Last Christmas

Posted in Episode by - February 22, 2016
Last Christmas

Aired 25 December 2014

It’s a bold move to fill the vast majority of an episode’s running time with a dream, but that’s exactly the risk that Steven Moffat takes with ‘Last Christmas,’ and it pays off wonderfully. Unlike the previous yuletide offering ‘The Time of the Doctor’ that had to provide a memorable send-off for Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor while dealing with a heavy burden of continuity issues, ‘Last Christmas’ is less restricted and able to focus solely on what happens with the Doctor and Clara going forward, and it’s all the better for it.

For any episode- but especially for a Christmas episode- ‘Last Christmas’ has some properly dark and scary moments, although comedy is never far from the surface either. Doctor Who has flirted with the horror genre throughout the preceding series, but the menace and atmosphere is truly ratcheted up here. The Dream Crabs end up indirectly borrowing some aspects from Moffat’s previous creations as the characters are told not to look at them and not to think about them, but ultimately the close-up of a salivating creature and a direct Aliens reference leave no hesitation as to what type of base-under-siege story this is going to be from the outset. Returning director Paul Wilmshurt is unmistakably comfortable and, assisted by a befitting score, keeps the apprehensive energy and atmosphere present throughout even as various different settings are explored.

All of the guest stars- Maureen Beattie, Natalie Gumede, Faye Marsay, Nathan McMullen, Dan Starkey, and Michael Troughton- all offer inspired performances, managing to offer a little bit of levity and sadness while genuinely selling the infiltrative threat. The unabashed star of ‘Last Christmas,’ though, is Santa Claus himself, played mischievously by the aptly named Nick Frost. Just the prospect of involving Santa- especially in a horror setting- is one fraught with potential pitfalls as the iconic character and/or the situation could easily be undermined if the characterization is off in just the slightest direction. Fortunately, Frost offers a very measured and nuanced performance full of both gravity and warmth, and he fittingly becomes crucial to the resolution of the plot. Though his sleigh may not boast the most believable of CGI, Frost offers his all and is clearly having fun with the Christmas aspect as well as playing off of the usual greatness of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, who may just be a little less cold himself.

As fantastic as the polar base scenes are, some of the other scenes do not quite succeed in delivering the emotional weight intended. It’s through no fault of the script or the acting, both of which are great, but there is a dependence on returning to some plot points that seem as though they have run their course and could just have successfully been left alone. ‘Last Christmas’ is all about the Doctor and Clara, and Danny was always one extreme against the Doctor in Clara’s eyes as she tried to fit in somewhere between the two. In a dream sequence or not, Danny’s return is clearly paramount for Clara and it makes sense that he would be the one to help her wake up, but at the same time it somewhat undercuts his very effective and emotional choice in ‘Death in Heaven.’

It’s telling just how far the Doctor goes to save Clara as he firmly takes the lead in this story, but as many of the same arguments about Danny resurface, it seems that the end of Clara’s time in the TARDIS is finally here. That is, until Doctor Who channels Inception and provides one final surprise that brings the duo back together once more, clearly still with some cracks and fissures to fix. Following the impossible girl arc and the relationship with Danny, it will be very interesting to see where Clara’s path takes her next.

And that final tangerine…

This post was written by

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *