke up and the crabs fell off and died!
However, I was so taken by the idea of a pop-culture soaked Jungian meta-fest with Santa Claus as protagonist that I didn't mind too much.
December 25, 2014 @ 3:11 pm
That was just gobs of fun. I agree it dragged a little before and during the sleigh ride, but really if you're going to do a Christmas special, hybridizing in Alien, The Thing, and some Philip K. Dick is not at all a bad way to go about it. Would have preferred not to have the tangerine at the end, but then I think the episode is aware that that's a cheap and predictable trick, hence "nobody likes the tangerine" as a running gag.
For the record, I hate most things Christmas, but I do love a good tangerine or clementine, and that tradition means that despite being out of season they still dip in price at this time of year.
Pen Name Pending
December 25, 2014 @ 5:38 pm
They had just gotten to talking, she was in her eighties and clearly not physically able, and that wasn't the ending…yeah, it's bizzare that would be singled out. For a long time it's been about deductive reasoning anyway–"this must be sexist, let's find out why."
I am patiently waiting for them to complain about the supporting cast made up of three women, one of them of color, and that one guy who got called out for stepping out of bounds and who was the one who didn't survive. And also Clara's dreamed future of traveling around the world as a career.
(I'm also not sure what there is to do with Clara, but since they've focused on her this season, I doubt they'll forget about doing something new.)
December 25, 2014 @ 5:52 pm
I seriously can't believe that Phil, of all people, made no reference to this being based in part on Alan Moore's "For the Man Who Has Everything" — which is about, well, parasitic alien organisms in a base at the North Pole that attach themselves to people's bodies and cause them to go into an idyllic dream state.
Pen Name Pending
December 25, 2014 @ 5:58 pm
The only thing is that the elderly Clara ending doesn't quite work considering her immediate reaction about Danny previously…that's pain that is much more recent.
December 25, 2014 @ 6:02 pm
illustrated the tension between the camp and the grimdark
It's like they said "gun vs. frock? really? well, let's take the most 'gun' premise we can think of: remake Alien, lots of guns and explosions, everyone's dying from parasites boring into their brains. and let's take the most 'frock' premise we can think of: the Doctor driving Santa's sleigh through the air, pulled by a Rudolph whose nose Santa can click via remote. and we'll mash them together."
December 25, 2014 @ 6:04 pm
Did anyone else notice when the Doctor was handing out nicknames he called the grandmother sexy? Huge win in my book.
But Phil, I think that you neglected to mention what was perhaps the biggest conceptual win of this episode – a fusing of the two different Troughton eras into one seamless whole. Seriously, a Base Under Siege where the monsters transport their victims to The Land of Fiction. What?! I was practically punching the air when they re-established the old implication of the Doctor escaping from the Land of Fiction by leaving the implication hanging that Doctor Who is in reality a story that's so good that he has come to save us all. Freakin loved it.
December 25, 2014 @ 6:13 pm
And how is "you're a dream that's trying to save us" Not blatantly Grant Morrison?
Pen Name Pending
December 25, 2014 @ 6:23 pm
But of course, calling her sexy must be sexist, but not asking Elderly Clara to go with him is also sexist.
(Not to derail the conversation because I love what you said about the Troughton fusion and it relates to the gun vs frock thing above.)
December 25, 2014 @ 6:27 pm
So every time the Doctor says "I'll explain later," does that mean he's dreaming?
December 25, 2014 @ 6:31 pm
Other references dropped in:
The brain crabs were as much the "head crab" parasites from the Half-Life videogame as the Alien/Giger facehuggers.
The sequence of the fists grabbing through the TV screens were 100% a lift from "videodrome".
December 25, 2014 @ 6:33 pm
What's up with his waking up in the volcano? Does that make the two-part season finale mostly a dream? After all, the key-threatening scene with Clara was also about an induced dream state.
December 25, 2014 @ 6:40 pm
That Christmas special list represents some of the worst Doctor Who stories ever. With one or two exceptions I'd be genuinely embarrassed to watch those with a non-hardcore fan. It blows my mind that BBC chooses to air these to its biggest audience as a showcase of what the series is all about.
They can render a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer relatively well but they can't make someone look older? Why not just hire an old lady? That looked like the same rubber dime store mask that they stretched over Matt Smith last Christmas and David Tennant a few years before that. Being a fan of the original series terrible effects don't normally bother me. Old Clara was worse than the Myrka though.
