It was a deliberate ploy by Steven Moffat to write the Twelfth Doctor as dangerous, unpredictable and volatile. It was his attempt, he says, “to slap the audience awake”. Not only did the showrunner present us with a new objectionable anti-hero, but he also made quite sure that Clara, the überpopular companion, was subjected to an emotional roller-coaster, in full view of the audience at home who strongly identified with her.
Series 8 was often a deliberately depressing spectacle. Not only were we forced to witness Clara’s tears, but also her arguments with the Doctor and threats to leave him. Time travel made it frustratingly difficult for Clara’s relationship with Danny to blossom. The “I love yous” eventually began to fly, but unfortunately so did the Cybermen. We saw Clara lose Danny and his gruesome Cyber-conversion. The Doctor suffered too. He didn’t find Gallifrey and lashed out in pain against the Tardis on discovering Missy’s deception. The gloom-fest concluded with the time-travellers lying to each other. Viewers had been well and truly “slapped” and on Christmas Day we were still smarting.
In his defence, Moffat had tried to soften the blow. If Series 8 hadn’t been packed with such original and exciting adventures, often scaring the wits out of us, and if regulars Gatiss and Roberts hadn’t tickled us with their exquisite sense of humour, we might not have survived the incessant “Moff-slaps”. On the other hand, the showrunner might have set store in that unfortunate old chestnut “Treat ’em mean, keep them keen”. But if things didn’t change this Christmas, Moffat risked viewers walking straight out through the Tardis doors and not turning back.
Those who have seen ‘Last Christmas’ know that everything, fortunately, turned out fine and dandy. Firstly, Clara and the Doctor opened up and told each other the truth. Then, Clara met Danny in a romantic dream sequence – a joy to behold. To our relief, he looked as right as rain – not the most appropriate of expressions, perhaps, given the circumstances of his demise. But most importantly, he helped Clara finally come to terms with her loss.
Later in the episode, the Doctor laughed joyously as he rode Santa’s sleigh. Clara smiled, as she hugged her mellowing magician. And will the Doctor’s “Yippee yi ay!” follow in the footsteps of “Geronimo!”, “Allons y!” and “Fantastic!”? I hope so. It’s certainly beats being grumpy!
Last and by no means least, our Christmas dreams came true. Clara decided to continue her adventures with the Doctor.
Moff didn’t slap us this Christmas, but lavished viewers with love and affection. He gave us everything that he had deprived us of in Series 8. Some may say that it was a cynical and calculating move. We can forgive him, though, as the showrunner has acted in the best interests of the series, by giving us a bumpy ride.
But enough is enough. Now we want to see the Doctor and Clara have some fun. Like the Fourth Doctor and Sarah. What about some more affection in the style of the Third and Jo? Otherwise only Whovians – and not the all-important casual viewers – will tune in. Ratings have been good this year, but the audience has also fired a warning shot, by awarding slightly lower appreciation scores than usual. Treat ’em mean for too long, Mr Moffat, and they will go. Next year, don’t slap ’em, but caress the audience. Time for a full-on Capaldi charm offensive, perhaps? And a playful, happy Clara, as in “The Day of the Doctor”?
What of the episode itself? Did ‘Last Christmas’ live up to our expectations? Apparently so. The episode has met with widespread acclaim among fans, viewers and the press. Personally, I loved ‘Last Christmas'”, as it righted the wrongs of Series 8. It also had a strong plot and wasn’t noisy insubstantial Christmas froth, as some had feared. The characters were all well-written and believable, no small feat in an episode lasting only sixty minutes.
The shenanigans on Clara’s roof set the Christmas scene suitably, but the banter was perhaps more silly than witty. That said, I enjoyed Nick Frost’s subtle and underplayed performance as Santa. Not until the scary base-under-siege scenario did the real story kick in. The concept of a dream within a dream was the original, imaginative tweak to the tale. As for the aged Clara, just like the senior Ten and Eleven who went before her, the make-up failed to impress. It just didn’t look real, but the unrealistic sight didn’t last for too long.
As his adventures have been over for a long time now, we had wanted Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge Stewart to die peacefully in bed. We certainly didn’t wish this on Clara, as she still has so much potential, so much to give to the show. Plus the fact we utterly adore the ground she walks on, not to mention the time and space she flies through! Knowing this, Moffat teased us. Clara became old. Would she live? She became young again. But then would she stay?
Back in 2005, we knew that when Nine invited Rose into the Tardis, she would accept without hesitation. On Christmas Day, Capaldi resembled the embarassed Eccleston as he made the same offer to Clara. It was a nail-biting moment. Would she agree? How we whooped and squeed when she did! And just to drive the message home, Moffat gave us an unambiguous Clara-rification – with a “Clara will return” in the closing credits. Oh, and the Doctor too!
And so fans who had started Series 8 with a deep breath concluded it with a collective sigh of relief. Clara will be back. What’s more, the Twelfth has settled in and is almost loveable. Mr Moffat, you can stop slapping us now, we are wide awake! It’s time to have some fun!