Well, it’s practically Christmas Eve and you know what that means: Yup, only one more day until the newest Doctor Who Christmas Special!
Back in 2006, as the newly revived series of Doctor Who was entering its second year, the very first Christmas Special aired with The Christmas Invasion. Only one year later, as the next Special, The Runaway Bride, was prepping to air, the press was already calling it Doctor Who’s Annual Christmas Special. As though this had been happening for decades. The show had become so ingrained into pop culture that if it did anything more than once it was considered a tradition.
For me these specials have been anything but. There’s very little to them that goes beyond the average Who adventure. They’re fun excuses to see the Doctor run around fighting robot Santas or trekking through a winter planet that grows Christmas trees. So although they’re extremely entertaining (in most cases) I wouldn’t go so far as to say they are anything special. But that doesn’t stop me looking forward to them every year. No matter what, the highlight of my Christmas is always new Who.
I thought it’d be fun to reminisce on Christmas Adventures Past.
The Christmas Invasion- This episode had three really big firsts going on. The most obvious is that it is, as I mentioned above, the first of these now annual Christmas Specials. The next obviously being David Tennant in his first adventure in his legendary era as The Doctor. Although he spends half the episode passed out while each and every cell in his body regenerate themselves, you can see the charismatic and funny personality that would define the series over the next four years. Then there’s the mention of Torchwood. As far as I know this is the first time that the secret alien fighting organization, that would eventually branch out into its own spin-off, was ever spoken of, let alone seen in action. By all accounts this is a very entertaining episode. There’s a lot going on and everything is balanced fairly well. It is also the only one of the episodes that feels like Christmas to me. Something about seeing average people in their homes on a relatively sunny Christmas day made it seem more relatable. A great way to start the tradition off.
The Runaway Bride- Another first came a year later. Future companion Donna Noble was introduced a feisty, demanding, delusional, and intensely insecure bride, transported into the Tardis while walking down the aisle on her wedding day. What follows is a proper romp of the doctor attempting to get her back to her wedding, save her from robot Santas, and stop and alien uprising from the Earth’s core. This is also a wonderfully entertaining episode with lots of re-watch value. But the Christmas vibe starts to take a back seat here. So while it is a great deal of fun, I don’t think the title of Christmas Special really applies.
Voyage of the Damned- The goal here was to do a huge disaster movie blockbuster Doctor Who style. Again Christmas serves as merely a backdrop for the events occurring on the interstellar cruise liner Titanic, as it orbits Earth on Christmas Eve. Packed with characters, action, and drama, the episode should be great. Unfortunately there seems to be so much going on that it’s hard to be invested in any of it. The idea of aliens observing an Earth holiday on a cruise ship was neat. The production value was top notch and Kylie Minogue as the one shot companion Astrid Perth is fantastic. You really feel for her character and want badly for her to live and carry on traveling the universe with The Doctor. Being that this is a disaster film, and she’s a huge pop sensation, and it’s Doctor Who, that isn’t the case. A very unbalanced and over long episode with little re-watch value.
The Next Doctor- David’s days as The Doctor were numbered by this point. Everyone new he had five specials left before hanging up his long brown coat and sneakers. It was a bitter/sweet time for the show. We all loved David and was sad to see him go. However, the show was about reinvention and the fact that a whole new production team, Doctor, and Companion was on the way was exciting. That excitement carried over into speculation on just who The Next Doctor would be. Russell T Davies played into this with his deceptively brilliant title. Could they really be unveiling the next Doctor? Of course it was all a clever ruse to get people talking. By the end of the episode you know that Davis Morrissey won’t be returning as The Doctor, and you’re OK with that, but you kind of hoped he would. He had a charm to him that would have been a worthy successor to David’s.
This is my favorite Special. The Christmas feel is back. The romp aspect is back. And the Cybermen are back. And their in the snow! Why is it so cool to see huge silver people-machines marching through a graveyard in the snow? It does get a little too big for its britches with the gigantic CGI Cyberking stomping all over the place. But it smooths things out with a great piece between the Doctor and Jackson Lake by the Tardis, where The Doctor admits of his companions that in the end, they break his heart.
