When we last left our intrepid heroes, they were “Gift of the Magi”-ing the HELL out of each other, both convinced that the other was better off without them, and thus LYING through their teeth about their current circumstances. Danny is dead and Clara somehow dealt with the child he sent back in his stead. (Did Danny give ANY thought to how Clara would deal with that or how the kid’s family would react to their long dead child returning to them the exact same age? Seriously, P.E., how was she supposed to handle that?) The Doctor found SOMETHING in the coordinates that Missy gave him, but whatever he found was not good. Was Gallifrey blown to pieces Alderaan style or was it simply not there? Hopefully we’ll get some details next series. Either way, both the Doctor and Clara are miserable. Cue Father Christmas bursting into the TARDIS.
Santa Claus: Doctor! You know it can’t end like that! Mm? We need to get this sorted and quickly. She’s not alright, you know. And neither are you. I’m coming in. Ah, there you are. I knew I’d get round to you eventually. Now, stop gawping, and tell me… what do you want for Christmas?
The answer to that question is Clara. Obviously. And all Clara wants is the Doctor. And all we want is to drown ourselves in the Whouffaldi feels, so it looks like Father Moffat is giving everybody what they want this year.
Did you see Inception? If yes, please proceed with this recap. If no, go watch it and come back after. We’ll be right here waiting. Because “Last Christmas” is Inception with deeper emotions and better female characters (#ChrisNolanShade). (It’s also “Field Trip” from The X-Files with just as many OTP feelings.) Everything is a dream within a dream within a dream and it is all a shared consciousness. The circumstances may not be real but the emotions are. It’s often said that we process our truest feelings through our dreams and the multiple dream states are exactly what Clara and the Doctor need to (as Jenna Coleman has put it) “reach a point where they really understand each other”. What is that understanding? That they need each other. Truly, madly, deeply.
There are many levels to the Clara and Doctor’s Christmas dream…let’s do our best to unravel them shall we?
Christmas Eve. Clara is awakened by a ruckus on her roof, so naturally she goes to investigate. (She probably HOPES it’s the Doctor, yes?) Clara doesn’t find the TARDIS on her roof, she finds a crashed sleigh, wild reindeer flying about the sky, sassy Elves (including the man behind Straxx, Dan Starkey), and a man in a red suit. Yes, Virginia, it’s Santa Claus (Nick Frost, so delightfully snarky, that I will believe he IS Santa Claus from now on). Yet, despite all appearances, Clara refuses to believe what’s right in front of her. “I grew out of fairy tales,” she insists, which cuts me to the core (as does Santa’s response. “Did you, Clara? Did you really?”). As recently as “Robots of Sherwood”, Clara has believed in myths and fairy stories. But now…she’s seen too much and all her belief in the fantastical has brought her nothing but pain. What’s the point of believing when it only brings you grief?
And then she hears that sound. That wheezing, groaning sound that brings hope where ever it goes. It’s like the TARDIS knew she had lost all hope and Sexy needed to remind her that she SHOULD believe in Fairy Tales. Out pops The Doctor, acting like nothing has changed. It’s time to go on an adventure! Now, we don’t have a time stamp for when the events in “Death in Heaven”, but my head canon places it around late May/Early June. Danny died at the end of the school year and now it’s been a good six months since Clara’s seen The Doctor. Her reaction to his arrival screams “Yes. This is everything I have been missing without fully realizing it.” I love the way Clara reaches out to touch The Doctor in that moment and the way she gazes at him in pure wonder. She needs to feel the weight and the solidarity of his arms in her hands. It’s what she needs to make this moment real. I firmly believe she would have caressed his face if she knew that this Regeneration wouldn’t have immediately deflected her touch. Not that Twelve doesn’t like Clara touching him. I think he very much does. He just doesn’t know how to react to it and therefore deflects whenever she does it. As Sage puts it, he doesn’t think he deserves her affection, so he denies it.
HAAAAAAAAAAAA enjoy the feels, it only gets worse from here.
