Could Danny Pink Still Exist?
Guest contributor Rob Boyte speculates on whether Danny’s soul still survives.
Series 9 of “Doctor Who” fast approaches. All sorts of theories and conjectures abound over which characters will return, friends and foes alike, and how they’ll be presented. I would like, however, to consider a question which I feel hasn’t been fully explored within the Whoniverse: Does Danny Pink still exist?
Notice that I don’t write “still alive.” Danny Pink is dead. Indeed, he died twice: struck by a car in “Dark Water” and again after sacrificing his Cyber-body to save the Earth in “Death in Heaven.” These are documented, canonical facts. But, it seems that most Whovians generally accept that Danny’s soul last appears at the end of “Death,” when he resurrects the young Afghan boy in atonement before fading away to whatever destiny awaited him. Furthermore, they believe that Danny’s surprise appearance in “Last Christmas” was simply Clara’s idyllic dream manifestation of him, an idealized vision generated by a Dream Crab, as a way for the show’s creators to provide closure for the tragic couple.
I just don’t agree. I submit that Danny Pink’s soul still survives and remains linked with Clara. In fact, Danny himself does appear in “Last Christmas.” A careful viewing of Clara’s Christmas dream, and his actions within it, bears this out.
(I know, I know. Making narrative sense out of a story as convoluted as “Last Christmas” – a dream within a dream, within a dream, containing a dream, inside a dream, surrounded by a dream, and it’s all just a dream – can make the unwary’s head explode. Have no fear. We will focus only on Clara’s Christmas morning dream, no others.)
Danny’s presence inside Clara’s dream isn’t at all surprising, given how she tries to avoid the Dream Crab by concentrating intently on him, focusing both on her love and her regrets. The dream Danny-as-Father- Christmas that emerges comes across as Clara’s flawless version of him: playful, considerate, romantic, displaying none of his ‘soldier’ attitude or any troubled aspects to his personality. Even when the Doctor appears inside the dream to save Clara from dying from the Crab, Danny is initially respectful towards him (“Compliments of the season, sir.”). He remains a background figure only as the Doctor initially attempts to convince Clara that nothing in the dream is real, only an illusion to keep her calm and peaceful while the Crab feasts on her brain matter.
However, when the Doctor insists to Clara that “Danny Pink died saving the world” and that nothing can change the fact that he’s dead, Danny contradicts him:
“I didn’t die saving the world, Doctor, I died saving Clara. The rest of you just got lucky.”
BAM!! Suddenly, Danny isn’t merely part of the dream! His expression hardens and saddens. He speaks to the Doctor, with the same stern “I’m-not-taking-your-garbage” tone as he did in the real world. He tells him to “get out of the way” so he can rescue Clara from the dream. He does so by gently, yet firmly, directing Clara to miss him for five minutes a day (wonderful advice for anyone who’s suffered a loss), but to otherwise get on with living her life without him. He even gets a bit ‘soldierly’ with her: “Do as you’re told.” He is the Danny Pink of old.
Now I understand, dreams are wibbly wobbly things. Elements within them can be altered by the dreamer, even as the dream continues. The Doctor’s very presence inside Clara’s dream proves this. So, it’s possible that Danny’s abrupt change was caused by another’s influence, as a way to compel Clara to end the dream. Clara herself, though, isn’t a likely candidate. She actively, even visibly, resists all efforts to get her to recognize that she’s in danger. She fights right up to the last to remain in the dream, so it’s inconceivable that she’d do anything to end it.
That it’s the Doctor’s doing is more plausible, given his desperation to help her. Since Clara rejects his appeals, perhaps she’d listen to someone more agreeable. But, observe the Doctor’s behavior. He appears genuinely surprised when Danny announces he died saving Clara – this wasn’t something he expected or anticipated – and still looks somewhat astonished as he steps away to watch Danny convince Clara to end things. Not the response of someone who’s influencing matters. Just the opposite. (And honestly, given his ego, would he actually allow even a faux “P.E.” to order him aside?)
So, if neither the Doctor nor Clara brought about the change in the dream Danny’s character, only one explanation remains: it was Danny all along. Yes, Danny himself appears dressed as St. Nick, his soul that inhabits Clara’s dream. Recall the Doctor’s words to Clara in “Dark Water”:
“You and [Danny] are linked. Strongly linked. Your time streams are intertwined. So if he’s anywhere at all, that link will hold.”
That link was powerful enough to allow the TARDIS to home in on Danny’s soul when it was trapped in Missy’s Nethersphere, and it allowed Danny to locate Clara in order to send the Afghan boy to her at the end of “Death in Heaven.” It surely wouldn’t have dissolved once Danny faded away.
Now, almost the entirety of “Last Christmas” takes place inside a “multi-consciousness gestalt,” a massive telepathic construct of enormous power generated by the minds of at least six people. Such power could easily attract and capture the psychic energy of a single soul, such as Danny’s. Remember, Clara concentrates very strongly on Danny to avoid discovery by the Crab. Such intensity – her need for him – combined with all that psychic power draws Danny’s soul right to her, most probably through their shared link.
That power, unfortunately, overwhelms Danny, and he becomes the ideal instrument for the Crab. When it induces Clara’s greatest dream, it uses his energy and form to help shape it. Danny is transformed into the dream’s focal point, unaware of his actual nature. His true personality and memories are buried inside Clara’s perfect image of him. Sadly, Danny is down on the stairs away from Clara when she sees the chalkboard messages from the Doctor (symbolizing his initial communication attempts), so they cannot affect him.
It’s the Doctor’s incursion into the dream that restores Danny. As the Doctor keeps relentlessly pressing his point, he states that Danny, especially Danny, is only another dream element to keep Clara happy. This provides the ‘ice water bath’ Danny needs to revive from the Dream Crab’s influence. He begins to question matters (“Why are you doing this? Why are you saying all of that?”). His protectiveness towards Clara stirs as the Doctor’s brusque statements distress her, and his dislike for the Doctor – let’s be honest, now – furnishes the power necessary to recover himself. Once he has, he announces his presence by saying that he died saving Clara, not the world. Then, he proceeds to save her again:
“I’m a dream, and you know I am, right?”
But, if this really is Danny Pink’s soul, why does he tell her otherwise? That’s simple: he still doesn’t want her to join him. In “Dark Water,” Danny refused to allow Clara to sacrifice her life to join him in death, so he broke off communication with her. Now, here, in her ideal Christmas dream, if he were to reveal himself as Danny, Clara would again willingly allow herself to die to be with him forever. So, Danny ‘admits’ to being just a dream image so that he can more easily convince Clara to go on without him. I think the Doctor then realizes the actual situation and Danny’s sacrifice, which prompts this slightly bizarre exchange:
The Doctor: “Brave” Danny: “Dead already.”
For my part, during my first viewing of “Last Christmas,” Danny’s declaration that he died saving Clara convinced me that this was Danny himself I was watching. Other Whovians may not agree, which is reasonable. The scene can certainly be interpreted in other ways (after all, this…is… a dream!), and I predict lots of passionate comments below. That said, I honestly don’t know what Moffat’s intent was – if this was a way to keep Danny in the series, some sinister mind-game of his with the fans, or if he even had any intentions at all. Give the man his due, though. It was quite wonderful to see Clara and Danny – whatever their circumstances – have a peaceful (last?) Christmas day together. May each of us have such a day, at least once, ourselves.