Yes, I know, I’ve left it weeks and by now you can probably barely even remember it was on. But on it was and I feel I should say something. Part of the reason that this review is so late, other than simple disorganisation on my part, is that I generally try and watch each episode at least twice before committing my opinions to Her Majesty’s Internet, and I just haven’t felt like re-watching this one. That already says a fair bit about it, doesn’t it?

Not that it was bad exactly. We’re spoiled these days, us Doctor Who fans. The programme has reached a consistent level of quality in almost all areas which we would have killed for back in the 80s. The production design, lighting design, camera work and FX are all absolutely first rate, as usual. Matt Smith knows exactly what he’s doing in the leading role, and the show can now attract guest stars that would be the envy of pretty much any other show on British TV.

So each week we tune in, hoping not that the sets and the monsters will be up to the vision of the scriptwriter (I’ve just been watching Barry Letts and Paddy Russell talk about Invasion of the Dinosaurs – poor old things) but conversely that the script will be worth all the time, talent and money which will be lavished on it.

And was it? Well, there was certainly some good stuff in it. The delightful feint of Claire Skinner picking the lock of a real police box was tremendously funny, the portal into a Christmas world of snow and trees was delightful, the inevitable reunion with Alexander Armstrong (never has a piece of casting given away a supposed plot-twist more clearly!) was suitably moving and the genuinely surprising reappearance of Amy and Rory was a lovely little Christmas present for the regular viewers.

But what on earth was the point of it all?

There are two basic approaches one can take to long-form storytelling. One is the classic three acts. Set up your problem, make your hero suffer, resolve the problem. See Blink, Midnight, The Empty Child, or actually – most successful stories. All of the events are connected to the main problem in some way.The other approach is to use the narrative just as an excuse for a lot of fun and games of a different kind. See most musicals, Marx Brothers movies, James Bond and so on. In these stories, the resolution of one problem creates another one, and so a more episodic feel is created. Splitting the difference, creating a series of related set-pieces, runs the risk of feeling episodic. I took Moffat to task for this with The Eleventh Hour which seemed to me to scarcely know what it was about despite being a lot of fun – but this is worse by far.

It’s about the Doctor’s relationship with Madge. No, about it’s the Doctor’s Christmas treat for her children (which, as the episode goes on, looks more and more like a sinister trap for whichever proves to be the most curious of her brood). No, it’s about those funny tree things. Oh look, it’s Arabella Weir. Hey, now Claire Skinner’s gone all magic.

To be blunt, this was a fucking mess. There are some delightful ingredients in the mix, but the artful constructionist of A Scandal in Belgravia has apparently assembled them using a blender. Of particular note is Claire Skinner’s blithe acceptance of pretty much all the batshit-craziness which visits her Christmas. It’s rather charming and funny until you realise how unbelievable it is and what a narrative short-cut it represents.

So, I’m starting to have deep misgivings about Steven Moffat’s reign at the head of the Whoniverse. While he’s undoubtedly capable of writing magnificent stories, I feel he sold us down the river twice last year – once by not noticing how distraught Amy Pond would be to have her infant daughter irrevocably ripped from her, and again by entirely failing to provide a coherent explanation for the Doctor’s death on the shores of Lake Silencio. If I’m dazzled by how clever everything is, then I may not notice that the characters are thinly drawn. If the emotions are big and important enough, then I may not notice that the plot doesn’t quite work. But you can’t fail at both and expect no-one to notice. This would have been a good moment to bounce back and prove that running both Doctor Who and Sherlock isn’t spreading Steven Moffat too thinly. So, far it looks like Sherlock’s gain is Doctor Who’s loss.

Two stars.

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