TV Review: ‘Doctor Who’ 2014 Christmas Special “Last Christmas”

Has the Doctor been a good boy?

This review contains SPOILERS

Starring:  Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald, Nick Frost as Santa

Written by:  Steven Moffat / Episode directed by:   Paul Wilmshurst / aired in the UK and U.S. :  25/12/2014

What’s this episode about?

It’s Christmas and Clara and the Doctor enlist the help of Santa Claus himself to thwart a deadly alien threat…

Episode review

Ah…Christmas, a time to eat, drink, be Merry and sit down to watch the BBC’s Doctor Who Christmas Special which over the last decade (yes, it really has been that long) has firmly entrenched itself in the festive traditions.

The 2014 special, “Last Christmas” is the tenth Who Christmas episode and although not quite as fun as 2005’s “The Christmas Invasion” (which saw the debut of David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor) or as epic as Matt Smith’s departure in last year’s “The Time of the Doctor” it is non-the-less another entertaining festive treat that contains equal measures of atmospheric shocks and sugar-coated delights.

As we’ve come to expect over the course of Peter Capaldi’s first season as master of the TARDIS, “Last Christmas” has a dark streak with a number of ‘behind the sofa’ scares (all the more daring given the 6:15pm timeslot) presented by the malevolent alien creatures that threaten to destroy Christmas.

Largely taking place at an isolated North Pole research station, the premise of “Last Christmas” harkens back to the iconic ‘base under siege’ template of classic Who adventures and owes much to the likes of Alien and The Thing From Another World, both of which are rightfully acknowledged by writer Steven Moffat.  It infuses the otherwise festive proceedings with a tense and unsettling atmosphere as the Doctor uncovers the truth behind the appearance of Santa and the plight of the crew of that afore-mentioned research station (one of whom is played by Michael Troughton, son of the late Patrick Troughton who portrayed the Doctor’s second incarnation from 1966 to 1969).

It’s not all doom and gloom though, there are plenty of heartfelt moments between the Doctor and Clara and levity facilitated via jovial guest star Nick Frost (complete with Elf sidekicks).  The highlight of the piece however is the Doctor’s piloting of Santa’s sled, a fantastically magical sequence where Christmas truly takes over and sure to kindle the yuletide spirit in even the most cynical of the viewership.

The biggest surprise of course is the fate of Clara, just as we suspect the Doctor’s encounter with an elderly version of his beloved companion is leading toward Jenna Coleman’s rumoured exit, a twist in the mind-bending Inception-esque concept provides us with (at least partially) an answer as Clara decides to accept the Doctor’s invitation to return to the TARDIS.

“Last Christmas” sees Peter Capaldi provide another assured turn as the now not-so-new Doctor and hopefully Coleman will stick around for a while longer, with the highs and lows of their comradery being one of the main draws of this last season.  It will be exciting to see where the TARDIS lands next…

The bottom line:  The Doctor saves Christmas once again as the BBC delivers another quality festive edition of Doctor Who that’s scary, tense and magical in a way that only this iconic series could achieve.

“Last Christmas” is released on Blu-ray and DVD by 2entertain on 26th January.  Doctor Who season 9 will air in 2015.

What did you think of Peter Capaldi’s first Christmas as the Doctor?  Share your thoughts below!

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) enlist the help of Santa (Nick Frost) in another magical festive edition of the BBC's 'Doctor Who'.

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) enlist the help of Santa (Nick Frost) in another magical festive edition of the BBC’s ‘Doctor Who’.

TV Review: ‘Doctor Who’ S8 EP1 “Deep Breath” – SEASON PREMIERE

The Doctor will see you now…

Starring:  Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald, Catrin Stewart as Jenny Flint

Written by:  Steven Moffat / Episode directed by:  Ben Wheatley / aired in the UK:  23/08/2014

What’s this episode about?

Clara and the newly regenerated Doctor find themselves in Victorian London where, after dealing with a dinosaur roaming the Thames, they are thrust into a mysterious wave of spontaneous combustions threatening the populace.  But the Doctor isn’t the man he used to be…

Episode review

It felt a long time coming…and in a sense it has been, given that it’s been eight months since the fleeting on-screen introduction of Peter Capaldi as the ‘new’ Doctor.  Ever since those closing moments of Matt Smith’s departure in the 2013 Christmas Special (“The Time of the Doctor”), viewers – both casual and committed – have waited with baited breath, even a healthy amount of trepidation, to see how Capaldi (himself a life-long fan of Doctor Who) would fare as the new master of the TARDIS.

To fully assess Capaldi after only one full outing (and an extended ‘feature length’ one at that) is wholly unfair but given his mesmerising and captivating turn in “Deep Breath”, the iconic time machine would seem to be in safe hands.  In one episode Capaldi delivers tantalising glimpses of all we’ve been promised, a darker, more cantankerous and enigmatic version of the Doctor that lends a welcome feeling of freshness to the series as though it were November 1963.  Some will have no doubt found the transition to Capaldi jarring, it’s certainly fair to say that David Tennant and Matt Smith are tough acts to follow, but a return to a more Hartnell-esque version of the character feels the right direction to follow, returning the series to its roots as it moves past last year’s 50th anniversary.

