After the debilitatingly sad yet strong two-part episode “Dark Water”/“Death in Heaven” that ended Season 8, this year’s Christmas Special “Last Christmas” felt a little flat. Even with the addition of Nick Frost as Santa Claus, this year fell far below the bar set by previous Christmas Specials.
If you don’t remember, Clara and the Doctor leave each other at the end of the last episode with a few lies, though neither seems to know (or want to admit) that’s the case. Clara told the Doctor that Danny was alive, and that they were doing well. The Doctor claimed he was going to find Gallifrey and make contact, if possible. Then they depart with a hug, something the Doctor doesn’t like or trust, and we’re left wondering how they’re going to get back together for Christmas.
Moffat threw in a red flag at the beginning of the episode. As the camera travels up the stairs to Clara’s room on Christmas Eve, there’s a brief glimpse of a stair-lift contraption usually reserved for elderly people. At first I wondered where we were, because Clara (as far as I remembered) didn’t have any stairs in her flat. This does come back later with an explanation, so if you saw it too, don’t feel bad if you were confused at first.
Clara awakes on Christmas Eve (in her grandmother’s house? the old folk’s home?) when Santa crashes on her roof. Nick Frost excelled in his role as Santa. I enjoyed every scene he was in simply for the fact that he was witty and cocky and totally different than Coleman or Capaldi. His one-liners and comebacks are pretty great, especially the one about how all those presents fit.
“How do you get all the presents in the sleigh?”
“Bigger on the inside?”
The entire episode revolves around these Dreamcrabs, as the Doctor calls them, and their ability to simulate dreams within dreams within dreams–kind of like alien inception. The tricky part, though, is figuring out when you’re in reality or dreaming via these Dreamcrabs. One of the characters makes a reference to Alien when he calls them “Facehuggers,” since that’s how these creatures attach to human hosts: the face. I thought the Doctor’s retort was well placed: “That’s rude. No wonder you lot keep getting invaded.”
The Doctor takes Clara from her roof to a science lab in the North Pole (um, what? Since when?) and they discover the Dreamcrabs have attacked part of the crew there. The remaining crew call the human-crab things “Sleepers,” which I found incredibly creepy, but fitting. Their rules are clear: don’t look at them, don’t think about them. We find out later the reason behind these rules is once you start thinking about the Dreamcrabs, you realize that none of what is happening is real, and you begin to wake up. To counteract that, the Dreamcrabs attack your dreaming self, and I assume self-destruct in some way.
It’s during one of these tense moments that Clara and the Doctor realize they’ve been lying to each other. To distract her from thinking about the Sleepers, the Doctor starts spouting silly things Danny Pink would do: lose a receipt, flirt with a neighbor. Clara quickly slaps him and declares, “How dare you? Danny Pink is dead.” Of course the Doctor is totally confused by this (at first), but we go on to see the Dreamcrabs attack the group, including Clara and the Doctor, before Santa shows up to rescue them.
The hint that everyone is dreaming isn’t really a huge one, but it could be easily missed. Every time the Doctor tries to get an answer about of someone regarding their reasons for being there or how they arrived on the expedition or whatever, any member of the crew answers with a “It’s a long story.” It could be a coincidence the first time it happened, but after several times and within several different dream “states?” Not likely!
Eventually the Doctor, Clara, and the team figure out that they’ve been dreaming all along, even before Clara woke with Santa on her rooftop. Even though they solve the puzzle and “save the day” so to speak, I didn’t think this episode delivered the usual Christmas Special charm. There were moments of genuine emotion that I found fascinating, like when Clara was in her own dream world with Danny and they spent the entirety of Christmas Day together (this is where we get the title “Last Christmas”). I enjoyed Frost as Santa Claus, even if he was silly. Capaldi is still strong as ever as Twelve and Coleman is beautiful in her role as Clara (I like her better post-Eleven, if I’m honest).
But beneath it all, I didn’t connect with this special like I have in the past. Perhaps they were trying for something a little more lighthearted, since the last Christmas Special was “The Time of the Doctor” and the final episodes of this seasons were, at best, heart-wrenching. As much as I disliked Jenna Coleman as Matt Smith’s companion, I’ve grown to like her fiery spirit paired with Capaldi, and I’m pleased to hear she’s returning for next season. Check out the episode if you’re a Whovian, like me. You’ll enjoy the banter between the Doctor and Santa, at least, and get a feel for where the relationship between Clara and the Doctor currently stands.