Saturday, 27 December 2014

How To Ruin Childhoods & Influence People

So, I guess it turns out that Santa isn't real.

Obviously this doesn't come as much of shock a bitter, cynical old man such as myself. But even I will freely admit that the audience for Doctor Who is a little broader than continuity obsessed middle aged hermits. So one of the many concerns that I immediately started having after Santa randomly stepped through the TARDIS doors at the end of the last series was how exactly they'd get away with having him in it and maintaining some semblance of coherent science fiction without telling the children of the world that there was no such thing as Father Christmas ON CHRISTMAS DAY.

As it turns out, they decided to go one better.

So.... yeah. INTERESTING sort of episode....

I suppose really you have to feel a little sorry for Steven Moffat. He takes over the show and inherits this weird tradition of Christmas specials. Which had, let's face it, already become a bit silly by that point. And no amount of lampshading from Wilf could hide it.

"Read all about it! Human race doomed to enslavemnet by alien brain parasites! But not until after the Queens Speech."

But they're a big, successful thing for the series, so you kinda have to do them. So he rolls up his sleeves and pumps out A Christmas Carol, taking the whole to it's logical conclusion and making what turns out to be one of the better 11th Doctor stories.

But despite this being the logical stopping point for such overtly festive shenanigans, you CAN'T just stop. Because now you've proved that it can actually be done well, and nobody seems to be overly concerned with asking if maybe it's a better idea to quit whilst your ahead.

Well, ALMOST no body.

And thus, having painted himself into a corner we get a sense of a writer desperately mining anything tangentially Christmas themed. Ranging from the distinctly below average wannabe Narniaisms of The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe through further Dickensian re-visitations in the Snowmen and culminating in the incoherent mess that was The Time Of The Doctor.

Quite why nobody has worked out that maybe you should try doing a Bond film or something is beyond me.

So now we get to Last Christmas and to be honest it's feeling more like one oif those D100 random table checklist RTD affairs. Or, to be more specific, like it's being done as part of a bet or something. Like he had some sort of vague idea for doing something based on the Thing or something similar...

Picture unrelated.

And then the production team went out and got drunk and someone dared him to put Santa in it. I mean, that's OBVIOUSLY a bad idea right?

And it so very nearly works.

I have to admit that the second watch through was more enjoyable than the first, as I was freed from the nagging anxiety of wondering just how fucking stupid the explanation for having Santa in the episode was going to be. Maybe this was part of the plan, attempting to distract the audience from what's really going on. Perhaps all that retarded solving problems with the power of WUV and boosting ships into orbit by bouncing bit's of soft metal at relatively low velocities off the side was all part of some master plan. So we loose all faith in the production teams ability to actually construct a coherent narrative and thus are pleasantly suprised when they DON'T fuck it up for once.

If so, that was a bloody stupid plan.

But I think I'm digressing somewhat. The point is that having Santa is an obvious publicity stunt, but that it could actually have worked. The explanation given would have made decent sense. But then then they decided to go back on it for some reason, and then it STOPPED MAKING SENSE.

A crew of scientists stranded at the north pole on christmas day and trapped in a hallucinogenic dreamscape by horrible gribbly brain parasites? Yeah, that gives you just enough plausable connections that having Santa turn up in the dream world works. I mean, you're still telling all the little kiddies that Santa is only a dream, but if you actually cared about that sort of thing we wouldn't have gotten this far in the first place. And since everyone is trapped together in this gestalt fuge it's actually quite fun that Santa seems to be picking up some of the 12th Doctors sarcastic attitude.

And then not long after we're told that not only are none of these people actually at the north pole, they're not even necessarily in the same time zone. So there's no particular reason to think it's actually christmas where any of them actually are. And at that point Santa goes from being an entertaining bit of weirdness back to a nonsensical publicity stunt and it does rather spoil things.

There is an emerging theme in the current series that, for all the other great things he's done for the show, Mr Moffatt simply doesn't know when to leave things alone and move on. I'm not just talking about the Santa logic. We also have the return of Clara.

A decision so bad it echoed back through time and punched an artist.

Now, it's no big secret to anyone who's read anything I've written about the last series, talked to me about in person about the subject or actually watched the damn show that I don't particularly care for the character. But I think it's slightly more than my personal distaste for her. See, no matter what anyone's opinions on the character may be, the point is that she actually had a good solid ending to her story at the end of the series. Her and the Doctor parting ways as much due to the fact that they're unable to reconcile each others lying and manipulations as trying to protect each others feelings. A bit of a downer, sure. But dramatically satisfying as well as being thematically and narratively consistent.