After The Doctor rushes Clara into the TARDIS, he goes nose to nose with Santa Claus, telling him he knows EXACTLY what’s at stake. But does he? Is the Doctor aware that they are in some sort of dream state even then? Is the whole episode not just a shared dream but a rescue attempt on the Doctor’s behalf to save Clara? Did he go into the Prime dream knowing what was going on and then get lost along the way, losing track of how many dream crabs (getting to those, I promise) had gotten on them? Please discuss, because my head hurts trying to figure it all out.
Once in the TARDIS, Clara drinks in both the Doctor and her surroundings as if she’s stumbled upon a desperately needed oasis. “Oh, that noise. Never knew how much I loved it.” The Doctor takes her by her shoulders and gets in her face (in the what I was taught in theatre school to be the “kiss or kill distance”) and says “There’s something you have to ask yourself, and it’s important. Your life may depend on it – everybody’s life. Do you really believe in Santa Claus?” Clara grins and replies, “Do you know what? Yeah. I really think I do.”
DREAM POINT #1: Clara went from not believing in Santa to believing in the span of minutes, just because The Doctor showed up. Proving that he was really all she wanted.
Meanwhile on the North Pole, in a base reminiscent of The X-Files‘ “Ice”, a group of scientists find themselves under attack from mysterious creatures that only mobilize when they are being thought about. They send their bravest (and sassiest) Team Member Shona out on an attempt to get past these creatures. She does so by putting on her headphones and jamming out to “Merry Xmas Everybody”, giving new meaning to dancing like no one is watching. Shona is nearly through the room when in burst a Skeleton Man and a Girl in her nightie aka The Doctor and Clara. Their arrival distracts Shona and the creatures begin to come to life. The more The Doctor asks about them, the more alive they get because everyone in the room is thinking about them. (Once again Steven Moffat preys on the most basic human behaviors. Don’t Blink. Don’t breathe. Don’t think.) The Doctor first tries to distract Clara with math (“What’s seven times seven?” “Ugh stuff she KNOWS!”) and when that doesn’t work, he goes straight for Danny because he doesn’t know any better. “Danny Pink! What is Danny Pink up to right now? He’s probably flirting with your neighbor or texting women of low moral character!” Acting on her basest and rawest instinct, Clara slaps him. She knows he doesn’t know…but that doesn’t mean his words don’t hurt. The Doctor is dumbstruck by this news (YOUR FACE PETER CAPALDI) and starts to question her. But before they can delve into the emotional revelations, creatures descend from the ceiling and Santa Claus arrives yet again, locking up Rudolph like you would your fancy car, much to the disbelief of the scientists. “Am I dreaming?” Shona exclaims. On rewatch, everything feels so OBVIOUS…but on my initial watch I had no idea what the hell was going on. Santa comes bearing gifts…a specimen of the creature attacking them. Colloquially known as a “Dream Crab”, this alien latches on to your face (just like Alien, which we have learned is a very racist movie), drills a hole in the side of your head, dulls your senses with dreams, and then sucks your brain out. MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE.
Later, as Head Scientist Ashley searches for footage of the initial Dream Crab attack, Clara and the Doctor grab a quiet moment where they FINALLY face up to the lies they’ve been telling each other. I love how the Doctor’s secret comes spilling out almost as soon as he finishes processing Clara’s words. He’s been dying to tell her and he feels nothing but relief at finally being able to do so. LOOK AT THEIR FACES. Their faces are saying “Why have we been such idiots? Why did we decide to be ALONE when we could have been happy TOGETHER?” If you were to look up the definition of “weighted silence” in the pop culture dictionary (I should write that), you would find this scene. They say SO much in these reactions and the weight of everything unsaid just presses on them (like a certain other FBI OTP we know). So naturally, Clara changes the subject. “So we’re dying then,” she says casually, whilst I scream into my pillow about how much I hate Sage for making me ship them.
DREAM POINT #2: It’s Christmas and at Christmas you tell the truth. It’s not Thanksgiving, it’s Truth Day.
