Dear Steven Moffat: Last Christmas

Doctor Who Last Christmas

Dear Steven,

On Christmas Eve I went to bed and dreamt of the perfect Doctor Who Christmas Special. Perhaps, like the Doctor and Clara, my subconscious was networked, because I encountered other Whovians in my fully nude adventure – simple people like me who’d put their heads together and imagined 65 minutes of densely plotted storytelling.

Our episode – I call it the ‘The Bell Slayers’, was constructed like a mini-movie. It had everything; a great hook – “our clothes are gone!”, an establishing first act that set up the principle characters, piquing the interest of the dreaming observers who were anxious to know what was going to happen to them, a jaw dropping incident that propelled us, groin first, into act two – complications galore, twists, left turns, pirouettes, a scene in which Wham’s Last Christmas is cut short by a madman cleaving a TV with a bloody axe, then another shock, and finally the heart stopping finale – that’s roughly 15 minutes of scrotum twisting jeopardy and moral dilemmas.

Yes, there were jokes, but everything made sense; in short the story didn’t use whimsicality or abstract concepts as a crutch. Oh, and everyone whose brain was powering this episode, once they came to terms with everyone being naked, agreed there should be no camp. I know you’d approve of this old fruit, which is why you fought the BBC suits that insisted on Nick Frost riding a reindeer like a horse and having it fitted with a car lock for the key fob gag that wasn’t funny when you did it with the TARDIS that time.

Watching Last Christmas it struck me how fortunate it was that these disparate characters, despite being relatively humourless in the real world, all shared your sense of humour – which was odd as their brain trust created Santa and wrote his lines. So they, like you, had a weakness for self-reflexive humour, such as Claus’s observation that his sack was bigger on the inside – a joke that suggested his creators knew of the TARDIS and understood its transcendental dimensionality, despite having never encountered it. Ah, you say, but maybe the Doctor wrote that gag, but he was lying on an alien rock somewhere and Santa isn’t part of his cultural makeup – in fact, the Doc wouldn’t even know it was Christmas, so I, like the nation, assumed Nick Frost had to be an import from the rest of the group. Yes, you further reply, but didn’t I see the ending and that tangerine – the appalling suggestion that Claus really exists in the Whoniverse? Well yes I did, but – ah, fuck it.

Look Steven, your dream of a Christmas episode and ours don’t match. You like elves that take North Pole selfies on their iPhones and have the audacity to label them “comic” in-episode, and we don’t. You think dialogue sounds more natural and faintly comic when you include adverbs, e.g. “right now I have an alien life form wrapped around my face and apparently it’s digesting my brain”, and we don’t. You think that genre mincing and stealing from other sources – The Thing, Alien, Inception, Miracle on 34th Street, is fine if you acknowledge the fact and make the fiction “self-aware”, and we do not. I mean, Sweet Douglas Adams, you even had the balls to rip off Star Trek: Generations! Who does that? Clara’s Nexus scene with Danny Beige might have been the most schlock-free part of the episode and therefore the most interesting – not least the aside that she’d begun to idealise the paint-dry stiff in her memory, but it was dispiriting to learn this was Clara’s idyll. Seriously, curled up on the sofa with Mr Boring and the TV off? What the fuck was that?

So I think you’re sensing that I didn’t really care for this seasonal shithouse. As ever there were some nice moments in it – baubles on a dead tree. I liked the sleigh ride that closed the story and one of the hitherto anonymous characters waking up in a wheelchair. I thought that was a poignant touch. I liked the hint that Shona, the stock irritant of 60 minutes standing, might be a lonely character who didn’t want to return to her life. These were flashes of interiority in an otherwise anonymised story. But for the most part it was empty, incoherent gubbins.

You tried to cover this up by having the Doctor observe that dreams were “disjointed” and “silly”, but this was only ever going to fool those who’d lapsed into semi-consciousness following a hard day of Christmas drinking. The rest of us were all asking the same question: why wasn’t this episode written? Instead it played like a game of Doctor Who consequences; each scene scribbled on paper by a crew member who’d been obliged, with you watching, to fold it over, so didn’t know what gaffer Gary had written.

I suppose all that’s left to talk about is Clara. Before this aired there were rumours that Jenna Coleman was leaving the show. You teased her end in true waking up in the shower style, serving an initially moving final scene between the Doctor and his now elderly assistant. I have to say I was ready to go with this. I found the prospect of Clara being reacquainted with a missed man from her youth, a man she was dreaming about 62 years on, just the right side of mawkish.

But then, perhaps conscious that you were in danger of writing a scene that mattered between two principle characters, you pulled out and pressed the reset button. I now wonder if you’ve blown your chance to part this pair in an affecting way. Still, I like Clara, I enjoy her miserable company – I can put up with more of her. One question though: what the fuck are you going to do with her now? Is she ready to leave her Danny-free life behind and finally get on board full time, and shouldn’t she really have been obliged to do the same from the beginning?

So, given that Last Christmas was probably the least anticipated Doctor Who episode in the show’s 51 years – I mean, I know people who were looking forward to the death of loved ones more than this, it wasn’t the insult Nick Frost’s participation promised. Sure, it will do nothing to dissuade your detractors of the notion that your best contributions are behind you and that at this late stage you’re reliant on steals from your DVD collection and tangential BS to get by, but at least there wasn’t an ill-advised reference to Facebook for the benefit of idiot millennials.

Oh. There was.

Best of the season,

Ed

P.S: If you’re going to include guest stars in the opening credits on an occasional basis, perhaps design a sequence that can incorporate them? Having Frost’s name appear after the “Doctor Who” title, because that was the only free real estate, made it look like the episode was titled “Nick Frost”. Sadly plausible given the time of year.

P.P.S: No Wham cameo. What, you had an elf called Ian but that was too camp?

P.P.P.S: Could you have found a better puppet workshop? The dream crabs were barely capable of movement. It’s hard to be scared of something that looks like its battery’s about to run out.

P.P.P.P.S: Remember when “it was all a dream” was generally considered bad form?

P.P.P.P.P.S: We learned the next episode would be titled “The Magician’s Apprentice”. Given the Doctor was referred to as a magician in this episode we can face the new year satisfied that the companion-centric approach of last season is a thing of the past.

Curious Clara and her Wizened Companion:

The Matt Smith Years: 

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

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