Friday, December 26, 2014

Last Christmas: Dr Who is scary again

Warning: I discuss the plot of the episode. If you're unhappy with details of a programme you haven't seen being discussed, please watch the episode now and then return here.

One of my strongest single childhood memories was hiding behind my mother's chair while watching the original Dr Who avoid the Daleks in their metal floored city. I was definitely at least 6 and probably no more than 8.

I've never understood why, before the middle of the 20th century, children's entertainment was permitted to be seriously frightening nor why after that it was forced to become so completely bland and non-threatening, but The Dr lived through that era and was destroyed by it.

Dr Who of the early 1960s was for a young child a very frightening TV programme. It was scary but at the same time I never wanted to miss a minute; hence the cramped space between mum's arm chair and the wall. Later incarnations of The Dr became less frightening. Obviously I was maturing but I also think that the BBC had been gradually turning down the fright as they slowly but surely turned it into the self parody it became before ultimately being shut down.

They say you are always a fan of your first Dr Who so it would be interesting  to hear from people a few years younger than me if they found the 1970s and 1980s versions of Dr Who as shallow as I did. Was it purely that I was maturing and out-growing the show?

Since the show was resurrected I've enjoyed watching the occasional episode as the new Dr Who was, I felt, still accessible to younger people without being a silly parody. Tonight I watched Peter Capaldi's 12 Doctor and Clara Oswald in the 2014 Christmas special  Last Christmas.  For the first time since those halcyon days of the early 1960s I felt genuine horror while watching the show. Sure I'm now an adult and didn't need to hide, and the horror of being trapped in nested dreams by a parasitic creature would probably escape attention by a 6 year old, but to me the thought of the mind being forcibly taken over by predators was scary.

The episode started as almost a comedy with Santa Claus crashing his sleigh at, Clara's house. I thought "Oh no, another parody" but then the episode turned dark with strange shambling aliens and "Dream crabs", spider like creatures, attaching the guest victims ... except that Santa Claus returned and then either was or wasn't there, eventually being there almost to the end.

I think that what made the horror aspect work so well was that there was this mixture between the comedy elements around Santa Claus and the horror elements around the dream crabs. At first it seems to be a standard comedy horror spoof, except that as things carry on it becomes obvious that it isn't this and that the apparent comedy elements are actually a part of the horror.

Eventually everything is resolved, but this is hardly a surprise as we know the Dr will always survive and while there have been companions that have died, I can't remember any recent cases.

I've said to Tessa a few times that I like the thought of Dr Who far more than I like the reality of Dr Who, but if they can start producing shows of this quality I may well become a serious fan again, a mere 50 years after first being one.

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