The Doctor: Trust nothing. Accept nothing you see. Whatever happens, interrogate everything.
Clara: In case it’s a lie.
The Doctor: In case it’s a lie.
Rather than focus on all the emotions swirling, Clara asks for a task to do. And really, who better to investigate this case than a pair of liars? As The Doctor tries to get to the bottom of things with the Base Crew, he asks Clara to go fetch the Dream Crab Specimen, which leads to some very married couple dialogue.
Of course, since they’ve been thinking about it, the Dream Crab is alive and attacks Clara in a truly terrifying sequence. Thus, Clara is plunged into the deepest dreams of all the dreams…and perhaps the most important dream for her.
Clara wakes up back in her place on a perfect Christmas Morning. Danny Pink is there, dressed in a Santa suit. He’s gotten her everything she’s wanted for Christmas (“Tickets for the Indian Orient Express. That painting we saw in Paris, and permission to own a cat.”) and they are blissfully happy. Everything seems perfect and just as it should be…but Clara KNOWS something is off. However, she chooses to ignore it, even when she hears The Doctor desperately begging for her to wake up. Even when she sees his messages on the blackboards scattered through the apartment. Instead, she chooses to have Christmas with Danny. She chooses to open presents and snuggle on the couch with him. Because this is the life she should have had, right? That’s what she’s trying to tell herself anyway.
Why is this the vision that the Dream Crabs give Clara as they eat her brain? Because Clara is still dealing with her immense grief regarding Danny’s death. She’s also processing the incredible amount of GUILT she feels regarding their relationship. Because Danny offered her everything a normal person would have wanted and it wasn’t enough for her. The life she would have had with Danny would have been lovely and she would have been very loved. But it would have been ordinary. And Clara Oswald is ANYTHING but normal or ordinary. She’s impossible. This is about coming to grips with that and it’s about her realizing that it’s time to let go.
The Doctor: It’s not real, Clara. You know it’s not real. It’s a dream, and it’s killing you.
The way Clara reacts to the Doctor showing up in her dream kills me. It’s a mixture of “please just go away and leave me alone and let me grieve in peace”, a tantrum a child throws when they know they are wrong, and sheer horror at the fact that he is in danger now too. Because it’s ONE thing if she allows this dream to lull her into a sweet death, it’s another thing entirely when The Doctor’s life is at stake too. Let’s not even discuss the fact that as soon as he realized how to save Clara he slapped a dream crab on his face like it was nothing. For him, there was no other choice. (And now I am pondering if Oliver Queen and The Doctor would be friends. I think they would just revel in their immense self-hatred while Clara and Felicity would bang their heads against the wall wearing boob-window dresses and someone write me this fic right now please.)
Even in death, Danny Pink saves Clara, once he realizes exactly what’s going on. (Also notice how civil The Doctor and Danny are to each other in Clara’s subconscious.) It’s time for her to be okay. More than that, it’s time to be free from her grief and guilt. It’s killing her in the dream world and it’s killing her in reality.
Danny: You can miss me for five minutes a day. And you’d better do it properly. You’d better be sad. I expect my five. But all the rest of the time, Clara, all the rest of the time, every single second, you just get the hell on with it. Clear?
To quote Kelly, who along with Sage, is helping me through this recap like Samwise Gamgee carrying Frodo up Mount Doom,” Danny’s order to her sums up the show’s attitude toward grief. We don’t forget but we don’t let it stop us. We move on, on our own.”
It’s okay to miss him. But it’s not okay to spend her whole LIFE missing him. This brief respite they got? “A Bonus.” But now it’s time to get on with it. And thus, Clara and The Doctor wake up, clutching hands. She’s free. In more ways than one. And she was never alone. (Remember how The Doctor never used to hold her hand and then he went and held her hand the entire time in the dream and had he failed, they would have died hand in hand? YEAH ME TOO.)
DREAM POINT #3: To quote John Keating, “Only in dreams can men be free. ‘Twas always thus, and always thus will be.”
