Last Christmas

Story No. 275 Rock theme!
Production Code Series 8, Christmas episode
Dates December 25, 2014

With Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman
Written by Steven moffat Directed by Paul Wilmshurst
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Brian Minchin.

Synopsis: The Doctor must save scientists at the North Pole from terrifying crabs, with the help of Clara... and Santa Claus.


A Review by Harry O'Driscoll 19/12/15

I think on balance this might be my favourite Christmas special and the moment where I felt good about the show again.

I mostly enjoyed Series 8, although I did have quite a few things to criticise. But Listen, Kill the Moon and Flatline were enough to make me chalk up 2014 as a success, until the series finale. I won't go into Dark Water/Death in Heaven; I'll just say that it completely soured Series 8 for me. I think it was the story that I officially got sick of Steven Moffat and wished he would just leave.

So my expectations for Last Christmas were pretty low. I mean, apart from anything else, when has a Christmas special been good? At best, they are usually a tawdry bit of fluff that you enjoy in the moment, but afterwards you spot how insubstantial and stupid they are. Before, my favourite was probably The Christmas Invasion or The Next Doctor, and they both have their problems.

And the inclusion of Santa Claus felt stupid; does Steven Moffat really think that this is how you win kids over?

To give Moffat a bit of a backhanded compliment, the questionable logic and unfunny comedy that pervade some of his later scripts is excused here on grounds that it is all a dream. Like the whole "That's racist!" line, which I just hated, feels acceptable given that it is a manifestation of the humans' subconscious.

At the start, I was thinking why has the Doctor arrived on Clara's roof? Why have they arrived at this base? So it was good to see Moffat actually working that into the story. And the fact that Santa was on Clara's proof triggering the realisation that they've been dreaming the whole time is nicely done.

But it has major failings: if the dream crabs are trying to deceive its victims then why does it let them have dreams about dream crabs? Surely, letting them be aware of the crabs in their dreams would run the risk of them realising that they could be dreaming.

And if Santa is here to save everyone from the dream crabs, then why does he give such vague hints? At one point, he actually tells the crew to stop wondering how he can be real and focus on the dream crabs. Why does he not tell them at the start that they are dreaming? And his deriding of the crew for believing Santa could be real just feels like Moffat mocking the audience. Laughing at them for being stupid enough to believe that Moffat would write a story where Santa Claus was real.

But Nick Frost does actually play the part very well, and I couldn't help but laugh at his delivery of the "Magic carrots" line. Likewise Shona dancing to Slade to survive against the sleeps was brilliant, encapsulating the notion that Doctor Who is essentially bonkers.

The obvious pillaging of Alien and Inception has already been picked up upon. (Although was I the only one who spotted the nod to Douglas Adams? A monster that can only see you if you can see it.) Compared to Inception, this feels poor; part of the reason Inception worked so well is that it was all about the rules of a dream and navigating within them so the audience left the movie finding they knew all the rules to the movie.

But this feels like Moffat is inserting rules ad-hoc for the sake of plot convenience, so it's a bit harder to take the threat seriously. Take for instance the multiplication of the number of sleepers because apparently this is a nightmare. As if feeling the threat was not substantial enough as it is, Moffat has to over egg the pudding in this way. It's like in The Angels Take Manhattan where it suddenly seems like the Weeping Angels can do anything. Without establishing clear rules to the threat it feels less involving.

But there are signs of cohesion in this script which is a nice change from some of Moffat's sloppier efforts. Watching it back, I picked up on how Shona's "I must be dreaming" neatly signals the revelation about the base. Likewise, the disconnect as to why the Doctor and Clara arrive at the base and the line "It's a long story" is properly foreshadowed without being obvious on first viewing. So, in that regard, it feels like there is a tightness to things that I remember from Moffat's earlier scripts.

I have not been a fan of Clara during Series 8 and was thinking that she should go, if it weren't for the fact that Moffat seems only interested in writing one type of female character. She had her moments, and it occurred to me at one point that I like her a lot more when she is not being written by Moffat, who at times seems to be actively trying to make her unlikeable. We are supposed to believe that Clara works in teaching and childcare. Some writers like Neil Cross and Jamie Mathieson put that to good use, writing her as maternal, resourceful and able to get the best out of people. But Moffat seems to be determined to write her as a catty, compulsive liar.

