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die hard is a xmas movie | by maryann johanson

Doctor Who blogging: “Last Christmas”

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[previous: “Death in Heaven”]

warning: spoilers!

I just watched “Last Christmas” again, and the months between last Christmas and now have not mellowed me toward the episode. For lots of reasons. I don’t think I am ever going to get on board with Steven Moffat’s attempt to turn Doctor Who into a fairy tale and the Doctor into a mythic figure. I mean, I get that some people in some places — a faraway planet where he did something amazing and is now remembered as a legend or a story or something, for instance — might see him as a mythic figure, and I get that we watching might see him as mythic and could easily place him within an organizational chart of mythic figures. But having the show explicitly treat him as a mythic figure runs counter to the very notion of letting us share in the Doctor’s actual adventures, in his triumphs and failures. I want to see real stories, events that could actually plausibly happen (within the wide-ranging possibilities of science fiction, of course), not the stories that later accrue around his actions.

This episode may be a little more grounded, in that sense, than some of the others Moffat has given us in his ongoing fairy-tale-ization of Doctor Who. (Though the overt likening of the Doctor to Santa Claus, and the imperative of everyone’s lives depending on believing in Santa, are yet more examples of Moffat’s sledgehammer approach.) But the dream-within-a-dream and it’s-dreams-all-the-way down conceit make it hard to accept any of it at face value… and, indeed, we have no way of knowing whether any of it was “real.” Worse still, any complaint we might express about this episode can be dismissed with “Well, it was all a dream. Dreams don’t have to make sense.” The Doctor himself says that “dreams are disjointed, silly, full of gaps.” So there’s little point in wondering, “Hey, how could X have even happened when they didn’t even know Y was a thing at that point?” Even though there’s all sorts of stuff like that that trips up the story here.

I wonder, too, why people would dream an obnoxious Santa and elves who are rude and mocking. Would people dream this?

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I know, I know: Dreams don’t have to make sense. “It’s the logic of a nightmare.”

Okay, fine. Dreams can be very revealing of the person — or people — dreaming them, and yet the dreams here are just narrative tricks, and nothing to do with the people dreaming (except Clara’s perfect Christmas with Danny, and we don’t learn anything about her from that, either). The people on the polar base are nonentities: did one of them conjure up that scenario out of a wish or a regret for a path not taken? We haven’t got a clue. About the most we learn about any of them is that Bellows, the woman who was in command of the base, has friends and family gathered for Christmas who don’t even notice that Grandma is taking a nap with an alien facehugger smothering her. Sad.

But do we really believe that the Doctor, even in his dreams, would be delighted to take the reins of Santa’s sleigh? That might be the most embarrassing moment of sickly sentimentality the show has come up with yet. And after poo-pooing Christmas sentiment via the nasty elves and the disparaging Santa! But that’s another criticism deflector, isn’t it?

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Moffat’s deflector shields for criticism are at full power here. As long as you explicitly reference the other universe you’re stealing ideas from — like Alien — it’s cool.

With this episode, Moffat may have reached a pinnacle of immunizing the show not only from criticism but from any sort of discussion at all. What’s the point, when none of it is real? If he wanted to remind us that this is “just a TV show” and not worth thinking or talking too much about, he’s done it.

[next: “The Magician’s Apprentice”/“The Witch’s Familiar”]


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