Clara Oswald is in for one Christmas that’s she’s never going to forget. Reunited with the Twelfth Doctor, she faces what could potentially be her last Christmas.
Something sinister lurks in an arctic base at the North Pole, and it’s beyond even the most terrible, nightmarish creatures the Doctor has faced before. Who ya gonna call? Santa Claus!
Peter Capaldi’s first Christmas special manages to combine wrapping up some of the dangling plot threads from the series preceding it with a compelling and creepy story. I really enjoy Last Christmas and I think that my appreciation has been enhanced by the lockdown last Christmas – I certainly found this re-watch more moving than previous ones, but part of this story have always worked for me on an emotional level anyway.
Every Christmas is last Christmas.Clara Oswald
The strength in Steven Moffat’s script for Last Christmas is that it realises how ridiculous it is to put Santa Claus into a Doctor Who story. For all the talk of Doctor Who being a show that a writer can do anything with, there are certain things that can be seen to be off-limits. Arguably, Moffat’s era as showrunner saw the show use figures that other writers may have been wary to touch, for instance, Adolf Hitler in Let’s Kill Hitler and Robin Hood in Robot of Sherwood. It’s the show’s approach to the latter that is probably more relevant here, as both Robin of Locksley and the man who Santa Claus is based on, Saint Nicholas of Myra, have had more added to their legend as time has gone on. Whilst Mark Gatiss made Robot of Sherwood into a light-hearted romp, Moffat goes in a different direction: this is quite a spooky and dark story for a Christmas special, with Santa Claus acting as a function of the subconscious to allow the victims of the Kantrofarri to realise that they are still dreaming. He is also careful and aware of Doctor Who’s status as a family show, making sure that he never definitively comes down on either side of the existence question mark, although the tangerine on Clara’s windowsill and the slightest hint of sleigh bells at the end of the episode are a lovely touch. This is an episode that implores its audience, no matter their age, to just believe for one more time, which works really well. It pokes fun at the fact that the basic concept of the show is ridiculous, especially when the Doctor tries to convince the crew of the base at the North Pole that Santa isn’t real. When reality is so bonkers in the Doctor Who universe, whose to say that Santa isn’t real? The story wears its influences on it’s sleeve – the Kantrofarri (or Dream Crabs) are quite similar to the face huggers in Alien, whilst the dreams within dreams concept will have most audience members thinking about Christopher Nolan’s 2010 movie Inception, but it is something that a lot of science fiction has played around with this idea, including Doctor Who in Amy’s Choice!
Do you know what the problem is in telling fantasy and reality apart?
They’re both ridiculous.Twelfth Doctor and Ashley
I really like how this episode plays around with the idea of dreams though. One of my favourite moments – and there are a lot in this story – is the moment where Albert is killed by his Dream Crab controlled self reaching out through the screen. It’s a perfect depiction of a moment where a dream can somehow transform from moments of relative calm to utter, dreadful nightmare. I know that I have had dreams that have suddenly turned on a dime to nightmares that have made me sit bolt upright in bed. There’s a dreamlike quality to some scenes, like when Clara finds Santa and the elves on her rooftop, where the camera seems a little fuzzy which work really well, and then, when we get to Clara’s dream about Danny, I love the camera turn around to reveal the blackboards telling Clara that she is dying are all around her, with the corridor extending and the Doctor’s voice echoing around her. Further escalation comes when the Dream Crab army seems to multiply towards the end Paul Wilmshurst directs all the scenes really well, creating a sense of dread and horror in the scenes with the Dream Crabs, especially when they drop from the ceiling and in the scene where one tears through the table to get to Clara. In creating the Kantrofarri, Moffat has again weaponised something mundane and everyday as dreams, and this is one of the most effective examples. Like being wary of stone angels and of dust in sunbeams, if I feel that pain in my right temple, I do question whether I’m dreaming, or simply on the verge of a headache…
The guest cast here are pretty strong, even though we don’t learn a lot about them from the story, as we only meet the dream projections of them rather than the real people, although we certainly get a nice glimpse into the live of both Bellows and Shona at the very end, which are nice moments – Bellows waking up and forgetting that she is in a wheelchair is very nicely handled, whilst Shona’s list is a hint into a life that we may have seen more of if she had become a companion. Shona does seem to be a proto-typical companion in waiting – she is inquisitive and questioning of Santa Claus, certainly more so than the other crew of the base, and the Doctor seems to really warm to her. The elves are employed for comedic effect – like I said above, this episode can get a bit dark in places – but Dan Starkey and Nathan McMullen play the roles well and perhaps more importantly, they are used in moderation.
