SciFi Weekend Part 1: Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, And Call the Midwife Christmas Specials, Plus Homeland and The Affair Season Finales, The Interview

Doctor Who Last Christmas

This year’s Doctor Who Christmas special, Last Christmas is a “dreamy-weamy”combination of a variety of Steven Moffat tropes and old movies. The early scenes combined elements of Doctor Who episodes such as Blink, Listen, the Silent from The Impossible Astronaut with the Alien movie series. Instead of not blinking, or not being able to see or remember the alien, the challenge was to not look at or think about the alien. Suddenly the strategy fell apart and we had an attack out of Alien, only to saved by Santa and a gang of toys reminiscent of the Toy Story movies. We even learned how Santa fits all those toys on his sleigh, and it should have been obvious: It is bigger on the inside.

Santa was played by Nick Frost who, with the possible exception of Nick Blood on Agents of SHIELD, is the actor with the best name to fit their role. At first Santa tried to hide his identity: “Sorry about this, girl, we are just three passing perfectly ordinary roof people, doing some emergency roof things.” One of the elves pointed out to Santa that his attempts to hide his identity were not that effective: “You know how you grew the beard as a bit of a disguise? People have picked up on it.” Incidentally the other elf was played by Dan Starkey, who also plays Strax.

Moffat did not hide the allusions to other movies. He recognized Alien with this line, spoken by the Doctor (who happens to be an alien): “There’s a horror movie called Alien? That’s really offensive. No wonder everyone keeps invading you.” Moffat has also stated in interviews that the tangerine at the conclusion of the movie is like the walking stick at the end of Miracle on 34th Street.

Doctor Who Last Christmas Dreaming

Following the rescue by Santa and the toys, we found that it was all a dream, and ultimately there were dreams withing dreams, with the episode feeling much like Inception. Of course being a Moffat show it was far less structured than Inception. There were certainly many plot holes in this episode, but being a Christmas episode in which Moffat was writing in Santa we need to be more forgiving than in a typical episode. The rules kept changing, but in this case it was often acceptable as we were dealing with changeable logic within dreams. Besides, none of the plot holes were as flagrant as the mass of the moon increasing as an egg comes close to hatching (Kill The Moon), people forgetting the actions of trees to protect the planet (In The Forest Of The Night), or the golden arrow of Robot of Sherwood.

A highlight of the dream sequences was Clara having far better closure with Danny Pink than occurred in Death in Heaven. The scene also used old Moffat tropes again, such as with the chalk board with messages like “Dreaming,” similar to the chalkboard from Listen. The episode also had both Clara admit that she lied about Danny being alive and the Doctor admit that he did not find Gallifrey, leaving them in a better position to go on together from when we last saw them. It also leaves the question open as to whether Gallifrey will play into future episodes.

Unfortunately the BBC had put out a press release immediately after the UK showing announcing that Jenna Coleman was returning, partially spoiling the ending. The scenes in which the Doctor saved an older version of Clara could have worked if Coleman was really leaving the series, and the scenes would have been more convincing before seeing the press releases. I wonder if that might have been the end of the episode if Jenna Coleman was really not returning. Instead, with Jenna Coleman coming back to play opposite Peter Capaldi for at least one more season, that was yet another dream.

Doctor Who Last Christmas Sleigh Ride

While I enjoy Moffat’s work, I also see the point of his critics and do find that his more recent work is not as tightly written as back in the days in which he wrote occasional (and usually excellent) stories under Russell  T. Davies. I do wonder if he does need a good editor to tighten up his plots these days. Some of the plot holes in Last Christmas could have been been handled with some better writing and more concern for details. The storyline would have made more sense if, when the Doctor first explained about the mind crabs, he made a point of saying that their ability to eat their victim’s brain depended upon the victim not realizing it was a dream while being tranquilized, but victims could successfully resist if they realize. The progressive realization that they were having dreams within dreams could then be turned into a battle of wits between the Doctor and the mind crabs. It made little sense that the mind crabs had them dream about being scientists fighting the mind crabs, as opposed to the happier (and individual) dream which Clara had involving Danny. This might have seemed more plausible with an exchange in which Clara specifically asked why the aliens would have themselves present in one layer of the dream. The Doctor could have come up with an explanation such as that at the shallowest levels of the dream their brains did provide them an explanation which was closer to reality.

Of course none of this would have explained why they had the sleigh rid and didn’t just wake up when they figured out that they were having dreams within dreams. The answer to that one is simple. How could you expect Moffat to refrain from doing a scene featuring the Doctor flying Santa’s sleigh over London in the most exciting sleigh scene since Santa flew from Central Park through midtown Manhattan in Elf?

The Doctor Who Extra for Last Christmas follows:

While most television shows in the United States now go on  hiatus around the holiday, networks in the U.K. instead often have some of the major episodes of their top series on Christmas Day. There must be some sociological significance to how each country handles television so differently around Christmas. In addition to Doctor Who, two others were of particular interest, involving shows which also have a following in the United States. As US viewers are behind the UK, I will avoid spoilers on these two shows.

Downton Abbey Christmas Special 2014

Downton Abbey had an excellent Christmas episode which essentially serves as the season finale for the show, wrapping up a few major plot lines from the fifth season and providing a potential hint of what is to come next season. I don’t want to say anything else as none of the fifth season has been on here yet, with any discussion of the topics of the episode likely to spoil events of the season. I’ll just say that the season is more satisfactory with this conclusion added on.

Call_the_Midwife_Christmas_special

The Christmas episode of Call the Midwife was the first since the departure of Jessica Raine. Fortunately the show had developed an excellent ensemble which should allow the show to survive her departure, even if she was a major element. Miranda Hart returned to a major role and instead of young Jenny staring in the main story, Vanessa Redgrave appeared as both narrator and on screen at the start and end of the show. The episode does show include character development for some of the remaining characters. Among the story lines is an aspect of the work of the midwives not seen before–handing pregnancies for young, unmarried women who leave town for the birth of their babies.

Besides the Christmas episodes, there were two new episodes of shows of significance in the past week. Homeland‘s season finale was a real disappointment. They would have been better off ending the season after last week’s episode. The Affair ended its first season with a much stronger finale. They certainly put out enough circumstantial evidence to make Noah’s arrest appear inevitable, and he didn’t help his case by attempting to bribe a witness. As there is still at least another full season to come, it seems a safe bet that Noah really is not guilty, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is covering up for Alison.

The Interview dominated the news with regards to holiday movie releases. This was more because of the Sony hacking and threats to dissuade them from releasing it, and not due to the quality of the movie. I still might stream it this weekend, but the reviews have not been very good:

“Characterizing it as satire elevates the creative execution of the film’s very silly faux assassination of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un far beyond what it merits,” writes Betsy Sharkey in the Lost Angeles Times.

In the Village Voice, Stephanie Zacharek writes that “The Interview” is “contrived absurdity” and that it has very little payoff for all the trouble it caused.

Slate’s Aisha Harris argues that those looking for a satire of North Korea are better off re-watching “Team America: World Police,” the puppet movie created by the makers of “South Park” more than a decade ago.

While Part 1 of SciFi Weekend concentrates on reviews of the past week, Part 2 will look back on the entire year.

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