My apologies for the lateness of this review as I spent most of Christmas evening in the emergency room with my daughter, who is fully recovered now.
The Doctor and Santa Claus...You have to be a little worried, right? Much like the Christmas Harry Potter crossover Russell T. Davies tried to put together during Tennant's time it might just be a bridge too far. Even for Steven Moffat, a writer who works his absolute best in the context of a fairy tale, it's a daunting task.
Surprisingly, the subject is handled just as perfectly as it can be.
"Last Christmas" excels well in horror. Capaldi's run has been somewhat strangely dominated by zombie-like enemies. We had the titular mummy in "Mummy on the Orient Express" and the Boneless from "Flatline" already, and you could conceivable add the corpse Cybermen and the Clockwise Men to the list if you were so inclined. The Sleepers certainly fit that mold, being reminiscent of either the infected from The Last of Us or probably more accurately the Headcrab Zombies from Half-Life.
For all that they've been largely done before they do still bring out an element of real horror. Add in the nightmarish nature of the multilayered dreamscapes that the monsters use to sedate and trap their victims and you've got a pretty creepy little winter's tale.
Honestly though the adventure feels more like a sideshow for a larger message delivered through the lips of Father Christmas himself. He drops into the scene rescuing The Doctor, Clara, and four scientists from the Sleepers with a toy army that I swear by all that is joyful and innocent was a reference to the movie Toys. Kris Kringle then aids and guides the others in their battles against dream monsters, dodging questions here and there about the reality or his own personal existence.
A few spin-off comics in the early days of the show hinted that the First Doctor was personally responsible for augmenting Santa's set-up with Time Lord technology, and the Ninth Doctor famously made a joke implying that he might be intimately connected with Saint Nicholas.
Here the two of them bicker like an old married couple, acting as if they do indeed know each other outside the apparently fictional world most of the episode is set in. It's left extremely ambiguous on what is real and what is imaginary in the end and that's the way it should be. The point was never to define who or what Santa Claus is but what he means to us all. In that regard Moffat made something wonderful.
Even above and beyond all that this is the first Capaldi episode to actually bring tears to my eyes. There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth by many fans regarding Jenna Coleman's announcement that she would remain with the show for another season (more on that in a subsequent article), but I find it hard to believe that anyone would not be excited to see her and Capaldi back for another go after "Last Christmas".
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The two of them have had a very strange partnership. There just always seemed to be so much baggage between them. The less patient and moodier Twelfth Doctor never really accepted this part-time companion relationship Clara had with his predecessor, and Clara equally took the games The Doctor often plays with other lives as a sign of lack of respect or trust. They were two people who knew each other intimately but were unable to reconcile a new paradigm.
But then at the end of "Last Christmas" The Doctor finally caves in and simply says, "Please". That's the magic of this show; the idea that a being like The Doctor needs humanity as much as we need him. What would be the point of a Santa Claus if no one believed he existed? People get presents all the time for a variety of reasons, but only for one dark night a year does the sky open up and pour out a miracle even if it's only in our heads.
Likewise, people save the world every day, but sometimes they fail. In those moments it's nice to think that working behind the scenes is an idiot magician and his friends trying their best to keep everything from blowing up. Stories like that can get you through a lot of nights, and Doctor Who does them better than most.
You might have missed it, but Christmas also saw two unofficial Doctor Who specials released. The first was the one and only Stuart Humphryes, better known as Babel Colour. The master of mash-ups involving The Doctor dropped the first of his three-part series exploring the actions of the Time War.
It's a deeply scholarly work piecing together the most difficult to understand part of the canon. Humphryes touches on the Time Lords sending the Fourth Doctor to avert the creation of the Daleks, the Seventh destroying Skaro, and even hinted big players like the Nightmare Child and the Could-Have-Been King. Fitting so much history into a few videos is a daunting task, but Humphryes is off to a good start.
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The second special was the latest episode of Doctor Puppet by Alisa Stern. Stern hasn't touched too much upon the Twelfth Doctor as she is still finishing up the story she started while Matt Smith was in the role, but "The Planet That Came For Christmas" was a pleasant and wonderful surprise. It follows The Doctor and Clara as they seek the mystery behind a planet that only appears one day a year and end up facing skeletal, murderous Christmas trees. It's light and fun and a perfect stocking stuffer to finish off Series 8 of the show proper.
Doctor Who returns in 2015 with "The Magician's Apprentice".