But here Moffat seems to be pruning his worst excesses and Clara is fairly tolerable. The scenes with Danny Pink feel right even though I don't really see much chemistry between them. The idea of Clara choosing to not stop dreaming is a good conceit, albeit again borrowed from Inception. But for the first time I thought I kind of liked her.

In fact, Moffat writing the rest of the female characters is quite good and yes, I would be up for having Shona as a companion.

There is a bit of a whimsical idea of people who live ordinary lives dreaming they are having an adventure with the Doctor that I like. In the end, I guess that is why the story gets away with the conceit of them dreaming Santa Claus, because dreams ultimately are crazy. The scene with them flying the sleigh is actually very good, and I liked Capaldi's boyish enthusiasm at flying the sleigh. Even the line "Yippee-Ki-Yay" should be lousy on paper but he manages to make it good.

However, I did roll my eyes at Clara's whole Doctor-as-Santa-Claus moment. I thought Moffat had finally gotten over his whole mythologizing the Doctor into a quasi-god like figure.

Tonally, the ending feels just about right, although the revelation that the old Clara is another dream feels gratuitous. I get the feeling that Moffat intended that to be the ending if Jenna Coleman decided to leave. If so it would have made a nice little coda and I liked the whole "every Christmas is last Christmas" line.

I think I'm OK with Clara staying on, with the last scene being poignant enough that I felt engaged in her dynamic with the Doctor again. Although for all I know Moffat could go back to writing her the way he did in Series 8. But I hope Series 9 won't be so Clara intensive this time.

I'm still convinced Moffat needs to go, because ripping off Alien, Inception and Miracle on 34th Street seems to prove he has nothing else to give to the show.

But Last Christmas I felt hopeful for the future again.

"Who the hell's Dave?" by Thomas Cookson 4/11/19

After Death in Heaven, I looked for other fan review responses in the hope they'd echo or clarify my own feelings. But the more I did, the more embarrassed I felt about fandom's proclivity for hysterical fangasms over utter superficiality. I was embarrassed beyond words by the fanbase as the show had become their mirror, their hysteria feedback loop. Realizing how little I had in common with it anymore. The more I looked for fan videos either to echo my feelings or bring back nostalgic joys, the more I even got sick of the theme tune. It all felt so vacuous, suddenly.

All the feelings and passions I once associated with it were now hollowed out, rendered meaningless smartarsed drivel now. It seemed time to stop watching, mothball my collection and get the show out my system. Maybe dig out Red Dwarf.

Moffat was finally following the comic books' worst excesses of merged canons. We were getting this merging of Who with Santa's story, further confirming how the show's reality has collapsed beyond repair. Sure fans may retort the show's premise about a space-time craft bigger on the inside and a hero with a changing face never had claim to believability anyway.

Now, the paradoxical TARDIS at the series' heart can make a story's surreal bending of logic elsewhere seem a natural outgrowth from that central absurdity. But it also took us to nightmarish places that reflected real-world injustices and atrocities. Santa's myth doesn't fit here. Invoking it suggests complete contempt for the show's concept. I intended to miss this and never look back. I had no reason to watch. My feelings toward Series 8 hadn't mellowed, nor toward this 'Santa is real' premise.

Facebook memes about how we crazy, hysterical fans just can't get enough Doctor Who, nor bear the anticipation for next episode, made me realize how little I cared now. However, Christmas has lost its magic and become a non-event. After a recent family bereavement, I suddenly couldn't stand adverts forcing Christmas cheer down my throat. I largely slept through Christmas Day, missing the Christmassy TV entertainment. The Christmas magic wasn't lasting, and bizarrely this became the only program I felt any anticipation for, perhaps out of habit of ticking down the minutes until transmission. I figured I'd regret missing the ultimate reveal about Santa, only to read about it later online. So I watched.

