This was an episode which benefited greatly from the media confusion surrounding it. The possibility of Jenna's departure transformed it into a tense tale of multiple fake-outs, and the more cognizant you were of the rumours, the more harrowing it was to watch. Unlucky for me, I believe any old horse shit... so I almost vomited from the stress.
Even if Moffat didn't actively disseminate any misinformation, I can see why he and Jenna were keen to keep the news of her non-departure vague. For my money, those last ten minutes were best consumed with the possibility of Jenna leaving in mind. If the Radio Times is to be believed, Jenna had a last minute change of heart about leaving the series, necessitating a eleventh hour script rewrite. Clara was supposed to have grown old and died at the Doctor's side. I'm not sure how I feel about that ending. Pissed off, probably. Clara deserves more than being abandoned for 62 years, only to pull a cracker that doesn't bang. (No, I'm not talking about the Doctor.)
It's no secret that 'Death in Heaven' was a disappointment for many. It was frightfully downbeat. (And lots of other things beginning with an F that I won't go into here.) Thankfully, 'Last Christmas' served as more of a season eight finale than it did a Christmas stand-alone. After an episode which ended with Clara and the Doctor lying to each other, it seems only fitting that the theme of tonight's story was the uncovering of lies. And what bigger lie to have as a centrepiece than old Beardy Weirdy himself? What I loved about this episode was the sheer scale of the Christmas trimmings. They were so massively over-the-top that once they'd been established as fake, Nick Frost and his shit-talking elves quickly became my favourite part of the episode. What a treat to see Dan Starkey sans prosthetics.
If Santa had been real throughout, I dare say I'd have found their sleigh ride through London as whiffy as a particularly pungent Pont-l'Évêque. But the dream-like nature of the episode meant that Twelve's joy at taking the reins was absolutely contagious. The realisation that the scientists were just ordinary people, with ordinary lives, was also skilfully done. The fact that Moffat spent time giving his supporting characters semi-decent back-stories, really paid dividends. They made utterly unconvincing scientists because none of them really were. They were just a shop assistant with a GoT obsession, a perfume account manager with mad morning hair, a grandma in a wheelchair, and a man who loved to eat chicken. (Not the Hound.)
After losing Danny last episode, the focus of tonight's story was on Clara coming to terms with his death. If the Kantrofarri hadn't attacked when they did, Clara's story would've been over. Instead, Clara and the Doctor were forced back together, and through a dream state Clara was able to find a modicum of closure. Although dream-Danny wasn't real-Danny, I'm still glad we got to see him again. At least his memory was able to provide Clara with one last perfect Christmas. And now I don't have to remember him as the prick who dumped some ex-dead kid on his girlfriend, thus forfeiting his chance to come back from the dead. I can pretend that he did something noble.
At one point I thought Clara wasn't going to make it. When an episode's called 'Last Christmas' you can be forgiven for thinking the ending might be bleak. I thought Jenna did some excellent work during the dream sequences with Danny. The way her eyes jittered across the Doctor's face as he told her that Danny wasn't real, completely comprehending, yet uncaring about the consequences of staying, really moved me. And then later on Santa's sleigh, when she chose to rest on Santa's shoulder rather than waking up, I was certain that it was all over.
So I positively whooped with delight when the Doctor rushed in to save her a second time (take that, 'Clara always saves the Doctor these days' whiners), and they ran hand-in-hand to the TARDIS. The Doctor's trepidation at asking Clara to travel with him, coupled with Clara's unbridled excitement on accepting, made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. And how adorable was it that the Doctor couldn't see that she'd aged? She had to give him the numbers before he could comprehend just how much time had passed. And I just loved the Doctor helping an aged Clara pull her Christmas cracker. It was the perfect reversal of Clara helping Eleven pull his cracker back in 'Time of the Doctor'. It was such a tender moment.
Finally, it feels as though the Doctor and Clara's relationship is on an even keel again. Now that everything's out in the open -- including Clara's dream-crush on the Doctor -- it feels like business as usual. She's his faceless companion, and he's her metaphorical Father Christmas. Were we supposed to interpret the tangerine resting on the windowsill as a hint that Santa may not be as fictional as the episode would have us believe? Did Jeff come to their aid after all? I suspect it was there primarily for the kids, but so far I've only heard adults talking about it.
Thus endeth my favourite Christmas episode to date. It had everything I love to see in an episode, without the overblown story, love saving the day, and utterly forgettable child actors. It also had the unexpected side-effect of elevating 'Death in Heaven' to something vaguely resembling respectable. Put in context, the season finale now feels far less hopeless. For that reason alone 'Last Christmas' deserves to become an instant classic.
Bits and Pieces:
-- I found it fascinating that Clara traveled widely in the Doctor's absence, and even learned to pilot a plane. Obviously time-travel has instilled a wanderlust in her soul.
-- The fact that the Doctor now tolerates Clara hugging him, and was even willing to hold her hand, really emphasises how far their relationship has come this season.
-- Great dance moves, Shona!
-- I think I prefer it when Christmas episodes have a Doctor and companion throughout. I'm also fond of having some story continuity with the preceding season. Now Doctor Who airs in the autumn, hopefully they'll do this more often.
-- Professor Smithe was played by Michael Troughton, son of 2nd Doctor Patrick Troughton. That's three Troughtons we've had on the show now. Woot!
-- Enough Inception comparisons already, Twitter! Inception isn't the only film to use the dream-within-a-dream device. The Hammer House of Horror did it with 'Rude Awakening' 35 years ago, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie did it back in 1972, and there are plenty of examples before that.
Ian: "Hello, human."
Wolf: "You can't call her human!"
Ian: "It's not racist! They don't mind."
Santa: "Believer until the age of nine. Why did you stop?"
Clara: "Because you're a fairy tale. I grew out of fairy tales."
Santa: "Did you, Clara? Did you really?"
Clara: "Oh that noise! I never knew how much I loved it."
Shona: "We... we've got ghosts!"
Shona: "Yeah, yeah... there's a skeleton man and a girl in her nightie."
Clara: "You remember Danny, of course."
Doctor: "Not as well as you, clearly. You made him an inch taller. Merry Christmas, P.E."
Doctor: "No need for chatting, you'll only get attached. This isn't Facebook."
Doctor: "Do you know what I hate about the obvious?"
Doctor: "Missing it."
Doctor: "Are you the same people as before?"
Clara: "Of course they are."
Doctor: "Sorry. I deleted you."
Clara: "Doctor, am I young?"
Doctor: "No idea."
Four moor peaces eye rote, sea hear.
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