On a side note – the number of hoops blogger makes you jump through to post an anonymous message is freaking ridiculous.
December 25, 2014 @ 7:30 pm
I'm still pulling for Santa being the White Guardian.
December 25, 2014 @ 7:50 pm
Hmm, Tangerine Dream…
December 25, 2014 @ 8:38 pm
Loved it, probably my favorite of the Christmas specials right now. At about 10 minutes left I said, "I really hope they stick the ending," and I'm pretty satisfied with how they wrapped it up. I thought Clara was leaving, and I'm still not convinced she's back for good. If she does leave a few episodes into the next series, won't that make her the first major companion from the modern show to leave mid-series?
This might have been the most metatextual episode of Doctor Who ever. The worrying implication in the middle that the Doctor might just be a dream figment, and the direct comparison of Santa's reality with the Doctor's. The way Danny refers to his reappearance as "bonus". The lampshading of the monsters being just like the facehuggers from Alien. (And my wife pointed out that one of the DVDs on Shona's list was Alien.) I think this was the most explicit statement of Moffat's "We're all stories in the end" yet.
December 25, 2014 @ 8:40 pm
So Snakedance is about dreams within dreams? Wow.
December 25, 2014 @ 9:23 pm
I love a lot about this special, and I suspect I'm too high off a mixture of that new episode smell and cheap chocolates to be impartial, critical, or even particularly coherent. So, just some thoughts, then.
I love the Doctor's reaction to learning about Alien. Let's just hope he never watches the whole series. "How many times are you people going to kill me in these movies?!"
I got an immense laugh at "Dreamy-weamy", that was wonderful.
DVD (Alien), DVD (The Thing from Another World), DVD (Miracle on 34th Street) is a pretty bold lineup for Christmas morning, though I notice the first two are before Dad shows up, who I'm guessing has less interest in that sort of stuff than she does. My Christmas Day lineup this year was the series 8 marathon. Actually, usually my family does Christmas Vacation Christmas eve, but we skipped it this year to show my aunt some Doctor Who.
The way Shona really wanted to hang out with Clara was interesting, I definitely feel like this could be a Runaway Bride-esque prelude to a new companion, which would be fantastic.
Little bit shaky on the literal dream logic of Santa's detour. He mentions having another sled, and is on the phone with someone directing them to hit some houses for him. I was a little unclear on if that's some backup elves with a few of the other reindeer, or if there's multiple Santas (since he mentions "our mugshot"). Maybe he was having Mrs. Claus swing by and pick up a few of his shifts, since she's also got her mugshot everywhere.
I got nothing else, I really liked this episode. Oh, I do have a little bit left: Santa's a Time Lord, thus he couldn't be on the program until Gallifrey had been un-destroyed. This is also why Christmas suddenly became crisis center number one after the end of the Time War. Now that there's another Time Lord doing rounds on Christmas, this frees us up for Easter and Hanukkah specials and whatlike and suchnot.
December 25, 2014 @ 9:42 pm
December 25, 2014 @ 9:45 pm
Yes to all the above. I was thinking For the Man Who Has Everything from the first 'it's a dream' revelation. I was also surprised that Phil made no mention of the irony of Troughton's son being eaten by a TV screen in a base under siege.
December 25, 2014 @ 10:15 pm
Pulling a cracker-
This time, it's my turn to help
A fragile old friend.
Really enjoyed this one, especially as someone who's not normally into the Christmas specials.
December 25, 2014 @ 10:32 pm
my wife pointed out that one of the DVDs on Shona's list was Alien
And another was The Thing From Another World, Hawks' original arctic-base-under-siege of which Carpenter's The Thing was a remake.
December 26, 2014 @ 1:12 am
Depending on how you choose to interpret it, The Angels Take Manhattan was mid-series, it was just a mid-series finale, so it still had the punch. Likewise, depending on how much you'd count him as "major" (or, for that matter, how much you'd count it as a "departure" considering he's back in the finale) there's Mickey Smith in The Age of Steel. Other mid-series departures might include Martha after The Doctor's Daughter, Adam Mitchell after The Long Game, and (if Mickey doesn't count as a departure then there's no way this does) Rory in The Hungry Earth.
