Recap: ‘Doctor Who’ – ‘Last Christmas’ has a lot of layers, like an onion or parfait

Welcome back, Whovians! I hope everyone had a nice break, but it”s time to get back to it, at least for one episode. The last time we saw Twelve and Clara, they were recreating the darkest timeline version of “The Gift of the Magi.” The Doctor lied to Clara about finding Gallifrey so she”d want to stay with Danny and be happy, while Clara lied about Danny being alive so the Doctor would return home to his people on Gallifrey.

Everyone”s a liar and everything hurts. Break out the tissues because you”re going to need them during “Last Christmas.”


Like countless holiday specials before it, and countless ones yet to come, the episode opens with a decorated Christmas tree framed by windows. Outside it is snowing and dark. Obviously Christmas Eve. 

Clara is nestled all snug in her bed, when from outside she hears the sound of Santa and his elves bickering on the roof. Clad only in her nightgown and robe, she goes to investigate. Santa has crashed his sleigh and the reindeer are free at last and refuse to come down. Spotted by a human, Santa tries to defuse the situation by saying no, obviously he is not Father Christmas! For a magical elf whose livelihood is based in subterfuge, Santa sure is a terrible liar.

Sidenote: Are the tangerine gifts a British thing? We don”t have that tradition in the US. 

There”s a great bit of subversion for the kids on the cusp on disbelief while they watch this. The elves scoff at the fairy tale story that one night a year, all the parents in the world got together and decided to give their kids presents because they love them so much. Time to grow up and live in the real world. Obviously St. Nick is delivering the presents. Also, so adorable that Santa grew out the beard as a disguise and it backfired, making him more recognizable than ever.

In disappointed dad fashion, Santa pulls out a checklist and notes Clara stopped believing when she was nine. He seems so hurt. Clara states she just “outgrew fairy tales” and on cue, the TARDIS sound kicks on. Well played, Moffat.

Out bursts Twelve in a hoodie, which is odd and quite frankly dashing, and demands Clara stop talking to Santa Claus and get in the TARDIS. Just another Tuesday night at the Oswald home. Clara obeys, a sure sign that she is in shock. Twelve sizes up Santa, tells him “Happy Easter,” and climbs back into his police box.

Something major is up but Clara Oswald doesn”t care. After an indeterminate amount of time alone, without Twelve or Danny, she is back on the TARDIS. She”s been mourning the loss of the love of her life and her best friend, but now there”s an adventure to distract her again. The entirety of humanity may hinge on whether or not Clara Oswald believes in Santa Claus. You know, normal stuff.

For reasons unknown, we skip to a barren icy plane. I will assume this is the North Pole until told otherwise. In the midst of a blizzard sits a research facility. And something decidedly un-Christmas like is going down. A blonde lady – Shona – stands outside the infirmary with trepidation. Elsewhere in the facility, her associates provide moral support from the control room. Shona is about to go confront the four sleepers to try and get to…something? Someone? Either way, Shona will be fine as long as she doesn't look at the sleepers or think about them.

Oh great, it”s a purple giraffe situation. 

Also, for the billionth time this season the gender tables are turned. Professor Albert is the lone dude scientist. Ashley and Bellows are even displeased with his casual sexism. Either Moffat has actually turned a new leaf, or someone in a position of power at the BBC forced the issue of fixing Doctor Who”s misogyny problem.

To distract herself from not thinking about purple giraffes, or creepy sleepers, Shona is rocking out to Christmas music with her eyes closed. My biggest fear that she”ll accidentally flail into one of the creatures isn”t realized. Phew. Instead the Doctor and Clara appear at the door. Since they don”t know the rules, they immediately start looking at and thinking about the sleepers. Which means we also get a look at them. Basically some hapless humans have telepathic facehuggers attached to their skulls. 

Thinking about the facehuggers stirs them into action. Their human hosts are pressed into service, shambling towards the heroes. Shona distracts herself with Christmas music. Twelve tries to get Clara to think about math, but it”s not very effective. So he skips straight to insulting Danny Pink (whom he still thinks is alive). In shock, Clara slaps the hell out of Twelve and blurts out that Danny is dead. Now no one is thinking about the facehuggers at least?

WRONG. The rescue team bursts in, thinking about facehuggers like it”s their damn job. Just when it looks like everyone is gonna die, EXPLOSIONS. Santa Claus studied at the school of Michael Bay. Apparently no aliens invade the North Pole on Father Christmas”s watch.