I didn’t die saving the world, Doctor, I died saving Clara. The rest of you just got lucky.Danny Pink
I really like Series 9, but I feel that this is the best departure Clara could have got, with the Doctor turning up to save her but only to find that the Clara caught by the Dream Crabs was an older Clara. It has parallels with similar scenes in The Time of the Doctor, where Clara helps an elderly Eleventh Doctor pull a Christmas cracker shortly before his regeneration. If we consider that Clara in effect gets three exits (Death in Heaven, Last Christmas and Hell Bent, then this neatly closes off Clara’s arc in Series 8, with us having a proper goodbye to Danny. I remember being really surprised when Samuel Anderson appeared when this was first broadcast in 2014, and I think this is a really nice coda to his character. One of the more fun parts of the dream structure is that Clara has made him ever so slightly taller. Clara and the Doctor are great in this story too, and get a lot of great moments here, but especially in the final dream scene, and it is especially sweet how the Doctor doesn’t notice how she has aged. There’s also a moment where the Doctor asks Clara to fetch
One of the best relationships we see in this story, however, is that of the Doctor and Santa Claus. Far from being the best friends that the Eleventh Doctor alludes to in A Christmas Carol, the Twelfth Doctor seems to have an antagonistic relationship with “Sweet Papa Chrimbo” and is irritated by his presence in every scene. Capaldi is always good when he is riled but is particularly good here when opposite Nick Frost’s Santa, and he seems to enjoy the knowledge that his presence annoys the Doctor, especially when he steps on the Doctor’s toes. Some of the best moments are when Santa teases the Doctor, like when he answers the question about how he fits all the presents in his sleigh by replying that it is because it is bigger on the inside. Frost manages to remain a reassuring and affable presence throughout and is great casting for the role.
You are deep inside this dream, alright. And it is a shared mental state so it is drawing power from the multi-consciousness gestalt which which has now formed telepathically–
No! No, no, no! Line in the sand! Santa Clause does not do the scientific explanation!
Oh. As the Doctor might say, “Aw, it’s all a bit dreamy-weamy.”Santa Claus and the Twelfth Doctor
Verdict: Last Christmas is one of the strongest Christmas specials, combining a scary foe with a story with real heart. It only loses points because the departure of Clara isn’t actually her real departure. 9/10
Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald), Nick Frost (Santa Claus), Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink), Dan Starkey (Ian), Nathan McMullen (Wolf), Faye Marsan (Shona), Natalie Gumede (Ashley), Maureen Beattie (Bellows) & Michael Troughton (Professor Albert).
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Paul Wilmshurst
Behind the Scenes
- It was later confirmed that this was originally intended to be Clara’s final story, however, both Capaldi and Steven Moffat convinced her to stay on for Series 9 at the eleventh hour. Had Coleman decided to leave, Shona would have been the next companion.
- The first use of the song Merry Xmas Everyone by Slade since The Power of Three.
- At the time of writing, the only onscreen appearance of Michael Troughton in Doctor Who. He is the son of Patrick Troughton and brother of David, who has appeared in numerous roles in the show. Michael Troughton has appeared in various Big Finish plays, including the adaptations of The Well-Mannered War and The Romance of Crime as Menlove Stokes.
- Natalie Gumede later voiced Aeronwen in The Eighth Doctor: Time War: Volume 3 in The Famished Lands.
- Maureen Beattie would also appear in the Tenth Doctor Big Finish story Cold Vengeance.
- The third consecutive Christmas special for both Jenna Coleman and Dan Starkey. Coleman played another version of Clara in The Snowmen, and the original Clara in The Time of the Doctor and this story. Starkey appeared as Strax in The Snowmen, Commander Skarr and an unnamed Sontaran in The Time of the Doctor and Ian in this story.
I really love the scene with the crew of the Base flicking to the same page of the same book, but finding different words as they are coming to terms with this being a dream, building an impending sense of dread.
There’s a horror movie called Alien? That’s really offensive. No wonder everyone keeps invading you!The Twelfth Doctor
Previous Twelfth Doctor review: Death in Heaven
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