‘Doctor Who’ Christmas special: ‘Last Christmas’ review

Much like ourselves, Doctor Who is expected to overindulge and go a bit crazy on December 25th.

Time Lord and Christmas time match perfectly. They’re both mad events which people love and which many take seriously, no matter how absurd they get. So our TVs are decorated with flying sharks dragging sleighs, presents containing portals to winter wonderlands, and snowmen defeated by crying, and while it may be a bit flabby, it just about works because, as St. Noddy yells us, it’s Christmaaaaas! It’s a crazy/camp time of year, why shouldn’t our favourite sci-fi show be the same?

Before the snowy titles roll, ‘Last Christmas’ seems to be taking that idea to a ludicrous degree. There’s Santa (or Jeff, as Eleven knew him), elves, reindeer, and a nagging worry that this is a Christmas Special which has jumped the flying shark. But before your cynicism is unwrapped we’re suddenly in an un-festive Polar Base that’s infested with crustacean catcher’s mitts called Dream Crabs, and watching the brilliant Faye Marsay dance to Slade (what, no Wham!?), and it’s all gone very The Thing.

Doctor Who Last Christmas Peter Capaldi

That’s dreams for you, isn’t it? Mad, colourful, dark, disconnected, vaguely confusing. ‘Last Christmas’ is one big sherry trifle of a dream: an Inception on 34th Street. Like a dream it’s hard to pin down, and like a nightmare it’s simultaneously scary and silly.

The Matryoshka Doll structure of dreams-within-dreams lends itself to a darker and more claustrophobic Christmas special than we’re used to; a sensation compounded by the panic of the small and talented cast. Samuel Anderson’s presence as dreamy dead Danny Pink is a lovely surprise but even his Santa is tinged with foreboding. Poor guy can’t get a break even when he’s imaginary.

Strutting through the frozen corridors of the mind, the ‘real’ Santa’s presence continually removes us from the immediate tension. But his incongruity is the point: in this nightmare on Christmas he’s the fantasy that you’re meant to take seriously. Not that it should be that hard. As Moffat keeps winking at, why should a man who delivers presents to every child on earth in one night be any less believable than a man in a time-travelling bigger-on-the-inside box?

Doctor Who Last Christmas Nick Frost

Though he looks the part, Nick Frost as Old Saint Nick is a case of casting over character, feeling less like Santa Claus and more like Nick Frost with jingle bells on. His Claus is too passive-aggressive and Wernham Hogg managerial in his interaction with everyone and his banter elves (Dan ‘Strax’ Starkey and Nathan ‘Misfits‘ McMullen). We already have one stand-offish hero in the show; two is a bit filling.

Santa puts in the work, but rightly it’s The Doctor who is the true hero of Christmas. For die-hard and Die Hard fans there’s a heart-warming Dickensian joy at seeing Capaldi’s Doctor thaw as he pilots the sleigh with a cheeky ‘Yippee-ki-yay!’

Given that The Doctor is part of the dream it’s a Christmas miracle that The Dream Lord didn’t turn up. Or maybe this Time Lord has a better hold on his nightmares. He can certainly help dream an ending that would make us happy…

It’s hard to know whose dream it is – his, hers, or ours – as Clara, now The Impossible OAP, is reunited with The Doctor and they pull a cracker and our heartstrings. Silently he helps her just as she helped him when he was old, one year ago (for us) on Trenzalore. It was Eleven’s last Christmas, now it’s Clara’s. It’s poignant and beautiful and it feels final. Final and right.

But is it a goodbye? Dream on.

Doctor Who Last Christmas Clara Jenna Coleman

Did anyone else feel vaguely disappointed? Not by the idea that Clara is staying on – Jenna Coleman’s sparkling performance counterpoints Capaldi’s grumpy Doctor beautifully – but that it’s an excellent farewell wasted. It seems to be impossible to say cheerio to The Impossible Girl. After two wonderful ‘non-goodbye’ goodbyes, Steven Moffat’s going to have to give us something really really special when her time in the TARDIS is actually up. Coleman’s earned it.

A fitting farewell for Clara will be a gift for a future time. Right now this is the present: a juxtaposition of the scary-serious and super-silly that could only be achieved in a dream or in a Doctor Who Christmas special.

So Merry Christmas and sweet dreams, Whovians. We’ll wake you up when it’s time to meet ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’…


Aired at 6.15pm on Thursday 25 December 2014 on BBC One.

> Order ‘Last Christmas’ on DVD on Amazon.

