In eager anticipation of brand new Doctor Who, the Gallifrey Times team are revisiting Peter Capaldi's debut season as the Doctor. We'll be covering an episode a day from Deep Breath to Last Christmas, the perfect build up to The Magician's Apprentice on September 19th.
Reviewed by Jenna DeVillier.
Death in Heaven ended with an ostensible farewell to Clara, as she and the Doctor lie to each other, assuming the other has found happiness—the Doctor on Gallifrey and Clara with Danny. But, as we have sometimes seen with the Doctor and his companions, goodbye isn’t always forever . . .
Clara is awoken on Christmas Eve by a sound on her roof. When she investigates, she finds the culprits to be none other than Santa Claus and his elves! From this opening scene, the overarching theme of what’s real and what isn’t comes into play. Clara doesn’t understand why Santa would be on her roof since he isn’t real, saying “I grew out of fairy tales.”
Right on cue, the Doctor appears. Given the way they parted, he has to convince Clara that he’s really there, that he’s real, and he needs her help. Right away, he is suspicious about Santa’s presence there, saying, “I know what this is. I know what’s happening, and I know what’s at stake.” This enigmatic line is actually a clever piece of foreshadowing if you’ve seen the episode . . .
Inside the TARDIS, Clara is still having trouble believing any of it is real, especially the Doctor being back. The Doctor asks, saying it’s extremely important: “Do you really believe in Santa Claus?” to which Clara responds, “Right now, I think I do.”
At a military base at the North Pole, scientists Bellows, Professor Albert, Shona, and Ashley are running an experiment in which Shona has to walk through the infirmary alone, without thinking about or looking at the “sleepers.” Shona plays music to run mental interference to help herself. The Doctor and Clara enter, breaking her concentration—the sleepers have a telepathic link with anyone who thinks about them. The Doctor springs into action, telling Shona and Clara to close their eyes and think of something else.
It doesn’t work for long, and the telepathic link with the sleepers is reestablished. They attack the Doctor, Shona, Clara, Bellows, and Professor Albert. Thankfully, they are rescued by Santa Claus just in time!
Shona is the first to catch on to the strange goings-on, asking, “Am I dreaming?” The Doctor replies, “Oh, very good,” but doesn’t elaborate. He goes on (with Santa’s help) to explain that the creatures on the sleepers’ faces are called Kantrofarri, or Dream Crabs, and they induce a dream state in their victims. They form a telepathic field, and alter perception. The victim can’t tell what’s real and what isn’t anymore. The Doctor and Santa get into an argument, but they realize it doesn’t matter whether Santa’s real or not—they need his help for this.
The Doctor reveals the terrible truth: “If I’m right, and I usually am, we’re dying.” They all have to work together to figure a way out of their situation and save their lives.
The Doctor and Clara get a nice moment to themselves, and they finally admit the truth to each other—the Doctor never found Gallifrey, and Danny is still dead. The Doctor needs Clara at her sharpest, so they can all make it out alive, so he tells her, “Trust nothing. Question everything you see.”
But Last Christmas also has its share of laughs. One of my favorite lines comes when they’re discussing the dream crabs being dormant in the ice until the expedition came. While they watch the footage, Professor Albert remarks, “They’re a bit like facehuggers, aren’t they?” When he explains to the Doctor what they are, the Doctor replies, “There’s a horror movie called Alien? That’s really offensive. No wonder everyone keeps invading you.”
They learn from the scientists that the crab hosts remain dormant for a few days after they’re attacked, then become aggressive. They are trapped inside a perfect dream world as they’re slowly killed.
When Clara is sent to fetch the “dead” crab they’ve kept so they can examine it, it awakes and attacks her. Clara awakes in a dream world, on the perfect Christmas morning—Danny is alive again, and she’s happy. The Doctor tries to get through, to warn her she’s dreaming, and dying. Through sheer willpower, Clara manages to block out his voice and continue living her dream. The Doctor knows there is only one way to communicate with her—he will have to enter the dream.
The Doctor enters Clara’s dream world and must convince her that it isn’t real, and that they have to escape. It struck me while rewatching it how much faith the Doctor has in Clara’s ability to accept that she is in a dream. He is literally staking his life on it! In the end, Danny is the one who convinces Clara she’s dreaming and she has to wake up to save herself. “You can miss me,” he says, “but only for five minutes a day.” Since Danny is only a creation of Clara’s mind, essentially she’s rescuing herself, and finally allowing herself to move on and heal from his death. “Every Christmas is last Christmas,” Danny says, “and this is ours.”
