It’s never just a fun little sci-fi adventure, there’s always at least one extra layer. The whole show is like this, delivering a message even if you don’t notice it, but it’s especially true of these festive episodes which pick the most impactful ideals. This time, The Twelfth Doctor and Clara face off against face-hugging aliens that send people to sleep as they slowly dissolve their brains and only Santa Clause can stop them. It’s all very silly, a little dark at times and constantly keeps the audience guessing but the episode’s meaningful message is hidden in plain sight – Last Christmas. As is pointed out during the adventure, every Christmas is somebody’s last with someone else. What’s upsetting is that you don’t know it’s the last Christmas until the day itself has passed. Christmas is finite, lasts for one day out of the year, and a lot can change in between celebrations. Relationships can end and lives can be lost so every Christmas should be cherished.
This doesn’t mean that the season should be without grief and the episode makes that clear too. Clara is facing her first Christmas without the love of her life Danny Pink. When she finds herself celebrating the day with him in a deadly dream, she contemplates allowing herself to die knowing that she will do so at her happiest. Ultimately, she allows herself to wake up because, while people may not always be with us, the memories made with them are. And what is Christmas for if not making memories?
The Husbands of River Song
Christmas specials aren’t designed to flow neatly into each other. There’s a year of real time between each and a whole series-worth of storytelling. Companions come and go, villains are fought and defeated, The Doctor’s appearance occasionally changes. However, if any era was close to having it’s own structure, it’s this one. The theme of Last Christmas carries over as beloved femme fatale River Song makes her final appearance to fight alongside The Doctor. Having been introduced by Moffat during the RTD era, it makes sense that he would wish to give her closure, especially since her timeline has been so turbulent. Her and The Doctor are never meeting in the right order but here, their timelines finally sync up, in her final adventure before that fateful trip to The Library.
This episode almost mirrors that first meeting, where the Tenth Doctor didn’t know who she was, by having her fail to recognise him. She is forever seeking him out and is aware of every face from his first regeneration cycle but is unaware that he has been gifted a new one with a brand new face. Of course, this doesn’t last forever and fans finally get the River/Doctor dynamic where they both have all the details. It’s a melancholy meeting because we and The Doctor know that this is their final night together at the Singing Towers of Darillium. She spends the majority of the episode oblivious to his presence and believes he doesn’t truly care about anyone because he can’t afford to as the universes protector. His final act of love for her proves her wrong in one of the sweetest and most heartbreaking moments of the show because of course he cares. He doesn’t protect the universe because he wants to be praised or rewarded, he does it because it’s right and, above all, it’s kind. If there was ever any way to approach the year ahead…there it is.
The Return of Doctor Mysterio
Superheroes are an interesting concept. Everybody lives a double life to an extent, hiding at least one secret from everyone they know, but superheroes take that to the extreme. They invite the age old query “if you had powers and anonymity, would you use them for good or evil?” which can often lead to some hefty introspection. The stories can be silly (Shoutout to The Condiment King) but at their core they usually say something about humanity. Superman fights for truth, justice and a better tomorrow while Batman fights for what is right even if his methods can be a little sketchy. This episode explores much of that idea – erring on the Superman side of things.
Of course, one could argue that The Doctor is something of a superhero himself. He sweeps in from nowhere when there is danger, barely ever sticks around to receive any gratitude and almost never tells anyone his real name. The main difference is that he isn’t living two seperate lives, there’s no Bruce Wayne to his Batman. However, like many, he has two very different faces. The public Doctor laughs in the face of danger whilst the private Doctor is sadder because he knows nobody can see. This special sees him grappling with the loss of River Song, meaning it also flows quite nicely from the previous special. His current companion Nardole (again, from the previous special) is doing what he can to help but the only true cure for grief is time. There’s no antidote for this pain, it just has to be lived with until one day you find you’ve barely thought about it at all. Anyone who can do that is a true superhero.
Twice Upon A Christmas
The twelfth Doctor has always been underrated. It’s no secret that a large section of the general public stopped watching the show when Russell T Davies left and that numbers continued to dwindle as the Moffat years went on. It’s a genuine shame because, whilst the Eleventh Doctor was good, this Twelfth incarnation was everything the famous Time Lord should be. He was mysterious, charismatic, charming, fantastical and just a little bit grumpy. Actor Peter Capaldi once said that he was aiming to channel all the men who had come before him, particularly classics like William Hartnell and Jon Pertwee, which absolutely comes across. It’s particularly prevalent here as a regenerating Twelfth Doctor encounters a regenerating First Doctor portrayed by David Bradley.
Bradley’s characterisation isn’t perfect, being overly sexist in a way that Hartnell never was, but has the same inquisitive nature and cheeky attitude. He’s clearly written this way to demonstrate how far society has (allegedly) come since 1963in terms of the attitude towards women but the show was never like that. It has always represented the best of humanity, regardless of the year. The very first episode was produced by the late Verity Lambert – a woman – and directed by the talented Waris Hussien – a gay, British Indian – which set the standard for representation behind the screen as well as on it. This episode features the introduction of Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Doctor, which was a landmark moment in the shows history, but the plot isn’t building up to her specifically. With both the First and Twelfth Doctors refusing to regenerate, it’s about how far this show has come and how long it could continue to go. Sure, Jodie gets a couple extra seconds to really bask in her presence but then it’s straight back into business as usual. Pretty much sums up the end of the year too. Let’s all take a little moment to bask in the year just gone before diving into the one to come.