One thing all fans of Doctor Who can look forward to on Christmas Day? A brand new episode. Although the episodes are generally very hit or miss (more often misses really), every few years we get a good one. And hurray! 2014 is one of those special years. Last Christmas, written by Steven Moffat is a blast, with just the right amount of Christmas peppering so that it’s not entirely overkill or under-incorporated.
The episode begins with Clara waking up to the sound of, well, elves bickering. Santa’s gotten stuck on her roof. She’s rightly and truly confused. And then the Doctor comes to tell her that the fate of the entire world may depend on if she believes Santa exists or not. Off the bat, this had me quite wary. Again, it seems the fate of the entire world is suddenly at stake. Every episode. Really? But I didn’t allow myself to dwell on the matter. The point isn’t brought up again, so I moved right on with the episode.
We enter a science station of unknown intent on the North Pole. 3 workers are trying to instruct the 4th on how to get past the infirmary station with the infected patients. She must distract herself any which way she can to get through the room without thinking about the patients, because as soon as she thinks of them they attach themselves telepathically to her. Their faces are covered by an alien life form which feeds on their brain activity. Naturally the first thing she does is dance for nearly a whole minute, slowly wading her way down the room. This was the second point throughout the episode where I had a moment of serious doubt. Now we have an enemy we can’t even THINK about, and she’s DANCING? Moffat’s scraping the bottom of the barrel at this point, surely.
Shortly thereafter we learn rather brilliantly that when these Dream Crabs (as they refer to the face-hugging aliens) attach themselves to you, they create a fairly realistic dream reality, as they slowly suck at your brain. This shoe-horns in one of the scariest scenes in recent memory. The chalkboard scene in which the writing kept telling her she was dying was terrifying! I loved it. It even felt like a dream just watching it! But we actually get a surprisingly satisfying conclusion to the Danny Pink saga. Even in her dreams, her last Christmas with Danny was tragic and beautiful and heartwarming all at the same time. It gave credence to Clara’s love for his character that she knew him so well. So well in fact that her dreams were capable of making him a reality with a believable personality again. No mention of a pregnant Clara, or an explanation to Orson Pink however.
One of the great things about the episode is that it clearly steals many a concept from other sources (Alien, The Thing, Inception, etc.) but it doesn’t try and sweep that under the rug. The most obvious example from the outset is the Alien homage, one that a member of the crew references when he compares their threat to Face Huggers. The Doctor doesn’t get the reference so he explains its from the horror movie Alien. The best line in the episode (for me anyway) is when the Doctor retorts that the mere idea humans have made a horror film about aliens is “offensive. No wonder you keep getting invaded.” Perfect. And the dumbfounded shock on Capaldi’s face as he says it. Well done.
Getting out of one dream doesn’t necessarily save them however. They still realize that it appears to be a dream within a dream, an idea that fits with the whole appearance of Santa. And thus begin the Inception parallels. The episode goes through two or three more dream state within a dream state scenarios. After a while this actually began to bug me though. It got to the point where we clearly understood what was going on, and we were ready to move on. I didn’t like the idea of Clara turning into an old woman either. That reminded WAY too much of The Time of the Doctor. And I never want to revisit that. But as the last quarter of the episode wound down, I realized my earlier misgivings weren’t worth taking stock in, as the episode moves past that rather quickly, and the fact that they were dreaming most of the earlier things anyway kind of prove them falsities from the start.
One thing that I thought really leant itself to my enjoyment was the portrayal of Santa himself. An extremely bold, cheeky… audacious portrayal. He was hilarious. I didn’t really get the tangerine thing though. British joke/tradition? As far as why only the six individuals were infected, this may be a plot hole. But fear not. I think I may have an explanation. There’s a reason all 6 of them dreamt of Santa Claus. There’s a reason why it worked out that they all came from different times, however the different individuals only got attached to these creatures on Christmas Day. These were individuals who clearly caught him in the act of breaking into their homes, and he needed to make it seem as though it were a dream. And naturally Santa recruited the Doctor to help these individuals out. Why do you think the Doctor woke up outside of his TARDIS? Because he was given this Dream Crab the moment after Death in Heaven. Santa totally gave people Dream Crabs, the jerk!
All in all, what a wonderful episode. Now we enter the long wait. The first episode of Series 9 shall be called The Magician’s Apprentice. Not to be confused with C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew. Or Disney’s The Sorceror’s Apprentice. Or perhaps the many books that have been written with that title. Let’s not forget, Capaldi’s Doctor has repeatedly been referred to as the magician (especially in this episode), so that’s our first clue. Until more news is forthcoming, thanks for reading my 2014 Doctor Who reviews!