It’s Christmas season, and that means Doctor Who is back on the small screen. This year’s episode “Last Christmas” was billed as Alien meets Miracle on 34th Street and it’s easy to see the influences from both. The Doctor and Clara have travelled to the North Pole for some unknown purpose after Clara runs into Santa Clause (Nick Frost) on her rooftop. At the North Pole they join up with a science expedition that has been invaded by Alien face hugging monsters that place their victims in a dream state to keep them calm as they drink their brains. It’s not a bad idea, and in a series with a few more original ones, the similarity to Inception might have passed unnoticed, but unfortunately, it just continues to prove that Moffat is running out of original ideas.
That’s not to say that “Last Christmas“ is terrible. (It’s a massive step up from the epic mess that was last year’s Christmas special.) It’s amazing that the introduction of Santa in a Christmas special took so long, and it is a welcome addition. Nick Frost seems to be having a blast as the man in the big red suit and the banter between him and his elves makes the episode worth seeing. As it’s a kids show, however, it might not have been a great idea to make Santa the primary reason that everyone knows they’re dreaming. Yes, The Doctor is also accused as being a dream due to his impossible Tardis, and the tangerine at the end hints that it was the real Santa who brought Clara and The Doctor back together, but these hints are a bit too subtle to get around the very loud message that Santa is not real. I don’t think that’s really the message you want to be sending all the children on Christmas day.
The stuff on the North Pole with the scientists was pretty solid and defiantly creepy, but it never quite meshes with Santa. That said, the two elements are kept relatively separate and the dream crabs are terrifying, even if most of the horror borrows from Alien. The defining horror moments do not come from the dream crabs, however. Instead they come from the realization that nothing is real and the science team is under attack, but unaware. As they all read the first words from various pages of their instruction manuals, spelling out their situation, it is truly unsettling. It’s nice to see that the show hasn’t completely lost sight of what is truly scary in light of its increasingly bloated budgets. This really should have been two episodes: the dream crabs as a stand alone, with Santa the focus of the Christmas special. The two segments work well on their own, but kind of cancel each other out when combined.
The Doctor himself continues to be a problem. He has almost completely devolved at this point from a strange and brilliant man into an unrecognizably bland figure. At this point I can’t decide if it is Capaldi himself or the writing, but I will hold onto the hope that Capaldi can be a great Doctor. “Last Christmas” shows once again, small flashes of how his Doctor could be great. His joy as Santa lets him pilot the sleigh is the best moment of the entire episode, where it feels like we might have gotten The Doctor back.
There is also the moment at the end, when he returns to Clara only to find that she has aged sixty years. The moment is truly touching and it seems to me that this is the direction that The 12th Doctor should be taken in. The Doctor knows that he didn’t destroy his people, so that weight has been lifted from his shoulders. This should have resulted in a more compassionate and hopeful Doctor, especially since we already had a full season of him brooding with the 11th. While this scene was written when Coleman was contemplating leaving the show, it is still a nice touch, especially at Christmas, to remind us of why we love The Doctor. Because for all his bluster, he does care.
It’s nice to know that the real Doctor is in there somewhere, under all the layers of nastiness, flippant disregard and immature stupidities we have been subjected to in Series 8. It gives me tentative hope for what is in store next year.