The Doctor Who Christmas Special has really become a tradition unto itself. For me it feels like a special gift, one extra adventure before the Doctor disappears again for another half-year vacation. This years special, Last Christmas, takes the opportunity to build on the somber themes of Season 8, and tells a darkly whimsical tale that furthers the story of Clara and the Doctor, while setting up Season 9 in an unexpected direction.
Clara is woken by the sounds of crashing, reindeer, and Santa swearing. It’s a completely silly sight, but Nick Frost instantly manages to make Santa into his own crazy role. Clara isn’t as enamored, and proceeds to explain to Santa that he isn’t real. Of course this is when the TARDIS materializes and the Doctor pops out. Anything is real in Doctor Who!
As far as Clara and the Doctor’s relationship goes, where Clara was concerned, it had come to an end. But finding herself aboard the TARDIS once again, she can’t deny the allure of traveling with the Doctor. She has time for one more adventure.
Meanwhile, at the North Pole, of course, a group of scientists is investigating…something. With a little help from the power of music, one of the crew is trying to avoid something horrible when she’s unexpectedly met by the Doctor and Clara. The “Sleepers” wake up when they’re noticed, and the Doctor quickly takes notice. It doesn’t take the Doctor long to identify the Sleepers’ problem. They’ve got Dream Crabs on their faces!
As things escalate, the most ridiculous thing ever filmed happens. Santa saves the day in a way that would only be cheapened by describing it. Somehow it works…somehow. Nick Frost continues to steal the show by maintaining a strange seriousness that keeps the tension high throughout his scenes.
The Doctor and Clara, along with the station crew, and Santa, all find themselves in a situation that may or may not be a dream. This dovetails nicely with the whole Santa gig, handling what could have been too on the nose into something more clever. The episode in general has a great feeling to it. Very classic SciFi horror a la Alien, and The Thing. It’s a particularly dark setting for a Christmas episode, far darker than any of the previous entries. I love it!
The most upsetting part of the story is when Clara falls into a dream state and dreams of a perfect life with Danny Pink. His death changed Clara forever, even influencing her decision to leave the TARDIS. She sees through the dream, and it’s obliteration leaves her feeling Danny’s loss yet again. It’s also interesting that after having ended her relationship with the Doctor, he shows up, entices her away, and she ends up in serious danger in no time. This has been the central theme of Season 8, and it’s going to be interesting to see where this leaves the show in terms of future companions.
The focus turns back on Santa, as he remains the only constant impossibility in their shared Dream. Dreams within dreams. Layers of dreams used to keep them all asleep as the Dream Crabs continue to feed. Santa, admittedly a dream, is the catalyst that allows everyone to recognize that they’re still dreaming. It’s all very dreamy weamy!
Things get really freaky when Clara asks the Doctor why Santa showed up on her roof. If he was a dream brought on by the Dream Crabs how’d he crash into her roof in the first place? The Doctor realizes that they’re all actually somewhere else, subject to a shared dream brought on by the Dream Crabs. As things get really dire, Santa shows up again to whisk them all away.
Eventually everyone wakes up in their own real life, remembering nothing of the experience. In fact none of them knew each other, except for Clara and the Doctor, of course. The sad realization finally settles in that Cara hadn’t actually traveled anywhere with the Doctor. This one last adventure never happened.
The Doctor shows up at Clara’s to save her, and finds she’s changed quite a bit. Sixty-two years worth of a bit! Strangely Clara isn’t upset by any of this, seemingly at peace with her decision to leave the TARDIS. She tells the Doctor about her life, and it’s the Doctor who seems very uneasy. In a scene that mirrors last year’s Christmas Special, the Doctor helps Clara pop open a cracker. When Santa arrives with a smile, the Doctor wakes up. When he get’s to Clara for real, and saves her for real, he finds her exactly how he left her. Safe, sound, and young. And perfectly willing to run off into the TARDIS!
This was a great episode. It tackled the issue of Clara leaving the TARDIS by wrapping her struggle in a very entertaining, pretty solid story. What is a completely fun horror-SciFi adventure actually becomes about Clara finally coming to terms with who this new Doctor is, and how adventuring with him impacts her life. Despite all that has happened to Clara during her time with the Doctor, she can’t actually give it up. Who could, really?
With news of Jenna Coleman staying on for the duration of Season 9, it’ll be interesting to see how they handle her now being with the Doctor longer than any modern companion. I’d love to see a new companion brought in sometime early next season, and have Clara be the one to instruct them in the ways of traveling with the Doctor. Last Christmas was a “falling back into best friends” story that filled me with great anticipation for Season 9, and yet speaks ominously about how Clara will depart. Her utter surrender to a life with the Doctor acts like a portent, being so completely happy with her decision, only to end very poorly. This is the new, darker, more consequential Doctor Who, and Last Christmas encapsulated everything that has gone right during Peter Capaldi’s debut season!