December 26, 2014 @ 1:30 am
It certainly looks to be something like that doesn't it. Particularly as Father Christmas cuts into the credits of that episode. Which, depending on how they do it might end up being a real shame…
December 26, 2014 @ 1:33 am
I wondered about that for a moment too, but I think they just reused the set – otherwise Missy was never actually "real", and I don't want that to be the case (also, I think they'd have made it more explicit that they were undoing most of the finale)
December 26, 2014 @ 4:34 am
Carpenter's "Thing" and not a small influence on the opening episodes of "The Seeds of Doom"…
December 26, 2014 @ 4:41 am
So, okay, time to crank up the speculatron…
Is there any diegetic reason to believe that either the Doctor or Clara are not still dreaming at this point? The story made a clear point that in the real world, having the dream crap detached would reveal a messy wound into the skull: yet neither Clara nor the Doctor nor any of the surviving three "scientists" had any visible blood when the "final" dream-crab was removed. And of course, the final shot of the nectarine, after we'd clearly established that Santa was part of the dream-state.
…all leads inevitably to the conclusion that Tommy Westphall has been attacked by a dream-crab.
December 26, 2014 @ 4:42 am
Dream crab stupid autocorrect.
December 26, 2014 @ 4:42 am
So, that final shot of a Tangerine in Clara's window as she leaves with the Doctor begs the question — are they still dreaming? Or is Santa real? And the story doesn't answer the question, but leaves for us to decide.
Of course, I want this to be the real story now, not a dream. So I have to choose for Santa to be real. Quite devious. After all these years, I believe in Santa Claus again. And of course, if I can believe in Santa, then I can believe in the Doctor.
Not that I've ever had an experience of getting down on my hands and knees and praying for the TARDIS to come. No, no, never did that. Nope.
December 26, 2014 @ 4:47 am
The North Pole set is recycled from the Kill the Moon moonbase set…
You Know Who...
December 26, 2014 @ 5:06 am
I liked the implication that the entire dream was Shona's, since most of the elements were from her DVD binge. And did you notice how she was always the first to recognise the cold pain in her head? And she was the one who tried to walk through the infermary at the start? And how others kept expressing contempt for her working class attitudes and behaviors, even though she was the most genre savvy (and hence useful) of them all? Or her interrogation of Santa, performed alone? Or goes she was the last to leave the final dream?
December 26, 2014 @ 5:24 am
(Basically repeating what I said below, but whatever.) Yeah, in addition to the tangerine, there's also the notable lack of any wound or blood on any of the "final" characters' heads when they wake up: the script had hung a large lampshade on the fact that that was significant.
I do like the idea that this isn't necessarily Clara's or the Doctor's dream in the first place — it could well be Shona's! She's clearly a lover of genre fiction, and if any of them were going to dream an alien wizard who travelled in a phone box into her dream to save her, it'd be the woman who spent christmas day watching a Game of Thrones marathon…
December 26, 2014 @ 5:26 am
Effective age makeup turns out to be really really hard even on an unlimited budget: even major feature films with access to the best f/x shops money can buy tend to end up looking rather like rubber masks. (Looking at you, Benjamin Button…)
December 26, 2014 @ 5:28 am
Also, a small cranky note: this isn't Doctor Who doing "Inception". This is Doctor Who doing "The Three Sigmata of Palmer Eldritch" at least as well as Inception did, possibly better.
December 26, 2014 @ 6:02 am
"The trouble with telling dreams from reality is they're both ridiculous".
The Doctor is right: we can never really know what is a dream and isn't. So why not try and make the dream you're in be a good one? And if you're in a bad one, why not try to wake up from it?
I saw Alan Moore speak a month or two back, and he mentioned the argument that if simulated realities are possible at all, it's vastly more likely that we exist in a simulation of reality than in the base reality. And he raised the point that if this is true, it suggests two things: one, we should be aim to be interesting so we don't get deleted. And two, we should be kind to people in case they're actually the person running the sim walking around in avatar form.
He then went on to suggest that he himself might be God….
December 26, 2014 @ 6:54 am
With the "you're dying" messages seeping into the dream(s), I got more of a Ubik vibe. (But really, there's probably at least a dozen PKD stories that resemble this in some way.)
Anyway, Phil, I see your "Inception meets Alien, only with Santa Claus" and raise you "the episode that includes both a visual quote from Videodrome and a musical quote from Mary Poppins."
