Hello, everyone! Several months ago, I recapped series eight of Doctor Who, forgetting that there was still one more episode left!So today I’m reviewing the recent Christmas special, “Last Christmas,” with Artgirl @ Alien Cows. I know this review is really, really overdue – and I apologize for that. It has NOTHING to do with my lovely co-writer, and everything to due with my own forgetfulness/habits of procrastination.
Anyway, let me tell you a little bit about my collaborator: In addition to being a really geeky, sweet, talented person, Artgirl is also a very patient person. She originally signed up to review an early episode of series eight, but then became busy with schoolwork and stuff, so we rescheduled and rescheduled. And FINALLY, here she is! My lovely co-reviewer! So let’s get started.
P.S. You can find previous collaborative reviews of Doctor Who‘s eighth series here.
Artgirl is a teenage philosopher who is fond of pseudonyms, sandwiches, and science. Her current favorite pastime is worrying about the future, but she’s more passionate about writing, reading, performing, and making art – usually in her pajamas. When she grows up she would like to research bigger-on-the-inside technology and build herself a TARDIS. She blogs at Alien Cows.
Warning: Spoilers ahead, sweetie!
Engie here! This review has what I fondly refer to as an “anything goes” format. As in, it’s not a list and it’s not in Q&A format. It’s just a conversation, more or less, and as such it jumps around wildly from topic to topic. Because WE HAD SO MUCH TO DISCUSS. (And as usual, my co-writer’s thoughts are in italics!)
Engie: As always, I’ll post my final thoughts about this episode at the end of this review, but I DO want to start out by saying: “Last Christmas” was not one of my favorite episodes. And Artgirl’s opinion of it sort of surprised me – not because I think she’s wrong, but because we generally agree on all things Whovian. But that’s enough of my blathering for a while… time for Artgirl’s thoughts!
Artgirl: Usually, I feel like they’re grasping at straws to make the episodes Christmassy, but this one didn’t seem that way. The whole idea of Santa Claus – of a dream or a hope or a wish to hold onto in spite of yourself, in spite of logic and reason and dire circumstances – made sense in the context of the episode.
Engie: Ha ha, see, I feel the opposite way! It DIDN’T really put me in a Christmas mood… but actually, not many of the specials have, so there’s that.
Artgirl: It was cute when Santa asked if the Doctor wanted to take the reins and drive the sleigh! It shows the part of Twelve that’s still a little boy, a part not often shown but one that’s always been in the Doctor’s hearts. This episode had a lot to say about second chances and faith and things that are usually written off as being only for children, and I liked that. Doctor Who as a show has always treated children with great respect and I wish that happened more often in real life.
Engie: I’ll admit it, I did love that scene. It was one of the few that I liked… I thought Clara would be the last one left (and die there/soon after, as she was originally intended to – more on that below), but it was Twelve. And that was a wonderful scene.
Artgirl: Really, the whole thing about dreams within dreams within dreams intrigued me. This is actually what I think about on a daily basis – am I dreaming? Are my dreams my reality? Is my perceived reality different than the actual reality? Is there an actual reality? What do we define as reality? So this episode fed that part of me.
Engie: UGH, I SOUND SO GRUMPY AND OVERCRITICAL, BUT: It reminded me of the movie Inception, only not as well plotted. Inception, but confusing to the point where it just tired out my brain. And that’s unfortunate, because that dream-within-a-dream concept SHOULD have made me love the episode. (Actually, wasn’t it already used by the Dream Lord in “Amy’s Choice?”)
Artgirl: I thought it was cool how the quote unquote scientific expedition was made up of three women and one man, and the leader was a woman of color. I was really disappointed that none of them (as far as we know) turned out to actually be scientists in their real lives.
Engie: I so wanted the old lady to be a real-life scientist.
Artgirl: I really liked Ashley. I wanted her to be a real scientist lady and maybe she isn’t but maybe she wakes up and has a newfound burning desire to study brain cell biology. I also found Shona’s character intriguing and would like to know more about her. We got that little snapshot of her life at the end, and I liked how it didn’t give you all of the answers but left you wanting them.
Engie: Let’s be honest – if I were ever part of a scientific expedition, I would be Shona. I’m not even kidding.
Artgirl: And a sidenote about the representation – has Doctor Who ever featured a person of color who wasn’t light skinned? Or featured prominent characters who are Asian, or Latina, or anything else? (I’m aware that there may be some in the Expanded Universe/novelizations, but I’m focusing primarily on the TV show). The show has always featured strong female characters and is beginning to branch out in terms of diversity, but it could still benefit from including way more queer characters, female characters, and characters of color. (And throw some intersectionality into that mix, you know?) This season has definitely gotten better about including characters of different races, and having the Master as a woman gives me hope that one day the Doctor will also be played by a woman, but meeting the bare minimum (and in some cases not even) of requirements does not mean representation can’t be even better.
Engie: Ah, I knew you’d bring that up. And I’m glad! I honestly can’t think of any off the top of my head. Which is unfortunate, because it’s not hard to include diverse characters. (Also, I second having a lady!Doctor. And more than once, as well. Hopefully.)
