Last Christmas was the 2014 Doctor Who Christmas special. It was the 813th episode of the series, as well as being the show’s tenth Christmas special since its revival. It was the first full Christmas special with Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor. It guest-starred Nick Frost as a dream manifestation of Santa Claus, previously seen at the end of Death in Heaven as a lead-in to this story.
Casting-wise, it was notable for featuring the first on-screen Doctor Who appearance of Michael Troughton, son of Second Doctor actor Patrick Troughton and brother of David Troughton, who had previously made several of his own guest appearances on the series. It also allowed recurring actor Dan Starkey, best known for portraying Strax and other Sontaran characters, to appear with minimal make-up, as an elf.
The Christmas special saw the return of Danny Pink, Clara Oswald’s boyfriend and former Coal Hill School maths teacher — albeit only in Clara’s dream state.
On a frosty night before Christmas, Clara Oswald awakens to the sound of an object crashing on her rooftop. Putting on her dressing gown, she leaves her room to investigate and discovers Santa Claus, his elves Ian and Wolf, reindeer and sleigh upon her roof, having crashed after an accident. Ian quickly informs Santa that they’ve been sighted. They weakly attempt to pass themselves off as ordinary people, but after Clara sees the reindeer flying loose in the sky, they reveal their true identities. One elf points out the beard Santa grew to hide his identity has been public for some time.
Clara tries to deny his existence as a fairytale, having always believed her parents had given her presents instead of him, which the elves laugh at. Santa even lists items Clara wanted at Christmas. Santa questions if she still believes in fairy-tales, as the TARDIS materialises. The elves are surprised to have been upstaged. The Doctor emerges, and tells the stunned Clara to remain absolutely silent and go into the TARDIS right away. She obeys.
The Doctor leans in close to Santa and states that he knows what is going on, and what is at stake. Santa questions if he truly does, and tells him that before the night is through, the Doctor will be glad for his help. The Doctor departs by wishing Santa a “Happy Easter”, and tells him that no-one likes his tangerines. The elves laugh, having previously said the same thing to Santa, but weren’t believed.
Inside the TARDIS, Clara comments on how much she had missed it, as the Doctor takes off. He tells Clara that she should trust nothing and be critical towards everything, concluding that the most important question is if she truly believes in Santa Claus. She answers that right now, she does.
At a base in the North Pole, a group of scientists are tracking Shona as she enters an infirmary. One of the scientists called Ashley tells Shona not to think about “them” and to concentrate on something else. She enters the infirmary, and begins dancing to Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everybody” which appears to take her mind off the victims. She reaches the end of the infirmary, by which point the Doctor and Clara appear.
As Clara wonders what’s happened to the victims, they wake up and begin moving. Shona warns them not to think about what they can see, and the Doctor deduces that the creatures attached to the victim’s faces are both deaf and blind, but they use telepathy to keep a constant image of themselves in someone’s memory, allowing them to ‘see’. In an attempt to save Clara, the Doctor insults Danny, succeeding in flooding her mind with emotion. As the victims close in, the scientists appear with guns ready to attack, and then several crab-like creatures appear from the ceiling and attack the group.
They’re then seemingly saved by Santa, who is able to send the victims back to bed. He then brings in a captured creature, which the Doctor recognizes as a Kantrofarri or “dream crab”. Santa’s existence is questioned by everyone (especially Shona, whom he angers), but he encourages them to focus on the dream crabs as Earth may have just seen its last Christmas depending on how many are there. The Doctor encourages Ashely to deduce what they are and what they do; he then explains that they are dying and most likely asleep. He points to the TARDIS, explaining that reality and fantasy are difficult to tell apart because both are ridiculous. He and Clara then explain to each other that they lied so the other could move on with their lives to be happy.
