Doctor Who: Last Christmas – 12 Things We Loved About The Holiday Special

By David Wharton | Updated

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Doctor Who and Christmas are like chocolate and peanut butter — two great tastes that taste great together. Maybe it’s because Doctor Who is often as much fairy tale as space opera or that The Doctor himself bears no small resemblance to some of our culture’s even better-known mythical figures.

But regardless of why, sending The Doctor on Christmas-themed adventures just feels right and has become one of our favorite Holiday traditions here at GFR.

2014’s outing, entitled Doctor Who‘s “Last Christmas,” didn’t disappoint, and in the spirit of the 12 Days of Christmas — and the 12th Doctor himself — we’re going to highlight the 12 things we loved most about “Last Christmas.”

1) Nick Frost as Santa Claus

Doctor Who has trotted out characters of questionable reality before — The Doctor bantered with Robin Hood earlier this year, after all — but many were wondering how the show would handle the appearance of Santa Claus. I mean, the idea of Santa is only slightly more preposterous than the idea of a nigh-immortal alien who travels through time and space in a police box, but would the show actually declare Jolly Old St.

Nick to be flesh-and-blood reality? The answer proved to be both satisfying and very much consistent with the show’s tone and “reality.” And with Santa played by a perfectly cast Nick Frost — who got some of the best lines — “Last Christmas” proved to be a Christmas adventure we might just have to make an annual tradition in and of itself.

Doctor Who

2) The Elves (That’s Racist!)

While we’re on the subject of Santa, it wouldn’t be right for us to slight his two little hel — sorry, that’s offensive — his two helpers who happen to be somewhat shorter than average height.

Whether they were taking a stand for Elf solidarity, showing off selfies with the actual, no-kidding North Pole, or pointing out Clara’s height-related hypocrisy, the diminutive duo were the most fun we’ve had with elves since Legolas challenged Gimli to a murder-off. Plus, you have to love their twisted application of Occam’s razor to the notion of Santa’s plausibility.

3) So Much Quoteworthiness In Doctor Who

“I can commit several million housebreaks in one night dressed in a red suit with jingle bells, so of course I can get back into the infirmary.”

“There’s a horror movie named Alien? That’s really offensive. No wonder everybody keeps invading you.”

“You know what the big problem is in telling fantasy and reality apart? They’re both ridiculous.”

“It’s bigger on the inside.”

“My. Little. Pony.”

“Parts unsuitable for people under four.”

“It’s not often we upstaged on a rooftop.”

“Follow the Northern Lights. Yes, I remembered to turn them on!”

“You’re a dream who’s trying to save us?” “Shona, sweetheart, I’m Santa Claus. I think you just defined me!”

4) References Everywhere

From outright name checks to thematic tips of the (fuzzy) hat, Doctor Who: Last Christmas was a pastiche that wore its influences on a sleeve made of references. Let’s see, just off the top of my head: Alien, The Thing from Another World, Miracle on 34th Street, Ghostbusters, Inception, and, by inference, every single variation on the “it’s a dream within a dream” story we’ve seen before.

Did I miss any? Almost certainly. Even better, all of them worked as plot service rather than just fan service, as it makes perfect sense that a shared dream would be littered with the pop-culture landmarks that serve as common points of reference.

Plus, having The Doctor be totally ignorant of the movie Alien works as both a punchline and a variation on the notion that he can’t be bothered to remember every little detail of his centuries of life.

5) That Dance Number

It was just a nice touch, wasn’t it? After all, dancing and singing has got to be more distracting than just singing, right? (Although it really should have been set to a song by Tangerine Dream.)

Alas, it doesn’t look like anybody’s uploaded a clip of the dance yet, so I’ll just leave this here instead.

6) Who-ception

Both fiction and philosophy have been exploring the notion that we could be living a dream and not realize it ever since, well, probably about five minutes after the first person woke up from the first dream.

It’s the stuff of late-night forays into unanswerable questions, and it’s served as the root of countless plot twists both before and after Bobby Ewing stepped out of the shower in Dallas. “Last Christmas” doesn’t so much attempt to reinvent the wheel as to bolt it to a unicycle and invite us all along for a ride.