Despite the darker moments, Capaldi reminds us that he’s still the Doctor and allows those familiar quirks and inklings of levity to seep through as he clearly has fun with the Gallifreyan Time Lord’s bumpy and confused transition to his new – older – form.  In fact, Capaldi’s madcap post-regeneration daze and confusion is pleasingly reminiscent of Jon Pertwee’s debut in classic 1970 Who serial “Spearhead from Space”.

Capaldi is served well by writer Moffat, who spices the episode’s script with affectionate nods to the show’s past (references to those “round things” that furnished the classic TARDIS interior, for example) and not so subtle references to the Doctor’s new found ‘Scottishness’ (and provoking reaction to the forthcoming referendum).

Whilst the episode itself has its less assured and weaker moments with its slightly messy plot and at times underwhelming villain it also captured some of the magic of a Christmas Special via it’s Victorian period setting and roaming CGI dinosaur.  Despite a rather slow start, “Deep Breath” soon gathers pace and takes us on the ride viewers always expect from the series.

On the whole it certainly could have been better, but where “Deep Breath” truly shines is in its focus on the Doctor and Clara and the changing dynamics of their relationship.  In many ways Clara represents the viewer – unsure and a little hesitant and even baffled at the Doctor’s new form and both Coleman and Capaldi handle these moments deftly as they begin to discover a bond that is much more that of niece and uncle than the unrequited and flirtatious yearnings of Tennant and Smith’s respective tenures…another example of returning to the show’s roots – and emerges all the better for it.

As I’ve cited, it’s all bound to be jarring for many (new title sequence and reworked theme music notwithstanding), perhaps especially in the case of younger viewers used to a lighter and more youthful interpretation of the heroic Time Lord, but as “Deep Breath” draws to a close the Doctor has begun to settle in to his new form and ready to hurtle, TARDIS first, into a new era for one of the most enduring and popular of all of SF television.

The bottom line:  Change is inevitable and whilst some viewers may initially find the transition uneasy, the talented Peter Capaldi clearly displays potential and gives viewers promising glimpses of a new era for Doctor Who.

Did you know?

Capaldi previously appeared in “The Fires of Pompeii” during David Tennat’s 2008 season of Doctor Who, as well as Home Office Secretary John Frobisher in the “Children of Earth” serial of spin-off series Torchwood.

Doctor Who season 8 airs in the UK Saturday evenings on BBC 1.  US viewers can catch it on BBC America.

What did you think of Peter Capaldi’s debut as the Doctor?  Share your thoughts below!

Peter Capaldi makes a promising and assured debut as the Doctor...

Peter Capaldi makes a promising and assured debut as the Doctor…

Have Yourselves a GEEKY Little Christmas…

Hey folks!  With Christmas well and truly upon us, I thought I would drop you all a (fairly) quick note wishing you the very best for Christmas, the New Year and beyond!

I’d also like to thank you all for your support over the last few months and for taking the time to check out this little blog of mine.  I’m humbled and forever grateful and must apologise for the lack of updates over the recent weeks, stay tuned for some fresh geekery in the New Year (I’ll also do some catching up with your wonderful blogs).

2014 looks set to be (at least potentially) a phenomenal year for geek fandom, with some tantalising treats in store.  Prepare to empty your wallets and purses, declare bankruptcy and form orderly queues for the likes of highly anticipated big screen releases including Robocop (please be good), Godzilla (have you seen that trailer?), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (CANNOT wait for that), The Amazing Spider-Man 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past (Stewart! McKellen! Jackman! McAvoy! Fassbender! Oh my!), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and the first post-Bat offering from Christopher Nolan, Interstellar.

On the small screen we’ll have the continuation of current seasons of Arrow (and a pilot for the impending Flash series), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (hopefully we’ll see some improvement) and RevolutionSherlock will live again and the time-hopping (profanity lacking) adventures of Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor shall commence in Doctor Who.  Hopefully it won’t be too long until the UK television premiere of the J.J. Abrams produced, Karl Urban starring Almost Human which I’m hearing good things about and the next season of Under the Dome will intrigue without ‘jumping the shark’ (that first season finale was a little worrying) and Falling Skies will continue to excite.

Plus there’ll be ongoing geekery in the world of comic books and gaming as Sony and Microsoft plough ahead with the new generation (I’ve waited long enough, just give me Metal Gear Solid V now) but I’ll leave it there, come up for air and just sign off by saying wherever you are and whatever you do (hopefully playing on your PS4’s and X-Box One’s in between bites of turkey, sips of wine and viewings of many a Christmas classic), eat, drink, be merry and most of all – be safe!

See you in 2014…

Hopefully you won't catch this guy in the act on Christmas Eve...

Hopefully you won’t catch this guy in the act on Christmas Eve…