Doctor Who has never been shy of taking inspiration from other sources. However, what elevates some of these stories far beyond mere plagiarism is the way in which ideas have been used to tell wonderfully fresh stories. The layered dream saga that is "Last Christmas" is clearly inspired by Christopher Nolan's Inception, and there are obvious nods to Alien - so blatant, that the script has to acknowledge it ('There's a horror movie called Alien?! That's really offensive. No wonder everyone keeps invading you!') - but it is what the layers consist of that really make the story stand out.
The state of dreaming is vitally important to the presentation of the
story. Events and motivations are understandable, but have a fuzziness
that often happens in dreams. The key scene here is Shona’s initial
infiltration into the sick bay. What she is trying to accomplish is
unclear, but the characters treat the situation with complete sincerity,
as does director Paul Wilmshurst who masterfully creates fear and
tension in the Dream Crab scenes that are not invalidated by Santa and
his elves making a completely incongruous appearance. The supporting
cast is outstanding – Michael Troughton makes an appearance where more
than one member of his family has been before, and the excellently
steely Maureen Beattie makes an immediate impression as Professor
Bellows. Natalie Gumede shows a maturity and authority I never realised
she possessed, which leaves the adorable Faye Marsay in the junior role –
her hilarious dancing has to be seen to be believed. Then, as the
ultimate unreality of the season we have Nick Frost, who makes Santa
into the jolly, bearded deus ex machina that we need him to be – and, if
there is any justice, ‘Nick Frost’ will now become an actual nickname
for the Man in Red. Alien, wrapped in Inception wrapped in Doctor Who
makes an interesting three-bird roast, but it is the appearances by a,
seemingly, completely real Father Christmas that make the irresistible
pigs-in-blankets. This is a truly extraordinary script by Steven Moffatt
not only managing to be a truly terrifying monster story and a jolly
Christmas story at the same time, but also examining the notion of
Christmas as a dream state that we must all wake from. The supporting
characters are scientists in the base, but all wake up to a more mundane
reality and, vitally, get on with their lives.
Anchoring all of this is a beautiful pair of performances from the two
regulars. The Doctor is, as always, the man in charge, but keenly
protective of his companion. Clara is still in mourning and the way they
share their loss is very touching, as is the scene with the apparently
aged Clara. ¤The dynamic changed after Danny died, but it still exists
and it will be interesting to see how it will progress.
I (jokingly) wondered when Steven Moffat would do his version of The Box of Delights,
but this thrilling tribute to the necessary dream of Christmas (to
which an extra layer is added when the viewer watches it on Christmas
Day) goes a good way to fulfilling this.
NEXT: "The Magician's Apprentice"/"The Witch's Familiar"