This review contains spoilers
It’s hard to do a review of Doctor Who’s ‘Last Christmas’ justice in any short space of time. It ended with all of my family asleep in the living room besides myself. I’m not sure if that said more about them or the episode, but I think this time I’m willing to claim the former.
Seasonal offerings of Doctor Who always have a fine line to balance – are we to take it as an episode of Doctor Who or are we to take it as television to keep us entertained at Christmas? It doesn’t always gel well and until now, David Tennant’s first episode, ‘The Christmas Invasion’ was the only definitive ‘Doctor Who at Christmas’ I could subscribe to. It now has a partner in ‘Last Christmas’.
After the Doctor got the better of the Master/Mistress and devastatingly parted ways with Clara after the best friends lied to each other about how their lives were going, the moment was ruined for me by Santa Claus turning up. Despite the show being about a 2,000-year-old alien who travels in time and space, I felt like the modern-day, Americanised version of Santa Claus appearing as though he was real meant that the show was jumping the shark, which, for what it is, would be quite an effort.
Playing both comical and serious for comic effect, Nick Frost’s acting wasn’t stretched too far as Santa, perhaps as a sign that he did fit the role very well. Backed up with two very funny elves (one of which was Dan Starkey, who plays the series’ Sontarans), the Christmas figures juxtaposed against the slightly depressing reality that as well as celebration, Christmas serves to unite people who may not be brought together again.
The secondary characters also undergoing the dream were also quite high quality for a one-off appearance. Shona is already in demand as a future companion, and there have certainly been worse.
Both Clara and her predecessor, Amy, have parted from the Doctor seemingly forever on a number of occasions only to be reunited within a couple episodes. ‘Last Christmas’ is the first episode to bring them back together convincingly. Against the backdrop of monsters, dreams, and Santa Claus, the relationship between the Doctor and Clara is the highlight. Between the Doctor emotionally hurting Clara by mentions of her deceased boyfriend, Danny Pink (whose cameo seemed to undermine his rather good exit in the previous episode) and the Doctor then pulling a cracker with the apparently elderly Clara in a scene mirroring Clara pulling the cracker with the Eleventh Doctor prior to his regeneration, Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman have never worked so well together.
Stephen Moffat loves his wibbly-wobbly time-wimey style of story-telling far too much for a large number of fans, but in this episode it’s mostly toned down and mostly works. It was even used to great effect in dealing with Jenna Coleman being undecided as to exiting the series, and I felt that the Doctor having dreamed her old age was actually perfect for dramatic effect for characters and audience alike.
There’s a slight continuity error in Santa having appeared in the previous episode without being within a dream but in previous years, similar TARDIS gate-crashing has been known to happen (Donna and the Titanic spaceship come to mind). I can also moan a little that Moffat’s ‘don’t think’ concept reeks horribly of his classic ‘don’t blink’.
Those discrepancies aside, I loved the episode and if I could offer one particular love it would be some of the fabulous one-liners used. “Are we gonna stand around arguing about whether I’m real or not…or are we gonna save Christmas?” perfectly highlighted the nonsense of Doctor Who. “There’s a horror movie called ‘Alien’? That’s really offensive! No wonder everyone keeps invading you” was gloriously Whedon-esque in substance and delivery. Finally, “Do you know what the big problem is in telling fantasy and reality apart? They’re both ridiculous” as said by the Doctor, will be something that will definitely stick for a long time.