This is the first time during this project that a Christmas episode has fallen within the general vicinity of Christmas, and given that it’s been chucking it down with snow all day, it feels particularly apt. With the heavy sci-fi setting and super serious plot, this might have been one of the less festive feeling offerings were it not for the main guest star. And not just because his surname’s “Frost”.
The presence of Santa is obviously ridiculous, but it’s pointed out very early on that the concept is no less realistic than a friendly alien bounding around time and space in a blue phonebox. It’s enough to keep you guessing, as it’s also clear early doors that we’re not to trust everything we see, as clues start to get sown as to the true nature of this story, mainly through the medium of film references.
Alien is explicitly mentioned, despite it starring a young War Doctor, and later on it all goes very Inception, and I’m sure there’s a Terminator 2 reference when the sleepers punch through the door. Clara’s dream-within-several-dreams reminded me of the depiction of Better Than Life from the first Red Dwarf novel – Kryten gets a message to Lister that he’s “dying”, much like the Doctor does with Clara here.
Speaking of that sequence, I’d forgotten that we hadn’t already seen the last of Danny Pink. He functions much better when he’s an unattainable, idealised dream figure – what he represents to Clara now is more important that the reality, which remains that he was a bit of a prick. The unravelling of this dream, and the realisation that it was only one of several layers, is neatly done, with Santa acting as our guide, convincing us of his own non-existence.
This culminates in Clara waking up as an old woman, in what is her second potential departure scene in as many episodes. It would have been quite a nice way to write a companion out, but when it’s revealed to be yet another dream, the number of false endings begins to wear you out a bit. It’s hard to get too emotionally involved in a scene when you’re not sure whether it’s actually taking place, and you’re constantly on the look out for the rug being pulled.
Still, the pair of them running off excitedly towards new adventures is a lovely moment. Plus, I’m a bit concerned that I’m going to struggle to get to sleep tonight thanks to all that talk about nobody ever being able to really know whether they’re awake or dreaming. That kind of existential conundrum is far scarier than any monster, and a nice spot of psychological terror is something that only Doctor Who can bring to Christmas Day telly.