The Danny Dream also serves as a way to bring the Doctor clarity about the situation at the Base and this is where “Last Christmas” gets really Inceptiony. The Doctor realizes that they WERE attacked by the dream crabs the moment they arrived at the base and that everything since has been a dream…that they are STILL dreaming. “Have you ever woken up from a dream and discovered that you’re still dreaming? Dreams within dreams. Dream states nested inside each other. All perfectly possible, especially when we are dealing with creatures who have weaponized our dreams against us.” The Doctor goes about proving this to the others by having them all read the first word on a page in their manuals, the number randomly selected by Clara. Page 57? Isotope. Extremely. Inside. Chocolate. Page 24? We. Are. All. Dead. And THIS is where Santa comes in. It’s why he’s been there all along. Santa = everyone’s brain fighting back. Hurrah for Sweet Papa Crimbo! Naturally, this leads to priceless bickering between Santa and the Doctor, because much like in “Robots of Sherwood” the Doctor can’t stand not being the most Impossible Man in the room. Despite not being good with the “hand holdy thing” and only wanting to hold Clara’s hand (!!!), everyone circles up. It’s time to wake up.
Once everyone is awake and safe, Clara and The Doctor head back to the TARDIS. THIS is where it becomes clear just how perfect of a team they are because Clara hesitates. How did they wind up at the base in the first place? Santa was on her roof…and if Santa is the brain’s way of telling you that you’re dreaming…then weren’t they dreaming from the very start. “You know what I hate about the obvious? Missing it!” They run back into the base, and when The Doctor starts asking everyone questions, they all reply with “It’s a long story.” The Doctor asks Clara for another page number and to “make it a good one.” “Twelve,” she replies with a grin that shattered my heart into a million pieces. Very. Very. Very. Dead. NOTHING has been real the whole time. They are six people, who have never met, probably scattered across the globe, sharing the same Christmas Dream while they are being attacked by dream crabs. And now the dream crabs are pissed, as they sense that they’ve figured things out at last and are beginning to fight. They claim the life of Albert and the rest of them run out of the base in a panic. They have nowhere to go and the one thing they HAVE to do is leave. Santa Claus swoops in with his sleigh, because after all…it’s Christmas.
Everyone is safe in the sleigh as Santa whisks all of them home. And here, if the episode wasn’t killing me before, this is where it DEFINITELY began to. The reason why can REALLY only be shown in gifs. Enjoy.
Just. Look at the way she looks at him. You can’t say that isn’t adoration. You can’t say it isn’t LOVE. I love how she pounces on him and the way the Doctor is shocked at first, but he doesn’t fight against her affection like he has so many times before. He relaxes INTO her embrace, with a little smirk on his face. He may not return her touch (it would kind of be hard to in that position anyway), but it’s his relaxation that says everything about how things have changed between them this Christmas Eve. They ride in that sleigh looking at the sights like a pair of lovers would and in that moment my heart exploded. THEN Santa gave The Doctor the reins to the sleigh and he flew it with SUCH DAMN DELIGHT that I started begging Steven Moffat through my television screen not to ruin this beautiful moment. It’s so rare that The Doctor gets to experience pure unbridled joy. It was the first time THIS Doctor had that kind of joy and Peter Capaldi’s damn face lit up so much it could have powered the Rockefeller Center Tree. I loved the way he kept looking back at Clara to be sure that she knew what he was doing. “Look at me, honey. LOOK AT MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.” And Clara is all, “Yes, my love, I see you. You’re doing great”. And I’m very very glad I chose to watch this all by myself because of all the feels.
DREAM POINT #4: As The Doctor says, Time Travel is always possible in dreams.
