Doctor Who: Last Christmas Analysis

Shortcuts & slogans

This Doctor Who episode, Last Christmas wore many of its influences overtly. Within a few minutes they could be identified as a formula:

Alien + Inception + Christmas X 2 = Doctor Who.

It’s fine I guess. We can all rest and consider that we ‘get’ the episode. Any dream within a dream story will feel like Inception, because that film kinda redefined the idea and went large with it. With Doctor Who they even went into the notion of aging within a dream. Just like the film.

With the Alien references, both visual and within the plot, the best bit about the face hugger explanation was The Doctor’s personal offence.

I appreciated the psychology of it – especially the reading test and the explanation for Santa, and the clues in speech ‘it’s a long story’ that revealed what was going on. Of course they were pointed telling-wise, but it’s a kids show, apparently.

 More Danny Pink

More Danny Pink (even slightly taller) is a good thing. For us, and for Clara. She got her Last Christmas and we get to see that even her Dream understanding of him is heroic. Or rather, he is her own personal hero. The Doctor is for everyone, but Danny was/continues to be, for her. Yet again Danny proves this by sacrificing himself, so Clara can be released from her dream. Again I say, too good to live, too good not to exist.

Papa Chrimbo

There was a lot to like about the ‘tude Nick Frost brings to his version of Santa. Like the fact he was a bit smart and a bit jaded and authoritarian, and was there to fulfil a heroic function. I loved his come back to The Doctor about the sleigh, but if you think about it, as a psychological projection, he would say that wouldn’t he? This Santa is the agreed form of a saviour figure that helps them escape the dream, therefore, he is all of them, including The Doctor. Clara is right twice over when she says The Doctor is her Santa. Also – Dan Starkey!

Father Christmas looked a bit different 110 years ago. But fashions change more often than The Doctor regenerates.

Father Christmas looked a more like Odin / Gandalf 110 years ago. But fashions change more often than The Doctor regenerates.

The Last Time of The Doctor

Matt Smith’s regeneration episode into Pete Capaldi a year ago had its flaws, but the idea was to explore aging and time from the perspective of the companion. Clara stays the same and sees The Doctor age, and then be renewed, and then regenerate. Last Christmas overtly echoed Time of The Doctor. The Doctor awakens from his dream to find Old Clara, full of stories, in a house full of relics of Christmas (like on Trenzalore with his home full of drawings in a town called Christmas). She is too weak to pull the cracker/bon-bon, and he helps her, just like she helped Smith’s Old Doctor. Then she is renewed. Of course it is sentimental. Yet since you know I like patterns of all kinds, I do like the narrative felicity, the circularity. Plus, it’s probably the order of the day.

If Clara’s story had stopped at Old Clara, it would have been too much sad on top of the sad of recent previous episodes. It would have been too much to have both Danny’s life cut short and Clara’s time foreshortened. The fact that The Doctor dreamed this indicates it is a reboot of a sort.  In terms of her apprenticeship Clara has completed the cycle with her ‘regeneration’. They can both start again.

Clara can leave one version of her future behind (Danny) and say goodbye to the past and Christmas just like The Doctor left a version of himself, with all his might-have-beens of Christmas and Trenzalore. Maybe, now, they can stop lying to each other.

Dream States

We know we can time travel in dreams because of the conference call with Library Backup River Song and the Paternoster Gang in The Name of The Doctor, which again, harks back to Trenzalore and Christmas. I like that all the dreamers are not on a base at the north pole, but randomly selected people who all imagine the base. The contrast between their roles on the base and their real lives was poignant, even as vignettes.  It was also set up as an interesting comparison for Turn Left – that alternate reality was big (rather than personal) and bad. This alternate was mostly better and individual. Thus, for each of the base crew the dream seemed to be an improvement. Wonder if reality will be better for Clara and The Doctor?

Winter Garden of Forking Paths

Dreams are just another way to explore alternate versions of reality. This is a theme in Doctor Who because it is a theme in science fiction.  Thus, we have the dream worlds of Amy’s Choice, where all the gang are trapped alternating between two dreams. Then, there is the alternate world of Two Streams, where Amy ages while The Doctor and Rory don’t so much. After experiencing the pain of losing Old Amy to save Young Amy perhaps this Christmas realising Old Clara was his own dream would have been a relief for The Doctor. Then there was Turn Left, where Donna’s life is subverted completely by a Time Beetle that sees the death of The Doctor and the creation of a dystopia. Finally, Donna is uploaded into The Library’s alternate reality with kids and a husband in her version of utopia. It turns out though, the real world of The Doctor and her adventures is the one that must fall away, in order that she survive. In the end, the lesson is every reality is an alternate. If this is so for Donna, it is certainly so for The Doctor with his fixed points and those that are not.

Mysteries and Tangents

I might be missing some kind of peculiarly British cultural thing, or Northern Hemisphere winter thing, but what’s the go with the tangerines? And the jokes about tangerines? Don’t get it. Didn’t get it in The Christmas Invasion, still don’t get it now.

Hey ho ho ho, I suppose.

Nothing to see here, just some time travelling dream state action.

Nothing to see here, just some time travelling dream state action in a winter garden.

6 thoughts on “Doctor Who: Last Christmas Analysis

  1. Great reading of the episode Bec. I also read it through the lens of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol: ghosts of past, present and future etc. I don’t get the tangerines either!!!

  2. Tangerines are often placed in children’s stockings at Christmas, tangerines, a walnut, and a “Christmas Mouse” made out of chocolate. It’s a tradition that has survived in the Southern United States as well. Great review!

    • Thanks! As for tangerines, guess it’s about how much fresh fruit was around in the depth of a Northern Hemisphere winter. Still want know the source of the tradition though.

  3. I just saw this episode. I have to say that apart from a few convoluted, extended ideas that seemed a bit tacked on, this is some of the best writing going around. I was amazed at how good it was, and I’m not a fan. Might just change my mind about that.

    • There is definitely a reason I can review episodes upon episodes from the perspective of the writing. Even when it is convoluted or a bit too cheesy, like pizza, it’s almost always good. Happy to give recommendations if you want to go back and seek out a few episodes:)

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