Doctor Who Review: Last Christmas

It’s the annual tradition, and this year was no exception: the Doctor Who Christmas special. This year, we got a tangerine-loving hero Santa, Alien and Inception plot knock-offs, and a touching reunion. How? It’s a long story, but let’s get into it…

We thought it was the end of Clara and the Doctor, but with the horribly sad way season eight ended, I was hoping it wasn’t true. No, I don’t need Clara and the twelfth Doctor to be together forever, but at least give me some closure. So we start off with Clara encountering jolly old Saint Nick himself with his reindeer and two comic relief elves. The Doctor shows up, whisks Clara away in his Tardis, then all of a sudden they’re in the North Pole as a group of scientists are in the middle of some vague, unknown mission (again, “it’s a long story”). There are a bunch of Alien-esque telepathic facehugging aliens who suck your brains out and induce an euphoric, dreamlike state on the host. Oh, and Santa pops up to argue with the Doctor occasionally and save the day whenever they need help. So this episode’s all about illusion versus reality and we’ve got the whole dream-within-a-dream multiple twist set-up that feels a lot like Inception … because it’s pretty damn close to Inception. So much so that I could call several twists in the episode—I’ve seen Inception enough times to know how dream stacking works—but this special still kept me guessing at times, especially toward the ending. In the spirit of the holiday season, here are my naughty and nice lists for “Last Christmas”:

The Naughty List
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  • As I said, this felt like a bit of an Inception rip-off, with the nested dreams and the personified subconscious. To be fair, the aliens are definitely derivative of Alien too, but at least that’s acknowledged (see Nice List)
  • Did we ever figure out why and how the facehuggers arrived? And why were only these handful of people affected? Is that their big “invasion”?
  • The makeup crew could do creepy facehugging alien crabs but couldn’t handle an old Clara

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The Nice List
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  • Surprise! This whole episode was meant to be a big reunion between Clara and the Doctor, so now we know for sure that the pair will be together for yet another season.
  • This was the most Christmas-y Doctor Who Christmas special ever, mostly due to Santa and his merry elves, which brings me to my next point:
  • Santa and his merry elves were funny and festive, and their entrance at the North Pole base, with Slinkies and toy robots leading the way, was hilarious. Nick Frost’s Santa, brilliant and a bit arrogant, is a good match for the Doctor, and the elves are aptly identified as comic relief.
  • Tangerines. All of the tangerines.
  • Oh, Danny Pink. There’s no way the writers would let us off this easily with the sorrows of Danny Pink’s death. But it was fitting for us to see him one last time as a bit of closure in the season. So of course he has to show up in Clara’s dream and remind us of Clara’s painful state of mourning and how much she misses him. And of course subconscious Danny is as strong and brave and loving as once-great-but-now-dead Danny—yes, he’s a little romanticized, but he’s still believable enough as Danny, the soldier who gave his life to save Clara and the rest of the world.
  • The Doctor’s test to determine whether they’re dreaming: the book test. Yeah, that’s cool. Why didn’t anyone tell Leonardo DiCaprio to try that in Inception? Then maybe we wouldn’t have been sitting watching that goddamn spinning top at the end…
  • Favorite quote, courtesy of the Doctor: “There’s a movie called ‘Alien’? That’s really offensive. No wonder everyone keeps invading you.”
  • Shona’s one-woman dance party
  • The Doctor’s dream interaction with old Clara. I have to admit, they got me there. I was skeptical that it was a dream at first, but it seemed as though this was really how it was going to end. It would have been a sad but acceptable end to Clara’s arc, but I’m glad the writers threw in that last twist and reunited Clara and the Doctor after all.

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Overall, it was a pretty good Doctor Who Christmas special. The specials are never my favorites, but are nevertheless essential bridges between the seasons. They give us a chance to reset between seasons and always offer a peek into what we can expect for the next season—whether it’s a new Doctor, a new companion, or the same characters we’ve already come to know and love. “Last Christmas,” the end to what was an overall significantly darker and sadder season, had its moments of pain, but it all turned out to be a series of fake-outs; after all, the show lived up to its name as a Christmas special and provided a hopeful ending. Next season will start with the twelfth Doctor and Clara in “The Magician’s Apprentice.”

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