When they wake up, the Doctor points out that they have no wound from the dream crabs’ attack—they’re still in a dream! He comes up with an ingenious test to prove they’re dreaming—they each take their manual and turn to the same page, reading the first word. What they come up with is, “We. are. all. dead,” an ominous reminder that time is running out for them to come up with another solution.
Santa gets everyone to join hands. The Doctor wants to know why this dream manifestation has taken on the form of Santa Claus. Santa says because it’s Christmas. Who better to save you on Christmas? When they all join hands, Santa disappears. They’re on their own. The Doctor tells them to focus on the pain; that will help them to wake up.
They all wake up then and must run from the sleepers in the infirmary again. The Doctor is in a hurry to leave, seeing his work is done, but Clara still has questions about their escape, asking, “If Santa was only in the dream, why was he on my roof?” The Doctor realizes there is more going on here than he originally thought. He returns to the base, asking the scientists why they only have four manuals for a crew of eight (including the sleepers). No one can answer and, when he poses a question to each of them in turn, they respond, “It’s a long story.” Even Clara says it.
The Doctor explains that there are gaps in dreams sometimes. They are disjointed and don’t make any sense, but the dream protects itself from that. To test his new theory, he does the manual test again. At first, it looks like it isn’t going to work, with the scientists reading out, “Very. very. very.” But then Shona looks up from her manual, reading out one chilling word:
“The sleepers are you,” the Doctor says. “This base isn’t real!” But now that they’re thinking about them again, the sleepers become active, snatching Professor Albert right through the television screen! The sleepers crawl through, coming for the rest of them. Once again, they have to find a way to wake themselves up.
The Doctor comes up with a plan: “Dream yourselves home!” he says. If they can dream themselves onto the base, and it isn’t real, then they can wake up and return home by dreaming it. Santa Claus returns to rescue them! As they fly away in his sleight, leaving the base and the sleepers behind, the Doctor asks Clara again if she really believes in Santa. “I’ve always believed in Santa Claus,” she responds, “but he looks a little different to me.” She gives the Doctor a big hug. After a moment, Santa offers to let the Doctor fly the sleigh, and he does. I loved this moment because it shows off the Doctor’s lighter side, a side not exactly missing in the rest of series 8, but not as prevalent as it was with the Eleventh Doctor.
As they fly, the others begin to remember who they are and disappear one by one, reappearing in their homes. We discover that no one is who they were in the dream—Bellows is even in a wheelchair. That’s the power of dreams at work. In dreams we can do anything, be anyone. That was a strong theme in this episode, and I thought it was done cleverly and in a thought-provoking way.
The Doctor has to go to Clara’s flat and wake her up himself, as she cannot seem to come out of her dream. But when he arrives, sixty-two years have passed for her. But the Doctor sees no difference. To him, she will always be young, his Impossible Girl. They sit and she talks about her life since he’s been gone. But when Santa Claus appears again, the Doctor knows—they’re in yet another layer of the dream! When they wake up, the Doctor invites Clara to come travel with him again. Their days together aren’t done yet.
They go out to the TARDIS and the Doctor is in high spirits—it isn’t often he gets a second chance. This led me to wonder how this second chance will effect him in series 9—will he treat Clara differently? But as they prepare to leave, we see Clara’s windowsill, where a single tangerine rests. Was it left by Santa Claus? And if it was, are they still dreaming, or is Santa actually real . . . ?
I truly enjoyed Last Christmas. It was difficult at times to keep up with the Inception-like dreams-within-dreams format, but it was a good thriller with a wonderful supporting cast. I also found the themes to be strong and thought-provoking without being heavy-handed. In only a single hour, this episode probed the nature of reality and existence, the management of grief, and the power of dreams. I am looking forward to what this episode will mean as we move into series 9, especially with the recent announcement that this will be Clara’s last series in the TARDIS. Every Christmas is last Christmas and, as this was to be her last Christmas with the Doctor, I am pleased it was such a fantastic adventure.
Join us tomorrow as we begin a new series of Doctor Who with “The Magician’s Apprentice” at 7.40 p.m. on BBC One, and 9/8 CST on BBC America!