Doctor Who Recap: Last Christmas
Welcome to my obsession. All the recaps are here. This article contains many spoilers, and also many feels.
On Christmas Eve my youngest child and I marathoned several Doctor Who Christmas episodes. I had forgotten how painfully sad they could be (thanks Russel T. Davies, character killer/life ruiner). As a result I went into Last Christmas very nervous, especially considering the rumors that Jenna Coleman might be leaving the show. Come with me as we recap what I’m calling “WhoChristmasCeption.”
We open on a Christmasy scene, a decorated tree and snow outside the window–real snow, not the ashes of the Titanic. We see Clara sleeping in bed, then hear a crash and a muffled curse which wake her up. There are people arguing on her roof, so she goes to see who it is. Surprise, surprise.
Santa and his elves have crashed on Clara’s roof. There are tangerines everywhere. The elf says no one likes the tangerines, Santa gets offended.
Side note: The elf named Ian is played by Dan Starkey who also plays Strax. I died laughing when I discovered this, so I am officially writing this from the Nethersphere.
Clara watches the shenanigans with incredulity, like you would. She asks if he’s Santa Claus. He denies it for a moment, then caves and tells her yes it is her. The elves mock her for not believing. He asks why she stopped believing. Clara tells him he’s a fairy tale, and she’s grown out of fairy tales.
Santa: Did you Clara, did you really?
TARDIS sound: makes Amelia have feels.
The Doctor emerges and tells Clara to get into the TARDIS right now. He’s wearing a pretty fabulous hoodie. She touches him as if confused that he exists, he reassures her he does and tells her to get in the TARDIS again. She goes without question.
Side note: Would have loved to see this same scene with Donna. “Oi spaceman I’m not just getting in the TARDIS because you said to get in the TARDIS I am standing here with Father Christmas and you are all going to explain yourselves.” Sigh. Love Donna.
The Doctor tells Santa he knows what’s up, and Santa tells him that the Doctor will need his help. The Doctor tells Santa “Happy Easter” which seems unnecessary, so Santa tells him to save room for a tangerine. The Doctor says no one likes the tangerines.
I am here for Doctor vs. Santa sass battle.
On the TARDIS, Clara asks the Doctor if this is real. She tells him she never thought she’d see him again. From a viewer’s perspective it seems like it’s been a while since she’s been onboard. The Doctor tells her she needs to ask herself one question, that her life depends on it–“Do you believe in Santa Claus?” She says, “You know what? Yeah, I think I do.”
Post-credits, we find ourselves on the North Pole. There’s a science station there. Isolated science stations doing research are always fine in scifi shows. No worries.
Three people are coaching a fourth via headphones (named Shona). Shona is about to enter the infirmary, and she’s totally freaked out. The people in control tell her there are sleepers in the infirmary, and it’s fine to be near them as long as she absolutely, positively does not think about them. It’s unclear what she’s supposed to do in the infirmary, but they’re trying to help her strategize not thinking about the things in the beds. They tell her the creatures can see what she does and feel what she does but they’ll sleep through it unless she thinks about them directly.
They turn on (what else) Merry Xmas, Everybody by Slade to distract her.
Side note: Merry Xmas, Everybody by Slade is a pretty common character in the Doctor Who Christmas specials.
Shona proceeds to do the most adorable “don’t think about the things in the beds” dance I’ve ever seen.
She dances, she sings, she tries to make her way across the infirmary to whatever task she’s been given. Before she can get there, though, the far door opens and Shona says they have ghosts. A skeleton man and a girl in a nightie.
The Doctor and Clara bust into the infirmary and immediately start thinking about the things in the beds because they’re like that. Shona begs them not to make her think about them but it’s all too late–they’ve woken the creatures up.
The Doctor comments that the creatures are deaf and blind, but doesn’t seem too concerned that they’re all rising from their beds. Shona explains and the Doctor understands the creatures are psychic and using telepathy to see and hear.
Meanwhile, the creatures get out of bed and start slowly advancing on the humans in the room. Shona starts singing. The Doctor explains that she’s running interference, trying to distract herself so she’s not thinking about the creatures. He makes Clara do math problems but she’s… too good at them? She can’t use math to get distracted. The creatures continue to advance.