And so, having written a good ending someone randomly changes their mind at the last minute and we go back on ourselves and spoil it. And this isn't the first time either, what with the whole awesome surprise ending Amy & Rory got at the end of God Complex, which was then instantly reneged on so we could suffer through a handful of dubiously mediocre episodes culminating in the rather poor Muppets, Jason, Angels Take Manhattan.

And yes, I'm still pretending Asylum Of The Daleks didn't happen. Don't spoil it for me.

Anyway, there is a worrying trend towards a lack of either consistency or confidence. Anyone would think people were devoting hours of their time to nitpicking every minor detail or something. Honestly, what sort of cunt would do a thing like that?

And of course then he does it YET AGAIN by having the fakeout old Clara bit. What's funny about this is that old Clara seemed to me to be a lot more likeable. Perahps on account of finally having had enough time to finally get over herself or something. That also would have made for a good ending. One last hurrah but then, whoops, she's dying of old age. Time to hook up with a new companion. Preferably one of the obvious contenders from the episode itself.

I only just noticed they're all cosplaying as Rory. That's what I call living the dream.

In both the smart boss lady and comedy chav characters we have excellent companion material. The other characters may also be worthy of consideration, but these two get more to do, so it's a bit more obvious. They get to be a bit brave, clever and resourceful. They both ask the right sort of questions. But perhaps suprisingly it's the comedy chav type character of Shona that I think would have made for the best companion material. The other girl is undoubtedly competent. But unfortunately competence in a companion is not something that tends to get written overly well most of the time. The most apposite comparison here is in the 3rd Doctors era. After all, Liz Shaw was all kinds of clever and resourceful. But the writers didn't always know quite what to do with her. But Jo Grant had that whole nice but dim but not really dim thing going on. And it's in that mold that I could see Shona fitting in. Inexperienced enough to ask questions and get exposition for the audience and get herself into a bit of trouble every now and then, but with enough bravery and resourcefulness to cope with stuff and get the Doctor OUT of trouble. And also nice enough to provide a humanising influence on an otherwise spiky Doctor.

Perhaps paradoxically, whilst I criticize the whole reveal that nobody is really a polar scientist bit for nullifying the Santa part of the stories coherence, it does actually provide a nice bit of companion motivation for the characters involved. After all, ahving experienced something a bit outside the norm in the dreamscape they may well find their horizons broadened a little. Particularly with Shona who does seem to give the impression of having a bit of a rubbish life without much opportunity.

And best of all I don't think you could actually describe her as being feisty. That's a word that's lost all meaning through repetition.

Anyway, leaving aside Santa and companion role wish fulfillment for a moment, what about the rest of the plot? The whole brain eating parasite thing is pretty cool, and very well realised. Especially considering just how early in the evening this was on. And the whole dreams within dreams thing was not a bad idea if you don't look at it too closely.

You know, like this.

But even then you can have a lot of fun either looking for the exact moment when the Doctor somehow forgets he's in a dream, or bitching about the fact that he does. I mean, he quite clearly knows what's going on before the credits. I'm guessing some time around Clara getting attacked in the dream after the attack in the dream and so on and so on.

To be brutally honest though I'm also guessing that it was the Doctor who forgot and not the writer. Since he already knew they were at least a level or two down at that point it does seem a bit odd that he'd even give the slightest fuck, let alone get flustered enough to buy into the whole thing. Still, it's also fun to note that even a dream of a dream of a dream of Danny Pink is still the nicest man around. Seriously, why couldn't Clara have gotten run over and he took over as companion.

I totally want that mans babies. I'm not ashamed to admit. Although I do at least maintain enough decency to be utterly terrified at the prospect of all the Danny / Rory slash fic that must exist by this point.

Anyway, enough about porn for the moment, we were trying to talk about Doctor Who.

In conclusion then: An interesting episode marred largely by the inclusion of Clara and the abandonment of logic. Whilst I get the dream scenario is a good excuse for covering up ones inability at constructing logically consistent stories you do need to take some care to not just randomly spoil all the good work you've already achieved for no reason. It's also notable for being somewhat more low-key than a lot of prior episodes, opting for a more personal approach to the peril This is a good thing, as there's only so many times you can threaten to blow up the world before people stop taking you seriously.

I think that whilst it undoubtedly has it's moments, the whole thing doesn't QUITE gel together to be greater than the sum of those parts. Which is a criticism I think is becoming increasingly prevalent to be honest.

Maybe time to concentrate on the episodes more than the trailers?