Christmas Episodes: Doctor Who, Merlin, and Downton Abbey

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Three British cult television shows, Doctor Who, Merlin, and Downton Abbey, had special episodes for the holidays. Doctor Who: The Snowmen aired in the United States later the same day, but the fifth season of Merlin and third season of Downton Abbey have not and therefore this post will contain major spoilers. I will precede the discussion with the later two with a picture from the series to allow those who do not want to see these spoilers to turn away. I will discuss Merlin second as the spoilers will not be as shocking to those who can predict where the story is heading based upon the Arthur legends. The events of Downton Abbey would be more of a surprise. By now I wonder if there are there any Downton Abbey fans who are waiting for the US airing who have avoided hearing about the two shocking events of the regular season and Christmas episode? If so, they should either download the season now and watch it quickly or stay off the internet and stop reading newspapers and magazines until they  see the entire third season.

Doctor Who: The Snowmen contained two main story lines. The main plot of the story dealing with the Snowmen and the villain of the episode were not all that significant, unless the reference to the Great Intelligence foreshadows a future aspect of the storyline as opposed to references to a couple of old episodes from the 1960’s (which did include havoc in the London underground).  The Snowmen‘s real importance was in reintroducing Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman), first seen as Oswin Oswald in Asylum of the Daleks. Not surprisingly, there was some misdirection from Steven Moffat and Jenna-Louise Coleman, who did not answer questions about her role with the full truth in recent interviews.

One highlight of the episode was Clara’s first view of the inside of the TARDIS, after climbing up stairs into a cloud for a second time. Her response was a first: “It’s smaller on the outside!” Her next question was also a first, and confirmed her connection to Oswin Oswald, when she asked if there was a kitchen inside because she likes to make souffles. Clara earlier had the right word (Pond) to get the Doctor’s attention. Most likely this was thrown in for the viewers, but perhaps knowing to say this is another sign that Clara is not what she seems.

The episode, written by Steven Moffat, who also writes the modern BBC version of Sherlock, contains two homages to Sherlock Holmes. Vastra and  Jenny (with the help of Strax) solved Victorian mysteries,providing the inspiration to Arthur Conan Doyle. This lesbian detective pair were different from the detectives portrayed by Doyle: “Good evening, I am a lizard woman from the dawn of time, and this is my wife.” The Doctor also portrayed Sherlock Holmes: “Shut up! I’m making deductions! It’s very exciting!”

If there was any doubt from the souffle line that both of Coleman’s characters were connected, this was answered at the end. The souffle girl died a second time, still leaving her well behind Rory in number of deaths for a companion. Her tombstone read Clara Oswin Oswald. Her final words to the Doctor were the same in both The Snowmen and Asylum of the Daleks: “Run, you clever boy… And remember.” The Doctor showed he planned to do just this, seeming to give Clara Oswin Oswald as the destination to the TARDIS. The episode ended with a girl also played by Jenna-Louise Coleman in modern times visiting Clara’s grave. Moffat has launched another mystery with this girl who,  somewhat like Timelords, can die and yet remain alive, except in her case still look the same.

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The final season of Merlin was mixed in quality, but the final three episodes, including the two-part story Diamond of the Day, were excellent.  Merlin concluded as the Arthur stories conclude–with Mordred delivering a mortal blow to Arthur. Like Morgana, who was not shown to be evil until the third season, Mordred was not portrayed as a threat to Arthur until he was given reason to turn against Arthur in the final episodes. Diamond of the Day Part I concentrated on the final battle, which concluded early in Part II. The final episode showed the deaths of Mordred and Morgana, but primarily dealt with Merlin and Arthur in what turned out to be the final hours of Arthur’s life.

Merlin and Arthur had the conversation which would have been expected to occur long before as Merlin revealed that he is a sorcerer. Fortunately for the legend of Merlin, Gwen figured out the identity of the sorcerer who led them to victory, presumably leading to the legend of the bearded wizard who aided Arthur as opposed to stories of a young servant. Before it became clear that Merlin was to tell Arthur’s story until its conclusion, I wondered if the entire series was to be about Merlin and Arthur in their youth, taking place before the greatness of Camelot. Seeing how the series did end, I do wish that during the final season they had done more to show why Arthur was a great king, worthy of being remembered in legend. The final season, which was the only one to show Arthur as King, just didn’t show Arthur’s life to be as significant as it was foretold to be in earlier seasons.  Regardless, it was sad to see Arthur die, but we were promised that Arthur would return when needed. For now, Long Live the Queen, as Guinevere took over for Arthur. I would assume that Merlin would remain to assist her, and we saw at the end of the episode that he remains alive today.

Just Desserts

The deaths this season on Downton Abbey were more shocking than the deaths of Clara (which may not be permanent) and of Arthur (which was anticipated). This is a reminder that major spoilers are coming for those who have not seen the third season yet. The news media stories that Dan Stevens (Matthew) would not be returning for the fourth season were true but the reports that he would return for the first episode only appear to be misdirection. Maggie Smith, in the scene pictured above, foreshadowed Matthew’s death when she said “we don’t always get our just desserts. The scene was  interspersed with scenes of Matthew driving (and looking careless) following the birth of his son.

It turns out that Dan Stevens had decided not to return for a fourth season even before filming began for the third season. Stevens said, “We were always optioned for three years.” At that time it is doubtful anyone would have predicted how successful the show would have become, leading to a fourth season. He If he had to leave the show, the season did wrap up Matthew’s story line well. Matthew saved Downton financially earlier in the season, and the importance of his actions was emphasized in the Christmas episode. There were also happy moments in the episode, as Mary and Matthew had a son. In retrospect we were also told that Matthew’s role in the series had ended as Mary described this as the two completing their jobs, providing a heir for Downton. There will now be two children at Downton lacking a parent. Tom Branson still isn’t completely comfortable in his role, but he has become part of the upstairs cast following the death of Lady Sybil earlier in the season. Branson, and a new maid, did learn the social implication of his new role in this episode.

It does appear that one new character might be added to the cast. Like the original Upstairs, Downstairs, a young and wilder niece (who already visited earlier in the season) is coming to live with the family, and might open up potential new story lines. With Downton Abbey you can’t predict if this will be a permanent edition, or just a brief visit from someone who will soon be forgotten as with Shirley MacLain’s character in the third season.

Downton Abbey Birth

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