…and it had all been a dream.

I'm not going to go so far as to say that Last Christmas is my favorite Christmas episode. But I think it's fair to say that this is one of my favorite Twelfth Doctor episodes so far.

It's kind of funny to have a story actually succeed with the trope of the main character (characters, in this case) waking up at the end and realizing their experiences had been a dream. I think the main reason that it worked is that the characters were aware that they were in a dream, and the plot was in fact centered on that fact. The dream was the obstacle that the protagonists had to overcome. There was a traditional monster in the form of the dream crabs, but the dream itself was the real adversary.

Despite nothing actually happening (in a physical sense) in "Last Christmas," as all the characters were asleep the whole time, in my opinion their actions in the dream world count as actual experiences and events, even if they're not remembered. (Clara and the Doctor seemed, at the close of the episode, to remember the events of the dream. There is no explicit explanation, but I'm pinning it on the phenomenon of travelling in time giving them heightened awareness.) Because it was a shared dream, Clara, the Doctor, and the four original characters all interacted and worked together. The dream was entirely lucid and their mental "actions" had a direct effect on what happened to them and to their bodies. Six individuals, none of whom, besides the Doctor and Clara, actually knew each other in real life, banded together to fight the monsters that had attacked them, and all but one survived. (As an aside – it was an absolute joy to see David Troughton in Who again, even as an obnoxious character who gets killed off.) And honestly, only one death is pretty good for a Doctor Who Christmas special. I mean, just look at the body count in Voyage of the Damned.

Now to the Christmassy stuff: Nick Frost's snarky Santa was pretty great, and it was fun to see Dan Starkey in a role other than Strax. It's a point of interest that the enemy in this episode was not holiday related. We're had killer Santa robots, a killer Christmas tree, killer robotic angels, and even the Racnoss web in The Runaway Bride was mistaken for a Christmas decoration. For once we have a Christmas hero in Santa himself. Or at least the idea of Santa, pulled from the minds of the victims of the dream crabs as the perfect figure to rescue them on Christmas. Santa not being "real" was, I admit, a little bit of a disappointment for me… until the end of the episode, when we see a tangerine left on Clara's windowsill. A sweet little touch, I thought, teasing us with the possibility.

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As could only be expected from a Doctor Who Christmas special, "Last Christmas" certainly brought the emotion. We really see Clara dealing with her grief over Danny's death here, and I'm honestly quite glad to see this. Moffat hasn't dealt with grief that well in the past, primarily in the case of Amy and Rory losing Melody (no, growing up with your daughter as your best friend, in ignorance of that fact, does not count as raising her). We're seeing an actual mourning period here, and that's good.

This is all good stuff. But the main reason for my love of this episode, though, is the way it presents the relationship between the Doctor and Clara. I like Clara, and I like her with Twelve (more than I liked her with Eleven, certainly), but until now the affection and love they have for each other hasn't really impressed itself on me that well. Here, it finally got through to me. Their faces when they each realized that the other had lied to make them happy. The Doctor's plea for Clara to come with him, and Clara's wordless "yes" in the form of taking his hand and running to the TARDIS. I was already looking forward to another season, but now I'm looking forward to another season specifically with this team.

Originally posted on Who PhD.