[alert-announce]  Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars. While the plot might feel somewhat predictable to anyone who has watched Christopher Nolan’s Inception, the Christmas vibe meshes nicely with the story and several questions are answered for now. [/alert-announce]

Clara decidedly needed to defend her naughty tag.
Clara decidedly needed to defend her naughty tag.

It’s been a period of speculation prior to this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special. At the end of season 8, we saw Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) and the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) going their separate ways after lying to each other. Clara, about Danny Pink’s (Samuel Anderson) non-return, and the Doctor, about Gallifrey being found (surprise, surprise, Missy lied).

Last Christmas starts with Clara hearing something on her rooftop, which turns out to be Santa (Cornetto trilogy genius Nick Frost), his two elves, a couple of reindeers and tangerines. While Clara is trying to come to terms with Father Christmas, the TARDIS arrives and the Doctor rushes out, telling Clara that she has to come with him, despite Santa telling the Doctor that he will need his help before the night is over.

Because an alien dance-off always works. Bet she learnt that from Star-Lord.
Because an alien dance-off always works. Bet she learnt that from Star-Lord.

They arrive in the North Pole, where they find a team of scientists who are under attack from facehugger-like aliens (loved the Alien reference in the show) which, as the name suggests, latch on to a victim’s face and induce a dream state. The dream, of course, is meant to keep the host happy as his or her brain is slowly digested. Just as it seems like they’re on the losing end, Santa arrives to save the day, bringing with him one of the dream crabs (because it’s the North Pole, so Santa).

Santa doesn't like alien guests.
Santa doesn’t like alien guests.

While trying to discover more about the nature of the dream crabs, the Doctor sends Clara to retrieve Santa’s specimen. Expectedly, she is promptly attacked by the crab and put into a dream, where she meets Santa Pink. A black board (put in her dream by the Doctor), warns her that she is dreaming and that she is dying. Of course, because Pink is involved, Clara doesn’t think clearly, and therefore spends her day lazing around with Danny until the Doctor appears.

Santa Pink is the stuff of nightmares.
No. Nope. No. Santa Pink is the stuff of nightmares.

As the Doctor tries to convince Clara that she is dreaming (by sticking a dream crab on his face), Danny comes to the rescue by telling them that he died because he wanted to save her (the rest of the world being a bonus). He tells Clara to be glad that she had this last Christmas with him, and she and the Doctor wake up. The crabs fall off and crumble into dust.

And this is where the Inception comes in. The Doctor deduces that they are still in a dream, only in a different layer of a dream, and that Santa is a result of their subconscious creating something that they know is not real. They wake up, and find themselves in the room where they were initially attacked by the dream crabs. The Doctor decides to leave, but Clara points out that the two of them met Santa before arriving in the North Pole, which makes him realise he’s still in a “dream within a dream”. The base is not real, but the dream crabs have “networked” their victims into a shared dream. One of the “scientists” is attacked and killed by his own doppleganger, and more crab victims suddenly appear, swarming the group.

Well, at least it wasn't a chest burster.
Well, at least it wasn’t a chest burster.

At the last moment, Santa arrives to save the day, packing the group into his sleigh and ferrying them back to London. One by one, they wake up, until only Clara and the Doctor are left. The Doctor wakes up outside his TARDIS, and immediately goes to find Clara, only to discover that she is already an old lady (shades of the girl who waited right there). The two bond over Clara’s life, where Clara admits to having one “other man” in her life who matched up to Danny Pink, but it wouldn’t have worked out because “he was impossible”.

Onions.
Onions.

And just as the Doctor regrets not coming back for Clara earlier, the jolly guy in a red suit appears, asking the Doctor how much he wishes he could change that. He wakes up, again outside his TARDIS, and this time finds Clara at her normal age. He asks her to join him on his travels again, and Clara responds by kissing him on the cheek and wishing him Merry Christmas as she excitedly gets out of bed. As the TARDIS disappears, a tangerine is shown on Clara’s window. which may imply that we’ve not seen the last of Santa.

Thoughts:

After a decidedly lacklustre season 8 finale, Last Christmas admittedly feels like a tying up of loose ends. Jenna Coleman wasn’t shy in keeping fans in suspense over whether she would return for next season, and clearly the segment of her being old and aged would’ve left most people thinking that was that. Bye Clara Oswald. Nice knowing you. Even the Christmas cracker scene, a reflection of a younger Clara and the aged Eleventh in last year’s Christmas special, had me wondering if the rumours of Jenna returning had been false.

Still alive.
Still alive.

Of course, as we knew almost as soon as the Christmas special ended, Ms Coleman will be returning to the series. After an entire season of character flip-flopping, the Clara we saw in the Christmas special seem to finally find her place between Doctor Clara and gushing Robin Hood fan girl. Let’s hope it stays that way.

The plot itself had several twists and turns, but you can’t help but feel the shades of Christopher Nolan’s Inception… I mean, “dream within a dream” the title of one of the tracks on the Inception soundtrack (sadly, I did not see Leonardo DiCaprio doing a cameo). Perhaps it is because of that that the entire dream plot itself felt pretty obvious.

Because Rudolph.
Because Rudolph.

Still, despite that, I quite enjoyed the episode. Once again, Capaldi and Jenna Coleman have that chemistry with each other we’ve seen throughout season 8, and to hear Clara admit that the Doctor was her Santa Claus was a touching moment indeed (free hug!). There was also that scene where they admitted their lies to each other, and both seemed to exude genuine regret at not coming clean sooner.

Add in the little nods to other franchises (again, Alien reference for the win), sprinkle a bit of Doctor Who dust, and all in all, it was a great gift to fans.

It's actually better than it looks.
Clara x Doctor. It’s actually better than it looks.

And to me, it seems pretty obvious that Danny will remain dead and gone (hurray), and that Clara does love the Doctor (no surprises there). For the briefest of moments I did wonder if Clara would continue her adventures with the Twelfth as a little old lady, but I guess that might have put a fair bit of a strain on the make-up budget. And I confess, those little “last Christmas” speeches made me sniffle. A little.

Anyway with those questions answered, season 9 feels open to more possibilities. Of course, the search for Gallifrey will probably continue, but I’ll cover what I hope to see for next season in another post.

What did you think of the Doctor Who Christmas Special Last Christmas? Let us know in the comments below!