As it has many years in the past, the BBC presented a brand-new Doctor Who special on Christmas Day, which also aired on BBC America. Titled “Last Christmas,” The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) are visited by Santa Claus (Nick Frost, Shaun of the Dead, Mr. Sloane), and then head to the North Pole to help a group of scientists. But things get dreamy-weamy when a brain-sucking alien that can alter perception attacks them.
“Last Christmas” is better than most of this past fall’s eighth season, but also displays some of the weaknesses that have plagued Doctor Who this year. It is fun and scary and has a classic-type villain that poses a puzzle for our clever heroes. It also flirts with character development without fully committing to it, teasing at some depth between the show’s leads, but failing to deliver a meaningful package. In short, it’s enjoyable, but also disappointing.
When last we left them, The Doctor and Clara separated because they both lied. Well, The Doctor lied, and Clara didn’t correct his assumptions about her, spelling an end to their time traveling together. Thrust back into adventure (which is explained adequately enough), they do have a brief screaming match to air the truth, but then they decide to resume their past arrangement with no discussion of the problems between them.
I finally have a theory as to why this might be the case, as frustrating as it is that the writers don’t deal with the underlying issues between this pairing. The Doctor is never one to dwell on his darkness when a companion is around, trying to present a cheery front. Normally, his companions help ground him, but Clara is also an avoider of reality, and between the two of them, a true confrontation and discussion just isn’t likely to spring. Which is why Clara needs to go.
Part of why Doctor Who is so awesome is because of the complexity of its main Time Lord. With Clara by his side, The Doctor is allowed to ignore his issues, as she just wants to find the fun. But Capaldi’s version of The Doctor definitely has things to deal with, as the series has hinted that his older appearance is not merely selected by chance. Even Clara has gotten fed up with him at times, yet she always backs off before forcing anything from him, and in order to unlock this mystery, The Doctor needs a companion that will stick to their guns.
That aside, the episode itself is mostly satisfying because it messes with the viewer’s brain. Some of the best installments of Doctor Who present something to fear and then outline why you cannot protect yourself from it. “Last Christmas” does that brilliantly with it’s Inception-like concept of dreams within dreams. Making Santa Claus a part of this makes a lot of sense. It’s not as mythology heavy as the previous two Christmas episodes, but it’s a fine stand-alone.
Toss in Nick Frost, who is always terrific, a guest turn by Michael Troughton, Second Doctor Patrick Troughton’s son, as one of the scientists, and Dan Starkey, who plays recurring part Strax, as an elf, and there’s plenty for fans to get excited about.
On a side note, how did The Doctor and Clara encounter Danny Pink’s (Samuel Anderson) descendant in series eight when he later dies without having children? Danny’s cameo in “Last Christmas” makes me think his story may not quite be over, but I don’t see a way for it go forward from here, unless the show repeats itself with him as it did with Rory. I keep expecting Clara to be pregnant, but it doesn’t seem like Doctor Who is going that way, and Danny doesn’t seem to have coupled with anyone else, given his mental state. Will the series follow up and explain this?
Doctor Who will return for a ninth series (since the reboot) sometime in 2015.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00RGKOCD8][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00IT3KQWM]