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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Doctor Who blogging: “Last Christmas”


[previous: “Death in Heaven”]

warning: spoilers!

I just watched “Last Christmas” again, and the months between last Christmas and now have not mellowed me toward the episode. For lots of reasons. I don’t think I am ever going to get on board with Steven Moffat’s attempt to turn Doctor Who into a fairy tale and the Doctor into a mythic figure. I mean, I get that some people in some places — a faraway planet where he did something amazing and is now remembered as a legend or a story or something, for instance — might see him as a mythic figure, and I get that we watching might see him as mythic and could easily place him within an organizational chart of mythic figures. But having the show explicitly treat him as a mythic figure runs counter to the very notion of letting us share in the Doctor’s actual adventures, in his triumphs and failures. I want to see real stories, events that could actually plausibly happen (within the wide-ranging possibilities of science fiction, of course), not the stories that later accrue around his actions.

This episode may be a little more grounded, in that sense, than some of the others Moffat has given us in his ongoing fairy-tale-ization of Doctor Who. (Though the overt likening of the Doctor to Santa Claus, and the imperative of everyone’s lives depending on believing in Santa, are yet more examples of Moffat’s sledgehammer approach.) But the dream-within-a-dream and it’s-dreams-all-the-way down conceit make it hard to accept any of it at face value… and, indeed, we have no way of knowing whether any of it was “real.” Worse still, any complaint we might express about this episode can be dismissed with “Well, it was all a dream. Dreams don’t have to make sense.” The Doctor himself says that “dreams are disjointed, silly, full of gaps.” So there’s little point in wondering, “Hey, how could X have even happened when they didn’t even know Y was a thing at that point?” Even though there’s all sorts of stuff like that that trips up the story here.

I wonder, too, why people would dream an obnoxious Santa and elves who are rude and mocking. Would people dream this?


I know, I know: Dreams don’t have to make sense. “It’s the logic of a nightmare.”

Okay, fine. Dreams can be very revealing of the person — or people — dreaming them, and yet the dreams here are just narrative tricks, and nothing to do with the people dreaming (except Clara’s perfect Christmas with Danny, and we don’t learn anything about her from that, either). The people on the polar base are nonentities: did one of them conjure up that scenario out of a wish or a regret for a path not taken? We haven’t got a clue. About the most we learn about any of them is that Bellows, the woman who was in command of the base, has friends and family gathered for Christmas who don’t even notice that Grandma is taking a nap with an alien facehugger smothering her. Sad.

But do we really believe that the Doctor, even in his dreams, would be delighted to take the reins of Santa’s sleigh? That might be the most embarrassing moment of sickly sentimentality the show has come up with yet. And after poo-pooing Christmas sentiment via the nasty elves and the disparaging Santa! But that’s another criticism deflector, isn’t it?


Moffat’s deflector shields for criticism are at full power here. As long as you explicitly reference the other universe you’re stealing ideas from — like Alien — it’s cool.

With this episode, Moffat may have reached a pinnacle of immunizing the show not only from criticism but from any sort of discussion at all. What’s the point, when none of it is real? If he wanted to remind us that this is “just a TV show” and not worth thinking or talking too much about, he’s done it.

[next: “The Magician’s Apprentice”/“The Witch’s Familiar”]

posted in:
tv buzz
  • Ryan Gross

    My only criticism of the episode is that it gave a decent close to the Doctor and Clara’s relationship. They ended on a lie, and this was all a lie. One they had to admit to if they were ever going to get out alive. Which they did. And it was a poignant end that they couldn’t get passed their make believe until years had passed for Clara. Much like it was sad for the Doctor to have aged significantly during the events of the time of the Doctor. But they wanted Clara for series 9, so this all loses its significance.