December 26, 2014 @ 7:09 am
Personally, since I choose to believe a lot of The Doctor's rambling and name-dropping (which was set up waaaay back in the Eruditorum post for "The Romans" as probably just something he does to impress people and may not be legitimate), I was a little disappointed that The Doctor never referred to Santa as "Jeff".
Other than that, I was extremely pleased with the episode. Like many others pointed out, if they truly did wake up, they should have holes on the side of their head, but perhaps that was only The Doctor theorizing about the dream crabs, and their feeding straw thing is actually fairly tiny.
December 26, 2014 @ 7:28 am
There's also the alien parasite that sends you into another reality from "Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said". And I'm sure there are others one could mention, given how close this episode is to core PKD territory.
The difference is that a PKD story would end up being about God, whereas this only goes as far as Santa Claus. It does make me wonder about next Christmas, though. When it comes to making stories out of Christmas iconography, Moffat's already done Dickens and Santa. There’s not much left except Jesus.
December 26, 2014 @ 7:34 am
I actually think Hilary Putnam's argument that we're not in a simulation is pretty successful.
So we'll have to find some other reason not to be boring and mean.
December 26, 2014 @ 8:55 am
I do like the idea that this isn't necessarily Clara's or the Doctor's dream in the first place — it could well be Shona's!
Given the emphasis earlier on on the TARDIS not just being a box, but being a time-travelling telephone kiosk, I wonder if they missed a trick by not adding Bill and Ted to her movies list…
December 26, 2014 @ 8:57 am
That looked like the same rubber dime store mask
I choose to believe that this was a deliberate parody of the bad old-person prosthetics at the end of Inception…
December 26, 2014 @ 9:06 am
… or The Prestige, for that matter.
December 26, 2014 @ 9:36 am
I think it successfully deals with us being literally brain in vats but only gets that far – i.e. we could still be in a situation analogous to being a brain in a vat but that actual settling being more beyond our simulated experience (spiglops in mockeltohs).
December 26, 2014 @ 9:41 am
Probably beyond budget and scheduling but it would have been extra fun if one of the fake-out wake-ups had Matt Smith as the Doctor.
December 26, 2014 @ 11:59 am
that would increase my love for Snakedance as being one of the very best Davisons if that was the case.
December 26, 2014 @ 12:02 pm
there must have been an earlier draft where Clara wakes at the end to find that the Doctor was just her version of Santa, a phantom created by her mind to wake her up and save her… but that he was never really there. That would have been an ending that i could have lived with, and would ahve loved.
as it is, the schmaltz factor went up and we're rather stuck with a re-boot of the Doctor/Clara team, one that i'm not sold on at all. Can we move on please?
December 26, 2014 @ 12:14 pm
One of my Facebook friends pointed out the Moore rip, which I'm sad I missed. The theme is pure Grant Morrison though, mostly his views on Superman.
And the hands also reminded me of those annoying hands from Zelda.
December 26, 2014 @ 12:15 pm
I didn't notice whether the aging makeup/prosthetics was good or bad, similarly with the sleigh ride CGI I was concentrating on the story.
December 26, 2014 @ 12:18 pm
Our Christmas movie was The Badadook which, to put it in Who terms, was Fear Her done right.
December 26, 2014 @ 12:21 pm
The way I saw it with that comment on "our mugshot" was that he was just one of many, many Santa Clauses that deliver presents.
December 26, 2014 @ 12:33 pm
The whole Last Christmas thing reminds me of this Cracked article:
We're so detached from that idea today, when the cold means nothing more than mild annoyance and sometimes slippery roads, that it's hard to grasp how recent this was, and that this was the way of things for virtually all of human history. Every year, you headed into winter with just enough stored food and fuel to get by. The old and the sick knew they might not make it through, and an especially harsh winter could mean no one would feel the sun's warmth ever again. Every year, you watched all of the plants turn brown and shrivel into husks, followed by an unrelenting darkness and cold that threatened to swallow you and everything you love.
