I have not exactly been blown away by Doctor Who Christmas Specials of recent years; a contention which, it seems, I share with a prior Cherwellian. Last year’s in particular, I felt, had a poor resolution, and was really unable to capture the epic immensity that Moffat intended to be the siege of Trenzalore.
It’s true that Doctor Who Christmas Specials tend not to be particularly impressive, and understandably so. When you think about it, Christmas is actually fairly constraining; writers are compelled to include some sort of festive theme, which can compromise the plot or make it seem too childish, and, for similar reasons, it can’t be too dark or too scary.
Given its not-so-impressive legacy, I suppose this could be why I found this year’s special particularly entertaining, and certainly a breath of fresh air from some of the more recent let-downs.
I was particularly nervous about this year’s decision to include Father Christmas. Watching the trailer, this, I had thought, could go one of two ways: it could either be a well-explained masterstroke to the plot, or it could leave it devoid of any logic or sense. Given Who Specials of Christmas past, I was naturally inclined towards the latter.
In actual fact, Santa was an endearing and well-thought-out addition to the plot. The casting choice of Nick Frost was excellent; he portrayed a Santa with attitude, while at the same time bringing an element of humour – and, of course, Christmas cheer – which counter-balances well Peter Capaldi’s dark Doctor; an element magnified by the sass that Father Christmas sends the Doctor’s way. Santa’s cadre of elves also added charm to the plot.
Most importantly, however, the appearance of Saint Nick was roundly explained as the plot progressed; the comic relief, and the obligatory Christmassy aspect of the special well packaged-away and accounted for by the end of the episode.
The new aliens, too, were particularly impressive. Sure, the face-hugging Kantrofarri – or ‘dream crabs’ – were ripped off from Alien, but this is humorously acknowledged in the course of the episode, the Doctor remarking to his human companions, “There’s a horror movie called Alien? That’s really offensive. No wonder everybody keeps invading you.”
This is also where the episode loses marks for originality, however; the face-hugging crabs induce their victims into a dream state. The notion of dreams has already been well-explored during the Moffat era in ‘Amy’s Choice’, where Amy has to choose between two realities. This episode is not quite the same, but I can’t help but feel that it’s covering trodden ground.
Still, the emphasis on dreaming well counter-balances the mild terror of the Alien-inspired face-hugging creatures, focussing the episode on our friendly, eccentric Gallifreyan genius – in effect what Doctor Who is about, and what makes it such quintessential family viewing.
It’s hard to go into more depth on this point without giving away too much of the plot, but I’ll summarise it thus: What do you get when you cross Alien and Inception? Apparently, a resoundingly good Doctor Who Christmas Special.