Last Christmas (Doctor Who)
|253 – "Last Christmas"|
|Doctor Who episode|
The Doctor, with Clara as an elderly woman. Jenna Coleman reversed her decision to leave the series, necessitating a late re-write to the ending of the episode.
|Directed by||Paul Wilmshurst|
|Written by||Steven Moffat|
|Script editor||David P Davis|
|Produced by||Paul Frift|
|Incidental music composer||Murray Gold|
|Originally broadcast||25 December 2014|
"Last Christmas" is an episode of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who that was first broadcast on 25 December 2014. It is the tenth Christmas special since the show’s revival in 2005, and the first full Christmas special to feature the Twelfth Doctor. It was written by Steven Moffat and directed by Paul Wilmshurst.
In the special, alien time traveller the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is reunited with his companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) as they must save a North Pole science base from creatures called dream crabs that induce dream states whilst killing their victims, with the help of Santa Claus (Nick Frost).
"Last Christmas" was viewed by 8.28 million in the United Kingdom and received positive reviews from critics, praising its story, acting and film influences.
On Christmas Eve, Clara Oswald is awakened by the sound of something crashing on her rooftop. Investigating nearby voices, she is astonished to find Santa Claus, two elves, a sleigh and flying reindeer stranded on her roof. The Doctor soon arrives to take Clara away, but not before Santa tells him that he will need his help before the night is over, while promising him a tangerine.
At the North Pole, a group of scientists attempt to save their fellow base personnel, who have been taken over by crab-like creatures. Their effort is interrupted as the Doctor and Clara arrive on the scene. While introductions are being made, however, they come under attack from the crabs, only to be rescued by Santa, who also provides a specimen of one of the creatures. The Doctor identifies the creatures as Dream Crabs – aliens that induce pleasant, euphoric dreams on their intended victims as a distraction whilst the crabs devour their brains. During this time, both the Doctor and Clara reveal that they had lied to each other during their last meeting: Clara lied about her dead boyfriend, Danny Pink, having returned from the Nethersphere, while the Doctor falsely claimed to have found Gallifrey. While investigating the Dream Crabs, the Doctor sends Clara to recover Santa's specimen, only for him to remember that they use telepathic connections to their intended victims to see their surroundings, but only when they are being thought about. This causes the specimen in the lab to come alive and attack Clara.
Sent into a dream world, Clara is reunited with Danny, but also discovers chalkboards with messages (symbolising the Doctor's attempts to communicate with her) warning her that she is, in fact, dying. However, Clara deliberately ignores them, continuing to focus on Danny. The Doctor willingly falls victim to another Dream Crab in order to enter her dream world and confront her. She still resists willing herself to wake up, until Danny – already aware of his and Clara's dream state – tells her that while she can miss him, she must also move on with her life. As Clara accepts the reality of his death, she and the Doctor both wake up, discovering that the creatures die and turn into dust if removed from a host prematurely.
After waking up back in the research station, however, the Doctor deduces that they haven't truly woken up – they are simply in a different layer of a multi-faceted dream and have been since the initial attack when they arrived. In reality, none of them actually escaped it. The Doctor proves this by having the scientists individually read copies of the base's manual that each had been issued. They find that the first word of any chosen page is different for each of them, rather than identical as it should be. The Doctor further explains that the Dream Crabs could not stop their subconscious minds from fighting back, which manifested in the form of Santa Claus. Santa himself clarifies the entire situation to the group, and he aids them in waking up.
As the Doctor prepares to abandon the base, Clara reminds him that they met Santa before arriving, proving that the entire scenario thus far has also been a dream. The reality is, all of the scientists are strangers from different times and places whose dreams are linked with the Doctor and Clara through the Dream Crabs. One of the scientists soon falls victim to the infected personnel, revealed to be manifestations of the "crew's" minds that have already surrendered to their fate. Infected visages of the Doctor and Clara also emerge from the TARDIS, and the group find themselves surrounded. Facing defeat, the Doctor reminds everyone that Santa helped them survive the previous attack and has them dream of Santa, who arrives just in time on his sleigh and flies them to safety. The remaining "scientists" soon realize that they are, in fact, ordinary people: a wheelchair-bound grandmother, an account manager for a perfumer, and a lonely shop girl. They and the Doctor soon wake up to their real lives, one by one, until only Clara is left.
Upon waking, the Doctor traces the psychic signal linking their dreams back to Clara and is able to pull the crab off, only to learn that Clara is now an elderly woman. Sixty-two years have apparently elapsed since they last met. As they become reacquainted, the Doctor expresses regret over not coming back for her sooner. Suddenly, Santa appears and encourages the Doctor to act before it is too late. The Doctor, realizing he is still dreaming, wakes up for real and rushes to the real Clara. He frees her from the crab to find, to their mutual relief, that she is still a young adult. Wanting no regrets and offering her all of time and space, the Doctor implores Clara to join him again. Clara happily accepts. As the pair depart, they are unaware of a tangerine having been left on Clara's windowsill.
When the Doctor visits the elderly Clara, he helps her open a Christmas cracker, returning the favour she did for the Eleventh Doctor in "The Time of the Doctor" when he was too weak to pull a cracker open by himself.