What did you think of ‘Last Christmas’? Let us know below…

  • MisterDannyPants

    Loved every minute of it!

    • Ylim

      I loved it too.It was awesome!!!

  • Selena7

    Perfect. That is all.

  • marilynnet

    Surely, five stars. Can’t think of a single thing in that which wasn’t perfect, right down to the great news that Jenna is returning for series 9.

  • Seventh Reign

    I’m very very tempted to say this might be THE best episode in the shows entire history. The only reason I wont definitively put it at #1 is because I havent actually seen all 8or900 some odd episodes. Out of the 500+ episodes I have watched, however, it is far and away #1. It isnt even close.

  • Babylox

    Thought it was genius on all counts – writing, acting and production. Usually Christmas episodes of Who are rubbish and expectations are low but that may have been the best episode of Doctor Who made since 2005. Astounded I just wrote that but it’s true. Peter Capaldi proved tonight that he is best thing to ever happen to the show. His performance is just several leagues above all of his predecessors.

  • Kieran McMullen

    Didn’t like it. Moffat promised “I’ve written santa into the world” he didn’t, he wrote an imaginary santa and left it ambiguous as to whether he really existed in the DW world, I was expecting some complex conspiracy about how he really does deliver all the presents and makes it SEEM like the parents do it. I was disappointed, and the tangerine ending lacked any commitment one way or the other.

    I also hated a lot about clara in this episode. 1: they brought her back after what I think was a very unique exit and the best she was likely to get. 2: she does next to nothing in this episode, just more clara-danny stuff we’ve seen before. 3: She didn’t grow old and bring her story to a close 4: she didn’t DECIDE to grow old and live that happy life after experiencing it in the dream, opting instead to go back to the Tardis. Two perfectly good opportunities to leave the show (not as good the death in heaven exit, but good enough.)

    My final problem is this: How thick are humans? The doctor can’t reveal a truth without first spending a whole scene setting them up, only to spell it out simply at the end. i just wanted to shout “stop pussyfooting around the point and just make it!”

  • Ace_Girl_Called_Ace!

    4/5 – REALLY?

    I wasted an hour of my life watching that – the only good thing was Clara had a ”fitting farewell” and the fact I now know I can watch MARVELs Avengers Assemble (AKA The Avengers) on TV tommorrow. -.-

    • Evil Lynn

      Unfortunately I watched it tonight and missed 30 minutes The Avengers on this drivel. The Coulson fangirl in me will never forgive myself.

  • Evil Lynn

    My verdict on it bl**dy awful.

  • Dale Moore

    So I loved the potential for the episode and was looking forward to Nick’s Santa and the Dr interaction. Sadly that didn’t really happen instead they kind of ignored each other. So we spent this time in dream world and in particular Clara’s dream and her lost of Pink who continued to show his companion potential. So we get to the end and see everybody wake up which was way more interesting then Clara’s and the Dr’s final dream.

    So I felt like this was extension of the problems of this last season. Peter is an excellent Dr and all the episodes contained a lot of potential but they seemed to stumble around Clara which seem to keep episodes from going in an interesting direction.
    So for a rating out of 10 I would give this Christmas a 6 due to lost potential.

  • Gio Ciampa

    Where did you get “The Thing” from…??? Alien all the way…

  • DK

    Another great job. Finding flaws in Doctor Who episodes seems to be a new spectator sport, but the best plan is to just let the story carry one along. We can also quibble on whether the King of England would really have executed Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and not put them to work in the Palace preparing Danish pastries.

  • Although I would agree it’s quite a change from the previously “bouncy” Christmas Specials I’ve seen; marauding Santas and toothy snowmen excluded, it is no more divergent then Who has been all along. And I’m old enough to have been with it since the very beginning. Who has always been able to be edgy even if its sets wobble and its creatures look about as threatening as a Halloween costume on the rack. Moffat has just taken this in a sort of jihad “GOT” whack everybody sort of way; but that’s fine if you can get up on the podium and stand proudly and speak clearly. And I do agree that bouncing Clara around like “The Goodbye Girl” is a bit unfair; but I suspect there might be a real world reason for that; so I’m afraid we’ll just have to buck up on that one. Ah but here’s the thing; the “icky”, growing up in your parents basement, bit. The Doctor in love, and The Companion just the same. Never happened before; although with Amy, he came the closest; and I believe they may have toyed with the idea of “Melody” actually being their child instead of Rory’s. Let’s see where they go with the love thing. And by all means, let’s be sporting about it shall we..