And looking back at that, we see an awesome little portrait of exactly how much humans kick ass. Every year, you see, winter arrived with a short day followed by the longest night of the year (aka the winter solstice), and since before recorded history, humans have been celebrating that day with a feast, or festival, or outright debauchery. On that longest night before the frozen mini-apocalypse, in all times and places you would find light and song and dancing and food. Cattle would be slaughtered (to avoid having to feed all of them through the winter), families would travel to be together, and wine would flow. Precious supplies were dedicated to making decorations and gifts — frivolous things, good for nothing other than making each other happy.http://www.cracked.com/blog/the-true-meaning-christmas-that-everyone-forgets/
December 26, 2014 @ 1:07 pm
Half-way out of the dark.
December 26, 2014 @ 1:56 pm
I noticed the bad CGI. but thought it was, if not exactly intentional, entirely appropriate for a dream that is known to be a dream.
December 26, 2014 @ 1:59 pm
I was actually a bit disappointed that "Old Clara" turned out to just be another dream. I had thought for a second that she and Twelve would have a tender final goodbye, but before she died of old age, she would reveal that the Doctor visited her on Christmas morning of 2014 and ask her to travel with him again and she accepted. Or something like that. It was a weird timey-wimey idea that probably wouldn't hold up to scrutiny.
December 26, 2014 @ 2:32 pm
Wow, Putnam pulls off an impressive time-to-wrong there–first page and they've already gone off the rails, because of course anything I can look at and recognize as a picture of Winston Churchill MUST be a representation of Winston Churchill, otherwise how would I recognize it? It completely inverts the nature of the relationship between signifier and signified, namely that it's the observer that connects the two, not the creator. And since the whole argument builds from there, well… down it goes.
December 26, 2014 @ 2:36 pm
Only John Munch can save the Doctor now!
December 26, 2014 @ 2:40 pm
Well, but this is for kids, and PKD stories generally aren't. As my Token Christian Friend is fond of pointing out, "Santa is training wheels for God." All-powerful, mysterious, absolute and unquestionable moral arbiter, somehow also kindly, rewards the faithful, etc.
If they call the Jesus episode ANYTHING other than "The Death of Death" I will be very annoyed.
December 26, 2014 @ 2:42 pm
Well, if by "all of human history" you mean "Europe," sure.
December 26, 2014 @ 3:15 pm
Also, Santa is an emotionally satisfying but implausible explanation for phenomena that can be accounted for much more parsimoniously.
December 26, 2014 @ 3:18 pm
How on earth has Richard Belzer not already had a guest spot on Doctor Who? Has anyone with a blu-ray player and more patience than sense verified that he was not walking through the background of any of the Central Park shots in The Angels Take Manhattan?
December 26, 2014 @ 3:22 pm
Yeah, as the episode went along, I was hoping that they were building to that. Obviously the real ending was dictated by external factors more than narrative satisfaction, but it would have been an excellent coda to Clara's story.
December 26, 2014 @ 4:53 pm
'As this episode wrapped on Twitter, I saw the usually intelligent Laurie Penny with an immediate reaction complaining that it was sexist that the Doctor didn't consider taking the elderly Clara on the TARDIS, saying "Same reason he couldn't take Old Amy. Only young hot chicks allowed." I really wish feminist critics of Moffat's writing would stop being so completely idiotic. Yes, let's give our lead actress a several hour makeup job in the future. And take a companion too infirm to open a Christmas cracker. This is a perfectly reasonable expectation and thus something that makes a sensible objection when it doesn't happen. And never mind the fact that the episode includes the absolutely lovely scene of the Doctor being completely unable to tell she's aged. For god's sake. Have we really not progressed past the third year undergraduate realization that you can make a feminist critique of any text and to the useful and mature realization that this means that picking sensible and useful targets is important? Clearly not. Instead we've just declared Moffat an authorized punching bag against whom one should always raise a feminist critique with no regard for whether or not it's a particularly good one. Ugh.'
God, she really went above and beyond trying to be a prat. Here's another one.
'Of course these women aren't really scientists. Don't be silly.One works in a shop and one sells perfume. #DrWhochristmas #DrWho'
…What were there 2 (possibly 3) of in the previous episode? Female scientists. Ms. Penny has a short bloody memory. Not to mention this is what can happen to people when they don't get the breaks to fulfil their dreams. The working in a shop thing seems to border on class-shaming and the perfume bit is a deliberately misleading, she's an account manager, a job that typically requires a degree.
December 26, 2014 @ 5:42 pm
Hello? Jo Grant??
December 26, 2014 @ 6:59 pm
Any grilled cheese sandwich that looks like it has the face of Jesus in it must be a representation of Jesus…?
