“Last Christmas” pleasantly surprised me. I didn’t expect much after the previous Christmas episode, but luckily I was proven wrong. Moffat hit his stride with this one. Sure there are some borrowed elements from Inception and Alien, but Moffat successfully makes them his own. I don’t have any glaring negatives to reflect on, instead here’s a highly positive look at a well written story.

SPOILER WARNING AHEAD

Continuing from series 8, the Doctor and Clara lied to each other and went their separate ways. Now they come back together and soon enough the Doctor brings up Danny (he doesn’t know Danny isn’t alive) and they reveal to each other how the lied to make each other happy (which

It makes sense, no really, it does

It makes sense, no really, it does

of course didn’t work out). All the while there is a real life Santa Clause. Hold on, what, a real Santa? Yes. It sounds ridiculous and for the majority of the episode I cringed at it, but then it all made sense and was very cleverly done. See, the main enemy is a species called Dream Crabs, and they essentially grab on your face (think facehugger from Alien, which they also said in the episode), put you to sleep, dig under your skin, and start to eat your brain. All the while you’re put into a dream state, and the only way to live is to become self aware and wake up from the dream, forcing the crabs off your face and killing them. Back to the story.

The story starts with Santa landing on Clara’s roof and she goes up to see what’s going on. She can’t believe what she’s seeing and then the Doctor appears and comes to take Clara away. They end up on a scientific base at the North Pole where they discover the previously mentioned Crabs. The scientific team comes to see what the Doctor and Clara are doing there when they get ambushed by Crabs and Santa comes busting in to the rescue. This is where things get cool. See, at this point they are in a dream state. The ambush actually resulted in them all being taken over by the Crabs and the hallucinated Santa. What’s more, Clara then goes into a further dream state as another Crab grabs on to her and the Doctor goes in to save her. This dream is about her and Danny. She dreams the perfect Christmas where he is still alive, which is what the Crabs do to make it so the person they take over doesn’t want to wake up. But the Doctor goes under the influence of a Crab and enters Clara’s dream, whereupon he and Danny convince Clara to wake up. Surprisingly, this was one of Danny’s better appearances, as it was one of his more human moments rather than his typical Jiminy Cricket-esque inspirational line moments.

Once they depart that dream they realize they’re still in a dream and after a while they get out of that as well, only to be in a supposed final dream state (these Crabs are tricky to say the least). This time Santa comes back to save the day, and they fly away on his sleigh. As they’re flying over London(?), Santa gives the Doctor the reigns to the sleigh. This is when the episode takes a cool turn: the Doctor who has been serious most of series 8 takes the reigns of Santa’s sleigh! Once he gets accustomed to it he stands up with a big smile on his face, yelling back in excitement to the people behind him. As they’re flying the rest of the people (the science crew) gain their memories back and return to their waking bodies, which for one woman was actually kind of sad because she forgot her actual body is confined to a wheelchair.

doctor-who-santa-capaldiThe Doctor returned to his body, after the science crew all returned, and went right to the TARDIS to get the Crab off Clara because she was hesitant to return to a world without Danny. When he gets to Clara he removes the Crab (it took him a while to figure out how to safely remove it, which is why he couldn’t do this in the dream), except the Crab latched on to Clara in the future (I believe she said 62 years in the future). In her living room, Clara explains how she never married despite proposals nobody could stand up to Danny or the Doctor (a tired theme but still worked decently here since he left her for 62 years). Because this Doctor doesn’t express his emotions as much as the 1oth, it was really nice when Clara asked if he really doesn’t see her as old and he basically says she can never be old to him. You can tell he adamantly feels bad for leaving her and that she truly is his best friend. It’s difficult to explain the little things they do in this scene, but by the end it becomes a classic scene likely to be remembered for years to come.

That could have all been enough, but that turned out to be the final dream state (after all, how was Santa originally on Clara’s roof?), and when the Doctor woke one more time he went to save Clara again, except this time she’s young Clara. In an expression of excitement and happiness I have never seen from Capaldi’s Doctor, he anxiously asks Clara to come back traveling with him. Of course she says yes and while I originally didn’t care if she came back or not, I’m glad she’s there for the Doctor and they deserve each other. It reminds me of the end of “Deep Breathe,” when Clara and the Doctor really started their new adventure together to now, when they can’t imagine not traveling with each other. I really have no idea how Clara will eventually depart, but it has to really be something, because her near departure was better than the actual departures of Amy, Rory, and River.

I can only hope series 9 has the same quality of writing as this episode does. It seems Moffat is either spot on or completely misses the mark, but for now he’s the former and it definitely was a redemption over last year’s mess of a Christmas episode. I feel Moffat is at his best when he writes intimate character moments and puts aside some over-the-top arc. The story also allowed for the Doctor and Clara to take center stage, whereas series 8 often had issues with who the main character was; they’re great together and I nearly forgot that. As an added bonus, Moffat made Santa’s existence actually make sense within the confines of the rules set forth in the story.

Despite being one part Inception and one part Alien, “Last Christmas” turned out to be a truly heartfelt story about regrets, relationships, and friendship.

 

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