In another desperate attempt to distract her, the Doctor asks Clara what Danny Pink is up to right now. Is he flirting with the neighbor girl while she’s gone?
Side note: Yeah, okay, I had a feel when he said that.
So did Clara, because she slaps him across the face. She’s distracted now.
Clara: Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare say that. Danny Pink is dead.
Doctor: No he’s not.
Clara: He’s dead.
The creatures close their creepy mouths and stop advancing. If you look close, you can see they’re wearing human clothes.
Before Clara can explain about Danny, the rest of the science team bursts in with guns. Shona, the Doctor and Clara retreat toward the door. Before they can escape, a bunch of–look they’re facehuggers there’s no other way to put that–drop from the ceiling and appear to land on their faces.
Before they can, though, there’s an explosion in the infirmary wall. In rolls a tangerine, then a bunch of slinkies, then toy robots, then this:
Santa rolls in with his elves to seemingly save the day. After all, this is the North Pole–his domain. He commands the creatures to return to bed and they obey. Someone asks who Santa is and the Doctor who snarks back “Oh take a guess, push the boat out. Tooth Fairy? Easter Bunny?” The Doctor is not amused by Santa. Strax I mean Ian threatens to shoot the Doctor with a balloon animal.
Shona asks if she’s dreaming and the Doctor is impressed. The other people ask sane questions like who is the guy dressed like Santa and what is going on here. Santa tells Clara it’s an invasion.
Clara: An invasion of what? Elves?
Elves: That is racist. Elfist. Which is a bit hypocritical from someone of your height.
Santa disappears and returns with a jar full of facehugger.
The Doctor says the facehugger is known as a “Dream Crab.” Santa says that depending on how many are on Earth right now, the human race may be dying right now. Santa suggests they ignore whether he’s real or not and get busy saving Christmas.
The Doctor and another of the North Pole team (Ashley) examine the thing in the jar. Ashley asks the Doctor how he’s heard of these things if they’re alien. He tells her to guess, and she guesses he’s alien too.
Shona and the elves discuss the North Pole, which is an actual pole. The elves have a picture on their phone. Shona says the North Pole isn’t actually a pole, that’s ridiculous. They mock her.
The Doctor encourages Ashley to figure out that if the Dream Crabs create a kind of telepathic field that distorts reality (such that Santa may appear) then she can’t trust anything she’s seeing. He tells her to check out the TARDIS, which is a police box sitting outside the base. He tells her it’s a space ship in disguise.
Doctor: You know what the big problem is in telling fantasy and reality apart?
Doctor: They’re both ridiculous.
Shona tells Santa that it’s Christmas Eve so why isn’t he out delivering presents? Santa tells her math-wise, he can’t deliver all of them. Obviously, he says, he has a second sled. Duh.
Clara asks the Doctor what’s going on and he says he suspects they’re dying. He asks Ashley if he can see footage of the team discovering these face huggers. She says sure, and they head for the control room. He asks her why they’re here to begin with, and she tells him “it’s a long story.” Before he can leave to look at footage, Clara catches him.
Clara: What you said about Danny. Unacceptable.
Doctor: I know. I had to flood your mind with random emotion.
Doctor: You never told me he was dead. You said he made it back
Clara: Well, I lied. I lied so you’d go home to Gallifrey instead of fussing about me.
Doctor: I never found Gallifrey. I lied. So you’d stay with Danny.
Me: YOU BIG DORKS. It’s dusty in here.
She asks him to give her a task and he tells her to trust nothing, interrogate everything.
Clara: In case it’s a lie?
Doctor: In case it’s a lie.
Shona is still interrogating Santa. She reminds him that reindeer can’t fly. He tells her of course they can’t, it’s impossible. That’s why he feeds them magic carrots. The Doctor asks her why she’s on the north pole and she responds “it’s a long story.” Right. He then asks Santa how he gets all those presents in the sleigh.
Santa: It’s bigger on the inside.
Side note: Nick Frost is genius in this. Most sarcastic Santa.