But one by one, the base crew begins to remember who they really are, showing that they are waking up for real. Ashley, so brilliant as the lead scientist, is an account manager for perfume. Bellows, we learn after we see her wake-up, is a grandmother in a wheelchair (my heart). And Shona. Sweet, wonderful, daffy, would-have-made-an-amazing-companion Shona is a lonely shop girl. My heart broke as Shona desperately asked Santa if she could stay any longer and said to her new friends that they should exchange numbers and hang out again. Rest assured, Shona. You join the ranks of Sally Sparrow and Craig Owens and Osgood (RIP) as “best companions that never were”. The whole time Clara just gazes at The Doctor as if she’s afraid she’ll never see him again. Finally, it is just Clara and The Doctor and all the things unsaid again. Because despite the pain and the imminent threat of death, this has been a lovely dream. “It’s a pity we have to wake up” is the only thing Clara can manage to say when she REALLY means “Please don’t leave me again”. The Doctor seems to pick up on her meaning (I could write essays on their faces. Oh wait. That’s what I’m doing. ) but still only says “We stay, we die, Clara” when he SHOULD have said “I don’t want to leave you”. IDIOTS. “You’re always such a downer, Doctor,” Clara laughs, turning to him for a snarky response…but he’s gone and her beatific face falls. He wakes up at a location that LOOKS like the volcano from “Death in Heaven” and gasps Clara’s name. The whole time I assumed that the principle dreamer of the episode was The Doctor, but instead it’s Clara. Everything about this adventure revolved around HER and her subconscious. “You should be waking up too, Clara,” Santa warns. “Just a little while longer,” she replies, snuggling into his side. “Every Christmas is Last Christmas.”
Cue me filling with dread. MOFFATTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT. (Also that was the WORST timing for a commercial break, which naturally means that’s EXACTLY what BBC America did and it was terrible and the longest commercial break in the history of the universe.)
The Doctor arrives at Clara’s apartment to find her face still covered with a dream crab. He sonics it off of her and asks her how long it’s been. “Oh you know. About sixty-two years. Doctor! I have missed you very much, you stupid old man,” Old Lady Clara says, embracing him as The Doctor stands there gobsmacked.
What kills me about this scene is how the Doctor is so desperately trying to keep his shit together in it. Of all the people in the universe, The Doctor knows how fleeting humanity is. (“I don’t age. I regenerate. But humans decay. You wither and you die. Imagine watching that happen to someone who you…”) (I know. I’m grounded.) So when Clara says it’s been 62 years, even if he doesn’t see an old woman standing before him (more on that in a second BELIEVE ME), he KNOWS. And he knows he’s missed it. He’s missed everything. And he’s so ashamed of himself he can barely look her in the eye.
The Doctor tries to keep things light. He gets them Christmas hats. “Can you really see no difference in me?” she asks. “Clara Oswald, you will never look any different to me.” HERE is where all the comments about Clara’s appearance over the course of the series pay off in the most unexpectedly moving way. Back in “Deep Breath” The Doctor begged for Clara to just see him. Because he sees her. It doesn’t matter to him what she looks like. It never has. He just sees HER, his Impossible Clara, and she will never age for him.
He asks what all he missed and a look of pain crosses his face when she replies “Oh how was my life, you mean?” He casually asks if there is a Mr. Clara, to which she says no. She traveled. She taught all over Europe. She learned how to fly a plane. She lived. (And I started having flashes of Rose Dawson warm in her bed, surrounded by the pictures of her adventures. Dying an old lady having lived and I’M FINE.) Everything she says sends the Doctor deeper into his shame spiral and he changes the subject to save face. The Doctor grabs a Christmas Cracker for them and in an incredibly touching parallel to “The Time of the Doctor”, he grasps HER hand when it is too weak to pull it.
Nice try, Steven Moffat. you’re never going to get me to like that episode.
The Doctor: No one ever matched up to Danny, eh?
Clara: There was one other man, but that would never have worked out.
The Doctor: Why not?
Clara: He was impossible.
Oh, is that the part where Clara admits to The Doctor that really no one ever measured up to HIM? I THINK IT IS. This is what they say over the Christmas Cracker and The Doctor grasps her hand not only to help her pull it but to acknowledge what she just said to him. It’s SO beautifully heartbreaking. And it’s exactly what The Doctor needs to push HIM into admitting that he was a fool for staying away. “I’m sorry. I was stupid. I should have come back earlier. I wish that I had.”