Artgirl: Because this is TOTALLY the point of this review and obviously the most important thing to comment on: I absolutely ADORED the music in this episode. I can’t wait until the music for series eight is released! There was a theme used throughout the episode that reminded me very strongly of “Owen’s Theme” from Torchwood, but I couldn’t find it on YouTube. It was gorgeous and haunting and I really appreciated it.
Engie: Same here – I’ve been looking for that piece. It was lovely! [We even rewatched the ending of “Last Christmas” to see if we could figure out what the theme was. No luck, though.] OK, one more thing before we wrap up this review: Clara.
Artgirl: I reeeeeeaaally hope they don’t try to force romance into the Doctor’s and Clara’s relationship.
Engie: SAME HERE. I think it’s pretty obvious that the Doctor is only interested in Clara as a friend, but during this episode I kept getting weird romantic vibes from Clara, directed AT the Doctor. And I really, really don’t want their relationship to go that way.
Artgirl: There’s this mentality of, “They must get together because of course men and women can’t just be friends!” But Clara implied he’s her Father Christmas! (Emphasis on the word “father.”) I really see Twelve as a father/weird uncle.
Engie: Again, same. He’s like Clara’s oddball uncle or awesome-yet-sometimes-embarrassing dad. I wouldn’t want that aspect to go away. And now, what do you think about Clara herself? Particularly old!Clara from the very end of the episode?
Artgirl: I actually liked Clara a lot more this series, but I do feel it’s time for her to go. I don’t know if there’s much more they can do with her character arc, unless it involves some independent lady badassery, but how often does that really happen on television?
Engie: Indeed. I tend to not like companions as much the longer they stay on the show, anyway. Rose in series one? Yeah, sure. In series two? Mmmm, not so much. And I felt similarly about Amy, Rory, and River. I eventually get tired of characters and their stories, I guess.
Artgirl: Apparently Jenna Coleman [who plays Clara] changed her mind about leaving the show. The episode was supposed to end with Clara dying as an old, by Twelve’s side. But then they rewrote it, and now she’ll be part of the show until at least halfway through series nine. And I’m not sure how I feel about that. Maybe they’ll continue this trend of writing Clara better. But they might also try to force a romance between the Doctor and Clara. And the last time the show switched companions mid-series (hello, series seven), I thought it was the worst series yet.
Engie: That ending was SO messed up! Confession time: I don’t like Clara Oswald. (Actually, you probably already knew that if you’ve read any of my previous reviews.) BUT EVEN IF I DID LIKE HER: I would’ve wanted her to leave in “Last Christmas.” Because that ending was perfect. It wrapped up a bunch of loose story ends, and it was really sweet too. And I’m worried that her actual, leaving-for-good ending won’t be nearly as well written.
Artgirl: I guess it made sense in the context of the episode’s messages about second chances…
Engie: Ha ha, yeah, I suppose. I don’t know. It just really, really bothered me. It gave me… plot whiplash. Yes, that’s it, plot whiplash. WRITERS, JUST DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT TO DO WITH YOUR CHARACTERS, ALREADY. Honestly, they should’ve just rewritten the ending, because it made no sense. The whole episode was already nonsensical (and not in a good way), but that was the worst bit.
Hey, it’s Engie again. It’s time to wrap up this review and post our final thoughts! Artgirl, you can go first.
Overall, I actually really liked this episode. It had plenty of problems, and there were things I’d write differently if I were in charge, but it had more significant female characters than a lot of the episodes this season, was creepy and suspenseful but also entertaining, and had moments of both Deep Life Musings and humor. It made me think about dreams versus reality and how they’re both too strange to tell apart sometimes, and it sent the message that dreaming is dangerous yet important. Ultimately, we all need something to believe in.
Overall, I… actually really DISLIKED “Last Christmas.” I found it confusing, underwhelming, and filled with sloppy writing. And yet… that actually doesn’t bother me too much. I certainly wasn’t as frustrated by the quality of this episode as I would be if it were a regular story and not a special – because honestly, I don’t have very high expectations for the Christmas specials!
I mean, they’re always so silly! And their plots are ridiculously contrived! (The only one I’ve ever really enjoyed was “The Snowmen.” I’m not saying that it wasn’t contrived, but at least it HAD a plot.) Before my brother and I watched “Last Christmas, ” I told him that I’d have to lower my standards for this episode because it’s a special, and I was only half-joking. I may not have liked this episode very much, but I also realize that it’s just a “filler” episode and won’t have a dramatic impact on the plot of series nine.
Thanks for reviewing with me, Artgirl! It was so much fun!
Well, I’m afraid that wraps up my reviews of series eight. I do have a few ideas for other Doctor Who-related posts to tide you over until series nine, but they won’t be reviews. (I would hope that’s obvious!) Until then, we’ll just have to keep waiting! The title of series nine’s first episode has already been released, though: Clara and the Doctor will return in “The Magician’s Apprentice!”
What is YOUR opinion on “Last Christmas?” I’d love to know!