  • Jemcat

    Didn’t mind this one too much taking into account the leeway usually given to a Christmas episode. Hated all of the twee Santa stuff and the reindeer but again, since it’s Christmas, they get an eyeball roll pass from me. The rest of the plot doesn’t make a lick of sense in the cold hard light of day, although under the influence of pudding and too much wine, I think I kind of got the gist of it.
    What I did like was the parting scene between the older Clara and the Doctor, including the exchange about the cracker and how he didn’t notice her age. These were beautifully written and acted and if Clara had left at that point, I think we’d be hailing this as one of the very best companion exits. It will be hard for Moffat to top that farewell scene this year and I do hope we have a nice walk away ending, rather than an angst fest. I think the temptation to “actually roolly trooly fair dibbs, not even joking” kill off Clara will be too strong though as she is already the most special-est amazing-est companion evah in the Moffat play book and he’ll want to claim the title of most poignant companion exit ever to add to Clara’s other attributes in presiding over all of the Doctor’s personal history and having a formative role in his development as well as being central to Time Lord lore.
    Early word on this series has been extraordinarily positive, even for those who weren’t that keen on series 8, so hoping that having an actor of Capaldi’s stature who also is an accomplished director and writer might have allowed him more say in what turns up on screen. I also hope that this year’s Clara drops the bossy boots little Miss Teacher passive-aggressive vibe, including the tiresome Moffat-y quippiness all of his females have as their default and we get more a lot more of the mature and sensible grown up we glimpsed last year. Capaldi, though, simply can do no wrong in my eyes and trust that he’s been given more latitude this year to make his doctor a dollop more likeable and one who finds joy in the universe around him. I liked series 8 more than series 6 or 7 but go into this year with much higher hopes based on the handful of pretty decent episodes we got last year and Capaldi being allowed to command our attention.

  • There were way too many false endings here.

  • These were beautifully written and acted and if Clara had left at that point

    “Had Clara left” being the operative phase. Moffat cannot commit to *anything.*

  • Christopher Feyrer

    Actually, it’s Jenna Coleman who ruined it, signing up for Series 9 at the 11th hour.

  • RogerBW

    I am not going to blame an actress for taking work when it’s offered. Narrative decisions, and choosing to offer the work, are the producer’s job.

  • They didn’t have to take her. It’s showrunners who decide who gets hired, not actors.

  • Stephen Robinson

    I think the episode makes more sense if the scene with the elderly Clara was the “real” world, and The Doctor had been away that long (well, not really “away” so much as hadn’t returned yet within her timeline). There are hints throughout the “dreams within dreams” that support it. For instance: Danny convincing Clara to “move on” without him is not the Dream Crab screwing up or the memory of Danny asserting some type of control in the dream but the older Clara’s desire to have been able to get over Danny.

    It also makes the “Death in Heaven” departure less of a cheat. It’s not a big goodbye for the season finale that only lasts a month. It’s a legitimate big goodbye for Clara as the Doctor’s companion.

    Clara no longer works as a companion if she knows the Doctor inside and out — it makes him less mysterious. And as I mentioned, a Doctor who thinks everyone’s an idiot except Clara just makes her feel like more of a Mary Sue.

  • Stephen Robinson

    Yeah, Amy Pond had about three different exits before the final unsatisfying one. “The Power of Three” would have served as a satisfying, mature goodbye.

    The modern-WHO conceit that traveling with the Doctor is a part-time affair and you can still maintain a regular life makes it hard to write natural endings. Instead, characters have to get caught in other dimensions or have their memories wipes.

  • I thought this episode was hit and miss. For all the complaints I’ve made about Doctor Who becoming overly pretentious, with smug, unlikable characters and relying way too much on eyerolling declarations(just stop saying what you are and be it)… I kind of am starting to get into this new era.
    This episode was like the melting of the ice, the series is still cooking, but Series 9 is turning out to be pretty damn good.

  • Jurgan

    This was mostly just a bunch of references. The crabs were called face-huggers, but they reminded me more of headcrabs from Half-Life. The scene with them dropping from the ceiling is something I’ve had happen to me many times while playing that game. Also, the thing just dragged on and on. For some reason, Christmas episodes are always at least a full hour, but the plot could have cut off at least fifteen minutes earlier. Instead, we pulled rug after rug out from under the audience to fill up time. Dream stories can be good, but this was no Mulholland Drive or “Restless.” The latter revealed details about long-established characters and how they had been changed by years of adventures. What insights did we get from this episode? Clara was sad that Danny died? Yeah, I think we could have guessed that. And, yes, the Doctor steering the sleigh was painful to watch. I can buy the Doctor having moments of whimsy, but you think it would revolve around legends he grew up with, not ones he learned about as an adult.

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