Some thoughts on yesterday’s Christmas special episode of Doctor Who, Last Christmas.
As always spoilers.
The episode opens with Clara being wakened up by noises on the roof. She investigates and finds Santa Claus and some comedy elves larking around with a crashed sleigh. The Doctor appears and tells Clara to come with him in the Tardis.
I’ve kind of shortened my description of that sequence down as much as I could. I thought this episode was going to be excruciating with comedy Santa and comedy elves. I had low expectations for the episode at this point.
The Tardis arrives at a scientific research base in the Arctic. Some personnel are lying in the medical area with facehuggers on their faces. A girl called Shona is trying to get through the lab without thinking of the facehuggers. The Doctor and Clara appear. The facehuggers attack everyone. Santa turns up to save the day.
More comedy Santa stuff ensues. My hopes for the episode plummet.
And then it gets interesting. You see the facehuggers are actually “dream crabs” and they basically suck your brains out but give you the anaesthetic of a nice dream as they do so. One of them gets Clara who has the fantasy of a perfect Christmas with the deceased Danny Pink. The Doctor’s attempts to get her to wake up are nicely manifested by blackboards appearing in her house telling her she is dying.
The Doctor enters her dream and tells her that she knows it’s not real. Dream Danny also tells Clara she needs to wake up.
Back on the base the Doctor remembers that they were all attacked by the crabs in the medical bay but have no memory of escaping. He gets the four base personnel to each read the first word on a given page of the base manual. They all read different words. This was a brilliant little bit of the episode. So they are all dreaming.
He gets them all to wake up. Then as he and Clara are leaving the base the Doctor realises there are four manuals for four personnel but there are the other crew lying in the medical bay. He runs back in. It’s all still a dream. The crew aren’t even scientists. They are all just random dreamers who were attacked by the crab thing. Ah, it’s inception! Brilliant.
Santa returns (but it’s ok as it’s just dream Santa) who will take them all back home in his sleigh. As each person wakes up they disappear from the sleigh.
A word about Shona. She wakes up in her flat with her Christmas “to do” list. It contains some movies to watch, namely Alien, The Thing From Another World and Miracle on 34th Street. Brilliant. Her dream was influencing what they others experience. How very Philip K Dick.
Eventually the Doctor disappears and it’s just Clara and Santa and Clara doesn’t want to wake up.
The Doctor wakes up on some volcanic planet or other and runs into the Tardis to get to Clara. He appears at her houses and runs in. He does the sonic screwdriver thing to get the last crab off her face. And Clara is old! It’s 62 years later. She and the Doctor never traveled together again and never saw each other again. Bloody hell, it was the most heartbreaking thing. Damn, I’ve something in my eye… Is that how Clara leaves? Bloody hell…
Then Santa appears again. The Doctor wakes up again. Another dream within a dream. He rushes back again and wakes up Clara. And she’s young Clara again. Bloody Moffat…
So even with the awful Santa comedy stuff I give this episode 10 out of 10. Because the Santa comedy stuff actually works in the context of Shona’s list of movies to watch. This is a very well constructed little tale. Yes, it has unavoidable Alien influences, but they just reference the movie Alien and get on with it. Yes it’s Inception, and I’m ok with that. A Christmas Day episode of a kids science fiction show doing Inception! What’s not to like?
A final word on Shona as played by Faye Marsay. Looking at the forums she was a bit of a crowd-pleaser and lots of folk would like to see her return. Count me along them.