That was the idea, I think. It's only a representation if you know it was made by someone with the intention to represent. Otherwise it's just an ant's constitutional.
I can't vouch for the whole thing, though — I only had time for about 8 pages of it.
December 26, 2014 @ 6:59 pm
Weren't the Doctor and Clara the last to leave the final dream?
December 26, 2014 @ 7:01 pm
I like your ending better. I was really excited about the prospect of a new companion and a little bummed about the upcoming season as a result.
December 26, 2014 @ 7:04 pm
Though it worked extremely well here, was thematically as appropriate as it ever has been, and is actually surprisingly good advice for quite a bit of "real life," I'm really hoping we can finally retire "just keep telling yourself it's not real" as a means of neutralizing a threat in Doctor Who. Or any show, really.
December 26, 2014 @ 7:09 pm
I actually seriously teared up during that part. I really, really thought that was the end, since I knew there were rumors that Clara wasn't coming back after this episode. I loved that he saw her the way he saw her regardless of age and how it went against all of the weird comments about her appearance previously.
December 26, 2014 @ 7:17 pm
Part of what I found most cool about this story is when Danny himself comes to life in the dream. He becomes more than a simple construct from memory and actually is Danny saving Clara's life again. And the Doctor recognizes this and stands out of the way. It's almost as if that afterlife, which was such a major theme of the finale two-parter, is literally the memories of the people who loved us.
December 26, 2014 @ 7:21 pm
Froborr, as you are fond of pointing out, it's not coincidental that Christmas falls at the same time as Solstice. And people have been celebrating the Solstice in some form or another for a very long time.
December 27, 2014 @ 2:30 am
Oh what, now you're saying Jesus is parents too? How could "parents" turn wine into blood and wafers into flesh? How could "parents" save your immortal soul and guarantee you salvation in the bosom of our loving, awesome god?
All that said… the Doctor meeting Jesus would be great. I'm given to understand he once admitted he got the last room at the inn, which of course he would have.
December 27, 2014 @ 2:32 am
John Munch (Homicide) interrogated the Lone Gunmen, who were friends with Fox Mulder (The X-Files), who once had an encounter with the Vashta Nerada (Doctor Who). That was an easy one.
December 27, 2014 @ 2:46 am
I can imagine getting high with plenty of companions, though I wouldn't necessarily be interested in doing so with some of them. Rose in particular ("Rose loved drugs!") probably knew where to get some really shitty weed. Cap'n Jack's approach towards hedonism, especially after his Bad Wolf encounter, would have left him a bit like RTD only without any chance of lethal overdose. Martha was a medical student, speaks for itself. Likewise, can't convince me in a month of sundays that Amy didn't blaze it. She just seems the type. Donna seems more of a drinker than a stoner, likewise Mickey. Clara and Rory definitely don't seem the type, Clara for career reasons and Rory due to how he acted while on his bachelor party (he definitely has that "I can't handle all this really gross stuff everybody's giving me but I have to keep drinking it" sense to him in that scene). Adam Mitchell didn't stick around long enough to give me a good sense, but he seems like he'd submit easily to peer pressure. If nothing else, he'd probably be the type to do uppers for a cram session.
Of the classic series, there's definitely Jo, you were right on there. I could see Sarah Jane going to "one of those parties" in the 1970s, if only once. It would probably be classist to say Ace, so I'll pretend I didn't just say Ace but we all know I really did. Going further back, I haven't seen a lot of One's companions, but everything Phil says about Vicki, Ben, and Polly suggests they'd all be down for some partying. And is there any better explanation for Harry Sullivan than him being stoned out of his rotten gourd from the moment he stepped on screen to the moment he stepped off? The man was impossibly mellow.
December 27, 2014 @ 6:58 am
Can you think you recognise something as a picture of Winston Churchill when you don't actually recognise it? Suppose it's really a picture of Ian McNeice?
(I think your statement 'anything I can recognise as a picture of Winston Churchill must be a picture of Winston Churchill' is a tautology defining how you use 'recognise', in the same way as 'if I know England will win the next World Cup I can't be wrong, because otherwise how could I know it?' is a tautology, stipulating that we only use 'know' when we believe the candidate fact is true.
Although I'd talk about 'social practice' rather than 'intention' here, which I think breaks Putnam's argument, since if the social practice uses 'hidden machinery in a vat' to represent then that counts as representation.