Meanwhile, Ashley has the footage up. Another of the scientists (Bellows) explains that they found the facehuggers on a side mission. The Doctor asks what her main mission was, and she tells him “long story.” They tell him they discovered the facehuggers dormant, but they woke up as soon as they were found.
Doctor: Well that was always the legend. You think about a Dream Crab, and a Dream Crab is coming for you.
Side note: I lost The Game right here.
In the other room, the Dream Crab in the jar starts twitching. Of course it does.
The last scientist points out that the Dream Crabs are a bit like facehuggers. You know, Alien.
Doctor: There’s a horror movie called Alien? That’s really offensive, no wonder everyone keeps invading you.
Moving on, they explain that those infected by the facehuggers slept for a while, then became aggressive as the Dream Crab took control. The Doctor says that can take a while, as the brain takes a while to be DIGESTED. Ew. The Dream Crab keeps you relaxed in a dream state as your brain slowly dissolves.
Remind me never to be on an isolated science base. Like ever.
The Doctor sends Clara to fetch the dead one. She snarks at him for making her fetch things, then goes to do it anyway because that is their relationship. When she gets tot he room with the facehugger, it’s missing and the jar is broken. She climbs under the table to look at the glass and the facehugger drops from the ceiling onto the table. She hides under the table, doing math at first then thinking of Danny Pink (and apologizing to him, which… good). The facehugger still advances.
In the control room, the Doctor belatedly realizes that they’ve all been standing around thinking about facehuggers. That was probably a bad plan.
We see the facehugger bust through the table and Clara screaming. Then she wakes up in bed, and someone is with her.
For just a moment everything is awesome, and then Clara figures out this is probably not right. Danny tells her to come downstairs and celebrate Christmas with him. She starts to follow, then slows down and takes a good look around. Behind her where the bedroom was is now a blackboard.
She tries to erase it but words keep appearing–that she’s dreaming, dying, she needs to wake up. Danny calls her from downstairs and she keeps telling him she’ll be right there. Blackboards appear all over the hallway that say “dying.” In the distance, she can hear the Doctor calling her name.
Side note: there’s a really great moment here, where as the viewer we see her make a decision. She decides to ignore the warnings. She is being told she’s dying, she understands what’s happening, but she ignores it all. She chooses to stay with Danny on Christmas and it’s like watching her decide living is for the birds. Screw reality. Heartbreaking, but understandable.
The Doctor, on the base, realizes she isn’t responding. He finds Santa and asks if he can go back into where the sleeping creatures are, since the creatures obeyed him. Santa says yes, he can do that. The Doctor sends Santa in to get a facehugger. He decides to Dream Crab himself so he can go in to Clara’s dream after her.
In the dream world, Clara and Danny have had a Christmas day and are cuddling together on the couch. There’s a knock on the door, and Danny assumes it’s her dad. Instead, it’s the Doctor. He tells her she knows it’s a dream, and that she’s dying. He tells her Danny isn’t real and none of what she’s seeing actually exists. He tells her she’s dying.
She asks him if it’s a dream, how can they both be dreaming it.
Side note: Not like this hasn’t happened before. Wonder what that old Dream Lord is up to…
He tells her he’s dying too. Dude knows how to get Clara moving, doesn’t he? On the base, Ashley asks if they’ve killed the Doctor. Santa tells her to have a little faith.
In the dream, the Doctor points to the side of her head and asks if she has a pain, a little one like an ice cream headache. He tells her that’s where the facehugger has attached itself. It’s like a straw in her skull. Ewwww. He tells her the dream is the anesthetic that keeps her from screaming and running.
Doctor: Danny Pink died saving the world.
Danny: I really didn’t.
Doctor: I’m sorry. I thought there was a way back for him but I was wrong I can’t change that. He’s dead.
Danny: I didn’t die saving the world. I died saving Clara. The rest of you just got lucky.
Me: Ugh. Feels.
Danny tells Clara to leave, that she needs to say goodbye. In true Danny Pink form, even his dream-self is saving her life. He tells her she can miss him for five minutes a day, but otherwise she needs to move on with her life. She tells him not to “soldier” her. He tells her to wake up, for him.