The End of Time Part 1- This episode was huge. Whovians all over the globe tuned in to see the tragedy of Doctor Ten play out. The series had been building to this for a long time. Whatever happened it promised to be big, intense, and emotional. The Ood were back. The Master was back. Donna was (kinda) back. And The Time Lords were coming back. Timothy Dalton’s narration as Rassilon moved all the pieces at play into their proper places and gave me chills. John Sim as this animalistic incarnation of the Master was unsettling. The disquiet in the Doctor, knowing that his death has come, is heart breaking.
Christmas is…well…it’s there. I mean it’s Christmas time and all. But that’s only a “By The Way detail”. It completely gets shoved aside for the drama of Doctor Ten hunting the Master and reaching his end. It may not work very well as a Christmas special but it works very well as the first movement in a finale that The End of Time Part 2 didn’t quite live up to. Maybe I’ll write more on that later.
A Christmas Carol- If any fictional character was appropriate for exploring Christmases Past, Present, and Future, it’s The Doctor. Had this episode focused solely on that concept, I think it would have been marvelous. Showing a greedy man the errors of his ways, literally going through his past Christmases, showing him true love and compassion, his doomed love getting to live so many Christmases as one single night, all of that stuff is wonderful. Truly touching, beautiful stuff.
Then there’s the space ship that’s crashing into the planet.holding Rory and Amy…yes it’s the catalyst for the entire plot, the reason the Doctor is doing what he’s doing, but it just seems pointless. I’m sure there were hundreds of other ways the Doctor could have saved them without all the Charles Dickens stuff. And the flying fish. Watching sharks fly through the air as if they’re swimming is neat. It would have been cool in another story. In this it feels like an unnecessary complication to a story that was on the verge of becoming perfect. I understand how they fit in, but they could have easily been omitted without any real consequence. Part of me feels as though there were three separate stories jammed in together here. Which is sad because this has to visually be one of the most beautiful looking pieces of television I’ve ever seen. All the performances are great. The core idea is great. It just didn’t all work together.
The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe- The Narnia books by C. S. Lewis are right up there with Star Wars as some of my favorite stories ever told. They formed how I think about fantasy and adventure and magic. Bringing Doctor Who into any kind of universe that could in any way relate to Narnia, even remotely, risked the danger of blowing a fuse in my nerd circuits. Needless to say, I was desperately excited. Only to be let down. I wasn’t so disappointed with the almost complete lack of Narnia material (I knew he wouldn’t be striding into Narnia, having tea with Mr. Tumnus) but the story itself.
There wasn’t much to it. Which is Okay. Moffat could have done a simple Christmas adventure with the kind of rich and complex characters he’s famous for. Instead we had a cast of stock characters, with the Doctor constantly reminding everyone around him and everyone watching at home that what’s going on is so cool. Isn’t it cool that I made the house so crazy. Christmas trees that grow in the ground, so COOL! A woman who carries an entire alien civilization in her head, you GOTTA think that’s cool! They were cool. But having the Doctor tell me what I already know made it far less so. This episode came off as a desperate attempt to make you feel the Christmas spirit. Almost pandering.
What saves it is the ending. The whole adventure was leading up to it. The Doctor, famous for spending Christmas alone, visits his companions, Amy and Rory, realizes he does have a family to spend the holiday with and cries happy tears. The shot of The Doctor reaching up and brushing away a single happy tear, with a expression of amazed awe says more than any line of dialogue ever could. Thank goodness he didn’t take time to let us know how cool that is.
This next Special has a lot of introductions going for it like many of the early ones did. The first time Jenna Louise Coleman takes up the mantle of companion. A new Tardis interior. And a new retooling of the Doctor Who theme. Despite my disappointment with a few of the previous Specials, I can’t wait for Christmas day, to unwrap the Doctor’s gift to all his home viewing companions.