December 27, 2014 @ 2:05 pm
oh yeah, polly and Jo were down for some partying. I think that Clara is so paranoid that her control freak side would come out and she'd get even more bossy after a puff or two. Rose? yeah, rose would be cool.
December 27, 2014 @ 2:37 pm
i think that you've hit upon a point that hasn't been talked about much, but is significant: The pond's story should have ended at the end of matt's second season. It was done and finished. having them back for asylum of the Daleks and mercy seemed rather odd. (I'm going with the theory that the season should have opened iwth Angels in manhattan and the others were matt's Doctor going back and cheating to see them a few last times). Clara has essentially had a couple good ending points. I'm beginning to feel like Moffatt is afraid to let go and move on. When we do get an ending for Clara, i'm thinking that it will be anticlimactic just as the Pond's was.
December 27, 2014 @ 3:00 pm
you know, i always appreciated how final Tegan's exit was. crying, running off and away from all the blood and death and even crashing into a dead Dalek on the way out. Done. Zero schmaltz.
Clara, mad control freak who lied to everyone along the way, should have just walked off on her own terms into a crowd of people outside the shop and disappeared into the maddening crowd. done. theres an ending for you on the character's terms.
December 27, 2014 @ 3:17 pm
"Santa is a shared fantasy" only brushes the surface of this story. Yes, he is shared. But what is it that is shared? The belief that there is an element of magic in the world that is looking out for us and protecting us from the monsters under the bed. What better description of Santa (or The Doctor) is there?
December 27, 2014 @ 11:05 pm
I thought the "Death in Heaven" ending was fine. Crushingly sad, but a grownup, complex, challenging way of finishing things. Clearly Coleman wasn't done with the show, and that's fine, but if she has to die or lose her memory or be locked in another space or time like almost everyone else, I'll really be disappointed. People grow apart, make different life choices, even when all of time and space is the choice they're eventually setting aside. Let's please see that that can be okay.
December 27, 2014 @ 11:11 pm
Well, my description of Santa is "a demigod who spies on us throughout the year and, at the end of it, judges by our behavior whether we are tarnished or pure enough to be rewarded." Until this episode, I'd never thought of him as any kind of guardian or protector, though I can't deny it was a bit thrilling to see him crash through the wall like some fantastic Kool-Aid cavalry.
When the Doctor behaves like Santa, judging his would-be companions (poor gorgeous Adam, poor gorgeous Journey), I find I don't like him very much.
December 28, 2014 @ 12:38 am
You know, there is a concept Dr Sandifer might consider using when reflecting on the posts of other bloggers, particularly those bloggers unfortunate enough not to have secured for themselves a PhD. That concept is the one of "manners".
It is unnecessary, and reflects poorly on the person doing it, to refer to people who's opinions differ from one's own as " third year undergraduate", " completely idiotic". This is not the first time this has happened this year, indeed it's been growing in frequency over 2015 as people who, for whatever reason, do not like the current incarnation of the programme have been accused of having "pudding for brains". I realise that Dr Sandifer is enormously enthusiastic about the current material being produced, and it is often a pleasant experience to have him point out something I missed on first viewing, or h
December 28, 2014 @ 12:41 am
…or have my own grumpy opinions challenged.
But really, is it necessary to attack others so aggressively simply because their reading differs from yours, Philip ? I feel it lessens you in some way, and disappoints me when you do it. Please consider restraint.
December 28, 2014 @ 2:34 am
I don't think he really intends "third year undergraduate" as an insult… but I do think it's telling that he thinks that's the point everyone notices you can do a feminist critique of anything – I'm fairly sure I knew that when I was still doing my A-levels…
December 28, 2014 @ 6:39 am
Laurie Penny studied English at Oxford (she got a 2:1), so it's hard to see Phil's academic criticism as misplaced. Nor is she some "other blogger" : she is a professional newspaper and magazine columnist who regularly appears on current affairs programmes in the UK. Penny frequently displays the classic columnist's affliction of being much better at writing than she is at thinking, and it is entirely reasonable to criticise her articles when they suffer from this flaw.
December 28, 2014 @ 9:59 am
I was not aware that in order to comment on current trends one had to win at Academic Top Trumps. If that is what we have evolved into as Dr Who fans, the man who got 51 per cent on his third try, then we've gone wrong somewhere.
