At Last! Last Christmas

This year the holiday monster didn’t just eat my homework, it ate my entire life! Thanskgiving through New Year’s has been absolutely nuts. So, no writing and no posting for me. However, I believe the monster has finally settled down for her long winter’s nap, and here I am, writing about the Doctor.

Last Christmas tied up the major Series 8 arcs (aka relationship dramas) beautifully. The use of the very psychological dream within a dream trop (technically called false awakening) resolved the story-lines quite cleverly and effectively. Ya da, ya da, ya da….

Oh the feels! Such intensity! Such Christmasness! I really couldn’t be happier with Mr. Moffat and his Last Christmas.

Let’s Start with Clara and Danny.

As I think back to the meta themes of their relationship, they were really about negotiating a dangerous choice – to reveal or not to reveal one’s true self to the beloved. If she/he knows who I really am, will I still be loved? Could Clara tolerate Danny’s violent past? Could Danny tolerate Clara’s joy in the Doctor? Of course, none of us have ever struggled with the twin dilemmas of longing to be seen and longing to be loved. Absolutely not…pure Moffat fiction…

The use of the dream state to settle things between Danny and Clara (and Clara and the Doctor) was just so darn clever. By putting Clara in a dream, she resurrected Danny (yea!) and we peeked into her soul. We got to see Danny as Clara saw him, witnessing the depth of her knowledge of and love for him. She also gave herself the gift of receiving Danny’s love as well as his encouragement to keep moving forward in happiness with the Doctor. In Clara’s dream she was both seen and loved by Danny without having to sacrifice herself. Way to go, Clara!

Dreaming is Memory Management

Dreaming of repair to a torn relationship, whether the tear is due to separation or death, is incredibly common and a method we use to process memories. It may be our way of changing the brain, forming new associations with the memory of the lost person. Rather than ending with an experience of emptiness, we create an experience of wholeness for ourselves.

I hear about these kinds of dreams in my practice all the time, and they frequently provide a lot of peace to the dreamers.

Moving on to Clara and the Doctor

We have struggled (perhaps not many of us-was it just me?) this entire season to adjust to the Doctor’s regeneration. Our adjustment, Clara’s adjustment, and primarily, the Doctor’s adjustment. So much adjustment! Unlike Matt Smith’s Doctor, who seemed to embrace his regeneration without a second thought, P-Cap’s Doctor coped with disorientation, memory loss, and a morally ambivalent and dubious (not to mention radically different) personality. He seemed so unsettled and introspective, with little thought for how his messiness and differentness may affect Clara.

For Clara, despite our fannish rationalization that, given her seeding throughout the Doctor’s timeline, she should have been comfortable with regeneration, she was clearly surprised by Twelve’s. We are not at our best when unpleasantly surprised. Her bout with Vastra and her insistence that she accepted him regardless of the changes notwithstanding, Clara continued to feel off-balance and surprised by Twelve.

Neither Trusted the Other

Clara and the Doctor arrive at the end of Death In Heaven, lying rather than trusting; manipulating the other into doing what they “thought best” for the other…self-sacrifice and dishonesty, kind of compelling in that Gift of the Magi way.  Again, Moffat employed the dream trop to create a context in which authenticity prevailed. No hiding, no lying, just being real. While dreaming they could be honest, while dreaming they trusted each other. The dream state revealed Clara’s thrill at being aboard the TARDIS again. The dream state released the Doctor to follow his heart and return to Clara (at least four times by my count.) It also allowed for the expression of joy in their relationship and in the adventures still to be had.

During that moment in the bedroom, the Doctor says, “The TARDIS is outside…all of space and all of time sitting there in a big, blue box. Please, don’t even argue” and holds out his hand. Clara smiles, laughs, takes his hand, and they truly connect for the first time. Frequently the companion unwillingly finds herself (occasionally himself) trapped on the TARDIS. And, it is also not unusual for the Doctor to feel stuck with a companion who leaps/sneaks/begs onto the ship. However, in this episode we see both Doctor and Companion choose each other, knowing all the risks and benefits of doing so. This conscious choice, and the joy that comes with it, may make for one of the strongest duos yet.

Dreams Within Dreams

There’s a lot to say about the false awakening phenomenon, from a shrink’s point of view. It was first documented in the scientific literature in 1913 by Frederick Willens van Eden, who called them “wrong-waking up” and described them as “demoniacal, uncanny, and very vivid and bright.”* Since then, false awakenings have been associated with lucid dreaming (knowing you are dreaming as you dream) and sleep paralysis (not being able to move, even though you are awake).

False awakenings are most likely to occur when you know your regular sleep routine is going to be interrupted-having to get-up extra early for an important flight, for example. Your sleeping mind gets all revved-up with anticipation/anxiety about the change in your routine, and this may be strong enough to influence our dreams.**

Whether deliberate or not, Moffat’s choice to use dreaming as a method to clean-up the emotional residue of Series 8 was rather scientific, as well as clever. To the best of our knowledge (though there continues to be debate), dreaming is used by the brain to clear-out the “desktop clutter” of our memory in preparation for another day. When we dream, it appears that memories are processed and sorted. Important memories are written into long-term memory (our hard drives, if you will), and unimportant ones are erased (put in the trash). Clara and the Doctor definitely needed to get their business cleaned-up and put away.

Regrets and Second Chances

One final thought on dreaming and the end of the episode…the Doctor’s dream of missed-chances and foolish decisions that led to Clara growing old without him. How many times has the Doctor left returning to a companion too long in his 2000 years? We have all dreamed a dream that leaves us aching with regret, our “do-over” existing solely in our minds.  Only through the hope and optimism of Doctor Who do we find regret in the dreaming and second chances upon awakening.

* False awakenings in light of the dream Ppotoconsciousness theory: A study in lucid dreamers, by Giorgio Buzzi. Published in International Journal of Dream Research, Vol. 4, No. 2, (2011).

**  A Suggested Experimental Method of Producing False—awakenings with Possible Resulting Lucidity on O.B.E.——The ‘Fast” (False— awakening with State Testing) Technique; Keith Hearne,Hearne Research Organization


One thought on “At Last! Last Christmas

  1. I didn’t really like this episode, but I actually feel a lot better about it now. I hadn’t thought about how dreams would show what Clara and the Doctor really want, and how happy they were to leave at the end. Maybe Clara will finally be committed to this instead of constantly coming and going…


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