Well, after last year’s plot heavy wrap up of the reign of the eleventh Doctor, we finally get a proper Christmas episode. And while it is plot heavy, and while it had some genuinely scary moments (and more than a few dramatic ones), it was refreshing to see the show embrace the sheer joy and giddiness of the season. Add to that a surprising return, a slight inversion of last year’s Christmas special, and a fantastic guest star and you have the makings of a joyous episode that still fits within the dark themes that have permeated the entire eighth series of Doctor Who.
What’s interesting about “Last Christmas” is that the dream logic makes sense, especially if you take the view that in most nightmares / waking dreams there is some symbol or physicalization of a way out of it; in this case it’s whoever is wearing the Santa suit. Which means that if Santa appears when someone is in a dream state, then that throws the teaser at the series finale into a whole new light…
Not only that but the claustrophobic nature of the story is something that Doctor Who, in all its incarnations, has done extremely well. While the meta-humor of the situation was called out with the dream crabs (““There’s a horror movie called Alien? No wonder people keep invading you.”) the fact that the crew, the Doctor, and Clara were all experiencing waking dreams up until the last five minutes of the episode was pretty daring from a storytelling perspective. And because of the dream logic, it led to truly scary moments involving chalkboards and operations manuals.
But as Leonard Cohen once said “In dreams the truth is learned that all good works are done in the absence of a caress,” and the Doctor and Clara finally reveal the truth of their lies they told each other in “Death In Heaven” (Gallifrey was never found and Danny Pink is still dead). Which then led to one of the big shocks of the episode, the final conversation between Danny and Clara, where after one of the best lines of the night (“I didn’t die saving the world. I died saving Clara. The rest of you just got lucky.”), he saves her one last time and she wakes up. Once again Samuel Anderson knocks it out of the park with his brief cameo showing us the collateral damage of the Doctor and his companion’s adventure in space and time.
It was this sense of finality that helped anchor the episode and would have been a great ending to the Doctor and Clara’s story (and which was exacerbated by the real world rumors of Jenna Coleman leaving the show after this episode), complete with Clara showing that the Doctor abandoned her but she lived a great life (except for the tragic aging makeup)… until it was revealed that it was all a dream as well. With the Doctor finally finding Clara in the right time, he takes her on board the TARDIS once again.
All in all this episode gave us (to quote the elf Wolf) “the feels”. Of all the guest stars (including Faye Marsay as the out of place Shona and Michael Troughton, who continues the tradition of the children of former Doctors as guest stars), the episode belongs to Nick Frost, who steals the episode as Santa Claus. What’s great about Frost’s performance, aside from his pitch perfect comedic timing, is the combination of mischievous glee and judgemental nature that makes him the most important person in the room. I lost it when Santa started spouting out the rules of the “dreamy-weamy” logic.
All in all, it was a lovely Christmas episode, and a lovely end to one of the best seasons of Doctor Who since its relaunch.
* Was there any sight more joyous than the Doctor’s utter glee as he was piloting the sleigh?
* Speaking of great cameos, it was hilarious to see Dan Starkey out of his Strax costume and in elf drag.
* There were so many callbacks throughout the episode. As Albert was dragged through the television, it was similar to the attacks in “The Idiot’s Lantern,” The Doctor’s description of the Dream Catchers drinking your brain through a straw was similar to Florence Finnegan’s actions in “Smith and Jones”. The biggest callback was when the Doctor asked Clara to fetch him some tea, basically treating her like Jo Grant.
NEXT TIME: Well, the Doctor and Clara will kick off Series Nine later in 2015. But while we wait…
Photo & Video Credits: BBC, ITV