The Doctor asks Ashley to show him CCTV footage of the other crew members arriving on the base. The footage shows the four crew members discovering the creatures, buried in the snow. The footage then shows one of the creatures coming down from the ceiling, which sends the camera static. The Doctor explains that when a dream crab attacks someone, it places them into a telepathically induced dream state. Whilst the victim is “dreaming”, the crab drills into the victim’s head and eats away at their brain. And if you are thinking about a dream crab, one is most likely coming for you. Albert compares the creatures to face-huggers, confusing the Doctor; after Albert explains that he means the horror movie Alien , a miffed Doctor explains that it’s really offensive and must be why real aliens keep invading Earth.
Clara goes to check on the captured crab, only to find it missing from the container. It appears and begins to stalk her, at which point Clara tries to distract herself by first thinking of maths equations and then of Danny. This however doesn’t work and the crab attacks her, putting her into a dream state. She awakens in her dream state, and is surprised to find herself at her house on Christmas day — with a very-much-alive Danny. The Doctor and the group arrive at Clara’s side, where the Doctor tries to work out a way to remove the crab without killing Clara. Ashley states the only way to remove the crab would be to kill Clara. He refuses to do so, and instead allows himself to become attacked, so he can join Clara in her dream.
The Doctor meets with the dream Danny, who greets him in military fashion to annoy him just like the real one would. Clara knows it’s not real, but wanted to spend more time with Danny; however, in a few minutes the dream crab will have burrowed too deep into her head to be removed. The dream Danny explains that while he did die, it was to save Clara; the rest of the world got lucky. He encourages Clara to move on, but to mourn him for five minutes a day. The Doctor and Clara awaken, causing the crabs to fall off and disentigrate; “Carnevour’s hazard; food has teeth, too.”
Despite waking up, Clara complains of a pain on the right side of her head. Shona compares it to the “ice cream pain” and confirms she has the same pain. The Doctor then works out that they are in fact still in a dream, having been attacked when they arrived. With some help from Santa — who is revealed to be a manifestation of everyone’s brains telling them something is wrong — the group are able to wake up. They escape the infirmary, barely evading the victims. The Doctor bids farewell to the group as Clara goes after him; the Doctor explains that unless the group is stupid enough to let the dream crabs out, they should be fine. He also explains he can’t keep constant watch, stating that there are other dangerous things on the planet.
Clara notes they both saw Santa on her rooftop, meaning they’re still dreaming. They return to the base where the Doctor questions the scientists on why they only have four base manuals for a crew of eight people. They then come to the realization that the victims are really themselves, or rather dream constructs of what’s coming to kill them. The victims awaken and transport themselves through the CCTV, killing Albert in the process. The group travel outside and try to work out a way to escape, of which the Doctor suggests using the TARDIS to escape. Clara notes it isn’t the real TARDIS, and as they head towards the TARDIS, dream constructs of themselves appear.
The Doctor tells everybody to use their imagination to get themselves home, and so they all dream of Santa, who appears in his sleigh and rescues the group. Having been rescued by Santa, the memories of the group’s real lives start coming back to them, meaning that they’re waking up in the real world. Shona suggests that they exchange phone numbers so they can meet up once they awaken, but the Doctor states that it’s unlikely that they’re remember anything that’s happened in the dream. One by one, everyone except Clara awakens, who wants to stay in the dream world forever.
The Doctor travels to Clara’s house and is successful in removing the crab from her face with his sonic screwdriver, but finds 62 years have passed for her since they said goodbye in the coffee shop after Danny’s death; this places Clara at age 89. In Clara’s living room, the Doctor brings in Christmas hats, believing that anything seems funny if the hats are worn. They discuss her life since they last met. She traveled, but never married despite numerous admirers. They pull a cracker together, with the Doctor helping the elderly Clara do so. He apologizes for not returning for her sooner, wishing that he had. From the doorway, Santa again appears and asks if he really does wish for that. They are surprised this is yet another crab-induced dream.
The Doctor awakens for real this time and he travels to Clara’s house, removing the crab from her face again to reveal that she is still young; humorously, the Doctor couldn’t figure out if Clara was young. Realizing what could have been, the Doctor invites Clara to resume her travels in the TARDIS with him. She happily agrees and he whisks her away. As they de-materialize, a tangerine sits on the window sill.