From Clara’s roof, there arises such a clatter that she wakes up to investigate, finding a man dressed as Santa Claus…and two elves…and a crashed sleigh and wayward reindeer. If that scene isn’t surreal enough, the TARDIS appears, the Doctor emerges, and tells her she must do exactly as he says. They travel to a research base at the North Pole where the scientists live in fear of crab-like alien beings that attach themselves to victims’ heads and consume them; the victims are kept in a dream state, anesthetized from what’s actually happening to them. The beings attack both the base crew and the Doctor and Clara, but does everyone survive the attack, or succumb?
written by Steven Moffat
directed by Ben Wheatley
music by Murray Gold
Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara), Nick Frost (Santa Claus), Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink), Dan Starkey (Ian), Nathan McMullen (Wolf), Faye Marsay (Shona), Natalie Gumede (Ashley), Maureen Beattie (Bellows), Michael Troughton (Professor Albert)
Notes: Michael Troughton is the son of Patrick Troughton, who was the second Doctor from 1966 through 1969; Michael’s brother David appeared in the David Tennant episode Midnight. Nick Frost has co-starred with Simon Pegg (the Editor from The Long Game) in a number of movies co-written and produced by Pegg (Hot Fuzz, Shaun Of The Dead, and The World’s End), as well as co-starring in the series Spaced with Pegg.
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: Doctor Who’s Christmas specials veer back toward the surprisingly dark end of the spectrum from time to time, and this is one of those: festive, and yet incredibly disturbing in its own way. Yes, it’s a bit of a riff on the dream-worlds-within-dream-worlds concept at the heart of the movie Inception, but by bringing the late Danny Pink into things at almost the same time as Santa (played with a brilliantly sinister edge by Nick Frost), Last Christmas becomes something else entirely.
By playing with the trope of parents telling their kids there is a Santa Claus, and then mashing that up with the comfortable (and yet horrifying) dream world created by the somewhat unfortunately-named “Dream Crabs”, Last Christmas is less about the lies other people tell us than it about the lies we tell ourselves. Whether that falls under the heads of spiritual beliefs, or people writing down “affirmations”, or wishing on falling stars, or pledging to make a big difference in a small part of the world, everyone – everyone – has to tell themselves something to get through each day, or to be able to look at themselves in the mirror in the morning. In Last Christmas, those things Clara is telling herself could kill her. But then even the Doctor is prone to that sort of thing: his belief that he’ll always get there in the nick of time is tested when he shows up to save Clara and she’s decades older.
That scene in particular is a little bit superfluous until one remembers that this was originally planned as Jenna Coleman’s exit from the series, a career move she decided against at a very late stage. The jury’s out on whether this would’ve made an effective final episode for her or not (though I’m not entirely in love with Hell Bent, ultimately it was a better sendoff for Clara, having her leave the Doctor’s company empowered by her experiences rather than enfeebled).
The guest cast is quite a bit of fun, though it’s difficult for them to not be blown off the screen by Nick Frost’s Santa Claus every time he makes an appearance to steal the show. One minor plot point that seems to be left dangling is that there’s still a “Dream Crab” out there somewhere: having killed “Professor Albert”, does it die itself somewhere in the vicinity of the real man, wherever he is, or does it crawl off to find a new victim? Also, the Doctor rails against being categorized as a figure of imagination along with Santa, just as he did with Robin Hood, just another hint of a recurring theme that seems to be waiting to pounce in the background.