Doctor Who: Last Christmas
(1 episode, Christmas Special, 2014)
And to all a rushed denouement.
‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. On the roof, however, the sound of a crashing sleigh and untethered reindeer awaken Clara Oswald. She looks upon the unlikely sight of Santa Claus and his elves, Ian and Wolf, trying to recover from the accident. Clara tries to dismiss the reality of Santa Claus, but the trio dismisses her instead. Even Santa challenges her belief in fairy tales as the Doctor arrives.
The Time Lord ushers Clara inside the TARDIS, prompting her to comment on how much she missed it. The Doctor asks if she truly believes in Santa, and she replies that she does. After all, the Doctor has returned at Christmastime.
At a base near the North Pole, a group of scientists are tracking a woman named Shona as she enters an infirmary. The scientists tell her not to worry about “them” and focus on something else, and when she enters the infirmary, she begins to dance to Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody. She’s warned to not look at the beings in the room and the music helps her do that. When she reaches the end of the room, she finds the Doctor and Clara, and their presence brings her mind back to the beings.
Those creatures begin to move, homing in on the constant image of themselves in the victim’s memory. The Doctor tries to distract Clara from the threat by invoking the memory of Danny Pink, and Clara slaps him, finally revealing that Danny is dead.
As the scientists rush into the room, a mass of crab-like creatures descends from the ceiling. The attack is presumably stopped by the arrival of Santa, the elves, and an army of toys. Santa orders the victims back to bed, then introduces himself to the collective humans. He also shows the threat to the Doctor, revealing that Kantrofarri – “dream-crabs” – have invaded Earth.
The group retires to a different room to discuss the threat. The dream-crabs are likely killing everyone as they blur the lines between dream and reality. In fact, reality and fantasy are difficult to tell apart because both are ridiculous. The Doctor and Clara both admit that they lied about the circumstances around their previous parting in an attempt to help each other move on.
The Doctor and Clara find Shona, who is interrogating Santa and the elves, and review the CCTV footage with Ashley of the four crew members who discovered the Kantrofarri. The same beings who are currently in the infirmary. The dream-crabs only wake up when someone thinks about them, and scientist Albert compares them to facehuggers from Alien. Humorously, the Doctor is beside himself that a horror movie was made about extra-terrestrials.
Notably, the polar expedition team refuses to explain its mission.
Clara goes to check on the captured crab and soon finds herself face to “face” with it. She awakens in her room with Danny in a Santa suit to surprise her for Christmas Day. Clara is enthused, but also sees notes on a blackboard similar to the Doctor’s warning her that she’s trapped in a dream. Outside of the dream state, the Doctor and the expedition team discuss how to save Clara from the dream-crab. The only way they know of is to kill Clara, which the Doctor refuses outright. The Doctor turns to Santa, who seems immune to the Kantofarri, and asks for a dream-crab so he can enter Clara’s dream.
The Doctor arrives as Clara and Danny snuggle near the Christmas tree. The Doctor tries to convince Clara that everything she sees is a fantasy. He tells her that the Kantofarri is literally liquefying her brain and Danny encourages her to move on from her grief. She can still mourn, but she can limit it to five minutes.
With tears in her eyes, Clara accepts the truth and wakes up. The Doctor wakes up next to her and the dream-crabs disintegrate from the stress. As the team investigates the remains, they all remark that they still have the “ice cream” pain in their heads. The Doctor leads them to the conclusion that they’re all still dreaming and have been since the first meeting in the infirmary. The rescue by Santa Claus was a dream. The Doctor uses the manuals in the base, which should all be identical, as proof that the humans are still trapped in the dream state. With help from Santa and the elves, manifestations of their brains acting as warning signs, the team wakes up in the infirmary.
The team narrowly avoids the original four team members and seals the infirmary. The Doctor and Clara take their leave with the knowledge that if the expedition team doesn’t free the Kantofarri, they’ll be fine. Clara asks why Santa was on her roof, prompting the Doctor to rush back into the base and question the number of people inside. There are four manuals but eight people in total, and everyone is still in a dream state. This is confirmed by another test with the manuals. As the beings in the infirmary rise, aware of the approaching endgame, the dream morphs into a nightmare that kills Albert.
The team runs for the TARDIS, but it too is a construct. The dream-crabs multiply and the Doctor suggests that they all dream themselves home. Santa Claus and his sleigh materialize above them as an escape pod. When the Doctor asks, Clara admits that she’s always believed in Santa, but he’s always looked different to her. With that, she gives the Time Lord a hug. After that, the Doctor takes the reins and flies them around London in a fun-filled fantasy.
Each person beings to remember their real life outside of the dream. One by one they awaken, each in their proper time and place. The Doctor awakens on a volcanic planet and rushes to Clara’s side as she decides to remain in the dream state. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to free Clara of the dream-crab, but finds that it has been 62 years since they said goodbye in the coffee shop. Clara is now 89 years old.
They sit together in the living room and share Christmas hats. She admits that there were plenty of admirers, but only one man besides Danny ever measured up. Sadly, he was impossible. They open a Christmas cracker together and the Doctor apologizes for not returning sooner. His wish is made a reality when Santa enters the room and whispers “wakey-wakey”.
The Doctor awakens one last time, rushes to Clara’s side, and removes her from the dream. She hasn’t aged a day, and the Doctor invites – rather, begs – her to travel with him once again.
As they dematerialize together, a Christmas tangerine sits on the window sill as sleigh bells ring.
What we have here is a fun mind-bending adventure marred by a terrible ending. Jenna Coleman was planning to leave the series with this story but changed her mind at the last minute thanks to Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat. Since the decision was made so late in the process, the script was revised at the eleventh hour, resulting in this rushed and hackneyed conclusion.
Before that decision was made, Shona was intended to be the next companion. I adore Jenna Coleman, but this should have been her exit based on everything that transpired over the last series of episodes. She got her chance to say goodbye to Danny and to the Doctor, and Clara’s departure here would even make this episode’s title make sense. After all, it is the last Christmas.
It’s yet another stumble by Steven Moffat.
Otherwise, we get the usual Christmas episode fare mixed with elements of Alien, The Thing from Another World, and even Miracle on 34th Street. Coincidentally, these are all of the films that Shona had intended to watch on Christmas Day.
Just like Amy’s Choice, this adventure was mostly a dream. We also get nods to The Time of the Doctor with the Christmas cracker and The Claws of Axos with Clara doing multiplication tables to avoid thinking about the threat. It was also quite fun to see Dan Starkey outside of his normal Sontaran garb as the elf Ian. We also see the first on-screen appearance of Michael Troughton, son of Patrick Troughton and brother of David Troughton (The Enemy of the World, The War Games, The Curse of Peladon, and Midnight). Notably, both younger Troughtons would take on their father’s role in audio stories.
All of this spooky fun is spoiled by that ending. It just drags the whole thing down. The dream-crabs were such a fascinating and scary idea, and this twisted holiday story would have been so much stronger as Clara’s swan song with a bittersweet goodbye over Christmas.
Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”
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