When Clara awakes early Christmas morning to noises on her rooftop, she investigates only to find Santa, two elves, and flying reindeer. She’s ready to write it all off as a hallucination when the Doctor appears and whisks her away to a base in the North Pole, where a team of scientists are battling crab-like alien creatures that fix themselves onto their victims’ faces and send them into a dream state. But that dream state is simply an anesthetic designed to mollify the victim while the creature devours the brain. Santa and his elves save the day when the dream crabs attack the Doctor, Clara, and the scientists–or did he? The Doctor needs to figure out what’s real and what’s a dream before they are all eaten alive…
SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!
This was the tenth Christmas special since the show returned in 2005, and Peter Capaldi’s first full special as the Doctor. Given the tone of previous Christmas episodes, I expected drama and aliens up to no good, but with an extra helping of light-heartedness and fun for the season. Santa and the elves certainly provided some comic relief, but I have to say this story was a lot heavier and darker than usual. And that’s good. Indeed, I thought this was a particularly good Who story. The concept wasn’t totally new. In series 5’s “Amy’s Choice” the Dream Lord put the Doctor and his companions into two perilous realities and forced them to decide which one is the dream. If they died in the dream, they would wake up in reality. If they died in reality, they’d be dead. So we’ve head the “dream vs. reality” dilemma before. But this story takes that to a whole new level, with dreams within dreams, and people across time and space sharing the same dream experience. And the peril was very real: we saw the disintegrating dream crabs when the people woke up at the end. So whatever else they were dreaming, they really did have these monsters on them, sucking their lives away.
I liked the concept of the dream crabs, and the idea of using dreams as a way of numbing the brain so it didn’t feel the pain of what was actually happening to it. I also liked the idea of the brain drawing from fantasy to combat the monster, trying to make the sleeper realize s/he is dreaming by introducing mythical characters into the dream. It was risky, however, using Santa as a mythical being. I’m sure there were many kids watching who believe in Santa, and for whom a story like this may have sown some seeds of doubt. It wouldn’t have bothered me–we never did “Santa” with our kids–but such things need to be treated with sensitivity and respect. Though, given the way Moffat manhandled the afterlife in the previous episode, I can’t say I trust his idea of sensitivity when it comes to other people’s beliefs.
This story seemed to close the Clara-Danny story once and for all. Dream Danny told Clara to miss him for five minutes each day, but then get on with her life the rest of the time. This tells me Danny’s dead, he’s not coming back, and Clara will just have to deal with that. It also put to rest the rumors about Clara’s departure from the series: it’s not happening–at least not yet. She’s back in the TARDIS, and, hopefully she’s taken one of the rooms there. No more joy-riding with the Doctor. Please.
Overall, I thought this was a good Who story, better than I expected for a Christmas episode (though the previous nine were good), and much better than the series eight finale! If this is a taste of things to come in series nine, I’m excited.
What about you? How many of you when you read/heard the title to the Christmas special started singing (at least in your head) that Wham! song? Your thoughts on “Last Christmas”…?