Danny: Do you know why people get together at Christmas? Because every time they do, it might be the last time. Every Christmas is last Christmas, and this is ours. This was a bonus, this is extra. Now it’s time to wake up.
Me: OMG FEELS.
They wake up, both her and the Doctor. The facehuggers pop off them and disintegrate. The Doctor explains it’s the carnivore’s hazard–food has teeth, too.
Clara looks in the mirror, then tells the Doctor there’s no wound. No, he says, and the pain is still there, isn’t it? Shona pipes up, and asks if they’re referring to the ice cream pain. Yep, they’re still in a dream. It’s officially a dream within a dream! Inception with Santa. The scientists argue that they feel awake, but the Doctor points out that just before Santa appeared the facehuggers were descending from the ceiling and there was no way to escape, not really.
The Doctor says there’s only one reliable dream test. The manuals from the science station should be the same, all copies of the same book. However, no one has memorized the manual so if they read the book in a dream, it will say something different for each person. Clara picks a page number and they all read the first word of that page.
“isotope, extremely, inside, chocolate.”
They try it again. “we, are, all, dead.” Creepy dream books being creepy. Ashley works out that since the attack on the infirmary, they’ve been dreaming. Santa busts in and says “duh. Of course it’s a dream. I am here, I have elves and a sleigh.” Santa tells them they need to wake up so they don’t die.
The Doctor says the Dream Crab tries to make the dream as realistic as possible, and layers dream on dream to keep you asleep. But the brain tries to fight back, and creates things like Santa to remind you that your dream isn’t real, can’t be real. Santa agrees, and points out that the Doctor is an alien dressed as a magician in a spaceship shaped like a phone box. None of this makes any sense!
Doctor: Shut up, Santa.
Santa says he’s watched over them from Christmas to Christmas. Bellows points out “but you’re not real.” Santa replies that he’s still managed. He entreats them to join hands, and begins to give an explanation for what’s happened to them, something about telepathy and energy.
Doctor: No. No no no line in the sand. Santa Claus does not do the scientific explanation.
Santa: All right, as the Doctor would say, it’s all a bit “dreamy-weamy.” (in a fake Scottish accent omg).
They ask, why Santa? He says “you’re on the north pole on Christmas day. You’re dying. Who you gonna call?” He asks them to believe. The Doctor reluctantly joins hands with the rest of them in a circle, and they begin to wake up. Santa vanishes, because they don’t need him anymore. The Doctor says when they wake up the attack will still be in progress.
they wake up, the facehuggers drop off, and the people with the crab heads have a momentary lapse before resuming their attack. All of them manage to escape outside the infirmary.
In the next scene, the Doctor is leaving. Clara is following him, pointing out that there are still Dream Crabs on Earth, maybe a lot of them. He tells her there are polar bears, is he supposed to do something about those too? There are lots of dangerous things, should he do something about all of them?
Doctor: I’m the Doctor. I’m not your Mam.
Side note: So, is my takeaway that unless he’s personally involved he just doesn’t care about Earth or humans anymore? Did he… break up with us? What happened to I walk your Earth I breathe your air etc.? MAKE UP YOUR MIND DOCTOR, gah he’s like that toxic relationship that you just can’t quite shake.
Clara then makes the very salient point that if Santa only appeared after the infirmary attack, then why the hell was he on her roof earlier?
Doctor: Do you know what I hate about the obvious?
Doctor: Missing it.
He runs back into the station and asks if the scientists that are there are the same ones from before. Sorry, he says, he deleted them. He points out that there were four manuals but eight scientists (since four are now facehugged in the infirmary). He asks what they were doing, what the mission of the base is, etc., and they can all only answer “it’s a long story.”
Clara asks why they’re all giving the same answer and the Doctor tells her if she thinks that’s weird, check this out.
Doctor: We were in the TARDIS, why did we come here?
Clara: It’s a long story.
Oh snap. The Doctor points out that no one knows they’re not dreaming–not any of us, not for any moment of our lives. Creepy.
