[Note: The following post contains SPOILERS for Doctor Who season 8]
Since the 2005 franchise relaunch, Doctor Who fans have been treated to a holiday trip with the Doctor every year. In some cases, the Christmas Specials have been closely tied to larger story arcs (such as the introduction of David Tennant in "The Christmas Invasion", the on-going mystery of the Impossible Girl in "The Snowmen", and the exit of Matt Smith in "The Time of the Doctor") while others have been one-off misadventures often based on iconic winter tales (like "The Doctor, The Window, and The Wardrobe" as well as "A Christmas Carol").
However, following a moody final act in the Doctor Who season 8 finale, "Death in Heaven," the 2014 Christmas Special is going to be pulling double-duty - blending a campy trip to the North Pole, complete with Santa Clause (played by Nick Frost), with further exploration of the Doctor and Clara's recent despondency. For weeks fans have been debating how the special will fit into the larger Doctor Who storyline and now BBC is offering a few key details - specifically the official episode title and poster.
Exactly one month ahead of Christmas, the network has revealed that the 2014 holiday special will be titled "Last Christmas" - and, in spite of speculation that Clara might only have a small role, the episode's poster and network synopsis confirm the Doctor's companion will be prominently featured.
Check out the synopsis for "Last Christmas" followed by the full episode poster below (click to enlarge):
"The Doctor and Clara face their Last Christmas. Trapped on an arctic base and under attack from terrifying creatures, who are you going to call? Santa Claus!"
The episode's teaser trailer (and sneak peek Children in Need clip) spent most of its time highlighting the interplay between Peter Capaldi's Doctor and Frost's jolly old St. Nick - while only hinting at the "terrifying creatures" that will be featured in the special. For now, the episode's monster-of-the-week has not been fully revealed; though, Coleman has previously hinted that the premise might not be as straightforward as it might initially seem - since "Last Christmas" is apparently "about dreaming – what is real and what is not."
The wording of the title, in conjunction with the synopsis, is especially interesting - given that "Last Christmas" could imply different meanings than "The Last Christmas". With rumors running rampant that Coleman will leave the show in the not-too-distant future, possibly as soon as the end of the 2014 Christmas Special, showrunner Steven Moffat is, once again, toying with viewer expectations.
For months, both Moffat and Coleman have been playing-off of the companion exit rumors, teasing that "anything could happen," while outright stating the actress hasn't signed-on for season 9 (at least not yet). As a result, BBC's suggestion that the upcoming episode will be "their Last Christmas" could turn out to be true but there's always the possibility "Last Christmas" isn't quite as literal as viewers might initially take it. After all, it wouldn't be the first time that the showrunner or the network has misled viewers - albeit to maintain the element of surprise. Either way, it'll be interesting to see how director Paul Wilmshurst will tie "Last Christmas" to "Death in Heaven" and the already in-development season 9 premier.
Unresolved threads from the season 8 finale will need to be addressed (at least in part) early on in the Christmas Special - so, in terms of balancing the holiday episode with on-going character drama Moffat definitely has his work cut out for him. The team has struggled in the past with similarly challenging character drama (such as the rushed setup to season 7 which, out nowhere, featured Amy and Rory's marriage at a breaking point), so we'll have to see how the BBC intends to pick-up from such a despondent finale and make the larger story threads fit with Santa, Elves, and dreaming. Previously, the network released prequel videos to help setup other Christmas Special storylines (example: "The Snowmen" minisode "The Great Detective") but it's hard to imagine that Moffat will be able to simply swipe the emotionally draining conclusion to "Death in Heaven" under the rug in brief, online-only, short films.
For now, fans will just have to wait for further official details on "Last Christmas" - or unofficial confirmation of Coleman's plans for 2015. As frustrating as it might be, Moffat and the actress have succeeded in keeping viewers on their toes - as practically anything could happen to Clara in the upcoming special.
The 2014 Doctor Who Christmas Special will air December 25, 2014 on BBC and BBC America.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for any future updates on Doctor Who, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.