In the modern era, The Doctor doesn’t quite become The Doctor until he stands in the snow under twinkling lights and does something heartwarming.
Honest to God, we didn’t type that sentence as a criticism, but reading over it now, it sounds like such an awful take on a character with a longstanding tradition of promoting knowledge over sentiment and adventure-seeking over the pulling of heartstrings. But the modern Who Christmas story has reached “season finale” levels of importance, either by wrapping up a season’s loose ends or by somehow cementing the actors into the part and getting the audience to accept him or her as the latest version of their character, whether that’s Doctor or Companion. And it usually does this through the deployment of astonishing levels of sentimentality and tear-jerking. Never let it be forgot that the Doctor gave his life to save a town called Christmas and once intoned with a straight face that there is “nothing more powerful than a family crying on Christmas Eve.” In retrospect, with all the maudlin Victoriana and crying mothers and orphans the Who specials trot out each year, it’s almost shocking that it’s taken them this long to literally add Santa Claus to the mix. Heartwarming moments of tears, hugs and laughter in Santa’s sleigh. That’s what Doctor Who is all about.
That was sarcasm, in case the past few days of egg nog abuse have rendered our bitchery skills dulled.
To be more blunt about it, we’ve never really been fans of the Who Christmas specials because every year, we find out that Love Conquers Everything. Which, sure, is a really bitchy complaint to make about any Christmas special, since that’s generally the message of most of them – especially the ones with children in the audience. But even so, we’ve always wanted and wished for a special that managed to remember that the primary appeal of the Doctor is watching him adventuring his ass all over the place. And to be fair, Russell T Davies seemed to have a better grasp of this, because David Tennant’s Christmas stories, while sentimental, also managed to employ evil robotic Santas and angels from time to time, not to mention spinning buzz-saw Christmas trees and spider-alien Christmas stars. He really knew how to work with the iconography of the season to craft a fun Doctor Who story. But with Steven Moffat, it’s all top hats and scarves and bustles and sleigh rides every year. Sure, last year’s special saw 11 make his final stand against an entire galaxy’s worth of enemies, but it mostly consisted of him standing around in a (wait for it …) top hat and scarf and gently aging into an old man before crying and then exploding. The year before that, we got to watch pretty, perky Victorian governess Clara Oswald plummet to her death, causing the aforementioned crying family on Christmas Eve. The year before that, the Doctor helped a WWII-era (crying) family get over the death of their father by giving them a Christmas to remember. The year before that, the Doctor taught a bitter old man the importance of love and kindness on Christmas Eve. Crying.
So with all the hugging and tears and reuniting that happened in this year’s Christmas special, we wound up … loving it. No, really. We could quibble about some minor details, but we enjoyed this special more than any of the other ones in the modern show’s run. If one absolutely must be sentimental in one’s Doctor Who Christmas story, then it behooves one to add a cracking good adventure story to help it go down, and for once, Steven Moffat got all the ingredients into the mix in the exact right proportions. This was just plain fun – with one last-second attempt at wringing tears out of us, of course. But we won’t begrudge Moffat that one. It was earned.
We have no doubt that some sort of convoluted explanation can be dreamed up to explain the structure of this tale and whether or not it really made any sense, but since Moffat tends to leave that sort of thing to the more obsessive fans of the show, then we’ll follow his lead and do the same. Was every i dotted and every t crossed in this story? Probably not. Dreams-within-dreams stories, much like time travel stories, rarely hold up to too much scrutiny. Sure, there were several hand-wavy parts (like how the other people got picked up by the dream crabs or how the dream crabs even made it to earth), but we were too delighted to be getting a wholly unexpected parody of the classic Who “base under siege” story with a little bit of Moffat poking fun at his own “don’t breathe/think/look/listen” monsters and a nerd smorgasbord of references, from Alien to The Thing to “For The Man Who Has Everything” to Videodrome, and of course, Inception. We’re just not feeling that ending, though.