They do another round of the book test and get “very, very, very, dead.” Seemed promising for a second, anyway. They all admit the pain is still there. Shona says it’s getting worse, which of course it is because their brains are being eaten.
The Doctor points out that the people in the infirmary are the same people as the scientists–none of them are actually on the north pole. They’re sharing a dream but not real space. He says the sleepers in the infirmary represent the part of their minds that have already given in.
On the screens, the sleepers in the infirmary get up and start walking toward the cameras.
The male scientist (played by Michael Troughton, son of Patrick Troughton who played the second Doctor) says he recognizes himself but the Doctor warns him not to get too close to the monitors where the sleepers are shown. Why? Because they’re in a nightmare. Not being the best listener, the guy gets sucked through the monitor by his facehugged self and disappears.
The other three facehugged people burst through the monitors and begin advancing on the still awake people.
They run outside and the Doctor seals the door to the base with the sonic. He says the male scientist has probably woken up in the real world, but died because his brain was eaten. He says if they don’t wake up soon, the same thing will happen to all of them.
Clara: But how?
Doctor: I don’t know.
He suggests they get into the TARDIS. Clara points out that it isn’t the real TARDIS. The Doctor says hopefully he dreamed it really well then. Before they can get in, the facehugged people appear outside, and there are suddenly tons of them.
How is this possible? Well, they’re in a nightmare, stuff like this happens in nightmares all the time. There’s general mayhem and panic and the Doctor says they have to use their imaginations to wake up.
Doctor: Come on. It’s Christmas. The north pole. Who you gonna call?
Santa Claus, of course! He appears overhead in his sleigh and tells them all to hop on, quick. Fortunately, he says, he knows all their home addresses.
In the next scene they’re flying over London in Santa’s sleigh. Clara asks what now? Are we waking up or what?
Doctor: Could be. Well I hope I hope so. Either waking up or–
Doctor: Just focus on this. Do you believe in Santa Claus?
Clara: I’ve always believed in Santa Claus. But he looks a little different to me. (hugs the Doctor).
Side note: He doesn’t even complain when she hugs him! Daw.
Santa asks if the Doctor wants to take the sleigh reigns. The Doctor reminds Santa he’s a dream construct. Santa says sure, but do you want to? Doctor says yes and has an awful lot of fun flying the sleigh around London.
After a bit, Shona mentions she remembers she works in a shop, she’s not a scientist. Ashley says she works as an accounts manager for perfume. They ask if that means they’re waking up and the Doctor says yes, they could be waking up in their proper times and places. He points out that they could have met across time as well as space in their shared dream.
Shona suggests they should share their cell phone numbers so they can get together again. The Doctor says there’s little chance they’ll remember any of this once they’ve woken up.
One by one, the “scientists” disappear. We see scenes of each of them waking up to what seems to be their real lives, each one with a little pile of facehugger dust nearby. Shona wakes up in a rather messy apartment with a list of things to do on Christmas (mostly involving watching different tv shows because we are all Shona). One thing on the list is watching Alien. At the bottom of the list is “forgive Dave,” and she makes a checkmark on it. Daw, Shona, you get that Dave back.
Side note: Shona is watching Alien before she falls asleep to the creepy crab dreamland. So like… face huggers? Couldn’t they have been as much a part of her nightmare as Santa? I’m just saying a lot of this endgame is Inception-esque. Leave it to Moffat to leave himself a big fat open door like this one. Also–none of them have head wounds on waking up. Clara mentions a lack of wound specifically, earlier. Also… well keep reading there’s more.
Clara says she’d like to not wake up right away, and she seems melancholy. The Doctor tells her if they stay, they die. She tells him he’s a downer, and then he vanishes.
There’s a brief scene of him waking up, here:
Side note: You’re thinking what I’m thinking, right? Doesn’t this landscape look an AWFUL lot like the one from the volcano where Clara threw a bunch of TARDIS keys?
The landscape that turned out to be a fantasy concocted by the sleep patches she stole that he then snuck back onto her when she wasn’t looking? Um. Why isn’t the Doctor in the TARDIS? Where and when is he right now? Also note, no more hoodie.
