Doctor Who episode 829: Last Christmas (25/12/2014)
‘You’re a dream who’s trying to save us?’ The Doctor and Clara meet their second legendary character this year – in another soft reset for what’s gone before. Last Christmas is the debut of Doctor 12.2, complete with new hoodie and jumper outfit that is going to be the norm from now on. I wish he had been written and performed like this from the outset: grouchy not misanthropic; given the chance, as keen to take the reins of Santa’s sleigh as any of his predecessors; apologising to Clara for his mistakes; being the Doctor. Capaldi’s performance evolves to match this – his spikiness now reflected in his movements, like that distinctive run (as unique as Pertwee’s arms-tightly-in, or Troughton’s bandy-legged scamper).
I wasn’t a great fan of this at the time, but it has grown on me with each rewatch until I now think it’s Moffat’s best Christmas special since his first one. I don’t think it matches A Christmas Carol because its plot is more intricate for a postprandial audience – dreams within dreams are a bit harder to follow than a retelling of Dickens’ familiar masterpiece, but it has more warmth to it than any 12th Doctor story to date. It was also broadcast close enough to the end of Series Eight to act as a credible climax, with the Doctor and Clara’s relationship restored, confessing the lies they told each other in Death in Heaven, and Danny Pink’s final appearance being as a man, not a Cyberman.
It might be complicated to follow when you’re full of trifle and sherry, but the gist is clear enough, and the borrowed Aliens imagery (specifically the scenes of Ripley and Newt being hunted by a face-hugger through an infirmary) sets the right Series Eight horror tone, even as Santa Claus subverts it. Everyone’s familiar with the “it was all a dream” cliché, and Moffat has fun with that, especially when the dreams start to turn to nightmares and the Dream Crabs emerge from monitors to drag their victims away.
Most impressively, Moffat finally gifts one of his characters a definitively brilliant exit. I could never buy Clara’s departure in Death in Heaven: there was too much unfinished business. Here, though, 62 years later, we get a scene that so beautifully counterpoints Matt Smith’s exit that it’s inconceivable Jenna Coleman could have left any other way. The 12th Doctor is suddenly revealed as gentle and kind, helping the elderly Clara pull her Christmas cracker just as she helped the dying 11th Doctor in The Time of the Doctor. Every Christmas is Last Christmas, and Clara’s last Christmas stands alongside Jo Grant’s departure as a series best. Goodbye Jenna, you’ll be missed.
What do you mean it’s same old, same old next year?
Next Time: The Magician’s Apprentice
Clara’s line about every Christmas being a last Christmas hits me right where it hurts. I do love this one.