This review contains spoilers.
The Doctor Who Christmas specials have usually been more whimsical and hopeful than the rest of the series—something comforting to watch on Christmas or Boxing Day, depending on where you are in the world. Usually. The Christmas specials starring Jenna Coleman, however, have explored darker themes and Last Christmas is no exception.
It’s unclear exactly how much time has passed since the Doctor and Clara parted but when Santa Claus unwittingly (or so it seems) reunites them, she’s ready to jump in the TARDIS for a nostalgia trip. They end up on an arctic base where dream crabs (proper name Kantrofarri) have latched on to several scientists.
The remaining scientists (including Michael Troughton, the second son of Second Doctor Patrick Troughton) have not been able to rescue their comrades. When Clara is attacked by a dream crab and thrust into a perfectly comfortable and normal vision of Christmas with the late Danny Pink, the plot begins to unravel. Just when you think you have your head around the basic premise, Moffat throws you for a loop. Everyone—the scientists, the Doctor and Clara—have all been attacked by dream crabs at some point and have been submersed in dreams within dreams within dreams within—well, I lost count but I’m pretty sure it outnumbered Inception.
As everyone tries to wake up again and again, aided by Santa Claus and his sassy elf companions, we get closer to who these scientists actually are. They are, in fact, just regular people: a wheelchair-bound grandmother; a shop girl; an account manager for perfume. And Clara … Clara is deeper in the dream state than most, wrapped up in her grief and unwilling to wake to a life without Danny and without the Doctor. (Side note: I don’t see why Bellows couldn’t have been in a wheelchair the whole time; the only thing that had differed in the dream for everyone else was their occupations and not their physical states.)
For a moment, it seems like this might be the end for Clara, as has been rumoured over the last few months. When she wakes from one of the deeper dreams, she is elderly and frail, having lived a full life without the Doctor and Danny. It would have been a beautiful and bittersweet end to Clara’s time as a companion, not to mention the third time she could have cut ties with the Doctor. But it is all just another dream and when she and the Doctor finally, truly wake, Clara is ready for life in the TARDIS again and the Doctor is ready to take her along.
Personally, I would have preferred if Clara’s time with the Doctor ended when she woke as an old lady. There were some lovely parallels between this and The Time of the Doctor when Clara said goodbye to Eleven in his aged and fragile state. How many times do we have to say goodbye to Clara before it sticks? I mentioned in my review of Death in Heaven that I don’t think it’s practical for Clara to keep travelling with the Doctor. After Danny’s death, how will she cope the next time someone dies and she can’t save them? How is she going to cope if she comes across Cybermen again?
To their credit, the Doctor and Clara readily admitted their lies about Danny and Gallifrey fairly quickly. I hope this is the end of their lying streaks because I think that point has been played on enough. But even if they grow and evolve in the next season, Clara’s story does feel like it has come to a natural end. I don’t want her story to be pushed too far for no good reason so season 9 had better have something amazing in store.
Honestly, I was kind of hoping that Faye Marsay, who played Shona, would be the new companion. Maybe that was just wishful thinking. Knowing that the first episode of season 9 will be called The Magician’s Apprentice, I clung hopefully to her many references to the Doctor being a magician.
Shona reminds me of a combination of Rose Tyler and a younger Donna Noble—someone ordinary, funny, and full of life. And, with her pleading to stay a little longer and keep contact with everyone as the dream comes to an end, she strikes me as someone who could really benefit from being the Doctor’s companion. Maybe Shona will reappear in a later episode but I’ll keep that hope contained; after all, Moffat has a penchant for companions who are already extraordinary and Shona doesn’t really seem his style.
I’d be interested to know how younger viewers handled the Santa Claus arc or if they even properly noticed all the talk about Santa not being real—‘a fairy tale’. Moffat has stated that the ending with the tangerine in the window was an indicator that Santa Claus ‘stage-managed the whole thing to get the Doctor and Clara back together’ and that Santa Claus is undoubtedly real. But I do wonder if Moffat trod delicately enough around the issue so that young viewers didn’t think to question it until the indomitable proof was given.
Overall, Last Christmas is … interesting. Maybe a bit of a non-event. Moffat says, ‘Everything except the very last scene didn’t happen.’ That is, everything else is part of a dream. (Except, presumably, the bits where everyone else woke up. Unless he means that Shona, Ashley, and Bellows are all dead. Maybe I should just forget about Shona altogether and save myself the pain.) So basically Clara just woke up and climbed back in the TARDIS after a confusing dream.
Maybe we’ll find out in season 9 how long Clara and the Doctor have been apart, and how Clara’s life has changed since then. Like how she moved from a tiny flat to a two-storey house … unless she was at her father’s place for Christmas. Look, I don’t know anymore. Maybe the two-storey house is the spinning top at the end of Inception.
Season 9 is a long way away, with rumours that it will be following season 8’s pattern and airing in August next year. In the meantime, all I have to go on is my own theories and this list of everything we know so far about season 9.
See you in (probably) eight months, Whovians!