Of course, this is a scientific research base full of adult humans, so they”re not exactly thrilled to see a figment of childhood imagination. Most of them settle for disbelief, but Shona is gonna cut a bitch over some My Little Pony trauma…I like her.

With introductions out of the way, Ashley takes the lead in explaining what is going on, using a dead facehugger as a visual aid. Shona gives Father Christmas the third degree while the Doctor learns everything the humans know about the Dream Crabs. They”re telepathic aliens that eat human brains. Ashley is having a hard time believing this. The Doctor says the problem is that it”s hard to tell fantasy and reality apart because they”re both ridiculous. I”m starting to get the sneaking suspicion we”re already in a dream and the Crabs have taken over the Earth. 

Meanwhile, Nick Frost is doing a fantastic job answering the questions all kids eventually have about Santa. Of course the North Pole is striped. How else would you see it in the snow? No, reindeer can”t fly. That”s why you have to feed them magic carrots, duh. No you can”t get around the world in one sleigh. You need two. Santa even gets in a dig at Twelve when the Time Lord asks how all the presents fit in the bag. “It”s bigger on the inside.”

Moffat firing on all cylinders tonight, folks.

Clara and Twelve share a moment when they both confess to lying about their situation so the other person would go live happily ever after. But no time to worry about it now, they”re all dying. Gotta pull the security footage from the base to figure out when the Dream Crabs took over.

While everyone gathers to watch the playback, the Doctor tries to get a read on what the scientists were researching. However, he only gets a disconcerting “It”s a long story” from everyone. 

So the Dream Crabs were just hanging out in the ceiling of an ice cave until the scientists thought about them for too long. Then they attached to the hosts” faces and administered hallucinogens and anesthetic to keep the victims in a happy dream state while the Dream Crabs liquifies their brains. Om nom nom. Good thing nobody is thinking about them right now. Hey, wait a minute…

Bless Professor Albert for saying what we”re all thinking. That they look like facehuggers from “Alien.” Bless the Doctor for being baffled and offended that humans have a horror movie simply title “Alien.”

Despite the obvious danger, the Doctor sends Clara to out of the room. Alone. Into a flickering hallway with the now awake and active Dream Crab that everyone thought was dead. That”s probably the biggest red flag that we”re in a dream state so far. 

So of course the Dream Crab finds Clara and of course thinking about math doesn”t work. So her is thinking about Danny Pink when the facehugger finally gets her and…nooooooooo. Oh my God, this is cruel. 

Clara wakes up. It”s Christmas morning…and Danny Pink is alive and well. He”s dressed as Santa and got Clara everything she asked for, including permission to have a cat. They”re living together and happy and I”M NOT CRYING, YOU”RE CRYING.

Twelve manages to pop the chalkboard from the TARDIS into Clara”s dream with a warning that it”s a trap. She”s dying. But Clara really doesn”t care and wills the warning away, because she is dying but Danny is here. Hahaha, my heart can”t take this. Help.

Back in the “real world,” (dubious at best), the Doctor is desperate to save Clara. Desperate enough to ask Santa Claus for help. There”s only one way to get her out. Twelve is going to have to go in. 

Clara and Danny are making out on the couch when there is a knock on the door…and it”s the Doctor. He begs her to see reason before it”s too late. Hard truths are not something anyone wants for Christmas, though. “Danny Pink is dead, he died saving the world,” says Twelve. But Mr. Pink disagrees. He died saving Clara; the rest of the world just got lucky. Good Lord, save me from these feels. Even as a figment of Clara”s imagination, Danny is gonna save her again. He even jokes, “…that”s totally how you guessed all my presents.”

Figment Danny demands that Clara acknowledge the ice cream pain in her temple is the Dream Crab burrowing into her brain, and that she wake up. She doesn”t want too because it”s their last Christmas, but every Christmas is the last one. That”s why people get together. Just in case. 

Clara wakes up.

I”m now a blubbering mess, not even gonna lie.

We learn some interesting things about the biology of a Dream Crab. When the host fights back, it disintegrates. Also, the victims are neurally linked into a mass hallucination, which is how the Doctor was able to get to Clara. 

But something”s not right. In the mirror, Clara realizes there”s no wound where the Dream Crab was attached. And she”s still got the ice cream pain in her temple. DUN DUN DUUUUUUN.