Anyway. He wakes up, the facehugger goes poof, and he realizes he needs to go check on Clara so he hops into his TARDIS.
Back on the sleigh, Santa tells Clara she really should be waking up too, but she says “just a little longer.”
Clara: Every Christmas is last Christmas.
The scene shifts to the Doctor at Clara’s house. He uses the sonic to pull her facehugger off, something about psychic signals being in tune now. He puts the facehugger in a jar suspiciously identical to the one from the fake north pole research station. It doesn’t turn to dust, either.
When he turns back to Clara she’s waking up. She’s old.
She tells him it’s been 62 years since he visited last. She tells him she missed him very much, and she hugs him. He seems sad that he’s taken this much time away.
He brings her Christmas hats and Christmas crackers. When the puts the hat on her head, he sees her as a young woman again. He apparently can’t see the difference in her age, she looks exactly the same to him as she always has.
Side note: The Doctor seems to struggle with faces, names and ages ever since he regenerated.
He asks her how her life was, and she tells him it was good, she traveled and taught in many countries. He asks if there’s a Mr. Clara and she says no, but there were many proposals she turned down. He asks if she has regrets, she says hundreds. She just wishes there was time for a few more.
Doctor: No one ever matched up to Danny, eh?
Clara: There was one other man. But that would never have worked out.
Doctor: Why not?
Clara: He was impossible.
Me: Aw. He’s her impossible man.
The Doctor apologizes for not coming back earlier, he wishes he had come back. Then:
Santa appears in the doorway of the room and says “do you, Doctor? How much do you wish that?”
Oh snipsnap. Still a dream. I was tipped off by the jar from the fake science station but either way it was a nice little jolt from all the feels. I dunno. I might have liked it to end there, but it’s Christmas and there’s always a happier ending for Christmas specials, even the really sad ones.
The Doctor wakes up again.
Side note: SAME LANDSCAPE. I mean, maybe BBC just reuses landscapes, sure. Still, odd one to choose–the fake volcano from Clara’s patch-induced dream state. Also let’s not forget the very first appearance of Capaldi in the Whoniverse–Pompeii?!? Just saying.
Side side note: I mean. If the Doctor was going to have a dream/nightmare, wouldn’t it be likely to include the Master, his best frienemy of all time? I don’t think Moffat will go there but he certainly could. He set himself up with barn doors wide open for it.
Anyway, he runs back to Clara again, pokes the facehugger on her with the sonic, and she wakes up her young self, in bed in her nightgown. They must have been sharing his last nightmare too because she asks if she’s young. He has no idea, of course, so he has to show her a mirror to prove it.
Doctor: The TARDIS is outside.
Doctor: So all of time and all of space is sitting out there in a big blue box. Please? Don’t even argue.
She agrees, and they run out to his TARDIS together.
Clara: Well look at you all happy. That’s rare.
Doctor: You know what’s rarer? Second chances. I never get a second chance so what happened this time? I don’t even know who to thank.
The camera pans back for us to see this:
Or should I say this:
And that’s the end. Doctor Who series 9 starts filming in January 2015, presumably with Jenna Coleman still on board the TARDIS.
We never saw the very last facehugger, Clara’s “real one” turn to dust. There is more than a suggestion that Santa is still around but that’s easily chalked up to the Christmas magic that imbues every Christmas episode. No one ever had a wound, not one of them. Biggest for me, though, is the volcano landscape. If it isn’t the volcano, then where the heck is he and what is he doing there? How did he and Clara (and the others) get facehugged across space and possibly time in the first place?
Listen was never fully explained for me, especially the kid under the blanket. It’s about nightmares.
Facehuggers could have come from Shona’s imagination, yes?
Clara acts like she hasn’t seen him in a long time, like he’s as much a miracle as Santa, several times throughout the episode.
FYI, the Doctor has a long history with Santa Claus, not always positive.
Moffat could take this episode literally anywhere right now, or nowhere, and it would all work out. Therefore, my final thought is that Moffat is brilliant. Annoying at times, but brilliant.
See you in Series 9!
(screencaps from http://kissthemgoodbye.net/)