Besides “Waters of Mars” and “A Christmas Carol,” this is by far my favorite of the Doctor Who Specials and definitely the most character heavy of the Christmas Specials which is what gave it so much power. It wasn’t about the stories it took inspiration from, it was about the characters who inhabited the story, which is what made it so brilliant.
“Last Christmas” was written by Steven Moffat and directed by Paul Wilmshurst.
The premise of the episode is a base under siege story. It begins with the Doctor picking up Clara from her home and taking her to the North Pole. It is there they work with the survivors of the base against the Dream Crabs who are killing 4 of the people on the base. When Santa comes to the rescue we soon learn that all is not as it appears to be and the Dream Crabs are more powerful than first realized.
The Pros: The Premise – The premise reminds me of “Inception” meets “Alien” or “John Carpenters The Thing” as the Dream Crabs have a creepy slimy design and so much of who they are is what you don’t see since by seeing and thinking about them is how they get power. They are a great enemy who I hope we see again. They raise the stakes and keep us guessing about what is real during the story, which makes the reveal of Clara telling the Doctor Danny is dead and the Doctor telling Clara he didn’t find Gallifrey all the more powerful. The base is haunting too, which makes the dream sequences all the more creepy.
The Humor -The best joke in the series is the Professor says the premise reminds him of the film “Alien.” The Doctor is horrified, “There’s a horror film called “Alien!” No wonder everyone keeps invading you.” Santa and the Elves relationship is great too as he has to put limits on how they praise and talk about him…at one point even giving a warning to stop.
The Survivors – Each of the survivors is living the life of who they wished they were. They are all scientists because of the shared dream and the movies one of them watched before the Dream Crab got her. One of them wakes up and finds she was in a wheel chair and younger than she was in the dream, the other was a teenager who was a woman in the dream and the final person who held them in her dream was alone and her mind had sought out others. It’s powerful and we see Clara needing the Doctor and Dream Danny to help get out of the Dream within a Dream as she wants to be with Danny so much. All of them are human and scarred in different ways. Michael Troughton, son of the 2nd Doctor also appeared in this episode as a professor, he isn’t given much to do but does a good job.
Dream Danny – Dream Danny is great in that he gives Clara the chance to grieve and have one last Christmas with the man she loves. It’s a great scene because it isn’t real and Danny isn’t coming back, it is there to help Clara heal and let go…which is what lends it power.
Clara – Clara is wonderful in this episode. She realizes they are still in the dream after they manage to wake up from one of the dreams and we realize how much she loves the Doctor. It is powerful in how she grieves for Danny and in how she helps the survivors escape the Dream Crabs. She sees the bigger picture and still functions as the Doctor’s conscience to some degree. At one point we get her good-bye where she is an old woman, until the Doctor is given another chance playing with the twist on what is real or not. I wish she had said good-bye. Her story as an old woman was awesome! She traveled and taught but Danny was her one love besides the Doctor. I really liked that. Well, I guess we’ll see if her last good-bye can compare to the last 2, which have been amazing.
Santa Claus – Nick Frost does a fantastic job as Santa, and his sarcastic elves actually end up adding some great humor. From hating being called Elves or other people being called humans…to other sarcastic quips. Santa is one who knows he is a dream and helps the others get out of the dream the Dream Crabs have them captured in because it is who he is.
The Doctor – Capaldi is amazing and I’m really glad he’s sticking around for at least 2 more seasons. He is the Doctor who speaks harsh truths. He recognizes some traumas never go away and that the person may never be okay, and he is able to connect with Santa since they are both immortals who are not quite human. We see how afraid he is of hurting Clara too and in the first ending doesn’t return to her for over 60 years. He’s afraid of disappointing her that he didn’t find Gallifrey and fears hurting her. Capaldi adds so much depth and sadness to the role, as well as excitement like when they make their escape from the Dream Crabs in Santa’s Sleigh which helps them to wake up. He is one of my favorite Doctors for sure, I just hope his next two seasons can keep up this quality and that we can avoid “Robot of Sherwood” and “The Forest of Night” type stories…given the rest of the season has explored him in great ways and been at least good if not great. This episode captured 12’s coldness, passion, fear of hurting others, empathy and showed just how much he cared about Clara, even if he was unable to let himself care about others for fear of losing them. This Doctor has learned and I can’t wait to see where else that growth takes him.
The Message – Even things like Santa that aren’t real can inspire us. It is in the dream that Santa saves the day and his existence is left up in the air at the end. He’s not overpowering but still is there as a support and the one thing binding all our characters together. This is the power of belief, and when that belief is positive it can in fact make a difference in the lives it touches…much like Santa Claus…or even the fairy tale like Doctor.
Okay: Clara’s Good-bye – Clara almost got her second Good-bye but the Doctor getting a second chance took away from what could have been the best of the companion exits. This could still work, but twice now a great chance for Clara to leave on great terms has been passed up to keep her around. That’s why this is okay and not a pro.
I highly recommend this episode. Clara doesn’t have Danny come back and gets to say good-bye to him and chooses to live. This episode had consequences and almost the best companion exit of the series. I wish the Doctor had said good-bye to Clara when she was an old woman so he’d be forced to change and learn without her. She’s been a great addition this series but this is the second time she was given a great exit that was taken away. First with her and the Doctor lying to one another, and second with her as an old woman who had lived a full life. The Doctor got his second chance with her, which is great, but eventually he too will have to say good-bye. Major props to Nick Frost as well for playing a very human Santa Claus who was stern, real and compassionate. I really liked his character.
Final Score: 9.6 / 10. One of the best of the Doctor Who Specials. Merry Christmas all!