Doctor Who returns with its Christmas Day special, marking the one year anniversary of Peter Capaldi taking over for Matt Smith and becoming the Twelfth Doctor. The series has seen quite a few changes since the Battle of Trenzalore, and Capaldi has finally settled in to the role; he is the Doctor. Now it’s time for showrunner Steven Moffat to have some holiday fun with him.
This year, the Doctor and Clara (Jenna Coleman) find themselves stranded at the North Pole with a group of scientists and they’re under attack. The enemy: Dream Crabs. Joining them in this Alien-inspired battle is cult film favorite Nick Frost (Shawn of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), who suits up as the iconic Claus. It’s alright; he has two elves, Ian (Nathan McMullen) and Wolf (Dan Starkey; “Strax”). And two sleighs. There’s also a bit of “whimey,” which never hurts.
“Last Christmas” is as if you went up to a proverbial Doctor Who jukebox and, while nobody was looking, put your money in and mashed down all of Steven Moffat’s many hits at the same time and made sure to lean extra hard on the “Danny Pink” button (because last time you felt like you missed it, somehow). This is exactly the type of episode Doctor Who fans dream about, really. This episode carries no responsibility; it just has to be fun – which it very much is!
The isolated, snowy research base at the North Pole is the perfect setting to pull off a survival adventure with Santa, while still making it eerie enough to give children something terrifying to think about when they go to sleep tonight. The Dream Crabs and their psychic powers, which allow for Moffat’s mind-bending logic to run free, aren’t terribly original or dissimilar from monsters/powers we’ve seen the Doctor face in past reality-bending episodes.
Thankfully, a loophole is built-in to this episode’s logic which allows for a proper farewell to Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), something we never saw in the finale. In the midst of a face-hugging nightmare, in the Arctic, Clara and Danny are able to have their final Christmas together, and he, ever the soldier, saves her life once again, because she knows he would. It’s as picturesque as any fairytale, which this story absolutely is. Throw in a few twists, then a few more, and the episode concludes with an oddly emotional farewell to new friends, as well as Clara’s life. Then twist again.
There are twists aplenty, Moffat made sure of that. The logic is sound, thankfully, and we’re essentially back to where we were before this entire season happened – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if we’re all being honest. Sure, the story begins to feel a bit disjointed as the final act comes around, but by then you’re more or less sitting back and enjoying every minute of this incredibly fun ride.
You’re also probably trying to figure out a way to have Nick Frost reprise his role as Santa. Frost’s Father Christmas is much funnier, more intimidating and intellectual when compared to other interpretations we’re used to seeing, and it would be nice to have his modern take on Santa, no matter how silly it sounds, find a way to return. Shona (Faye Marsay; The White Queen), the “scientist” who actually works in a shop, is also the type of quirky character you hope to see pop up again, if the story so allows.
Doctor Who season 9 will be coming soon enough, and Jenna Coleman has said that she’ll be staying through the whole of season, meaning the story of Clara Oswald will continue on. From where the series is standing now, she honestly should.
Coleman has truly grown into one of the strongest female character the series has ever seen, and is perfectly matched with Capaldi’s no-nonsense Doctor. Together, there’s the potential for terrific storytelling come next year. (Just don’t tell anyone from the planet Gallifrey, we’re still avoiding their calls.)
Doctor Who season 9 premieres in 2015 on BBC America.