I’ve tried to be nice, I really have. I’ve reminded myself that writing and executive-producing a massive show like Doctor Who is incredibly difficult. And that coming up with new ideas for four years isn’t easy either. But I cannot reconcile the fact that the same man who wrote Blink, the Empty Child and The Doctor Dances, is the same one who Last Christmas. Somewhere along the line, Steven Moffat lost the plot. And now the nicest thing I can say about Last Christmas is that Peter Capaldi is being woefully under-served by his showrunner.
Before I begin my litany of woes (and spoilers), I should add that I don’t expect every episode to be as good as Blink, and I don’t raise my expectations because it’s Christmas (the opposite is true, in fact). With that in mind, here are my problems with Last Christmas:
- The elves are fine for the most part (and it is nice to see Dan Starkey’s actual face for a change). I quite like their snark at Father Christmas (I’m not giving into this Santa schtick, by the way. I like lots of Americanisms, but not that one), but the sneeriness about parents just giving you presents because they love you hit the wrong note for me. I know it’s there to ward off accusations from the Maily Dail about Auntie breaking children’s hearts on Christmas Day, but I’m not convinced Moffat won’t have put doubt in a few young minds about the Big Man anyway.
- The introduction to the Sleepers was proper Who – scary and intriguing – though I was distracted by the lack of information about what Shona was supposed to be achieving by dancing to Slade through the infirmary. It’s exactly the sort of detail that does go missing in dreams, but as we haven’t been told about the dream state yet, it’s annoying. She’s doing something very risky and we haven’t a clue why.
- Father Christmas to the rescue! With inexplicable (and unnecessary) explosion, showboating on Rudolph and a procession of toys that I’m going to kindly imagine is a little bit of self-parody of the show. And I’d forgive all of that, because we all know the mantra – “Doctor Who is a family show”. So, if you want to make the kids giggle, I can live with that (see also the farting Slitheen). But if you want to do that you can’t also have a character threatening to ‘mark Santa’ a moment later. (See also my problems with Clara and the Doctor threatening to hit each other and constantly saying “Shut up!”.)
- If you’re writing for sci-fi savvy viewers (and if you’re writing for Doctor Who, that’s exactly what you’re doing) then you also have to hide your clues better. I immediately took ‘we could all be dreaming’ to mean ‘we are all already dreaming’ and I only needed to hear the first “It’s a long story” reply to realise it was a key to solving the problem. This isn’t me bragging, this is me saying the story and the characters are not engaging enough for these things to slide by unnoticed. Unfortunately, this also went for the whole ‘we’re already dying’ thing. It makes a nonsense of the Doctor later ‘realising’ everything post-Father Christmas blowing up the door was a dream.
- And then there’s the Danny Pink problem. Not the bringing him back (he is at least still dead – unusual for Moffat), but that dream!Danny upon learning the true nature of the situation starts talking as if he were the real Danny. If I’d written “I didn’t die saving the world, Doctor. I died saving Clara. The rest of you just got lucky”, I’d want to get it in to the script too, but the tone is wrong and leads to more wrongness as the supposed anaesthetic goes against its purpose to persuade Clara to wake up.
- Things perk up with a nice spot of peril before it all goes rather saccharin with added Canderel on top.
- And then, just when they’ve got my hopes up that Clara is finally going to be an ex-companion (but safe and sound with a nice life lived – I’m not totally heartless), they go and ruin it all (your mileage may vary – some of you will be delighted she’s staying and I’m trying hard to be pleased for you). I’m holding out hope that at least the slate will be wiped clean by this miraculous second chance and give us a much improved dynamic next year.
I wish I had nicer things to say – I honestly don’t enjoy being a Grinch (though I don’t think the problem is my heart being three sizes too small). If Moffat can just sort out the tone, the characters and the plot holes, there’s a chance I won’t bail out halfway through the next season…