As I mentioned last month, Doctor Who has had a Christmas episode every year since 2005. The Doctor loves this holiday! Although, since he always seems to attract trouble wherever he goes, and he goes to 21st-century London more than anywhere else, the Londoners of the Whoniverse have become a bit wary of Christmas time. In the series 4 episode “Voyage of the Damned,” they’ve even grown smart enough to evacuate the whole city on Christmas Eve, for fear of alien invasion.
Fun exercise: try comparing the holiday specials during the Russell T. Davies era with those of the Moffat era. They’re extremely different. RTD Christmas episodes all take place in London, or directly above it. They all feature an alien invasion of some kind. And they all have a fairly high body count, even for Doctor Who. But then, RTD was a fan of murderous Christmas trees and robots dressed like Santa Claus, so a lot of the death and destruction in these episodes comes across as extremely funny. Except in “The End of Time, Part 2,” of course. That episode was pure heartbreak.
Moffat Christmas episodes, on the other hand, tend to be pretty light-hearted, for Moffat at least. He has written two in which no one dies at all. Also, only one of his specials was set in London, and that was Victorian London. Two of his specials have even taken place on other planets (though they still featured snowy landscapes populated by humans). No funny robots or decorations gone berserk in Moffat’s world–he populates his Christmas stories with shout-outs to famous holiday-themed literature, plus the occasional carnivorous snowman. And, Moffat being Moffat, all the specials have wibbly-wobbly time travel plots that end in some kind of surprising twist.
Though every Christmas special has its moments, these episodes vary widely in terms of quality. Personally, I rank them on a scale of “Time of the Doctor” to “The End of Time.” Others may disagree on the rankings, and that’s okay, but can I just take a moment to talk about my favourite non-regenerating Christmas special?
“The Christmas Invasion.” I love it to death. The story was wonderfully cheesy and fun from the beginning, but the last 15 minutes were largely responsible for making me a full-fledged Whovian. I mean–when the Tenth Doctor (played by the awesome David Tennant) swaggers out of the TARDIS, interrupts an evil alien’s world-destroying rant to ask Rose if he’s ginger, quotes The Lion King, challenges said evil alien to a swordfight on top of a spaceship (!), regrows a hand, and defeats the evil alien with a piece of fruit, all while wearing a set of borrowed pajamas, it’s hard not to geek out at the sheer awesomeness that is Doctor Who. Anyway, the Tenth Doctor is pretty much the best Christmas present you could ask for, and this was an absolutely beautiful introduction for him.
“And it is gonna be fantastic!”
My ranking of Doctor Who Christmas specials (from worst to best):
“Time of the Doctor” – Too many plot holes, too much exposition, too many big questions answered hastily or left unresolved. And I am SO over Clara. Nice regeneration scene, though.
“Voyage of the Damned” – Way too many pointless sacrifices with dramatic slow motion. Still, “Allons-y, Alonzo!” and Wilf’s introduction are lovely moments.
“The Runaway Bride” – Most. Annoying. Monster. Ever. “Myyyy chiiillldreeeeennn!!” But hey, first episode with Donna!
“The Next Doctor” – Two words: Steampunk Cybermen.
“The Doctor, the Widow, and the War” – Doctor Who does a Narnia spinoff! And it sorta works!
“A Christmas Carol” – Flying sharks aside, it’s a really sweet story. I love Michael Gambon.
“The Snowmen” – One of Clara’s least annoying appearances. Plus, you gotta love Strax, the TARDIS in the clouds, and the Doctor-as-Sherlock-Holmes.
“The Christmas Invasion” – See above.
“The End of Time, Parts 1 and 2” – Yes, it has flaws, but the epicness of the story kinda makes up for them. Seldom has a TV episode brought me closer to tears than this one did. The sound of those four knocks on the glass still hurts.
Watching a little Doctor Who is just the thing to get oneself into a festive mood. So, who’s excited for this year’s Christmas special?