And thus, at the end of Clara’s life, these two idiots have finally come to understand the love they have for each other. It’s just too late for them…or IS IT? Santa bursts in and asks The Doctor if that’s what he REALLY wishes. And this is the moment where in two different states, I flailed off my bed and Sage stood on her couch Tom Cruise style. They were still dreaming.
The Doctor wakes up back on the Volcano Planet, and this time when he gasps “Clara!” it’s not with fear, but with joy. He ACTUALLY fucking grins when he says it. He rushes to her bedside, freeing her of the Dream Crab, and reveals Clara, still young. The thing is, they both remember what just happened. “Am I young?” Clara asks desperately. “No Idea!” The Doctor replies, again only seeing her not her age. He hilariously grabs her a mirror, and as she stares at her reflection in relief, he asks her if that’s any good. When she replies yes, everything changes. All his hesitation is gone. The time for things unsaid is OVER. The Doctor doesn’t mince any words.
He is so DEAD SERIOUS here because he feels like this could all be gone at any moment and he doesn’t want another second to go by without her knowing JUST how much he needs her with him. Notice how his gaze never wavers from hers, a lovely contrast from the previous scene.
As Matt Smith once said to us, “What a thing to say to someone! Do you want to come with me?” Also the way his voice breaks when he says “Please” and how he moves closer to her and gets down on her level.
FACES. “There were plenty of proposals.” “They all turned you down though?” “I turned THEM down!” Because this was the one proposal she was always waiting for and now she’s getting it. Even Murray Gold ships it because the romantic score is swelling in the background and really, I’M FINE.
They just gaze at each other with such wonder, in utter disbelief that they are getting this second chance. The Doctor waggles his attack eyebrows and gives her a devious look and they laugh and LITERALLY run away together, hand in hand. They may as well be eloping. The camera pans out to reveal one of Santa’s tangerines on the window sill. Steven Moffat has confirmed that the final scene was real (after all no one wants to tell children Santa is not real on Christmas Day), so Santa has worked a Christmas Miracle, bringing The Doctor and Clara back together. This time, they will do things right. No lies. Sure, they will fight and yell at each other. But that’s what they DO. Let’s quote The Notebook, shall we?
Noah: Well that’s what we do, we fight… You tell me when I am being an arrogant son of a bitch and I tell you when you are a pain in the ass. Which you are, 99% of the time. I’m not afraid to hurt your feelings. You have like a 2 second rebound rate, then you’re back doing the next pain-in-the-ass thing.
Allie: So what?
Noah: So it’s not gonna be easy. It’s gonna be really hard. We’re gonna have to work at this every day, but I want to do that because I want you. I want all of you, for ever, you and me, every day.
If that’s not where Clara and The Doctor are at the end of this episode, then I know nothing.
“You know what’s rarer? Second chances. I never get second chances. So what happened this time? I don’t even know who to thank.”
Thus we get a whole new season of Clara and The Doctor. I’m super excited, but now even MORE terrified for the end. Because she made her choice a long time ago and she’s never going to leave him.
Timey Wimey Observations
– The Doctor says “Mind Palacey”.
– I know I didn’t talk about them very much, but I truly LOVED Shona, Ashley, and Bellows. I loved how The Doctor deduced things with Ashley and how he encouraged her reasoning. I loved how he called Bellows “the sexy one”. And Shona…I think I’ve made it clear how I feel about her.
– “Three words, Shona. Don’t make me use them. My. Little. Pony.” “I will mark you, Santa.”
– Twelve Sass Smile.
– “I’ll try and talk some sense into Beardy-Weirdy.”
– HE SAID THE THING. AND THE DOCTOR IS NOT AMUSED.
Thus, our long, hard wait till Series 9 begins. Thanks for sticking with us through Series 8. I’m sure our Whouffaldi feels will only go stronger over the hiatus. Sage keeps saying to me, “Remember when we didn’t ship this?” My reply? “NOPE.”