Clara's awoken by Santa's sleigh crashing into her roof whilst his elves behave like online trolls, mocking her for believing her parents were the ones leaving presents under the tree and did it purely out of love. Somehow she isn't moved to smack them for insulting her late mother. I started just hating what I was watching.

En route to the Arctic, the Doctor warns Clara the world might depend on whether she believes in Santa. Suddenly, I became interested. Perhaps Santa had been brought into being by the mental will of millions of children believing he's real, hinting that Earth could become overrun by fantasy figures.

Watching the Arctic base scenes, I started hating it again. We meet Shona and hear how she was touched up by the sleazy old Professor on her induction. Was that meant to be funny or make those viewers still awaiting Eastenders think this show's edgy? Shona tries bypasssing the dream crab zombies in intensive care by dancing embarrassingly to Slade in an utterly unfunny moment of humiliation.

Capaldi's arrival disturbs the nest and the crabs surround them. The directing and editing milked this very well for suspense, and got me invested enough to not even register that it's a rehash of The Empty Child's cliffhanger.

Capaldi, in a desperate frenzy, asks the wrong questions about Danny, so Clara smacks him. All whilst surrounded by scientists facing certain death. Making Clara comes off as horribly self-involved. Does Moffat realize how maladjusted he's making Clara, having her be casually violently abusive to an elderly man? Flynn Sullivan's right. Clara's becoming one of the worst human beings imaginable.

Then Santa arrives, sending in armies of toys and plastic whimsy in a grotesque display of a once imaginative, universe-building show being invaded by patented commercialism and tweeness. The show's political nature is now overruled by fairy stories about some magic figure giving well-off children presents whilst doing bugger all for the starving millions or nuclear disarmament. Hell, Santa seems only here to admonish the grumpy Doctor into looking bad by comparison.

Various Missing Adventures and Iris audios have included Santa in Who lore. This came out of fan writers' hunt for new mythologies and fannish desire to bring their two favourite childhood heroes together, regardless whether they should. Why's Moffat become this desperate?

Santa banishes the crabs with a swift 'go to your room', and we learn more gruesome details how these crabs eat their human hosts alive during their induced dream state. Possibly a metaphor for Cameron killing Britain's poor whilst the masses remain blissfully ignorant, but that'd entail this story actually being about anything.

Clara's attacked by a facehugger and finds herself in a happier dream state where Danny's alive. This is easily the story's highlight. Jenna Coleman's performance really makes us share her panic at reading the chalk messages warning her she's dying, before she turns away and tries to forget.

Perhaps I tuned in because I'm still drawn to Jenna's acting strengths. How she gives the part her all, despite Clara being damaged goods now. Her chemistry with Danny has never been better. Perhaps it was worth Moffat trying to convince me one last time of their love. Her willingness to submit to slow blissful death in this fantasy than face the cruel reality where Danny's gone was frighteningly convincing. However, I'm unsure I believed her love of Danny so much as I think she's realized this Moffat orchestrated universe has it out for her, wanting to cruelly destroy her life by any extremes necessary, and she knows she's safer in dreamland.

2013's Clara was full of adventure, looking forward to the universe's wonders and healing from past tragedy. She'd suffered bereavement and painful regrets and emerged stronger from them and equally helped the Doctor in his darkest moments. Cruelly, Dark Water undid all that. Turning her life into one defined by cruel random chance misfortunes without remedy, justice or fairness. To callously destroy Clara emotionally like that feels sordid. Rendering her journey so far pointless, erasing all her happy, triumphant moments prior.

After Amy's story was told in Series 5, it became worryingly apparent Moffat had lost interest in her. Forcing whatever continuing dramatic interest he could by spending subsequent seasons destroying her life and repeatedly teasing her departure just to goad audiences into crying for her return. Unsurprisingly Moffat's now doing the same to Clara. Danny persuades Clara to leave, as the real Danny would. But surely the point is he's not the real Danny, but the bait for the dream crab's trap. How much more chilling would it be if he'd instead icily lied to Clara to persuade her to stay in this living death?