It takes the concept of multiple nested dream states and just goes nuts with it, ensuring that anyone playing a “take a shot when it’s a dream” drinking game will wind up in a coma before the end credits.

But what keeps the Russian doll narrative from getting tiresome is that Steven Moffat’s script is constantly showing its hand and daring you to notice. Moffat quite cleverly uses our own experience as TV watchers against us, disguising the story’s twists behind well-worn storytelling tropes like having characters defuse something obvious by commenting on it (“They’re a bit like facehuggers, aren’t they?”), brushing aside unnecessary details (“It’s a long story.”), or climactic act breaks that are easily resolved after the commercials.

As plot twist follows plot twist, one of the episode’s most satisfying elements is realizing how many of the clichés have been weaponized and used against us. (How long did it take you to notice that the number of dreamcrabbed people in the infirmary matched the number of researchers still standing?)

7) Clara Always Looks the Same to The Doctor

It’s anybody’s guess what it would really be like to be a functional immortal whose head is attempting to store a thousand years’ worth of memories, but Doctor Who has had gotten a lot of mileage over the years in imagining what that might do to your perspective of life, the universe, and everything.

“Last Christmas” adds a lovely little touch by suggesting that The Doctor can’t tell the difference between an aged Clara and the “current” version. After all, what are a few decades of decrepitude to an alien who skips between centuries like we walk between rooms?

8) The Cruelest and Kindest Reunion

After breaking our hearts wide open in the season 8 closer, leave it to Who to find a way to stomp on the pieces one last time before the story of Clara and Danny Pink is fully put to rest.

In conjuring the ideal life that might tempt Clara into death, the dreamcrabs twist the knife for her and Who fans both. On a pure fan-service level, it’s great to see Samuel Anderson back on screen sans Cyberman gear, even if only briefly, and it’s a testament to just how good he was in the role that, aside from serving a necessary plot point, the entire scene is basically a graduate thesis reminding us that…

9) Danny Pink Is Awesome

I’ll go a step further: Danny Pink is one of the best Who companions in ages, and arguably even more interesting than Clara herself. We’d already seen him overcome Cyberman programming through sheer force of will and love for Clara, and this time around he manages to turn his role as dream bait into an extra bit of closure for Clara (and us as well).

His request that she think about him five minutes a day — but only five minutes — was a beautiful concession to the fact that even the deepest grief must eventually begin to heal, and perfectly in character for the man who proved that “love is a promise.”

As if that weren’t enough, Danny got to make plain the idea behind the episode’s title: that every Christmas is someone’s last, and so every Christmas with the people we love is a gift far greater than anything we’ll find underneath the tree. All in all, it proved a beautiful coda for one of our favorite Who characters in a long time — one for whom, sadly, this was the last Christmas.

10) A Plausible (Fake) Ending

All the uncertainty about whether Jenna Coleman would be returning for season 9 added extra resonance to the nearly last layer of the dream, where The Doctor returns to save Clara…only to discover he’s running 60 years later than he intended.

It was a nice follow-up to the time lord’s revelation that the gathered dreamers might not even be from the same point in time, and it would have worked just fine if it was nothing more than that. But it also could have served as an entirely plausible possible ending for the relationship between The Doctor and Clara, had Coleman decided to leave the series.

It even would have been a nice thematic callback to the introduction of Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, who promised a young Amelia Pond that he’d be right back, only to return years later. Sentimentality with a dash of tragedy…very Doctor Who.

11) The Actual (?) Ending

After diving so deeply through layers of false reality, it was only appropriate that the ending left a tiny sliver of possibility that we still weren’t all the way out of the dream. Sure, sometimes a tangerine is just a tangerine, but you never know…

12) A Question, Finally Answered

In this age of ever-present spoilers, it was downright refreshing to have the “will she or won’t she” question of whether Jenna Coleman would be returning for season 9 definitively answered by the show itself rather than a press release or spy report.

And while “Last Christmas” simply told us that “The Doctor and Clara will return next year in ‘The Magician’s Apprentice,'” both the actress and showrunner Moffat have since commented on the subject, revealing that she will indeed be back for another full season.

We’re definitely looking forward to seeing how their relationship will be different after the trauma and losses of season 8.