When is it time for a Companion to say goodbye? In the fandom war that is Russell T Davies vs. Steven Moffat, we tend to lean more towards the latter, simply for elevating the look of the show from cheap children’s programming to something cinematic and grandiose and for rolling up his sleeves and doing a deep dive on what it means to be a time traveler. But one thing Davies understood much better than Moffat was when to shuffle the Companion out the door in order to freshen things up a bit. Moffat loves his girls just a bit too much. Both Amy and Clara have now officially stayed past their welcomes. And we actually really like Clara, especially after the work done this season to round her out and deepen her as a character. While we’re happy to see that she hasn’t been given a tragic ending (yet), we do tend to think there’s little left to be said about this character.
And no, we don’t think her ending was sad because she never married. It was sad because she was old and alone on Christmas, clearly melancholy and full of regrets. She’d walked away from her greatest friendship, leaving her missing both him and her dead lover for decades. “I traveled all the countries of Europe and learned to fly a plane” sounded more defensive than triumphant. We’re happy to see that Clara’s life didn’t turn out that way. But we’re just not sure we need to sit around and wait to see how it does play out. Once she and the Doctor made up, we wondered just why she’d so eagerly run back into the TARDIS again, considering the heavy prices she’s already paid for riding in it. And if the next season continues to explore this question (which we HIGHLY doubt), then it’ll just be a repeat of the season-long arc that just ended.
There’s already a rumor going around that the final scene was a hasty re-write because Jenna waited until the last second to decide if she was returning for another season. We’re not sure how much we buy that, given the planning that goes into most TV episodes and seasons. We tend to think such a reaction from the audience indicates just how much they’re ready to move on from Clara, though. Much of the online chatter seems to be settling on Shona, who made a wonderful impression this episode. But any time a female character with any spine shows up, the audience all seem to clamor to name her the next Companion, whether that’s the late, lamented Osgood or Sally Sparrow or that kid Courtney, from Coal Hill School. Shona really was a fun character and while she’d be another in a long line of perky, quirky English or Scottish white girls, there was something incredibly endearing and refreshing about a normal person, with no more imagination than to say “We should meet up for curry” after a life-changing adventure; a person who wakes up in a disheveled and dirty apartment, with a Christmas itinerary that never strayed more than a few inches from her couch, but who, nevertheless, somewhat adorably felt the need to plan out her day of inactivity with a list. The Doctor could do a lot worse to hang out with someone more in the Donna Noble mode than the “pretty girl with a slight crush” one for a while.
But apparently the creators feel there’s more to be said about Clara and the Doctor’s relationship. Since this year’s “old person makeup” scene mirrored last Christmas’s, right down to the moment with the cracker, we’d love it if all of next season showed the remainder of Clara’s life and we finally got to see a Companion actually stay with the Doctor for the rest of her natural life, aging into retirement and then later, death. In other words, a scene with an elderly Clara dying in the Doctor’s arms (as this scene is rumored to have originally been written) could be a lovely coda to a life full of adventure and lacking regrets instead of a life full of regrets lacking adventure.
Think about it, Moffat. You know you’ve always wanted to write the most epic Companion goodbye of all time and you kind of bungled it with Amy. Give us Clara, the 40-year old adventurer and then next episode, Clara, the 50-year-old one, and so on and so on until nature takes its course. Let this Doctor finally stick around until the end instead of running away once they start getting wrinkles. It would be a revolutionary take and the only way we can think of justifying Clara’s continued presence in the story.
In slightly related fashion news, we’re hopelessly in love with the Doctor’s dropped-crotch pants and hoodie. Ironic that the oldest actor to play the character is in one of the trendiest versions of his costume – and it totally works for him.
Also: Nick Frost was magnificent. Possibly our favorite Santa portrayal of all time. How could we not? He was kind of bitchy.
Musical Monday: The Wizard of Oz Next Post:
Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer in “The Man from U.N.C.L.E. “