A quick survey says yes, they”re ALL feeling the ice cream pain. Following the bread crumbs of logic, the group concludes they”re still being attacked in the infirmary. Santa Claus showing up to save them was the beginning of the hallucination. Speaking of the Jolly Old Elf, he”s on the phone, setting up a back-up plan to get presents to the kids because this rescue is taking FOREVER.

In order to deduce if they”re all in a mass dream, the Doctor breaks out the four mission manuals. If it”s reality, they should all be the same. Clara calls out a page number at random and the illusion is shattered. Each manual is different. They”re definitely not awake.

“DUHHHHHHHH,” says Santa Claus. Of course it”s a dream. And if they don”t wake up, they”re all going to die. Obviously they conjured Santa Claus and his comedy elves as their subconscious attempt to stay alive. Then the show goes a step further and cracks the 4th wall by pointing out a magic man in a phone box is obviously not real either. Meta. 

But why Santa, ask the adults? Because they”re at the North Pole on Christmas Day! (“Idiots” is implied). The group obeys Santa and all join hands. I really want them to start singing the song from the end of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” but instead they all wake up. It”s only been moments since the infirmary attack, because dream time moves weird.

Sensing their prey is escaping, the Dream Crabs mobilize the four sleepers but it”s too late. Our heroes escape back to the control room. Phew…this nightmare is finally over. In a very alien moment, the Doctor just leaves. Clara is annoyed because the Dream Crabs are obviously still on the base and the danger hasn”t really passed. They can”t just leave these people to die. “I”m the Doctor, not you mam,” Twelve says scathingly.

But wait, Clara just remembered she saw Santa Claus on the roof of her house. Oh my God, this dream state has more layers than an Inception Onion.

The Dream Crabs have been protecting themselves. It”s why the only explanation any of the scientists or the Doctor or Clara can give about why they”re here is “It”s a long story.” Dreams have jerky stops and starts and gaps in logic but you don”t notice them until you wake up. Our heroes rush back inside to share this horror with the scientists and it takes approximately ten seconds for the monitors to go on the fritz. The jig is up and the need to appear realistic is gone. One of the sleepers comes through the screen, “The Ring” style, and kills Professor Albert. 

Nope, nope, nope.

The remaining survivors make a break for the outside world but now the monsters are multiplying, like in any good nightmare. Just when it looks hopeless, Santa Claus rides again! But only on three reindeer because the BBC isn”t made of computer generated animal money.

Safe on Santa”s sleigh, Twelve flails but graciously accepts a hug from Clara, proving once and for all this is definitely a dream. Santa offers to let the Doctor drive the sleigh. No Santa. The Doctor can”t even drive the TARDIS, and she”s in love with him. I mean, River could”ve driven it…which makes me wonder why Figment River didn”t make an appearance to torture Twelve. 

As everyone starts to wake up, bits and pieces of memory come floating back. Shona is a shop girl while Ashley is an account manager for perfume (with fabulous hair). Bellows is a paralyzed grandmother. Interestingly enough, Shona”s list of Christmas “Things To Do” in the real world appears to have greatly influenced the mass dream state: she watched “Alien,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” and “Miracle on 34th Street.” Also, she decides to forgive Dave…hopefully we find out who that is at some point.

Twelve wakes up in a red cave somewhere. It feels alien but no time to ruminate. He has to save Clara because she wasn”t ready to go yet. He rushes to her side and sonics off the Dream Crab. Only to reveal he missed everything. Six decades of Clara”s life gone. 


The Doctor and Clara catch up over paper hats. She never married, but traveled the world and even learned to fly a plane. Basically, she is poor man”s Rose from “Titanic.” Twelve shares his regret that he didn”t come back for her sooner, wishing he could fix it. 


We”re still in the dream, kids. I don”t know if Moffat is trying to make me question my sanity, but it”s working. Are we still in the dream now? Is the dream reality? What is reality, anyway? Time is a flat circle.

Twelve wakes up in the red cave again. He rushes to save Clara…again. Phew, she”s still young. Seeing the error of his ways, the Doctor asks Clara to rejoin him on the TARDIS for another season of adventures, because nothing is rarer than second chances. Clara agrees and they rush off together.

We end on a close-up of a tangerine, which immediately raises my suspicions. They never did have temple wounds. Are the Doctor and Clara still dreaming? Will part of the next season be a fantasy version of “Who shot J.R.?” Who sent the Dream Crabs and how did they pick their specific victims? Can Ashley be the new companion after Clara?