With this being the 10th Doctor Who Christmas Special, it’s a wonder that Santa Claus hasn’t been the focus before; Stephen Moffat likes to take cultural references and make them the focus of episodes, and there’s no concept more popular than Father Christmas.
Playing on this particular idea would’ve been fine, had it been the sole focus of the episode. The problem was that it felt like there were a lot more references in play. First the episode tried to imitate Alien, both with the atmospheric style of Shona’s entry into the infirmary, and with the none-too-subtle close ups on the salivating, wide, toothless mouths of the ‘dream crab’ hosts (before later trying to pass it off with oblique references).
Then, the dream concept was introduced, and before long the Doctor was talking of ‘dreams within dreams’, and the word ‘Inception’ sprung to mind. And the idea of a polar base, which turns out to be a shared false reality? Black Mirror did that pretty well only a week ago. This isn’t to say ‘Last Christmas’ was bad, just that it felt like a fairly heavy dose of déjà vu.
Having said that, the execution was better. There were a fair few solid moments as the reality, or rather the lack thereof, of the dreamscape became apparent. The scene with the manuals, as each character read out a different word, from the same page as they remembered it, was marvellous. So too were the latter parts of Clara’s dream scenes with Danny. While the first half of that section felt far too much like fan service and not enough like character or plot progression, the second half gave us a true insight into Clara’s thoughts.
Talking of whom, it felt like Clara was side-lined a bit in this episode, in a way that only served to fuel fan speculation. Faye Marsay, one of the stars of the fantastic Pride from earlier this year, has been the rumoured next companion for some time now, and her appearance as Shona in this episode did nothing to dispel this. Many of her moments had her sarcastically bouncing off the Doctor in much the same vein as any of his previous travelling partners, and her final scenes were far too specific to be an ending.
All of which made the overall conclusion of the episode all the more frustrating. Seeing Clara cling onto the dream world, embracing her belief in Santa Claus, before growing old in reality before the Doctor could rescue her, made for a satisfying and compelling ending to the story, and also to Clara’s time on the show. And indeed, returning again to rumours, this would seem to have been the original intention only for Jenna Coleman to have a change of heart and continue her tenure, prompting script changes to accommodate this.
‘Last Christmas’ wasn’t the best Christmas adventure, but it was certainly nowhere near the worst. Irrespective of the quality or conclusiveness of the ending, it leaves no doubt as to the immediate future of the show. Next year: ‘The Magicians Apprentice’. The possibilities are endless.