In September 2014 announcements were made for a number of the guest cast, including Michael Troughton, Nick Frost, Nathan McMullen, Natalie Gumede and Faye Marsay. Michael Troughton is the younger son of Patrick Troughton, who played the Second Doctor from 1966 to 1969, and the younger brother of David Troughton, who appeared in The War Games, The Curse of Peladon and "Midnight".
There were numerous rumours circulating that the special would be Jenna Coleman's last on the show. Coleman and Steven Moffat remained quiet on the issue and insisted that people watch the episode to see whether she would be continuing into the ninth series. During the episode's climax, Clara decides to continue travelling with the Doctor, and Moffat revealed following the episode's airing that Coleman would appear in all of the ninth series. According to Moffat, Coleman was "to-ing and fro-ing" over her future in the series before ultimately deciding to continue. In a 2018 interview, Moffat confirmed that the script for "Last Christmas" originally contained Clara's exit from the series; Coleman reversed her decision to leave following the first read-through, and the episode's ending was subsequently re-written to allow the character to continue.
Filming on "Last Christmas" was scheduled to start two weeks after the Series 8 World Tour Promotion. Paul Wilmshurst directed the episode. The read-through for the episode took place on 3 September 2014, and filming began on 8 September in Cardiff, with Wilmhurst tweeting that it would likely take four weeks to complete.
A preview was shown during Children in Need which featured The Doctor, Clara, Nick Frost as Santa Claus, and Dan Starkey (who also plays Strax of the Paternoster Gang) and Nathan McMullen as elves. On 11 December 2014, the BBC released a 30-second trailer for the episode on YouTube.
The episode was watched by 8.28 million viewers, the lowest Christmas Day rating since the shows' return in 2005, and was the sixth most watched programme on BBC One for Christmas Day 2014. The early figures for overnight viewing figures estimated that the episode was watched by 6.34 million viewers, making it the eighth most watched event on television for Christmas Day 2014. However, it received a total of 2.62 million viewers on BBC America, beating the previous record established by "The Time of the Doctor", and became the most watched episode of the revived series in the channel's history. It also got 1.07 million requests on BBC iPlayer. The episode received an Audience Appreciation Index of 82.
The A.V. Club awarded the episode the highest grade of the site, an "A". Alasdair Wilkins writes "Steven Moffat’s script is inordinately clever in how it uses the trappings of a fluffy, silly Christmas special to crank up the scariness of a good old-fashioned monster story. But after all that, tonight’s episode manages something that not all of its Christmas predecessors manage, as it anchors its story in something that feels particular to the holidays. There is a melancholy to the comings and goings that define this time of year, and “Last Christmas” recognises that from its title outward." Praise was also given to Capaldi's performance in the special, "If there’s one thing we never really saw in Capaldi’s first season as the Doctor, it was the kind of unabashed joy that so animated the 10th and 11th Doctors and made the tail-end of the 9th Doctor’s journey—including his Santa claim to Rose at the end of “The Doctor Dances”—so powerful. Well, it takes the full hour, but “Last Christmas” gets us there. It was worth the wait." Digital Spy awarded the episode a 4 out of 5, stating that "Moffat pulls off a number of difficult balancing acts spectacularly well, refusing to deliver another throwaway special that's heavy on the frothy festive cheer but light on real substance". They closed their review by saying "Last Christmas is an absolute cracker. The festive fun factor is high, as is only right and proper, but it's often been said that Doctor Who is at its best when its roots are showing and here Moffat apes both Christopher Nolan's Inception and Ridley Scott's Alien to provide the viewer with both food for thought and fuel for our nightmares". The Daily Telegraph awarded the episode a 4 out of 5, calling it "marvellously merry" and stating that it "had heart as well as head, so ended like a festive special should: happily, with a cockle-warming cosy glow". The Mirror also praised the episode, saying that it "might have borrowed, somewhat heavily, from a few films, but it still had the Doctor Who spin". They also expressed praise over Clara's continuation, saying "It’s great news that we will have another series with these two verbally sparring" and closed their review by claiming the episode "was [a] real Christmas treat to join Capaldi and Coleman on another adventure, and it was the icing on the cake that Clara is staying with the Doctor".
Radio Times awarded the episode a 3 out of 4, stating that they were "peculiarly touched by Clara’s sentiment, "Every Christmas is last Christmas" and her admission that the Time Lord is her very own Father Christmas". IGN awarded the episode an 8.8 out of 10, deemed "Excellent". They labelled the episode "An entertaining and satisfying slice of Who that combines festive face-huggers with a Christmas miracle". They criticised the ageing Clara make up along with many other reviewers. They closed their review by saying "Last Christmas" is both Who's most festive and least yuletide-y Christmas romp to date. And that's absolutely a good thing". Den of Geek heavily praised the episode, stating that "It's one heck of a gamble to go for an hour-long Doctor Who Christmas special, where all but a few minutes at the end turn out to be a dream. Yet that's just what Steven Moffat pulled off with his far improved Yuletide episode". They closed their review saying "Last Christmas" ensured that one of Doctor Who's strongest years in recent times was capped off very nicely indeed".
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