I have always found Doctor Who Christmas specials to be a bit hit or miss. That’s probably a description you could apply to the series in general, but the required shoehorning of Christmas paraphernalia into the storyline tends to stretch the credibility that bit further.
David Tennant’s debut in “The Christmas Invasion” is probably the pinnacle of them, whilst offerings like “The Next Doctor” were no different than ordinary. And the likes of “The Snowmen” were just pretty bad.
And, it being Christmas, the viewership figures will be higher, and opinions will be divided. So this, humbly offered below, is mine.
When Clara is awoken by Father Christmas crashed on her roof on Christmas Eve, the Doctor whisks her off to a research station at the North Pole. The occupants have been attacked by alien creatures called “dream crabs”, which affix themselves to the face and induce a dream state as they eat the brain. Together with the four research scientists they try and escape, never quite sure what is dream and what is real.
So, even without looking at reactions to “Last Christmas”, I can tell that some people are going to be getting upset at how much it “rips off” various things. The properties which stood out most to me were Inception and Alien, the latter of which was directly namechecked. Now, I’d usually hold that mentioning the cliche does not negate the cliche, but what I felt here was closer to homage than stealing. Alien has become a genre in its own right, a staple of science-fiction.
So that didn’t bother me. And actually, I thought the story was very well handled. Alien head-crabs eating brains, whilst you dream away your last moments — it’s a sinister story in the age-old tradition of both Doctor Who and a ghost story for Christmas. And whilst the whole “earth at stake” hyperbole does raise its head, the danger does feel decidedly intimate and personal.
And Nick Frost as Father Christmas; whilst initially being a bit of an “Eh?” choice, it worked. He brought his usual irreverent charm to the game, and the antagonism between himself and the Doctor was well conceived. The similarity between the two isn’t skipped over, and I got a real hint of the Dream Lord from back in the fifth series. It’s never explicitly stated that he’s a product of the Doctor’s subconscious, but come on…
Similarly, the dream within a dream within a dream construction seems like a bit of a non-starter. But it plays with the usual Doctor Who absurdities, things that have you sighing at the lack of sense turn out to be calculated, and the ending leaves a level of ambiguity calculated to the “what-if” factor that Doctor Who fans and Santa Claus believers share.
What didn’t work, though, was that this was clearly a swansong for Jenna Coleman, who decided at the last moment that she wanted to say. It was a pretty good swansong, actually, with the Doctor arriving for a reunion with Clara too late — he could save her from the dream crabs, but not from her own mortality, going right down to the title, and the theme that every Christmas could be your last Christmas. Those scenes between the Doctor and Old Clara were touching, particularly his inability to see the difference in her.
That was all quashed with the eleventh hour change of tack, whereby the whole thing is reversed and Clara is put back into the TARDIS for the next series… Eh. It was the low point of an otherwise very good Christmas special. And we can now look forward to not only another series of Clara, but of Danny saving the day from beyond the grave, cheapening the end of the last series.
That aside, though, this was still one of the strongest Christmas specials in a long time. The story was compelling, the character development moving, and despite having Father Christmas as a central character it didn’t feel like Christmas had been shoehorned awkwardly into it. So well done there. I just wish that Doctor Who didn’t insist on taking one step backwards for every two it takes forwards.
- I had been hoping for some sort of expansion of the fan-theory that Santa is a timelord. Oh well. Next year maybe.
- The Doctor has a point: a lot of human depictions of aliens are pretty negative. In the words of Mitchell and Webb…are we the baddies? Are we the space-racists?
- Simon Pegg should have been an elf.