After the Great Lying Goodbye of “Death in Heaven,” Clara wakes on Christmas Eve to find Nick Frost’s Santa crashed on her rooftop with his two sassy elves, Ian and Wolf. The Doctor swoops in and tussles with his rival-in-imagination, then whisks Clara away to a North Pole scientific post manned by a group of questionably-qualified researchers, half of whom have been taken over by the Face-Hugging Kantrofarri, or Dream Crabs. Mission: It’s a Long Story.
As it turns out, they’re not even at the station at all: Dream Crabs have joined them in a collective nightmare while sucking their brains out, keeping them calm and happy in a carefully-constructed set of layered dreams within dreams as they slowly die. Except for the fact that they’re not very calm or happy, and the Dream Crabs keep tipping everyone off by featuring themselves like so many Kanye fashion advertisements. Evolutionary fail.
As they’re all pulled deeper into the delusion, Santa pops in to reveal that what they think is waking reality is still a dream. Clara finds herself in a secondary nested dream featuring Danny in a Santa suit on Christmas morning; naturally she wants to stay, but he tells her that they’ve already had their goodbye. According to him, people get together for the holidays because every Christmas could be their last Christmas. Ah, Danny, every party has a pooper, and that’s why we invited you.
After the group crosses a deadly threshold of realization and the crabs redouble their efforts, the team uses Santa’s sleigh as a dream vehicle to the waking world, sharing a Christmas Eve ride in which the Doctor takes the reigns momentarily (cheese alert!), and one by one they awake at home to the crab falling off their face and dissolving into dust.
The Doctor wakes Clara last, finding that she is an old woman, and wishes he had come back sooner. Saint Nick once again exposes a final dream state, allowing the Doctor to rescue the young Clara, beg her to come along, and carry her off to the skies once more, a second chance he rarely receives. Who could be responsible? In the snowy greenery of Clara’s window, a tangerine, Santa’s signature gift that everyone loves to hate, belies the Christmas magic. Or that she’s been a victim of a run-by fruiting.
- Imaginary being “racism.” Santa’s difficulty relating to humans and the humans’ ongoing struggles of accepting the Doctor as an alien.
- Impossible Men. Santa and the Doctor trading the insults “Happy Easter!” and that the Doctor is dressed as a magician and would probably explain this as “dreamy-weamy stuff.”
- Clara announcing she’s grown out of fairy tales, then admitting she still believes, just not in Santa Claus, giving the Doctor a big surprise hug, which he accepts without too much fuss.
- When the Doctor asks Clara to retrieve the dead facehugger from the lab, she snarks, “Maybe I could get you a cup of tea while I’m at it.” “Ooh, and a punch in the face,” he finishes for her.
- To keep Clara from attracting the Dream Crabs with her thoughts, the Doctor says Danny is probably flirting with a neighbor, leading to the joint admission that they lied to let the other live a happy life, which momentarily stumps the Doctor, out of his emotional depth.
- The initial lab conflict in which the four possessed researchers advance on the group and a horde of facehuggers descend from the ceiling toward their screaming faces.
- The Dream Crab drooling on Clara from the table above while she desperately tries to keep her mind off of thinking about it by counting and talking to Danny.
- Clara finding herself surrounded by blackboards telling her she’s dreaming and dying as Danny calls her deeper into the dream.
- The researchers reading a single word from each of their manuals, forming, “We are all dead,” and “Very very very dead.”
- The facehuggers falling off of each person’s face back in their own home, wriggling and screaming as they turn to dust. Nasty.
- The Doctor saying Clara always looks the same to him, so he’s not sure if she’s old or young, an idea they’ve been pushing all season that doesn’t realistically work.
- Old Clara being a spinster in their final shared dream. Is this It’s a Wonderful Life? Not only does that completely contradict her strongly emotional character, I’ll hold while you dust off your arguments for how there was never anything romantic between her and 11, given that 12 secretly hopes she’ll die alone rather than be with any other man and that she passive aggressively wants him to know she would. These two need counseling.
- Santa arriving at the lab on the back of Rudolph, thanks to CGI that apparently cost less than my stocking.
- “Who you gonna call?” Santa…busters?
- Santa’s closing tangerine at her window. I really don’t want the resolution of a scifi show to be that Santa is real. What about the possibility of finding out a season later that the Doctor’s actually been getting his brain sucked out since the Christmas special? Even worse.
Overall, an amusing, creepy-light caper with witty jokes and an easy resolution to the Doctor and Clara’s standoff after Danny’s death. On the scale of Christmas specials, “Last Christmas” was pretty low on emotional punch in comparison to “A Christmas Carol,” which left me crying like a baby, or in significance to “The Day of the Doctor,” which reversed Gallifrey’s destruction. It simply allows that the Doctor and Clara shouldn’t have broken up so soon and that Santa is as (possibly) real as the Doctor. Given that, it receives a middling score.
- The male researcher was played by Michael Troughton, son of Patrick Troughton, the second Doctor, who is getting quite a memory lane workout after his appearance in the Robin Hood database of “Robot of Sherwood.”
- As of December 26, Jenna Coleman confirmed that she will be in all of season 9, countering the original assumption that she would be leaving soon.