It’s ‘Alien-Thing-ception on 34th Street’ in Doctor Who: Last Christmas (S8E13)
A festive special which is unlikely to reconvert any of those who checked out during the last season, “Last Christmas” still offered us a rich and fruity plum pudding of entertainment, perfect for a Christmas Day tea time.
There wasn’t, to be honest, a lot of originality in this year’s Christmas special but at least it didn’t waste any time trying to hide the fact it was repeating a lot of classic sci-fi moments. After all, Christmas is a time for traditions, customs and repeats isn’t it? Although one of its clearest (and self-admitted) influences is “Alien” – it’s actually closer to “Aliens” in its approach and aesthetic – it also leans heavily on “The Thing” and outright steals from “Inception”.
The ragtag band of individuals who are drawn into the shared dream state all get little moments to shine but there’s one that really sticks out: Shona. When you get a quick glimpse at Shona’s sad and lonely Christmas Day itinerary later in the episode, it’s blatantly obvious that she was pivotal to shaping the shared dream they were all having. Her itinerary covers everything that happens, including the reconciliation between the Doctor and Clara. Knowing Moffat, it wouldn’t surprise me if we haven’t seen the last of Shona or even if she was being lined up as a future companion (in the event Jenna Coleman did decide to move on). There was certainly a lot of time spent focussing on her, her perceived ordinariness and unimportance and how keen she was to reconnect with everyone ‘in the real world’.
Nick Frost’s avuncular Santa Clause was another highlight, and thankfully didn’t turn out to be a villain either. Instead, he was an ally and friendly rival for the Doctor, and at least twice an important deus ex machina to move the story forward, but hey as the man himself says – it’s Christmas, and who you gonna call?
The festive high jinks and arctic base under siege aside, the episode also does a pretty good job of dealing with the fallout from “Death In Heaven”, allowing the Doctor and Clara to both admit they lied to each other but more importantly for Clara to finally put the ghost of Danny Pink to rest. The episode isn’t afraid to go to some quite dark places for a family tea-time special and is all the better for it, as Danny “The Impossibly Good Man” Pink saves Clara one last time (and inadvertently saves the world in the process). In any event, Capaldi, Coleman and Samuel Anderson do some great work here and after a season of growling, scowling standoffishness, it’s fantastic to see the 12th Doctor experiencing some moments of unbridled joy.
I guess we’ll never really know if the episode was meant to end with old woman Clara and the Doctor taking his leave of her for good and the last minute Santervention revealing one final dream layer was a hasty rewrite and reshoot but now we’re set for another full season of Clara in the TARDIS, and quite possibly a repeat of the will she/ won’t she question of Clara’s departure in the 2015 Christmas Special.
Although we never get to see Santa Clause in the real world (his implied access to Time Lord technology is both a wonderful gag and a reasonable explanation of how Santa could do the things he does), there’s a fruity hint at the end that he has a real world presence and that even in the harder, science fiction world of Capaldi’s Doctor Who there’s still room for a little bit of Christmas Magic.