Capaldi willingly sacrificing himself to the crabs to reach Clara feels far too mechanical. It was a huge mistake having this take place offscreen. But he then goes from willing self-sacrifice to flippant callousness, abandoning the crew to fend for themselves because he has no more reason to interfere than if the base was threatened by polar bears. Even though polar bears aren't likely to usurp us in the food chain overnight without our knowing, and if that's his attitude why stay on the base this long anyway? I'm still not getting Capaldi's capricious sociopathic characterisation, nor really wanting to.

Things get stupid as they keep waking from one dream state to another. Moffat keeps repeating the same bloody twist till it becomes impossible to care. We're supposed to accept everything we learned about the crabs in the dream remaining consistent each time they awaken, even when they reach reality. It's appallingly sloppy story construction. Moffat doesn't even explain how the Professor dying in the dream kills him in reality.

Unbelievably, Santa's presence is wasted. He demonstrates no magic touch, nor the omniscience hinted at in Death in Heaven's closer, apart from a tacked on climactic sleigh ride over London. He just comes off as some fat cosplayer who's wandered onto set and won't leave. What's the point of him? Even Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe's Santa cameo had a plot purpose.

Since the recession, the show's had to make money through merchandising, hence the Paradigm Daleks, War Doctor and Santa himself being conceived chiefly to sell new action figures. Beyond that, Moffat seems utterly uninterested in Santa. He'd teased some long history between him and the Doctor. This Santa being a Mafia Godfather or possibly another Time Lord. Nothing comes of these hints whatsoever.

RTD's dramatic intent in destroying Gallifrey probably wasn't that it becomes undone by revealing the Doctor fooled his past self. That was Moffat's intent. But the logical follow-on to Moffat's intent would be other Time Lords finally re-entering the picture. Yet frustratingly Moffat keeps squandering the anticipation of seeing Susan or Romana in the 50th or Missy being the Rani or Santa being a new Time Lord.

Santa never existed beyond the dream. He's just another con by a head writer who's now become a complete scam artist. There's no follow-up to the question ofwhat made Clara stop believing in Santa, when the likely answer involving her mother's death was staring Moffat in the face.

The beauty of Moffat's writing, as Jill Bearup once summarised was his love of myths and stories about heroes. Their power to show our best qualities and potential for making a difference when we do things right. The Big Bang and The Day of the Doctor were about the Doctor as inheritor of myth, drawing on its strength.

This lacked any sense of Moffat's personal touch. It was just a hollow rip-off of Aliens and Inception, with no spark or soul of its own. Taking Christopher Nolan's clever, therapeutic twists to excess until they become obnoxious.

Sure, Moffat can't always tell the same story, but this wasn't a story at all. It's a pitiful example of Moffat, under sustained criticisms over his shallow characters and nonsensical plots, now crafting a story in which those faults are supposedly the point, basing an entire episode on irrelevant ciphers in a plot that keeps falling apart until the whole thing's nonsense. Or he's spitefully setting up a Doctor-meets-Santa story, drawing us gradually in, then laughing at us for gullibly believing such nonsense.

Also Capaldi's squeamishness over hugging's getting childishly stupid. Moffat's supposedly trying to make Capaldi like the classic Doctors as more autistic fans remembered them, even though virtually all classic Doctors were tactile and affectionate. Even Colin occasionally comforted Peri. It's a petty thing for Capaldi to take a stance on, since he constantly loses to Clara's dogged persistence, which exposes his poor will and conviction.

The Doctor meeting old Clara could've almost redeemed the story, giving it dramatic weight, pay-off and finality, revealing this dream was about Clara's distant memories of adventuring with the Doctor, and the spectre of missed chances. It'd explain the ridiculous coincidence of the Doctor and Clara catching dream crabs whilst light years apart, if it could happen anywhere in Clara's future and still touch the Doctor now. Perhaps a future where Dream Crabs have completely conquered Earth. Her Mary Sue biography of being the best teacher worldwide was toe-curling, but otherwise this would've been the most grandly final of companion exits. But it's another dream, and she wakes up young again.

Maybe I'd watched because Death in Heaven was a horrible way to leave Clara's story, and I wanted to see her somehow heal and be restored to her old self. At least there the story delivered. But, alas, her torment wasn't over.