1 May 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 851: Last Christmas

Dear diary,

Every Christmas is ‘Last Christmas’, this episode tells us, and it’s certainly the ‘Last Christmas’ for The 50 Year Diary, because after 851 days, I’m finally at the end of my mission to watch Doctor Who one episode a day from the very beginning. I’ll be posting a final entry tomorrow looking back over the entire project and discussing it in a little more detail, but for now, it’s time for one final adventure with the Doctor…

As Christmas specials for the programme go, Last Christmas is one of the better ones, if not one of the best. I’ve noticed a trend when re-watching Series Eight for this marathon, in that on the whole, by opinion of the episodes has gone down. Sometimes it’s gone down by quite a hefty amount. On only a couple of occasions has it gone up. One of the biggest problems that I’ve found on this viewing of the series - which I’ve only really touched on very briefly so far - is that it’s suddenly pitched at a slightly older audience than it has for the last few years. The combination of a later timeslot and a shift in tone through the stories themselves seems far less geared towards the youngsters than I always thing the programme should be (and I’m sorry to say that I know of more kids than I can count on two hands who stopped watching last year because it simply didn’t appeal to them any more. To that end, when Santa Claus was announced as a guest star for the Christmas episode, I did wonder if they might be trying to readdress the balance and win back some of the younger fans, but as I wrote in my preview of the episode last December:

”People have speculated that a special starring Santa and his elves, with reindeer and the North Pole is a sign of the programme becoming more child-friendly than some episodes of the latest run have been, but that’s not necessarily the case. There’s still plenty of humour and fun to be found in the sometimes dark situations that play out in this North Pole base, but the arrival of Father Christmas doesn’t exactly herald songs and lightness.”

That’s something that I’ve been musing on throughout this episode today. I rather like the darker tone of the programme in itself - it’s certainly provided us with some stories like Mummy on the Orient Express which I’ve really enjoyed - but I’m finding my enjoyment of the episode, and the series as a whole, tainted by wondering if perhaps it’s shifted focus that bit too much. Series Nine is, depending who you listen to, either staying in the same vein as the last run was, or changing completely to lighten the mood. I think I’d like a bit of a combination - Doctor Who can do lots of great stories that are scary and - though I’m loathe to say it - ‘dark’, but there’s just something… missing at the moment which has been all too apparent on second viewing.

But, leaving aside my own thoughts on who the programme should be pitching itself to, what did I like about this story, even the second time around? Well, I’m rather keen on the way that everything ties together. The use of Santa is very clever, and I love the idea that you never quite know if he’s real or not, and the use of dreams is done rather brilliantly - on the first viewing, I certainly didn’t guess the various twists and reveals, and I enjoyed trying to work it all out as we went along. There’s several of those great revelations, where you work it out just seconds before the answer is revealed, and that’s always rather engaging viewing.

But the thing I like the most about this one simply has to be Peter Capaldi. Having been through this marathon, I’ve had the spotlight shone on each Doctor in turn for several months at a time over the last few years, and it’s really remarkable how they’ve managed to strike gold every single time. I’ll admit that I was worried when Peter was cast - not because I didn’t think he’d be brilliant or that he’d be wrong for the part, but simply because it was something that everybody seemed to agree upon. Wherever yo turned, people were nodding in agreement and looking forward to the future of Doctor Who. That rarely happens in a fandom, so it was a little unsettling, and I couldn’t help wondering if it was the sign of a mistake! But of course it wasn’t, because over this first series, Capaldi has shown us that he’s just the man Hartnell, or Pertwee, or McCoy, or any of them were - and the future really is bright in his hands.

The rather nice thing about finishing this marathon at this point is that Doctor Who’s future seems to be assured for the next few years at the very least. Even though I’ve now experienced every episode in some form or another, there’s always new Doctor Who on the horizon, and that’s possibly the most exciting thing of all.

I’ll see you back here tomorrow for a final summing up and, for the first time in ages, a day when I won’t have to watch an episode! That doesn’t mean I won’t watch one, mind. I’ll probably cave by around the middle of the afternoon… 

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