Manners Maketh Man.
December 29, 2014 @ 11:26 am
@Pen Name Pending: "that's pain that is much more recent"
Absolutely, but it is the Clara of only a few moments ago who's contributing to the dream.
I assume the "oh no, I've arrived too late again" angst leading to an old Clara comes from the Doctor, who has a history of that sort of thing. But probably it's unwise to try to over-analyse, so I shall stop here.
December 29, 2014 @ 11:33 am
Also, the "last Christmas" metaphor is a bit vapid, or, at least, seemingly missing a definite article.
What you can say about "Last Christmas", article-free, as a title (if not a metaphor) is that it can stand for:
1. The Last Christmas, tying in with the Danny story
2. Last Christmas (ie 2013's), and we have the inverted cracker-pulling tie-in
3. the instruction to last (ie survive) Christmas, which has some relevance for the cast and will resonate with parents the world over.
Or maybe I'm over-analysing as usual 🙂
December 29, 2014 @ 11:50 am
December 29, 2014 @ 12:45 pm
That comment annoyed me much more than the one about 'Old Clara'. Firstly, it's ordinary people being extraordinary, which is a main theme of the show and should be celebrated. Secondly, the only reason she can even single out the women scientists as 'all turning out to be 'normal people', booo' is because the male scientist died! He was probably a grocer or teacher or van driver or whatever in real life. But who knows, because in a team of three women and one man, this episode killed off the man. How often does that happen??
December 29, 2014 @ 11:19 pm
Beautiful moment, I teared up too and cried out.
December 29, 2014 @ 11:21 pm
Would love to see Shona again!
December 29, 2014 @ 11:37 pm
Well I suppose it was stated within the dream that there would be a wound, so once out of the dream there would be no need for a wound?
December 29, 2014 @ 11:52 pm
This comment has been removed by the author.
December 29, 2014 @ 11:53 pm
Basically I loved the whole mash up of Doctor Who, Alien, Inception, PKD, Troughton's era and Seeds of Doom.
Totally surprised by the ending with Clara returning and really deeply hoping for a return of Shona.
December 30, 2014 @ 12:22 am
I missed out that for myself and my partner, the theme of loss and bereavement at Christmas was deep one for us in this episode. My partner's mother died, with whom she had a wonderful relationship, February this year and this was her first Christmas without her. Suffice to say that we both spent large parts of the episode in tears with me holding her.
December 31, 2014 @ 5:25 am
Just as "A Christmas Carol" inspired DW's "A Christmas Carol," I feel this was inspired by O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi." In that story, the husband and wife each sacrifice their beloved possession so that their loved one will have the Christmas gift they think the other wants. At the end of "Death in Heaven," Clara and the Doctor wach lie to one another so they have the life they think the other will be happiest in, while we shout at the TV for them to wise up.
O. Henry's story ends thus:
"The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi."
September 18, 2016 @ 5:26 pm
“As this episode wrapped on Twitter, I saw the usually intelligent Laurie Penny with an immediate reaction complaining that it was sexist that the Doctor didn’t consider taking the elderly Clara on the TARDIS, saying “Same reason he couldn’t take Old Amy. Only young hot chicks allowed.” I really wish feminist critics of Moffat’s writing would stop being so completely idiotic. Yes, let’s give our lead actress a several hour makeup job in the future. And take a companion too infirm to open a Christmas cracker. This is a perfectly reasonable expectation and thus something that makes a sensible objection when it doesn’t happen. And never mind the fact that the episode includes the absolutely lovely scene of the Doctor being completely unable to tell she’s aged. For god’s sake. Have we really not progressed past the third year undergraduate realization that you can make a feminist critique of any text and to the useful and mature realization that this means that picking sensible and useful targets is important? Clearly not. Instead we’ve just declared Moffat an authorized punching bag against whom one should always raise a feminist critique with no regard for whether or not it’s a particularly good one. Ugh.”
This rant strikes me as extremely hypocritical given some of the stuff that Phil and other erudites have written over the years.
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September 5, 2017 @ 1:25 pm
I was not aware that in order to comment on current trends one had to win at Academic Top Trumps. If that is what we have evolved into as Mobogenie For PC, the man who got 51 per cent on his third try, then we’ve gone wrong somewhere.